Training takes off with a bang!

No rest for the wicked! With my first 100 miler looming in June (Mohican 100) and Race to the Stones 100km in July I knew I had to get back into training pretty quick after finishing Marathon Des Sables (MdS). Luckily I did not pick up any issues during MdS (blisters/injuries) so after 2 weeks off training it was time to get back into it, and what better way to do it than a weekend running in the trails of Helvellyn in the Lakes District with #TrailTeam2014 with Trail Running Magazine & Berghaus.  I was fortunate enough to be selected, with 99 other runners to take part in a trail running weekend hosted by Berghaus, Torq Fitness and Led Lenser (we were split between 2 weekends, one London based and one in The Lakes).  They are going to be selecting 4 of us in total to join the Team for 2014 and reap some of the benefits of a professional running team (including a 3 day training camp in the Alps), so fingers crossed I am one of those four!  Even if I am not selected, I have had the most amazing experience and feel so lucky to be able to take part.

What a weekend it was!  I had forgotten how absolutely stunning The Lakes are, and we were blessed with a bit of sunshine making an appearance for Saturday at least, and a dry day Sunday.  The guys and gals from Freestak had organised a superb weekend, along with the brilliant support from Berghuas, Torq Fitness, LED Lenser, running legends Steve Birkinshaw and Helene Whitaker.  I learnt loads.  Not only from the talks during the day that were put on for us, but also from chatting to the other runners.  It was great to learn about the products Berghaus do for running (and adventure sports in general), I might just be tempted to buy their new waterproof Vapourlight jacket, it only weighs 86g!  Perfect for those ultra races that require mandatory kit!  I am probably not the only one who had a light bulb moment when Ben from Torq was giving us the science on nutrition.  Perhaps the reason I can sometimes struggle during races is the fact I am taking on the wrong fuel.  I am going to try the 90g carbohydrates every hour (including the first hour) as prescribed and see how this goes.  With my goody bag of Torq gels, bars & fuelling powder I have got plenty to work with.  People weren’t wrong when they said their Rhubarb & Custard gel is to die for!  So tasty, let’s see how it tastes 4hrs into a run though!  Although LED Lenser supported with a couple of prizes, this was the let down of the weekend as there weren’t any head torches to try out, I would really have appreciated the chance to try this out on Saturday evening to see if their torch is any better than the Petzl I have.

I wasn't getting in that!

I wasn’t getting in that!

We had a 45 minute run on the Saturday to finish the day with Steve leading the charge, it was 35mins straight up hill and 10 mins back down.  My quads were feeling that!  The YHA Helvellyn put on a tasty dinner for us that night and we were all up for hours swapping race stories, training plans and just general running chit chat!  I had to force myself to bed, or I would have been up all night talking.

Berghaus Trail Team 2014

Berghaus Trail Team 2014

Sunday morning we all set off together with Steve & Helene (and Helene’s husband and a friend joining us as well as extra guides) and we summited Helvellyn and enjoyed running around the hills, making up a total of 8.5miles with 3,000ft of ascent.  It was great to be running alongside so many great & inspirational runners, with the chance to chat together and take in the gorgeous scenery.

Flying at the summit of Helvellyn

Flying at the summit of Helvellyn

This is exactly the type of training I have been missing.  Hills & trails.  I have spent too much time on the road and the flats, which has really built up my endurance, but I know I need this for my strength overall.  This weekend just added more confirmation of that fact, and why not do it for the enjoyment as well, I haven’t had that much fun running for ages.  I just felt so free up there, in one of the most spectacular places in the world, and I am fit & healthy enough to be running around it, what’s not to love.

Stunning place for a run

Stunning place for a run

I have been working on my new training plan with Gary Reynolds from Runners Paradise, and he has put together a plan for me, taking into account my goals and what I have learnt along the way in terms of what I need to focus on, which is leg and core strength whilst maintaining and growing my strong endurance and fitness.  Although difficult for me to grasp mentally I am actually cutting back my mileage and focussing more on quality rather than quantity.  With an added focus on strength & conditioning.  Obviously the proof will be in the pudding for my upcoming events, the Mohican 100 and the Race to the Stones 100km.

 

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Selection for The North Face Ultra Team – excited or what!

