Marathon Des Sables: A chat with local athlete, Randy Perkins

Marathon Des Sables Landscape

We recently had a chance to sit down with local ultrarunner Randy Perkins and chat about his upcoming race: Marathon Des Sables. If you haven’t heard of Marathon Des Sables, you can check it out at marathondessables.com. The short story is that it’s an insane race through the Sahara desert, covering 155 miles over the course of 7 days. Time Magazine and The Discovery Channel have both called it the toughest footrace on earth and, well, Randy is awesome enough to give it a shot!

 

{PEP} 155 miles in 7 days, across the Sahara Desert. That’s just crazy talk. What made you decide to run this race?

{Randy} I think it was just the idea of the challenge.  With Time Magazine and Discovery Channel calling it  the toughest foot race on Earth, how could I not?!  Plus, running in the cold, wet Northwest during the winter months had me thinking 120° sounds like perfect run weather!  I learned about the MdS from a friend in Paris (MdS is a French organized event) and was very surprised to see so few Americans competing in this event (less than 5%).

{PEP} I hear it’s self supported, too (other than water). What sort of supplies are you bringing with you?

{Randy} Well, most importantly of course is the nutrition.  MdS requires each participant show up with a minimum of 14,000 calories in a pack weighing no more than 30 pounds .  Choosing the right nutrition comes down to calories, taste, weight and taste.  And taste is important too.  I tested out some high calorie backpacking meals but something in them just didn’t settle well with me.  Think I’ve dialed it down to top ramen, chicken broth, jerky, nut butter and freeze dried fruits.  We are also required to carry an emergency flare, compass and anti-venom kit in case a snake or scorpion decides to cozy up inside our tent or in our shoes while sleeping!

{PEP} What was the application process like? Thousands of people apply every year, but only a fraction get in.

{Randy} I was very surprised I got a slot on my first attempt and credit that to good luck and good timing.  The North American entries are distributed by Jay Batchen of DreamChasers out of Driggs, Idaho who gets about 100 slots each year from the MdS organizers.  Basically, you go to their web site and pay to be placed on the wait list.  When the time comes be ready to move!  At €2,900 its quite the commitment…monetarily, time wise and not to mention the training to prepare for that kind of distance and day after day exertion.

{PEP} Have you ever done anything like this before?

{Randy} I’ve run a few half marathons but nothing like this in terms of multiple days and distance.  My last event outside of the US was in Chile swimming across the Strait of Magellan and think I’m still trying to warm up from that.

{PEP} The conditions are epic. Sand dunes, mountains, scorching heat – looks like you’ll be running through just about every condition most runners try to avoid, except you’ll be running through all of them at once! What have you done to train for the event?

{Randy} Greg…you are not helping my comfort level going into this race!  We aren’t able to replicate the temps expected in North Africa during a winter in the Northwest but we definitely have the hills and trails needed to increase strength and endurance for running up and down the sand dunes for the better part of a marathon.  Since November I’ve trained by running just over 600 miles with 60,000 feet of climbing in preparation for the dune day and 50 mile day.  I feel comfortable with my ability to acclimate to heat ever since competing in a 14 hour triathlon in Abu Dhabi back in 2012 plus my experience running in Eastern Washington and Texas during the summer months.

Randy Perkins: Marathon Des Sables

{PEP} You mentioned they keep the exact route a secret until race day, how does navigation work in a race like this? Are you doing anything different to prepare?

{Randy} Just reminding myself to be patient.  I’ve been told that most people who end up lost do so because they keep pushing ahead when not exactly sure of their location and correct direction to next check point.  We have been told to stay put during a sandstorm when visibility can drop to just a few feet.

{PEP} Recovery has to be a huge component of a race like this. What are you planning for recovery each day? Do you have a routine set, or are you just going to make it up as you go along?

{Randy} Recovery has been super critical in my training days! At home I have access to an ice bath after each long run (which sucks after a four hour run in the rain and snow), quality nutrition including a ton of fresh vegetables, post run recovery chocolate milk as well as my foam roller, none of which will be available to me in the desert.  But recovery is still possible during the race and will begin with a powder recovery drink, timing of nutrition/meals as well as proper rest and stretching.

{PEP} What are you most excited about?

{Randy} I’ve always enjoyed international races in exotic locales and have never been to Morocco.  Running and practicing my French at the same time, what more could one ask for?

{PEP} Do you have any goals, other than to avoid snakes?

{Randy} I’m definitely one who races for the experience and simply finishing is enough for me…and hopefully without too much suffering.

{PEP} And on top of all that, you are supporting a charity, too. Where can PEP blog readers find out more about the cause? 

{Randy} Please take a look at www.my.charitywater.org/mds.  As someone who participates in long endurance events, the amount of water we waste is amazing considering what many people throughout the world go through for this precious resource. I’m guilty of opening a bottle to take one drink and disposing of the rest just because I have no spare pockets or just worried about carrying that extra weight while training or competing. Water is such a scarce resource in this part of the world that MdS writes the athlete number on every bottle it distributes and penalizes if the bottle is found with any remaining water in it. This was the inspiration to work with my.charitywater in preparation for this event. my.charitywater builds and installs permanent, clean well water installations that provides safe drinking water in locations around the world, including North Africa.  Thanks for asking!

 

Marathon Des Sables starts the 14th of April, and Randy takes off soon to conquer the Sahara. Check out his blog and be on the lookout for a few in-race photos and another blog post about his finish in the next few weeks. Good luck, Randy!

 

6 thoughts on “Marathon Des Sables: A chat with local athlete, Randy Perkins

  1. Laura says:

    It’s been so exciting to follow your training and preparation for this amazing adventure, Randy. I know that all of your Northwest winter running has prepared you for the Sahara; if you can run in the Northwest, you can run anywhere :). Be patient, have fun and come back with stories galore. Cheering for you!

    • Laura says:

      Forgot to add my favorite part of your preparation, so far, is all of the cool gadgets and gear. So happy you clued in to the wonders of wool – keeps you warm, keep you cool, keeps you odor free – all things that will be important in the Sahara!

  2. Kim Everheart says:

    Randy you are crazy! You keep proving me right on this. I wish there was a way for us to track you but I guess I will just have to be patient and wait for the stories when you get back! Assuming you don’t get eaten by a camel.

  3. Susan SHULENBERGER says:

    Randy, you never cease to amaze me. Thank you for taking us all along on your incredible endurance events. You take endurance training to a new level! You’ve got this one! Sounds like you will deserve all the great food in Paris when you are done and will never want any more Top Ramen – ever. Have an awesome journey – I’m looking forward to hearing ALL about it when you are home.

  4. Shannon says:

    How does someone TOP swimming the treacherous, chilly Strait of Magellan without a wetsuit? Seven days of running in the Sahara Desert…if you are the great Randy Perkins! Go RP, go!

  5. Navin Singh says:

    Randy, The Dos Equis man has nothing on you because you are truly the most interesting man in the world!! Stay trusty my friend! Well I guess that’s not the best thing to say to someone about to take on the Marathon DesSables 🙂
    You my friend are going to be strong and rock this!! I believe in you, go get it Randy!!

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