Alex Stonor, an accomplished runner, is entering the inaugural Marathon des Sables in Peru. This is his second desert race. In 2016 he ran the Marathon des Sables in Morocco, placing 33rd out of approximately 1100 runners. Until recently a soldier with the London Regiment, who saw tours to Afghanistan and to Mogadishu in Somalia, Alex is raising money for the London Regiment Welfare and Benevolent Fund.
The inaugural Marathon des Sables takes place between 28th November and 4th December 2017. The format is similar to the Marathon des Sables Morocco, approximately 250km in total, run over six stages of 30-80 kilometres over seven days. Runners are self-sufficient in equipment, bedding and food, but water, shelter and medical care are provided at checkpoints along the route. See details of the 2017 course here and read his post race interview here.
First a bit of form. And how did you come across the Marathon des Sables?
I have been a runner for years. I often run to or home from work, which in the winter means early mornings and evenings in the wet and dark. When I am not training for a race I generally run 10km three or four times a week.
I heard about the Marathon des Sables through a friend of mine in my Regiment. Heath was heading out to Morocco with some other guys in April 2016 and he persuaded me to join them. Four of us ran the event in April 2016.
And why MdS Peru? Why now?
Obviously it’s exciting to go to a completely new event like the MdS in Peru. Initially, we weren’t going to enter, but the race just kept cropping up in conversation and we would tease one another about it, saying that we would go if the other went. Eventually the decision was made over the summer and we decided we were up for it.
There’s another important aspect to the race for us. In Morocco Heath was raising money for the London Regiment’s Welfare and Benevolent Fund, which supports soldiers from our Regiment who have been injured other otherwise damaged in the course of active service or on operations at home. I’ll be running to raise money for them again this time around. I have hit my interim target of £1000 and I hope that I’ll reach £1500 over the course of the event itself.
I have ramped up the training up since August by doubling my normal distance. I run from where I live and do the circuit of Richmond Park, which makes about a half marathon in total. It’s quite an eerie experience running there in the dark, seeing the deer, just shadows really, walking and trotting past you. And I had a great moment not long ago when visiting friends in Belgium - I found myself running around the battlefields of Waterloo, passing Hougoumont Farm and memorial at the Butte du Lion.
The most difficult thing to train for however, particularly in the cold and dark of London at this time of year, is running the heat…
Having done the race before I have a rough idea of what is coming. I know it’ll be tough at any rate. I laugh when I think back to my first MdS, though. I got the food completely wrong. I was carrying bags of couscous and it only took till Day 1 for my body to reject it completely. Initially I thought I could rough it for the race, but I ended up begging food off other people for the rest of the week. This time I shall be taking the best camping food available.
And last time I injured myself, partially because of my shoes. I ended up with my peroneal tendon so badly inflamed that I had to be taken to the plane in a wheel-chair. So I have better shoes this time too.
Are you ready for it?
I feel that I am ready as I can be, within the constraints of normal life. I have trained harder this time around. Also, I have given up alcohol for the last month before the event. The first few days will always be a shock to the system, you can’t help that, but this gives it a better chance.
Most daunting aspect?
The worry of an injury, probably, is the worst thing, particularly with my memories of my first MdS. If it meant that I couldn’t complete the race then it would be a double hit this time, first personally for not finishing the race, but secondly because I would be letting down all the people who have pledged money for the Fund.
And what are you most looking forward to?
There are lots of things to look forward to. First I’m looking forward to visiting somewhere completely new. Then there’s the camaraderie, with Heath and the others, and meeting other runners and hearing about their motivations. Also I like the fact that we’ll be without a mobile phone for a week, not constantly looking for wifi.
What are your expectations?
We still don’t quite know what we’re letting ourselves in for because they have revealed nothing about the course beyond the fact that it is in the Ica and Nazca Desert south of Lima. I may have trained harder and I will probably cover the ground faster than I did in Morocco 2016, but I am conscious of the competition. I think that the new location has attracted a lot of excellent runners, so the competition may be very stiff. I suspect I’ll be lucky to place as high as 33rd like I did last time.
And you can follow the competitors of the Marathon des Sables Peru here.