The north face

After the elation of completing the Marathon Des sables, I was expecting to ‘come down’ as you normally would imagine after such a massive achievement and experience in my life. But that was not to be, I had been selected as part of The North Face Ultra Team! What fantastic news! I have been chosen, along with 9 other inspirational women (read more about us all here) to compete in Race To The Stones 100km in July, with the support of The North Face with the aim to encourage more women to step up to start taking part in ultras.

I am really proud to be a part of this team and fantastic project aimed to encourage more women to get involved in running further than marathon distance. And why not!? Women are strong, and a lot of the time we are stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and ultra running is the perfect sport to test your own boundaries. An ultra event is different to the traditional 10km, half marathon or full marathon where the atmosphere can be super competitive and possibly a bit off putting for some. At an ultra race the primary aim of a high percentage of the runners is to finish. They are competing against themselves and the clock, obviously it is also competitive and there are some amazing runners out there smashing some fabulous finishing times over massive distances, but the competition is friendly. The top elite runners are more than happy to talk to you and discuss training plans and kit, swapping stories and willing to give out some advice, though they are all keen to impress upon you that everyone is different and what works for one person may not be right for another. It is refreshing, and very inspirational to chat to these experienced runners. I have recently had the pleasure of chatting to Nikki Kimball (1st lady Marathon Des Sables 2014); Danny Kendall (5th place Marathon Des Sables 2014-highest Brit ever); Daniel Rowland (1st place Atacama Crossing & Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2103) and Bakiye Duran, first woman athlete to represent Turkey in international ultra marathons (we raced together at Kalahari with me taking 2nd place lady to her 3rd place). They have all been true ambassadors of the sport.

In looking forward to working with North Face in the lead up to Race to the Stones and testing out some of their kit, and here’s to building a great relationship with them and my fellow team mates. Stay tuned and up to date with my training and kit reviews on my blog runningdutchie.wordpress.com and twitter @runningdutchie and track our fabulous team of ultra babes @RTTS100 #rtts100 #longerdays .

If you are keen to get involved in ultra running, get chatting to me and the girls, we all love nothing better than talking about running. Perhaps there are some of you already signed up to Race to the Stones?  Don’t be shy, say hi!  And if you’re not signed up, there are still some spaces available so its not too late.  Hope to see some of you at a race soon!

 

MdS – What worked well & not so well

I am a Marathon Des Sables finisher! I successfully completed the gruelling challenge and after months of meticulous planning, it’s now time to understand what worked for me and what didn’t. If you are planning to do this event or something similar, I hope this information may be of use to you. Se my original posting here for a detailed kit & food list of what I took.
Was my training right? I had done the training, and I was the fittest I’d ever been in my life, and it wasn’t enough. Not to finish how I wanted, yes I finished which can never be taken away, but maybe my training wasn’t quite right. I did the mileage that’s for sure, you can see that on my training plan, but there wasn’t enough hills (both as hill repeats and long distance miles in the hills), there was a lack of strength and conditioning and the lack of heat acclimatisation was an obvious hindrance to me as the heat really affected me. I spent too much time running on roads (the dark winter nights & mornings the main cause) which has of course helped me, I would have been worse off without all those miles, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and my advice to anyone taking this on would be hills, hills and more hills. 6 stages is a long time and you need to be consistently strong, recover well (which I felt I did, that routine won’t change) and be ready to change your game plan mid race if needed. Get into any dunes and run and run and run! If you don’t have dunes, then hills to build up the power in your legs to get you through the leg strength sapping dunes.
Food was better this time around, it still needs improvement. Still too much sweet, I didn’t enjoy the muesli or the Pro Bars for breakfast and would look to change this to cous cous. I would swap out the tracker and Eat Natural bars for more Pepperami (they were a Godsend and I can eat them all day) and the tuna packs were a great boost too as they are wet, so quite easy to stomach. I’m keen to try out some gels again as Dion found these worked really well for him and gave him good bursts of energy along the way. I took 2 Oxo stock cubes and made a couple of cups of hot stock in the afternoons which was a tasty, salty drink which made you feel good and also quickly got some fluid in. For the little they weigh, I’d be taking one for each day of different flavours. Biltong is also a great source of protein and a tasty snack, my friend, Philip Boardman, who I had met at Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon had brought me some over from South Africa.
I was happy with my clothing. X-Bionic is brilliant and I wouldn’t look to change this. It offers great protection for your body in terms of both from the sun but I also had absolutely no chafing. The X-Bionic clothes keep you cool, but I also noticed during the night stage the top was also working at keeping my body warm as the temperatures dropped. My Raidlight hat with the neck flap was great in protecting my neck, I tried taking the flap off for the charity walk thinking I’d be ok, but quickly put that on as you could feel the sun beating down in minutes! My New Balance Leadville shoes did the job again, I had them in a half a size up from my normal running shoe, and the AR Desert gaiters from South Africa were great. No sand got in to cause irritation, and they lasted the distance. I wore Injinji toe socks which work well for me (zero blisters) and at the start of the race I had Compressport calf guards on as well, but due to the high extremes of heat mixed with the constriction of the calf guards, my legs, including my ankles, broke out in a horrible heat rash. I ditched the calf guards after the long stage and it seemed to help.
I didn’t seem to find the Raidlight Olmo 20L pack as comfortable as the 30L Raidlight I used in Kalahari. It seemed to sit too high on my waist, rather than on my hips, so more of the pack weight was on my shoulders, so even though my pack was a kilo lighter, it felt heavier; or was it just the other elements of heat & sand confusing my feelings? The drink bottles again worked great for me.

