Nick Butter - Blog

Endurance Athlete, Adventurer, Author, & Motivational Speaker

MDS – Tips and Tricks

If you’re considering running Marathon des Sables… Don’t! I’m only joking of course. The point is it’s not like any other multi day ultra race. It’s 80% mental endurance. Lot’s of sand that just can’t be run.


Firstly I don’t claim to know everything, and in fact I’m far from knowing anything… however I have a little knowledge of Marathon des Sables that may come in handy.

Below is a list of the key areas that you may wish to take a look at:

My Race Kit

Here’s a list and a few pics of the kit I used and some comments where necessary.

Basic Kit is as follows:

The 3 pairs of socks are key, throw them away after 2 days to save weight in your bag. Use Zovirax instead of lip balm because it repaired your lips better, and take a pair of very light weight slippers for walking around camp. It is rocky. If you wish to take your phone and watch then a non solar charger works for the week. Such as the Pebble. The choice of top is up to you, i took both a compression X bionic top and short sleeves loose fitting. I wore the loose fitting top every day and the compression at night if it was cold. It only weighs 90gs. The key is your starting weight you don’t want a bag heavier than 7.5 kg… the lighter the better.


In terms of trainers, you need a wide fitting shoe which is at least 1 size bigger. This will leave space for your swollen feet when they get hot but also, as I discovered the bandaged for blisters. Once you have your trainer, you will need to get your gaiters fitted around your shoes. I used The Shoe Healer. They charge £50 and they neatly sew the velcro fabric around the trainers for you to attach the gaiters. Here is there website. Click on the image to go to the site.

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Mandatory Kit is as follows:

Venom Pump, Safety Pins x 10, knife with metal blade, 200 euros, needle and thread (great for popping blisters), Lighter, head torch with spare batteries, compass, foil blanket, singling mirror, ECG signed by doctor, and sun cream. You also get given a log book, your water tag, and race numbers. Do not lose any of these. On top of these a sleeping bag that keeps you warm to -5 is best, it does get cold at night. The race pack is debatable. I took a raid light Olmo 20L which worked really well. However train with the bag without doing the straps up. Due to regulations you can’t wear the bag with straps across your chest. The number must  be showing.

Food supplies are as follows:

Mandatory requirements say you must have 2000 calories per day for 7 days. Totalling 14,000.  I bagged each of my meals, snacks, electrolyte tabs, energy bars and freeze dried food into daily bags. The weight of my food was about 4.5kg and I took just over 15000 calories. It is important to take a variety of food. Whatever you take you will grow to hate it. Mix sweet and savoury and play close attention to the calorie, carb and weight ratio. All fat and no carbs won’t work. It is also your choice if you wish to take a stove. I didn’t and regretted it. Warm meals in the evening can put a smile on your face I found.

I took nuts, fruit pastels, twiglets, beef jerky, frozen expedition food meals, and high 5 energy bars.

Expedition Foods

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High 5

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Preparations in advance

In my mind there are 3 things. 1 running up hills, 2 acclimation to the heat and 3, foot care.

So firstly I like to think this is where I have some knowledge. Hills and distance day after day for a few weeks, then rest and go back to the start. Get your legs ruined and hurting with muscle pain, nothing else.  My legs weren’t sore in the desert, it was just foot care which let me down. If I did the race again I’d prepare my feet by going on a few road runs or on a treadmill up hill with bare feet. The few people without many blisters at the end of the race were those who hardened their feet. That said it’s important to note I have run long distances before many times and not struggled with blisters much at all.

So this just leaves heat acclimation. Below are a few details from the very useful and helpful Chichester University. There are many areas you can go to have heat acclimation, Chichester have great conditions, great staff and are cheap in comparison.

Andy works at Chichester Uni and was my main point of contact. Incredibly friendly and willing to accommodate times to fit around life. He wrote the below for me as an outline of what is offered.

Nick and I have been working closely, I’m a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Physiology at the University of Chichester, as part of his training for the tough event. 

Nick has undertaken sessions in the University’s heat chamber which replicates the conditions that he will face in the Sahara including temperature, humidity and radiant light to imitate the feel of the sun. During the sessions I monitor Nick’s core body temperature, heart rate, fluid intake and sweat rate so that his acclimation response is maximised, whilst ensuring his safety.


“Repeated exposure to the heat will help Nick’s body slowly adapt to the heat – in this instance, the heat of the Sahara desert. This type of training is designed to increase body (core and skin) temperature, induce high levels of sweating and increase skin blood flow. All of these responses stimulate physiological adaptations, which will improve Nick’s tolerance to exercise in the heat and reduce his chances of suffering from heat illnesses, such as heat exhaustion.”

The University of Chichester’s chamber is ideal for athletes who walk, run, cycle and row around the globe, as it can replicate temperature and humidity from -20 °C to 50 °C and 10-90 % respectively. It can also simulate altitudes of up to around 22,000 m by reducing the oxygen concentration in the room from ~21 % to ~ 9 %. The University works with a range of athletes to help them prepare for a variety of environmental conditions before they compete in important events.

Find out more about the University of Chichester’s Sports Performance and Rehabilitation Centre, or contact Andy West at

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Here’s a few readings of my time at the lab

Nick Butter - Session 1Nick Butter - Session 2

My story & race report can be found here.


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