21 Mar Getting ready for Marathon des Sables: tips for a successful desert race from the “Belgian Desert Lion” Weking Van Reeth.
Oman Desert Marathon is one of the most favored playgrounds for Marathon Des Sables top runners, we meet Weking Van Reeth, 8th place at the Second Oman Desert Marathon with the excellent time of 14 hours and 19 minutes.
Getting ready for a desert race is not only a matter of physical preparation, but requires also a long great psychological and technical effort.
We asked advice to Weking how to get ready for a desert run.
How long was your preparation?
I started running only one year before I went to the MDS2014 the first time. This year it’s completely different. I started preparing myself for the 30th edition, the day I got home from the 29th. That’s why I went to run the Oman Desert Marathon last year in November. It’s the perfect race for a trained athlete to improve his desert skills. Also for first timers it’s an amazing race to get in touch with the desert. The stages aren’t as long as in the MDS, so there’s much more time to learn and to enjoy the experience.
How did you train in Belgium without the heat of the desert and the sand dunes?
Do you have any suggestion for who wants to run in the desert and have no opportunity to train on sand?
I have to admit, it is a problem when you live in countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, … We don’t have the heat and we don’t have a lot of sand. Anytime I have the opportunity, I try to go abroad and train in de desert.
In my preparation for the MDS this year I went to Oman and I ran a desert marathon in Zagora (Morocco). Of course I can‘t do things like that every month, so I also go to the Belgian coast to train in the sand dunes.
In the south of Belgium we have beautiful trail running races. Of course temperature and soil are different from the Sahara, but they do improve my general shape and race knowledge.
What do you eat during MDS? What is your “comfort food” ?
I prefer to take freeze dried food with me. There are several brands you can buy, but I always prefer to take Expedition Foods with me. These meals are high in calories, low in weight and easy to prepare. Just add some hot water and you’re done with cooking.
During the race however I always use energy bars and gels and I always add some isotonic powder to my water.
But I don’t really need any comfort food. It is so great to go back to this basic life of running, being in the camp at night and not having to think about a job, social life and commitments. I’m so happy I can do this every once in a while, I don’t really need anything to comfort me.
We saw you with a very small bag at the Oman Desert Marathon, do you carry only the food and what is required or you have also something for moral support? (ipod, girlfriend picture, ecc ?)
As said before, when I run a desert race, I do it to get out of the rat race. To get away from ‘normal’ life and to go back to basics. So I only bring the things I need for the race, food, sleeping back, stove, sleeping mattress.…
That’s it. Only for the longer stages I always bring my iPod. I don’t use it every time, but I always take it with me in case I would need it. Some good music always lights up the spirit.
Do you use sand gaiters? do you have any suggestion to avoid blisters?
Every time I run in the desert I use gaiters… This is absolutely necessary. If you don’t, the sand gets in your shoes, in your socks and with all the friction, blisters are unavoidable. My best suggestion is to take care of your feet, cut your toenails before starting the race and cut them properly. Also, 3 weeks before the race starts, I start using Akileine NOK Sports Crème, which is a reinforcing crème.
What is the most common error of first time desert racers?
There are two things in the desert you can never forget: Always take your salt tablets and keep on drinking water.
I think dehydration is the most important mistake made by first timers, but even well trained dare to forget this. For example Rachid Elmorabity (2 times MDS winner) got dehydrated in the 2013 edition and had to leave the race.
Thanks for your precious advice, Weking, we will cheer your during Marathon des Sables and follow your progress during the race.