The Marathon Des Sables (MDS) is a ~250 km multi-day race across the Saharan desert (Morocco), or Ica Desert (Peru), which attracts around 1000 competitors annually from around the world. During the MdS race, competitors are self-dependent, carrying their own backpacks which weigh around 5-10 kg in extreme levels of heat stress (~40°C, 40%relative humidity). The route covers sand dunes, dry river beds and, stony and rocky surfaces, and is relentless in terms of physical and mental fatigue.

As part of the Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit’s Environmental Extremes services, We have supported many athletes to take on this challenge over the years. In 2016, Ash Willmott led a team that supported 10 Marathon Des Sables athletes prepare for the race. The team included Dr Mark Hayes and several post graduate research students, including Kirsty Waldock, Rebecca Relf and Emily Watkins. The athletes visited the laboratories 4-6 times for heat acclimation sessions, which included running and cycling in 45°C/40%rh in the lead up to their departure for Morocco. The methods prescribed and measures taken during the heat acclimation were all research-informed from many of the heat acclimation research studies completed here at the University of Brighton.

Out of the 10 athletes supported, 9 completed the race safely and successfully, with some finishing in the top 10% of the field. The research-consultancy support that was provided has now been written-up and appears in a peer-reviewed, academic journal.

Read about heat chamber acclimation that Elizabet Barnes (MDS winner 2015, 2017) experienced at the University of Brighton on runultra’s blog.