Ready to go - full kit rehearsal still at home

Ready to go – full kit rehearsal still at home

It was a bit cool at night and although I had a long sleeved skin, I ended up nabbing a long sleeve thermal top from tent mate Cheryl on day 1 when she was dumping weight from her pack, which I used every night. I had my buff which worked 4 fold; as a neck buff during the day if needed (I didn’t this time), wore it as a boob tube in the afternoon to save wearing a bra, then it was an eye mask early evening while people were messing around with torches, then finally as head cover during the night when it got cold. I also had a pair of little shorts and 3/4 compression tights for the afternoon/evenings. You could just wear your race kit all day and night but it is ‘refreshing’ to change into something else for a while. Some people take underwear and spare pairs of socks, I don’t run in underwear as that prevents chafing, and I wore the same pair of socks all week with no issues. My socks were walking themselves by the end of the week however! They looked very cute standing up all on their own two feet!

Fashion statement of my camp attire and a water bottle as a foam roller!

Fashion statement of my camp attire and a water bottle as a foam roller!

My Thermarest sleeping mat was as ‘comfortable’ as it could be, although it’s noisy when rolling around on it; that is until it got a puncture on the night of the long stage which was rather annoying and ultimately very uncomfortable for the last couple of nights sleep. The lack of pillow was also uncomfortable after the first few nights. I had been using my pack as a pillow, but then it started to get too empty so then used my kit, but that wasn’t enough, and it stunk! So I need to find a solution to this, possibly going back to the z-lite mat or similar and I have heard of someone using a condom blown up each night as a pillow….might be one to try out.
I added a small bottle of antiseptic hand gel to my pack before the start and was grateful for that small touch of hygiene throughout.
It is always interesting see what other people wear and bring with them, but it is all pretty similar in the end.  I hope these thoughts are of some help to you with your own plans.

MdS – Sizzling in the Sahara

The Saharan desert has just chewed me up and spat me straight back out; over and over again in a week of highs and lows in ‘The toughest foot race on earth.

I completed the 29th epic race finishing in 377th place out of 1029 starters with a total of 917 finishers. For anyone who has ever done the race completing in the end is in itself a great achievement and whilst the experience has most definitely enriched me the brutal race at times took its toll on me and made me question myself and push myself to dig deeper than I ever have before.

I went into the race with some huge training mileage under my belt and felt the fittest I’ve ever been in my life with high hopes of a top 100 finish….who was I kidding. This race is mean. By all accounts, Patrick Bauer, Race Director, was keen to ensure that this remains known as ‘The toughest foot race’, and he certainly accomplished that. With 20 people eliminated on the 1st stage alone, and a total of 112 by the finish (11%), I think this may have been the highest number of non-finishers to date!

