MdS Stage 2: A Desert Loop

On May 1, 2009, in Racing, by Meghan

As a result of the desert storm, the 2009 Marathon des Sables (MdS) became an exercise in adaptability and flexibility for race officials and runners alike. Race officials performed daily scrambles to re-assemble new running courses around now-impassible portions of the desert. And we runners often did not know the day’s route or distance until approximately 7 a.m., 2 hours before the stage’s start. This became a fascinating, unique element of this year’s MdS.

Perhaps as interesting as the race’s evolution was the terrain over which we ran. Here’s a brief review of Sahara Desert terrain and the language used to describe it (Please pardon the multiple languages presentation, as this is what I learned out there.):

Dune- A dune is a dune is a dune. Some of them are several hundred feet tall and even wider, while others are less robust.

Dune field- Chains of dunes linked together, covering several square kilometers of the earth’s surface. Often the perimeter of the field contains smaller dunes that rise towards taller dunes and an approximate dune field crest.

DunetteDunettes are the small dunes scattered everywhere in the Sahara Desert. Most of them are less than 10 meters tall and asymmetrical, shallow and hard-packed on their windward side, and steep and uncondensed on their leeward side.

Wadi– As previously discussed, these are dry streambeds (Except for during the desert storm.).

Jebel– A hill, mountain, or a series of hills and/or mountains.

Reg– Again, a wide, completely flat expanse filled with rocks.

Salt flat- A flat area, most times kilometers wide and/or long, where salt minerals precipitate out of soil or rocks. We have these here in the states, like in Death Valley National Park.

On Tuesday morning, we learned that the day’s stage was 23 or so miles in a loop that would start and end in the same spot, the Bivouac. The starting line fervor was just as strong as the previous day’s, and it was impossible not to have fun absorbing some of the crazy energy circulating through the corrals. After about 30 minutes of animated hoopla, the second stage began with gusto.

Like yesterday, I started out at an easy pace with the goal of increasing my effort as the stage progressed. About a half hour into the race, the course scaled up and over a jebel a couple hundred feet tall. I again encountered Luxembourg Simone on the upside of this knoll, and we ended up running in proximity to each other for the next half hour or so. We chatted a bit here and there, had a couple laughs. Together we passed an off-white snake with brown markings, writhing and coiled, obviously disturbed by the race’s passage (Anyone out there have knowledge of North African snake species?).

After idling through the first hour of the race, I decided that I better start working a bit. I turned on my iPod for the next few miles and cranked up the pace. At this point, the course laced itself through an endless string of dunettes. As cute as the word sounds, dunettes can be a lot of work, powering up one side and barreling off the other. Whether or not you like running on dunettes, they sure slow forward progress. I could see the first checkpoint ahead in the distance, but it took a long time to get there through those hundreds of dunettes.

The next portion of the course crossed a white, flat expanse in which one could become easily convinced that the earth was, after all, flat. At one point, I looked forward and backward, and all I could see was a long string of colorful runners crossing a sea of white. I was so mesmerized by this white expanse that I was sad to leave it, climbing into a series of grassy knolls. There, I passed Great Britain Jennifer and a bit later I overtook Belgium Sarah as we ran through a series of small, sandy wadi’s and into the second checkpoint.

After the checkpoint, the course crossed about 10 kilometers of windy, dusty, flatness. Sadly, these flats became a death marching place for some, and I felt much sympathy for the walking and puking I saw scattered about. I used my iPod, several hundred calories of food, a growing count of people I passed, and my yesterday memories of Belgium Sarah’s ability to fight to spur rapid travel across the flats.

The last 3 or so kilometers crossed another red dune field, and I began climbing through the dunes on a hunt for whoever was in front of me. I set my sights on Bill, one of the other Dreamchaser runners, who I had been gradually gaining on for the last few miles. I’m not sure that Bill ever touched the sand; he seemed to float right over it. He was a great person to follow, even though I was unable to catch him, because he spurred me to move well through the dunes. I bonked (and was out of race food for the day) as I descended out of the field’s tallest dunes, but the finish line was in sight and I was across it before long.

At the finish, Bill said that he had seen both Morocco Didi and Spain Luz in front of me that day. The next ladies to arrive were Belgium Sarah and Great Britain Jennifer. I would later learn that I was in second place to Didi by about 20 minutes, and ahead of Luz by about 10 minutes in the overall race rankings.

After finishing, I claimed my water ration for the day, pulled up a piece of Tent 100 carpet, and began the business of recovery. Recovery is the dichotomous process of doing many things (drinking, eating, replacing electrolytes, stretching, elevating your feet) while trying to do almost nothing (lounging and/or napping). Some hours later, my recovery was working and I was again feeling outstanding.

With evening approaching, rumors about the next stage began to float through the Bivouac. We knew that tomorrow was the long stage, but flying rumors told of an extra long stage. According to rumor, 8pm was the witching hour in which race officials would inform us about the next day’s stage. Tent 100 waited with equal parts trepidation and excitement for 8pm’s announcement.

2009 Marathon des Sable's Stage 2 (from

10 Responses to “MdS Stage 2: A Desert Loop”

  1. Bryon Powell says:

    Save some posts for later! 🙂

  2. Danni says:

    No! I want instant gratification! Hurry 🙂

  3. chelle says:

    No, take your time…I have two papers to write and reading your posts is much more fun!

  4. JeffO says:

    I’m with sis – take your time. But I don’t have papers. I have these pesky 50-mile races every stinkin’ weekend! I don’t even have time to post my own adventures. Hard to keep current on others’.

  5. Sunshine Girl says:

    And then? And then? And then? Post them posts, we’ve been anticipating for a month! We’re like a pack of hungry hyenas! Give us the goodies! And Bryon, I think you know this story already…

  6. Backofpack says:

    This is an amazing saga. I need to be clear – I think I read this before, but I don’t remember for sure – you had to bring all your own food? I’m sure the answer for race food is yes, but what about pre/post race food? Did you have to bring that too?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Awesome report Grandma! You ran an amazing race, and you just kept getiing stronger the whole way. +It was a real pleasure to run with you guys. FYI, I made it a policy of never peeing within 200 feet of the tent (well, at least our tent).


  8. Meghan says:

    Bryon- Inspiration comes in fits and spurts, oh yeah, and Internet connections, too. 🙂

    Danni- Well, I’ve just posted more. Happy?!

    Chelle- Hi girl! How are you? Take your time reading, the writing ain’t goin’ nowhere. Hope school is going well for you!

    JeffO- Well, if you weren’t so busy running, then you might have more time for blog reading. Kidding! 😉

    Leslie- You already know the stories, too, dork! How’s you, lady?!

    Michelle- Sorry if I haven’t been clear. You were required to carry food that would last you from breakfast before Stage 1 through the finish line at the end of the race, a minimum of 2000 kcals per day, to include racing and non-racing food. Almost all of the pack weight was food, food, food!

    Bill- Thanks for instigating the pee far off rule. I saw enough of boys’ silliness that week to last a lifetime. Care for some compression socks? I have perfect ones for you. 🙂

  9. […] by the race administration). I also ran the Marathon des Sables in 2009 (My reports are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) and 2010 (my report). This year, I finished as the 5th place woman […]

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