Along with testing out your rucksack before you go, it is important to test out your hydration system too to make sure it works for you.
What hydration system should I take?
You have a number of choices;
Bottles on the front
bottles on the side
Side bottles fit to the sides of your rucksack. You will have to buy (if you haven’t got) side pockets that fit onto your rucksack. Similarly bottle(s) that you carry on your front fit into a front pack that you will have to fit onto your rucksack.
I don’t think I saw anyone with a hydration bladder. They are not that hygienic at the best of times, so add 50 degrees of heat and you could have a recipe for tummy troubles. Bottles are also easier to fill up at the checkpoints and easier to monitor how much you are drinking. Plus you can carry one with electrolytes in, and one just plain water.
I went with Raidlight bottles in side pockets, but I wouldn’t recommend them. The long straw got clogged up with sand and wouldn’t open, so resulted in me just taking the straw off and using it a a normal bottle. I’ve had a quick look to see what else is out there, and I can’t find any new bottle products with long straws (so you don’t have to keep removing your bottle from your side pocket). However the new WAA MDS bag complete with side bottles has now been launched and Laurence Klein (3x female winner) endorses it so could be worth a punt.
However I did prefer carrying bottles at the side rather than in the front though. It takes a bit of time to get used to running with then there. I felt a bit like a robot with zapper guns at my side!
Suggestions welcome as to other thoughts and ideas.
How much should I drink?
I drank around 150ml every 15-20 minutes, and usually alternated between my electrolyte and plain water bottle. This worked well for me. The best plan is to drink little and often as I’m sure you already know.
What else should I drink apart from water?
Electrolytes are vital in Marathon des Sables because they replace the minerals and salts lost in sweating that water cannot. It’s important to decide what electrolytes you plan to use and use them before you go, as you need to get used to them. I trialled Nuun, elete, Zero and Go and ended up using elete as they were very light and didn’t taste of anything, so I could stomach them better than fruit-based ones.
I used one side bottle for electrolytes and one for plain water.
Likeys stock a great range of electrolytes.
As well as electrolytes you are given a bag of salt tablets for the week. It’s important to pop these like sweets as well throughout the day. One of the main reasons people don’t complete MDS is not down to a lack of fitness, it’s dehydration. And what a crap thing to happen to you after all those months or years of training and planning.
I also drank a recovery shake within 30 minutes of finishing a stage. These were also a nice treat to look forward to as they tasted like milkshake which was heaven out there.
How do you get your water supply?
You get given 1.5 litres at every checkpoint (roughly) and each checkpoint is around 10km. Sometimes you will be given double rations if it is a particularly hot day or strenuous section. You present your punch card at each checkpoint. It gets punched and a smiley MDS volunteer will give you your supply of water.
You also get rations back at camp to be used for washing and cooking as well as drinking.
I had plenty of water for the week. Too much sometimes.
A good tip is to mark your water somehow when you are back in camp. There will be tons of bottles sitting around so it’s useful to know which is yours to lessen any problems with upset stomachs from drinking someone else’s water.
More to read: Marathon des Sables: nutrition