With such a remote location we are all bussed from Ouarzazate 6 hours out to the desert past the village of Merzouga. Camping begins 2 nights before the race actually starts which means 2 extra nights sleeping rough with no showers to add onto the full week of racing. A great tip we picked up prior to coming out was to bring a good inflatable mattress (£10 Ebay) for the 2 nights so you at least have a comfortable sleep, then leave it for the Berbers when race day arrives. Great tip & I can assure you it earned us many an envious look! We were registered with the Australian contingent via Travelling Fit, who actually put you into tent groups prior so there was no fighting for tents, but the Brits all pre-arrange tent buddies then race for the closest tents, which is always a bit of mayhem. You are fed and watered for the 2 nights and in true French style, the food is great. Race registration takes place on the Saturday morning & this is where the serious queuing begins, you get allocated a time slot to get your kit & medical papers checked, and this involves about an hour of queuing in the hot sun before a cursory check of your items. My checker didn’t even look in my bag, he just asked me if I had a few things, I said yes, and good to go. Flare, road book and race number issued; obligatory promo photo done and you’re set to go.

Tent 62

Tent 62

And it begins….
Race day starts pretty much the same every day, people start to wake at about 5am, by 6am everyone is awake & faffing around. Water collection is 6:30-7:30, then you are supposed to be at the start line for 7:45 for briefing and ready for a 9am start. Of course on day 1 most people are so eager we are all there with our bags on our backs standing up listening to Patrick waffle on while it gets hotter and hotter. By the last day we are turning up 5 minutes before. There’s no doubt Patrick loves the sound of his own voice but by the end of the week asking questions like – Have you got your hat? Yes! Have you got your sunscreen? Yes! Have you got your water? Really?! Obligatory happy birthdays are sung before AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ blares out, and we are off! The helicopter zooms overhead bringing up a sandstorm around the runners and people scatter out wide to make a break for it. It’s on!

Patrick making us dance to 'Happy'.....again

Patrick making us dance to ‘Happy’…..again

Stage 1 was a killer! 34km in total, starting with 13km of the highest sand dunes, Erg Chebbi, in the Sahara, and finishing with a further 3.5km of the same, I got the biggest wake-up call of the week. The heat was something else. Not a breath of a breeze and temperatures hovering around 46 degrees, I was seriously struggling. The combination of the dunes and the heat had sapped my strength by checkpoint 1 and doubts started creeping into my mind about even completing day 1, let alone the entire race! With hubby in the race as well, normally well ahead of me, I was surprised and concerned to catch up to him at checkpoint 2. He was struggling, overheated, sapped of all energy, and his confidence shot to bits. We finished the day together, very slowly, with regular stops on the dunes as our heart rates were through the roof, and it was scary to wonder what was happening to your body being pushed to such extremes. Dion was talking strongly of not going on, to pull out in the morning as he just couldn’t see himself carrying on. Amazing what a nights sleep and some food can do…he didn’t pull out and went on to finish the race super strongly. We lost 2 of our tent mates today, husband and wife Euan and Anthea. From all accounts Euan was vomiting uncontrollably at checkpoint 1, and there’s no coming back from that, with Anthea sticking it out with him. Sad to see them go, and pretty scary when we start hearing about the high numbers lost today.

Needing a break even with the finish line in sight

Needing a break even with the finish line in sight

Stage 2 had me in tears! No dunes but 41km of a mixture of sand, long straight stretches of dried up lakes and oppressive heat, along with pure exhaustion saw me arrive at checkpoint 3 slightly incoherent, told to sit under the cover to cool down where I promptly burst into tears. And I don’t generally cry! Was pleased that the highly experienced 11 times British MdS runner, Rory Coleman, found me there, told me to get my hat off, pour some water on my neck, eat and cool down for 20 mins; he also gave me 2 Anadin tablets, and I was back to normal! Thanks Rory! The day hadn’t been helped by my loss in confidence in myself, and to be honest this hindered me until the very last day.

