Last updated: 26-Oct-18
By Susie Chan
Gemma Game returned to the Marathon des Sables (MdS) this year after bagging herself a top 10 place in 2015.
This year, in a strong female field she ran strong and took home a podium place and 3rd lady, and she did it all in her relaxed and very modest style. I caught up with Gemma post MdS to see how she felt second time round and asked her for some ultra running tips.
Q. It’s your second time at MdS. how did it compare to the first? What changes (if any) did you make to kit/training/race strategy?
A. The second time at MdS was just as good as the first. There was a little bit of everything that makes MdS unique – sandstorms, staggeringly beautiful desert landscapes, heat and the camaraderie of the bivouac at the end of each day. I went into my first MdS knowing nothing about ultra running, so made a couple of major rookie mistakes.
I got my training wrong (by running exclusively on pavements at home, which was pretty rubbish preparation for running on sand) and messed up my nutrition on the long stage (didn’t take enough food with me). So there were some pretty simple changes that I made that made a significant difference to my preparedness for the race.
Q. What are your top 3 tips for people thinking about running the MdS?
A. Do it. The MdS is a really special race. A restore-your-faith-in-humanity type race. Plan for it. People do the MdS for a myriad of reasons and what works for a middle-of-the-pack runner might be quite different from what works for someone who wants to complete the MdS in fancy dress.
There are so many great resources available that offer advice so you can tailor your preparation to your individual goals. Embrace it. It’s not every day you get the chance to camp out in the wilderness with a thousand other like-minded people. Even if things don’t go to plan during training or during the race, embrace the experience.
Q. What would be your advice to anyone thinking about moving up into ultra marathons?
A. Dip your toe in, you might like it. The ultra scene is growing fast and you don’t have to travel halfway across the world to try one out. There are loads of great races across the UK as well as further afield.
Do your research. There’s a huge variety of distances and terrains to choose from and a 160km race in the Alps will require different preparation from a 50km woodland trail race. I’ve learned the hard way that specific training for a race can be hugely beneficial.
Don’t be intimidated. With time, training and a bit of stubbornness, completing an ultra marathon is achievable. There’s a great sense of community in ultra running and organised events tend to be very friendly affairs, welcoming everyone.
But if you’re a bit shy and prefer running solo (like me), you can run an ultra distance (50km) without having to sign up for an event – just take enough food and water with you in a rucksack, and plan a route that passes by places where you can refuel. (Be sensible though and always tell someone where you’re going and which trails. Just in case they have to come and peel you off the side of a hill (like my husband had to in Mallorca once!).