Training for The Marathon des Sables: 155 miles in the Sahara Desert

27 Feb 2012 / 5 Comments

This is an interview style blog with Gail Edmans who is training for the Marathon Des Sables which is held in the Sahara desert in Morocco this April. We decided on an interview due to time being precious for someone who manages to fit her training around a full time job and social life.

Some background info:

Gail Edmans

Age: 45

Work : Media sales

Previous achievements:  3 marathons, 1 ultra marathon, 4 ironman triathlons, 2 extreme ironman triathlons ( all within the last 8 years)

Favourite sports person: Rafa Nadal & Chrissie Wellington

Embrunman extreme ironman 2011

Q. What made you want to enter the Marathon des Sables?
A. 2 years ago at an ironman training camp in Malaga the seed was sewn. I knew of the Marathon des Sables but NEVER wanted to do it.  However the coach Simon Ward started talking about his adventure on the MDS  and the great spirit of it and a little light went on. I love camping, the sunshine and a chance to be at one with nature. What’s not to like? Oh and I thought that I might be able to do it.
Q. What have you done in the last 2 years?
A. Well in 2011 I did 2 ironman distances, the very tough IM Lanzarotte and an extreme and by far my toughest and last IM, Embrunman in the French Alps.
Q. Isn’t there a long waiting list to get into the MDS?
A. The tales of a 2-3 year wait are strictly not true as there are so many drop outs. Drop out places become available in the September with the race being early April. So if you are prepared to take a late place,  just 6 months  before the event,  you’re in and almost feeling the sand between your toes. Not forgetting having to cough up the hefty entrance fee.

Marathon des Sables, always stay infront of the camel


Q. So your last IM was in August, what have you been doing since?

A. First a 2 week recovery break from doing 2 IM in a year. Then I thought that I would pretty much put cycling and swimming on hold to concentrate on my my weakest and slowest discipline, running. However I soon realised that x-training was invaluable so I have kept up 1 swim a week with Thames Turbo’s and a couple of bike rides a week. In fact I did a 100 mile cycle today, The Hell of the Ashdown, with some work colleagues. I then researched MDS websites and bought myself a backpack and started running to and from work (10 mile round trip) and adding in some stair reps.

Q. What about injuries, have you managed to avoid these?

A. Well funny you ask now, I was just about to say that I thought that I was bullet proof having got through 2 IM in 2011, but I soon realised when I acquired a nagging calf strain, that you still need to build gradually.  I had been pretty lucky keeping more or less injury free until this set back. I had acupunture and rehab to strengthen the calf, but being a bit too eager to get back it persisted for 7 weeks. I went on holiday end December and this combined with some kinesio taping allowed it to recover fully.  


K-Active kinesio taping for a calf or achilles strain



Q. You mentioned that you were born with a congenital hip problem, how does this affect you?

A. Well yes I was born without having a hip socket for my left femur and therefore spent 2 years on and off, at Stanmore orthopaedic hospital. I’ve managed to adapt pretty well tho. My mum always took me swimming as a kid and I did quite a lot of cycling too. The left leg is weaker and I have a significant leg length difference but otherwise I try not to think about it negatively. Some say I’m stubborn but I like to think its strong willed..ha. My knee does play up time to time on this side and my hamstring on the right leg is always a bit tight. I make sure that I have regular osteopathic treatment  at Osteopath West.

Q. So how do you train for a challenge like this and how do you train for the heat?

A. I have probably put in the best part of 55-70 mile a week running with some walking with a backpack. I know that some of the MdS will be a big hike across the Sahara for me, trying to stay ahead of the 2 camels. As walking uses different muscles its important that I spend time doing that too. They say ‘stay ahead of the camels, don’t let off your distress flares and avoid a foot infection from septic blisters at all costs and you are pretty much still in the race’?? It will be hot in the day and cold at night, for the heat acclimatization I am doing Bikram (hot) yoga once a week and sometimes a double class (3hrs). Having one day a week off is my luxury at the moment…oh and the odd glass of wine or two.

I ran my first ultra marathon last week  50km, I actually did a bit longer as I got lost. Did get one funny concerned tweeter saying that  getting lost in my own back yard doesn’t bode well for the desert! 

Rucksack on for 4 hr run last weekend Richmond Park

Q. What keeps you going through the long hours of training?

A. I’ve always been better with the endurance stuff, gives me an excuse to be slow with less chance of high impact injuries. My stamina compensating for my lack of  3rd, 4th and 5th gear. I also get to listen to show tunes and Elaine Page, which I don’t get away with at home. Training is a hard slog but the incentive of all those gadgets I get to buy and ‘running’ into’ fellow MdSers (easy to spot with a rucksack , shoes 1-2 sizes too big to accommodate for swelling in 40-50c heat and the zombie-like look) training in Richmond park helps. 

“They say it’s 50% physical and 50% mental, I know I am quite physically strong now but sometimes doubt my mental strength so this will be my toughest test yet, either way it will be an amazing experience running, walking and camping in the Sahara and I feel lucky to be part of it”.

Follow Gail on twitter @norsemouse or on my facebook page Osteopath West – Health/Medical/Pharmacy – London, United Kingdom | Facebook for updates.

Trying out my most important night time piece of equipment, ultra light sleeping bag


  1. 27/02/2012

    Hi Gail

    It’s really interesting to hear about your training programme, and also about the congenital hip problem you’ve had to overcome.

    Good luck with the MdS, and look forward to some more blog posts. Would be really interested to know how you are handling your nutrition, both for training and the race.


  2. Ben

    Hi Gail

    Surely you’ll take one luxury item… What will that be?

  3. ronnie

    We will be thinking of u down under,
    great blog ….. make sure u take some
    pics on this challenge, even the gruesome
    ones…..what a fantastic experience & great
    opportunity… go girl xx

  4. Shirley

    You are quite the inspiration and this experience will be amazing and a true test but one you will take in your stride….and gosh Elaine Page!!!

    Look forward to seeing the pics and hearing the stories – fabulous! xx

  5. eils

    Hi Gail,
    Do you have to go to the desert to listen to Elaine Page?

    I have an addition to your equipment itinerary if not already included – a boogie board.

    it’s essential and versatile:
    speedy for the down hills
    a wind break in case of dust storms
    a sun shelter in case of sun (!!)
    a bed to lay on at night (keeps your back straight on the soft sand)
    and it is lightweight

    What a spectacular challenge! Go girl power x

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Marsha El Hage, RGActive triathlon coach & GB triathlete
Marsha El Hage, RGActive triathlon coach & GB triathlete

As a coach and athlete it is important that I am always in top physical condition. Lisa at Osteopath West has helped me stay at the top of my game for the past 3 seasons with her osteopathy, acupuncture and kinesiology taping skills. Lisa will continue to be an integral part of my team for 2013

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