Making it to the top of a 'small' jebel to be rewarded with some stunning views

Making it to the top of a ‘small’ jebel to be rewarded with some stunning views

Stage 3 was a grind, 37.5km through dry sandy river beds and a number of dunes again. The scenery is absolutely amazing though, and it’s a must to keep your head high to try and soak it all in. I’m still getting into camp at a reasonable time each day, around the 3pm mark, which means I have plenty of time for recovery. Recovery routine is the same each day; For Goodness Shakes first thing, snack on my leftover snacks from the day, stretch, rest and drink as much water as possible before dinner. For people getting in late each day like our tent mates, Cheryl & Kristen, it takes its toll, with Cheryl the next casualty. Out by the 1st checkpoint today, she’s is back in camp before me, and it’s clear the lack of recovery time has been too much. The night before she got in quite late, just after dark, so it’s a quick meal and straight to bed, meaning not enough water intake and absolutely no stretching and snacking. We are down to 3 in our tent now, and whilst it’s roomy, it’s a real shame to have lost 3 of our gang of tent 62.

Fashioning tan lines and a water bottle as  foam roller for recovery

Fashioning stunning tan lines and a water bottle as foam roller for recovery

Stage 4 is the big daddy, or the long day as it’s commonly known. At 81.5km long, it’s not to be taken lightly baking in the 45-50 degree heat all day and still going well into the evening. The first leg is nice and flat, and as you get through the first checkpoint, the Jebel looms up in front of you. A spectacular ascent of 30% gradient over slate rocks and loose sand is brutal! It’s a slow climb to the top as it’s single file all the way up, except for a few rather annoying French and Italian runners that attempt to pass people on the outside, dislodging massive rocks that come down through the rest of us. The last 20m is climbed with a rope, so that gives you some idea of how steep it is. I get a TV5 Monde (official MdS film crew) camera thrust into my face at the top so that will no doubt be a rather breathless scene to say the least. A quick descent brings us to a massive dried up lake that stretches out for miles. This is where the front runners come past, having left 3 hours later than the rest of us, and it’s amazing to see them come past at the speed that they are going. There’s another long jebel to climb in the full force of the midday sun, where I am literally about to die! There’s a medical jeep positioned halfway up giving a fraction of shade.  Seeing another runner leave the shade, I wander over and collapse into the sand to sit for a few minutes to bring my core temperature down before continuing on for the last bit of the climb. After a massive long plateau, there’s a fun run down through soft sand which makes a nice change, but you are then greeted by a never ending crawl through soft sand which has formed into waves making it really difficult to traverse to checkpoint 4. This checkpoint is a war zone, bodies strewn everywhere! There’s quite a few Berber tents set up to provide some shade and I take about a 15 min break here before joining a group of Brits to head out again. The sun is starting to drop now so it’s a massive relief to take my hat & sunglasses off for the first time. 2 more checkpoints before the finish and I pick up and drop off with different groups along the way, the main focus being relentless forward motion. I find Matthew, a kiwi, en route to checkpoint 6 having major issues with his feet and he has sat down mid way. With some cajoling, me and another get him back up and on his way with us, it’s easier to do these last legs in the dark with a companion. We get to checkpoint 6, the last for the stage and find Ben, another Brit I’d met earlier in the day having serious issues, he starts convulsing and I get the medics over to help. He’s exhausted and just needs some sugar, rest & warmth; he gets wrapped in a silver blanket and given some gels. Giving me a message to pass on to his tent buddies when I get in to let them know he’s ok, I head off on the last leg with Matthew. It takes us about 2hrs to do 9km, as it’s now dark it is very slow going through thick soft sand following glow sticks along the way.  There is any chance to find any solid ground to increase the pace. We see the finish for a good 45mins before we finally reach it at 1:45am! We get our obligatory cup of Sultan sweet tea at the finish before walking another mile to our tents, with me walking a few tents more to speak to Ben’s tent mates. Dion’s fast asleep after getting in over 5 hours before me, having had the most brilliant long day with a super time of 11hrs, smashing it finishing in 49th place! He makes me down my For Goodness Shakes recovery shake and a few crackers before I crawl into my sleeping bag for some desperately needed sleep. My last thoughts are of the hundreds still out there, making their way to the finish over the early hours of the morning, and some much later during the “rest day”.

Green laser beam to guide us home on the long stage

Green laser beam to guide us home on the long stage

Next day is a rest day for those of us that have made it in, and the day is spent napping, snacking, chatting & rehydrating. Our tent mate, