FFF 115: Running The Marathon de Sables: Sun, Sand & Scorpions – with Brian Keane


In this episode, Scott and Brian Keane talk about Brian’s experience in completing the Marathon Des Sables, a six-day, self-sufficient running marathon throughout the Sahara Desert. Brian gives us his firsthand account of what the marathon is like, the crazy challenges, and how he prepared for it as somebody who has never done anything like it before.

Brian is not a runner initially. He played sport all his life, Gaelic football as such, which was their national sport in Ireland. He was a bodybuilder and fitness model – just a complete opposite to a runner.

Why He Decided to Join the Marathon

It was at a Tony Robbins event that he attended in Amsterdam where someone he met talked about Marathon Des Sables, which massively drew his interest. To prepare, he signed up for his first 2k run then got to increase to 3k per week, building it up gradually, until he has been doing 50-100 km every week on top of his gym sessions.

Preparing for the Event: Simulating the Actual Run

For Brian, the challenge was to condition himself with the heat, considering he’s used to living in cold climate. Doing his heat conditioning in the sauna, he felt he hadn’t done enough of it as much as he did training for it where he did a lot of road work and treadmill work. He’d put in 10 kg in his pack, alternating between high inclined runs and actual 10km runs every 10-20 minutes.

If you sign up for any non traditional marathon, or even if it’s traditional marathon, it’s critical to know the route. Having predominantly road-based and treadmill-based training, Brian struggled with the harsh conditions in the desert – 10 types of sands in the desert, rocks, and jagged edged stuff that can just split though your feet.

Obviously, his body wasn’t conditioned for it that he’d describe his feet as being mangled after the run.

Nutrition During Marathon

It’s very difficult to build muscle and prepare for a marathon because their two goals are very much on the opposite ends of the spectrum nearly. However, through right training and really good nutrition, Brian didn’t really lose any size preparing for it. He did, however, run out of food on the last day so he got depleted. Coming back from the event, he ate 16.000 calories over two days and he just grew huge!

Having knowledge of fitness nutrition, Brian nailed the energy standpoint. But what he did underestimate was the emotional pickup of having treat foods with you. Water was also rationed throughout the event and salt tablets were given as well.

Other Harsh Conditions During the Marathon

Brian remembers how crazy everything was – from seeing people vomiting blood or pissing blood to running over scorpions and snakes that you’d have to keep a venom pump handy at all times. Not to mention the sandstorms you’d have to endure. It’s like you’re in a survival, fight or flight mode continuously.

Given the heat, dehydration is another challenge. On top of that, it’s very hard to get rehydrated because you’re always sweating.

Control the Uncontrollable

What he realized was that there were a lot of factors you couldn’t control like weather, track, scorpions or snakes, but you can control your hydration, nutrition, salt, etc. This was the mindset Brian had in order to endure.

Are You Willing to Pay the Price?

Running marathons can be costly considering all the expenses that come with it. But is the person you want to be on the other side worth paying that price? If it’s yes, then that’s a no-brainer.

  • A brief description of Marathon Des Sables
  • Why Brian decided to join the event
  • What he did to prepare for the marathon
  • The importance of knowing your route, especially for nontraditional marathons
  • How could he have done it differently to prepare for it
  • What kinds of food did Brian pack?
  • Why you need to bring treat foods with you
  • The different harsh conditions and challenges during the marathon
  • Having a thought process of controlling the uncontrollable
  • The cost of joining a marathon vs. the value that you get from it
Quotes & Take-Aways

You basically just have to make your way from Point A to Point B over the six-day period and try to survive and finish it.

You start with whatever you can and then you progressively overload in the same way you do the weights. You just build things up gradually.

It’s very difficult to build muscle and prepare for a marathon because their two goals are very much on the opposite ends of the spectrum nearly.

I was fine from a nutritional standpoint but I did underestimate the emotional pick me up of certain foods you have.

You’re in this really survival mode all the time, consistently. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

I had the thought process of control the uncontrollables.

Connect with Brian:

Thanks for listening and the support – if you enjoyed this episode, I hope you can leave the podcast a rating and review on iTunes, and if you haven’t subscribed yet, this is the best time to do that too. This will help the show to get up in the rankings.

Scott Baptie

Scott is the owner and founder of Food For Fitness. He is a fat loss coach, speaker and fitness writer with a masters (MSc) degree in Applied Sports Nutrition.