Athlete, entrepreneur, lecturer, Enduroman record-holder, sports coach... Cyril Blanchard has been juggling his many responsibilities and activities for several years now. At the heart of this multitude of experiences is a burning desire to surpass one's limits and inspire others to do the same. With this in mind, Cyril and his wife, Laurence, embarked on a major challenge: the Marathon des Sables, a race held in southern Morocco. To cope with the extreme conditions and arid temperatures, Cyril was equipped with our cooling towels. Fresh back from this adventure, he tells us more about the difficulties encountered and the means implemented to overcome them.
What is the MDS and why did you take on this challenge?
It's the hardest race in the world, that's what it is. I can really say that because having done the Enduroman, a triathlon which is extremely tough, the MDS is really the toughest race I've done so far. It takes place over several days, the heat is very hard to bear, you don't sleep at night, or at least not very well, because you sleep on the ground. It's very spartan, and you never really recover well from a day of effort. The race follows on from each other with a big 90-kilometer stage on the 4th day and then a 40-kilometer stage after that, which means that in the end it's very traumatic physically and psychologically... It's hard on the body, and you have to know how to manage your water and your diet. This year, temperatures rose to over 50°C, and there was a 30% drop-out rate, which was a first.
As far as I'm concerned, I've been thinking about it for over 30 years. I didn't dream about it in the literal sense of the word, but I knew I'd do it one day or another. Last year, I talked about it with Frédéric de Lanouvelle, who had done it with his 16-year-old daughter, and it made my wife want to do it, so we decided to take on the project together. It's a project we've been preparing for for a year, from every point of view: training, logistical preparation, bag, nutrition...
How did you cope with the heat during the race? Did the cooling clothes help?
It was difficult to cope with the heat. It was really hot, and water temperatures rose very quickly in the bottles. After two or three days, we couldn't swallow anything, either food or drink, because hot water doesn't go down well.
On the other hand, I was able to try out the refreshing towel G-Heat. I used to put it around my head like a chocolate egg, and it really made a difference. With the wind, you can feel how fresh it is, and it's really like having a fresh feeling all the time. The second use I made of it was to put the towel over the water bottles to keep the water cool. And it works really well. It was really great to have freshness with you at all times during the race and fresh water in the evening at the bivouac.
What was the most difficult part of the race for you? How did you manage to overcome it?
That was the third day. Because after two days, you feel the fatigue, you're not really acclimatized yet, and that's also when we had heat peaks of 50°C. There was also a steep gradient. It was really tough and testing, and that's when my wife gave up. I carried on, but the fourth stage was also very, very hard: 90km, over 20 hours, part of it at night, unbearable heat... It's a hell of a sequence.
What were the most positive and negative aspects of your Marathon des Sables experience?
The very positive aspect was the people we met! On the bivouac, we're very close to each other, in an 8-person tent. It may sound harsh when you put it like that, but that's what makes this event so charming. In the evenings, the atmosphere is really uncluttered, and there's a lot of laughter even after a hard day. We got on really well in our tent.
What were the greatest challenges you faced during this race? How did you prepare for them?
The biggest challenge was managing the heat - we always come back to that. The first effect was nutrition: how to feed oneself properly in view of the unbearable heat? There were a few solutions, but they weren't always obvious, like medication. But as far as the heat was concerned, G-Heat was definitely a lifesaver! It clearly allowed us to push our limits.
What advice would you give to someone considering taking part in the Marathon des Sables? What are the mistakes to avoid and the things to do to succeed?
We'll give the advice to ourselves, because if we had it to do over again, we'd do it again. My wife wants to go back, maybe in 2025. Mistakes we won't make again: bag management. We set off with a bag that was too heavy, we knew that, but when you actually experience it, it takes on a whole new dimension. And another thing: psychological preparation. My wife had had a good physical preparation, but psychologically she under-dimensioned certain aspects: the bag, the heat, the mental state that gives way more easily... With hindsight, she could have carried on, but the most important thing is that she lived the experience, we came to learn and obviously we learned a lot. We'll be coming back stronger, more solid and more psychologically robust!