The Chair of ISOPP 2019 at Marathon Des Sables

By Rob Duncombe, ISOPP 2019 Chair

In April this year the Chair of ISOPP 2019, Rob Duncombe, embarked upon a challenge of a lifetime and completed in one of hardest footraces on the planet.  Read on to learn more about Rob’s story and experience.

The MdS (Marathon des Sables) is a race across the Sahara desert that takes place in April each year. The MdS is pretty unique in that participants have to carry everything they need to survive (with the exception of water) for the full duration of the event. Temperatures can soar above 40C during the day and drop to almost 0C at night.

In the Summer of 2017, I read a book by someone who had participated in the MdS and was inspired by their descriptions of not only the race, but also the environment and the impact that the MdS had on them subsequently. Having read the book I decided that I wanted to run the MdS and started planning. The MdS should not be undertaken lightly and my training involved running 6 marathons in 2018 and a rigorous training programme built around building up my core body strength so that I could manage to run while carrying over 10Kg on my back.

It is very hard to describe the Sahara to anyone who has not been there. During the MdS I ran across the hardest of hard terrain and the softest of soft sand. I climbed Jebels and numerous sand dunes. At night we slept in open-ended tents in the company of camel spiders.  

The event is split into stages with each stage being of different durations, the shortest day being a run of about 36Km, the longest stage being 76Km. The final stage is a full marathon. 

The MdS was one of the most amazing things I have ever done. For someone who has spent the last 30 years working at a break-neck pace – it was a brilliant opportunity to stop and draw breath. While over 800 people participated in this years’ MdS the field does spread out and there were times when I was completely alone in the middle of the desert.

The MdS was a hard race both physically and mentally and it has changed me (hopefully for the better). 

The one thing the MdS has not done is diminish my sense of adventure and this coming year I’ll be running a further 6 marathons, including a return to the Sahara just before the ISOPP conference to participate in a non-stop 100Km race.