The Marathon Des Sables Journal

The Long Stage

It was 2:30AM and we had been moving across the Sahara Desert for over 19 consecutive hours. Under a blanket of stars, we sat down on the cool sand and leaned back against our backpacks. We each stretched out our weary legs and extended our arms into the sand feeling the little grains dance across our skin. Although neither of us had voiced the thought, as we laid our heads back and closed our eyes, we silently prayed for a scorpion to emerge from the sand and find us enticing enough to sting. Yes, you read that correctly; we prayed for a scorpion.
At this point, we were tapped out and mentally in a really low place. My mom was in excruciating pain with blisters covering the bottoms of her feet and the exhaustion and fatigue from hours in the hot Saharan sun and chasing time cut-offs were enough to drop me to my knees and cry. We didn’t want to make the decision to quit, but we wanted the race officials to make it for us. If we were stung by a scorpion, we’d be medically withdrawn from the race and our Marathon des Sables race would be over. We’d be forced to stop, and we were okay with that. Call it sleep deprivation or a form self-preservation, but the best solution in our mind was certainly extreme.

Twenty minutes of sleep went by all too quickly and there was nary a scorpion to be found. We each sat up and let our eyes adjust to the darkness, dimly lit by the setting moon and stars. At the realization of our unanswered prayers, we looked at each other and my mom said, “Shall we?” to which I answered, “We’re finishing this.” We switched on the Suprabeam M6xr lights clipped to our packs and set off to finish the next stage.

Marathon des sables
Kassie Budznik feet

The Birthday Gift – July 2019

For years I had heard about my mom’s dream of running the legendary Marathon Des Sables, a 150-mile self-sufficient stage race across the Moroccan Sahara Desert. Any time she came across a fellow runner who had completed it, read an article, or watched a documentary detailing its toughness, she’d light up and talk about how extraordinary it would be to do the race one day. Little did I know that her words stuck with me until I was trying to come up with a special birthday gift for her. After thinking long and hard on it, I decided that the best gift would be an experience and what better opportunity to gift her with than the 2020 Edition of Marathon Des Sables! As a mother and daughter team, we planned to tackle the desert together and make memories to last a lifetime!

Finally! – April 2023

After numerous postponements due to COVID, we were finally set to start the 37th Marathon des Sables on 23 April 2023, almost 4 years later! It is rumored that getting to the start line is more challenging than the race itself, and there’s an element of truth to that. Prepping for a self-sufficiency race was unlike anything we had done before. Self-sufficiency for this meant that we had to carry everything we needed for a week minus water and shelter, which were provided by the race organization. From 14,000 calories worth of food, a sleeping bag, extra clothes, and sandstorm goggles to medical supplies, sunscreen, headlamps, toilet paper, and a small bar of soap, we each had to carry all our equipment in a single backpack. My mom and I spent countless hours testing gear and equipment, making spreadsheets, and going over calculations to try and keep our equipment/packs as light as we could without being utterly uncomfortable.

Upon arriving at the bivouac, we sat in our camel-haired berber tents and continued going through our packs numerous times. We shared thoughts and ideas with our illustrious and experienced tentmates and even began the process of removing tags from clothing and equipment to save weight. On Saturday afternoon before the race, it was time for the final weigh-in and technical check with the MDS race officials. With a goal of keeping our packs under 9kg, we successfully made it happen with my mom’s pack weighing in at 7.9kg and my pack weighing in at 8.6kg.

Finally, with all the preparation done, equipment checked and weighed, there was little left for us to do except do our best to keep the race jitters to a minimum and get a good night’s sleep. We embraced the sandstorms when they came and celebrated the simplicity and beautiful Saharan desert as the day turned into night and the millions of starts danced in the sky.

A marathon des sables journal

The Race – 7 Days, 250km, 1,085 Starters

The 37th Marathon des Sables 250km race was broken down into 6 stages across 7 days. This year, stage 1 was 36km, stage 2 was 32km, stage 3 was 34km, stage 4 – the long stage, covering two days – was 90km, stage 5 – the marathon stage – 42.2km, stage 6 was 10km.
On the morning of stage 1, 1,085 athletes stood nervously under the inflatable start line. Along with our MDS race director, Patrick Bauer, each morning began with singing Happy Birthday to all the celebrants and then transitioned to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” blasting across the speakers. The energy buzzed each day with excitement and anticipation as the countdown started, everyone chiming in for the “3… 2… 1… Go!”

Over the course of the race, we encountered sand, djebels, salt flats, dunes, extreme temperatures peaking out between 46-47C, herds of camels, dry riverbeds, and numerous sandstorms. Of the 1,085 athletes who started, only 765 were able to cross the finish line, a dropout rate of almost 30%. From that perspective, the 2023 edition is now hailed as the second hardest edition. And my mom and I did it with a cumulative time of 70 hours and 43 minutes! We finished together holding hands and snapped a celebratory picture with the race director, Patrick Bauer, our arms embracing one another.

When asked by a fellow finisher if we could describe our experience in a single word what would it be, my mom answered “Fun,” and I answered “Unforgettable.” Both of which were so true, although, maybe not in the middle of the night when we’re praying for scorpions!

Before the start of marathon des sables
Camels in the desert
Primitive tents


I have heard from so many people that Marathon Des Sables will change your life. I wasn’t sure at the time how much I believed that, but as I sit here now, a little over six weeks since the race finished, I can say without a doubt that it’s true. We are changed. What we went through together, me and my mom, our tentmates, all the athletes who toed the start line, was an experience of a lifetime. It’s still hard to put into words exactly what happened out there and I’m okay with that. This 37th Marathon des Sables experience was truly Unforgettably Fun!

Equipment Highlights – What worked for me and what I’d recommend!

Headlamp: Suprabeam M6xr
Perfect for the long stage! The course markings used reflective tape which was easily picked up by the low-level setting and when we came upon really rocky sections, max-level led the way.

Food: 2,500cal/day
Lots of salty foods! Our favorite items included, crackers, salted pistachios, salted corn nuts, and beef jerky.

Shoes: Hoka Arahi 6
I went back and forth between using a road or trail running shoe. Ultimately, I went with what worked best for my foot structure, wide toe box and stable platform, and then comfort.

Pack: Raidlight Revolutiv 24L & Front Pack
This was a great pack for me! I liked how lightweight it was, it offered me quick accessibility to my food and necessary racing gear in the front pack and held up relatively well – only one small tear on the shoulder strap that was easily fixed with duct tape.

Sleep: Western Mountaineering – HighLite Sleeping Bag
Perfect sleeping bag for this race. Although it was initially too warm to get into it two of the nights out there, I always crawled into it before morning when the temps dropped down.

WAA Ultra Running Skirt, Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake Long Sleeve Hoody, Drymax Trail Run ¼ Crew, Runderwear Balance Sports Bra, Sunday Afternoons Sun Guide Cap, Oakley Radar EV, Solumbra Hand Guards

Kassie Budznik

Check out the light Kassie and her mother brought

Suprabeam have sponsored lighting equipment for Kassie and her mother

2023-07-06T11:55:59+00:00July 4th, 2023|
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