Marathon des Sables: Insights from Samir Mouffok's preparation

This article is the second in our series on the Marathon des Sables.

In 2024, the Marathon des Sables remains an iconic event, still attracting adventurers and athletes alike, such as Samir Mouffok, determined to take on this ultimate challenge. Despite the difficulties and uncertainties encountered, the resilience and determination of the participants continue to inspire many other runners.

We reached out to Samir to ask him to share his unique experience and valuable insights, allowing us to delve into the heart of his adventure.

Discover his deep motivations, rigorous preparation, and the strategies to face the extreme conditions of the desert. From the excitement of the start to the anticipation of the challenges ahead, follow Samir on his journey to achieve the ultimate goal: crossing the finish line and entering the history of the Marathon des Sables.

Photo credits:  @ph0tocapture

What were your main motivations for taking part in the Marathon des Sables and how did you decide to embark on this adventure?

In 2014, after my first marathon, I was on cloud nine... Already thinking about the next one. While reading a running magazine, I stumbled upon an article titled 'The Marathons of the Extreme.' I saw this image of a runner on a sand dune: The Marathon des Sables, 250km in 5 stages in the Moroccan Sahara. That was the moment! A very long distance, in the middle of the desert! 'One day I will do this extraordinary race, one day I will have the physical and mental strength to do this race.' 9 years later, in June 2023, after completing a 175km ultra-trail, I realised that I was ready to tackle my dream, the MDS! Two of my friends were already registered. One of them said to me, 'Samir, we have one spot left in the tent, it's for you, are you ready? Join us!' 10 years after reading that famous article, I was going to be at the start line of the 38th edition of the Marathon des Sables! I wanted to live this adventure, cut off from the world, focused on the basics in the middle of the desert... going beyond my limits.

How did you prepare physically and mentally for this event? What kind of training did you do to prepare for the extreme conditions of the desert?

Training for the Marathon des Sables is quite intense. It's a preparation similar to training for an ultra trail race. Building volume and including hill sessions in one's training is essential. It's also important to plan a minimum of one very long run each week. For example, every Sunday I gradually increased the distance of my runs, starting with 20km, then 25 km, and eventually including several runs of 30km.

To simulate the conditions of the Marathon des Sables as closely as possible, every long run and some of the training sessions needed to be done wearing a backpack that contained some weight, progressively increasing the load to approach the 10kg we will carry during the race.

As for the climate, it's challenging to replicate the climate of the desert while being in Paris! So, towards the end of my preparation, I wore 2-3 layers of clothing and a rain jacket to be warm and sweat a lot and thus train myself to run in hot conditions.

On the mental side, it's the experience I gained on previous races that has allowed me to work on this aspect. I started by conditioning myself to the difficulties I will face. I made a pact with myself, promising to go all the way no matter what. Mental strength is a daily practice of reminding ourselves of what we are capable of and remembering that our support system will be watching from afar to follow our adventure.

Photo credits: @ph0tocapture

How did you plan your equipment and supplies for the race? Are there any essential items that you prioritised?

The logistic aspect and equipment are crucial in this race, since we need to be self-sufficient in terms of food throughout the course. We need to carry a mandatory list of equipment along with a minimum of 2,000 calories per race day. All of this must fit into a backpack weighing a maximum of 10kg! So it's a truly strategic endeavour to organise one's backpack with all the necessary gear and food.

I had an Excel spreadsheet where I noted everything down along with the weight of each item. The priority is the food, which represents half of the total weight. It's our fuel to sustain us throughout the adventure. I made one bundle per race day where I put the food that I needed. This freed me from having to think about or having to search for food; I just take what's in it.

Next, it's important to consider comfort during the night and take a good sleeping bag and some hygiene products. This ensures proper rest to start fresh the next day.

What were your personal goals for this race? Did you have a specific race plan in mind or were you mainly aiming to finish it?

The objective was to finish the race. I planned to assess the effects of the climate, terrain, and nutrition during the first two stages, and then I was able to see if I could aim for a good spot in the ranks and I'd adjust my strategy accordingly.

How did you manage to cope with the stress and anticipation before the start?

At every major event there's a mixture of stress, anxiety, and excitement. It's the unknown, but you can't wait to experience it! It's strange, but moments like these are what we live for!

I was fortunate to be part of a group of 7 people, and we had been communicating in a group chat for a few months in the build-up where we shared our preparation advice and tips. Additionally, I was in contact with a few more people who had already completed this race as well and they were generous in sharing their experiences and feedback with me.

Did you have any expectations or apprehensions regarding the challenges to come during the Marathon des Sables? Were there any specific aspects of the race that worried you the most?

Like all participants, I was apprehensive about the intense heat and risks of blisters on my feet. It actually is the primary reason for drop outs. Life in the bivouac didn't worry me. On the contrary, I was curious about spending every night for one week in a tent with other people because this complete lack of comfort was what brings us back to the basics.

At night, we'd have the opportunity to see a sky full of stars, something we are rarely able to witness in the city anymore.

We want to express our sincere gratitude to Samir for generously sharing his experience and valuable insights with us. His dedication to finishing the Marathon des Sables is an inspiration to all of those who aspire to tackle challenges like this one. Check out the Salomon shoes and t-shirt that Samir wore.

To find out more about Samir's adventure, we encourage you to follow his Instagram account.

Photo credits: @ph0tocapture

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