10 05 2022
Mick Hill VS The Marathon Des Sables 2022.
Mick Hills Background
My name is Mick, I’m a serving soldier who has spent the last 19 years in 16 Air Assault brigade. I am an ultra-marathon/multi day endurance runner with a passion for charity work.
In 2019 whilst on exercise in Kenya I decided to look for a new challenge. I ran my first ever half marathon around the small camp that we lived in just outside Nairobi and that night the light bulb moment happened – I decided to enter an ultra-marathon.
Fast forward a few months and I was halfway through my first ever 50 mile race and I was massively regretting my decision! I was broken, tired and deep in the pain cave. But then something happened. I pulled my self out of the pain cave and it was honestly one of the best feelings ever! I finished that race and knew I was addicted to that feeling of accomplishment, of overcoming adversity and pushing myself. I wanted more.
Ultras are effectively any distance beyond the traditional marathon (26.2 miles). They come in many forms with lots of different entry standards and mandatory kit requirements. They are often classed as “trail runs” where the smooth, flat tarmac is replaced by undulating, often boggy forest or woodland routes. They almost always include large amounts of elevation gain just to add to the difficulty.
It takes a little bit of practice and experience before you start to find your feet at these increased distances. One of the most difficult aspects of ultra running is food and water, if you are running for 24hrs straight, how, what and when are you eating?
Trust me, if you haven’t tried eating a burrito whilst cruising at 8min/mile pace after 6 hrs of continuous running……It’s way harder than you think.
The Marathon Des Sables
At this point I have been doing ultras for a few years. Not just official races, 100k, 50 miles, 24 hrs of continuous running etc but I have been setting increasingly difficult challenges for myself. Everything from 3 back-to-back marathons to running the distance from lands end to John O’Groats (virtually) during the first lockdown. Everything I had been doing was leading up to one huge challenge.
The MDS was different to anything I had previously attempted. It’s the big one. The worlds toughest footrace covering 250km across the barren and mountainous Saharan desert whilst carrying all your food and equipment for the 7-day race. With temperatures hitting 45 degrees every day and horrendous sandstorms that blasted us with razor sharp 100kmph winds for 6 hrs at a time. It was brutal and absolutely lived up to its notorious reputation.
Each of the seven stages of the race are a guarded secret until you get out to the desert. You are then given a road book that details each stage and it quickly became apparent that we were in for a rough ride. Each stage featured huge mountain climbs and long, unforgiving sand dune sections. This was going to be tough.
The MDS put me into the deepest of pain caves for hours at a time every day. The sand dunes that stretched for miles at a time tested even the most determined runner. They made you want to quit, and lots of people did.
But I have a secret weapon. The pain cave is my happy place. It’s where I do my best work and its where I feel alive. Day 4 of the MDS Is the long stage, an 85km run across more sand dunes and of course they throw in an ascent up a mountain for good measure. This is by far the day that everyone worries about. Extreme fatigue has already set in, you have barely eaten or slept for days and now you have to get through another 85km. I climbed 80 places on the leader board on this stage alone because I embraced the suffering and pushed through. This was absolutely my favourite day on the MDS.
Food and Nutrition.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing; I was doing well overall and my legs were holding up really well but I had a problem. I couldn’t go to the toilet or eat after day 3. A combination of the heat, the freeze-dried meals and the rationed water was making my body shut down. I desperately needed to get calories in my body so I could keep going but it just wasn’t happening.
Luckily, I took two products with me that without question or hesitation kept me going. My breakfast was now a Combat Fuel whey protein shake and my only source of energy/carbs during the stages came from yclic dextrin. If you are wondering about the effectiveness of these products, put it this way- I managed to run each stage of the MDS purely on cyclic dextrin and whey protein. I will NEVER do an event without these two products. Absolute game changer for me.
As the MDS neared its final day I had a chance to think about why I was there. I was raising money for a charity called The Airborne Gunner Trust, a charity that helps serving soldiers, veterans and their families with whatever is going on in their lives.
This is why I do these ridiculous events. I’m motivated by the charities and by the people who they help. If I can direct my energy into some crazy challenge or event that might help raise some money I will get after it 100%. It’s an amazing feeling.
It’s this motivation that got me through the final event of the MDS. The marathon stage. A shorter day by all accounts but the body at this point is a mess. You wake up on that final day and know that you have to get it done. It’s certainly not going to be a marathon PB but you may as well give it hell.
5hrs later I’m chugging my whey protein with a medal around my neck and a stupid grin that is still on my face right now.
This tested me to the very extremes of what I was capable of and it was an incredible experience.
I would like to thank the amazing people that made all this happen and who supported me from day one – Paul Stoods of Salmon property, the legends over at cannonball coffee, Sam and the rest of the REORG team and of course an extra special thank you to the amazing team behind Combat Fuel.
On to the next challenge……