It is less than a hundred days now until I will be undertaking the toughest foot race on the planet: The Marathon Des Sables. Every time I say that out loud my whole body pulses with exhilaration crossed with paralysing fear.
For those of you who haven’t heard of this race before it is a six day, 250km ultra marathon in the scorching Sahara Desert. Not only will I be battling the sand, heat and dehydration I will also be carrying all my food and equipment for the week. For those wondering why on earth I’d want to run something like this I wrote a blog post shortly after I signed up on my reason.
As the event draws ever near I am going to blog about my training and the kit I will be using in the dunes come April. First up are my shoes.
As some of you will know, if you are following me on my social media, I recently started working with Brooks and they were kind enough to send me a pair of their iconic trail shoes; the Cascadia 13s, to try out. A lot of Marathon des Sables runners in the past have sworn by these shoes so I was keen to see if they would be the shoe for me.
I had run my first ultra in a pair of Salomon Sense Pro Max but my big toe burrowed it’s way out the top of them like a prison escapee just before the race and I actually had to gaffer tape both shoes up which was not ideal to put it lightly. They were a great pair of shoes and got me round the brutal Lakeland 50 with no foot related issues but I knew that the constant shifting as I scale dunes would have my big toe burrowing again and I didn’t want an additional thing to worry about through the race. If a hole emerges during the race the sand will undoubtably find it’s way in which would result in some horrendous blisters and sores which could actually end my race. The rubber print mud guard that wraps around the Brooks shoe between the sole and the upper offers another layer of protection against my big toe’s escape plans. Which will hopefully ensure that the shoe lasts longer than the Salomons.
So I laced up these Brooks for my second ultra, the Hurtwood 50K which was at the start of December (blog post about it coming up soon I promise!). I have to admit I was really surprise at how great they performed. I had read a lot of reviews before using them saying that the lugs (the parts of the sole that juts out giving grip) weren’t aggressive enough to give good enough traction in wet conditions. That worry actually kept me awake the night before the race because I didn’t want to spend 50K slipping and sliding but it actually wasn’t a major problem for me at all. I ran using poles (or cheat sticks if you’re that sort of runner!) which certainly helped with stability in the wet and muddy Surrey hills but midway through the race I began to trust that the shoes could take the mud on. Having confidence in my footing is a huge part of trail running for me as it jars my pacing; stopping as you approach a wet section because you know your shoes won’t grip or slowing down to a walk as you fear ending up on your arse in some mud.
One of the main differences in my Salomons vs the Brooks was cushioning. The Salmons I used were built especially for ultras and as such offer more cushioning than the Brooks. The jury is still out on their comparison during ultramarathon distance because at Lakeland 50miler I had fresh legs and was well rested where as Hurtwood 50K I was quite the opposite! However, the fit was much better in the Salomons and this is down to two things. The main issue I had with the Brooks shoe was that I had ordered it on the small side so near the end of the race my little toe was in a fair bit of pain through rubbing. That is obviously more a human error on my side than a shoe issue. For Marathon des Sables I will be ordering a size larger as your feet swell so much in the heat that you are recommended to go either half or full size up to account for the change. The other is in it lacing, where the Salomon shoes are truly superior. They use a patented and brilliant lacing method called their ‘quicklace system’ (picture below) and it really holds your foot securely in place stopping you feet from slipping around in the shoe.
So why have I settled on the Brooks Cascadia 13 over a Salomon shoe? To put it simply its tried and tested. The Cascadia shoe has done the Marathon des Sables hundreds of times and it is actually recommended by personal trainers who specialise in this race. The Salomons I was going to run in that a lot of Ultramarathoners love is too new to have been raced with out in the Sahara Desert. I want to play it safe to reduce pre-race anxiety so picked a shoe that is trusted, the Marathon des Sables is not the time for taking risks for me. Now that’s sorted, lets get on with the training!
Thank you to Brooks for providing me with these shoes, they sent them with no strings attached meaning I could give an honest review of these shoes. If you want to try out a pair their website offers a 90 day trial period in the UK so you can give them a good amount of mileage before deciding if they are the shoe for you. LINK HERE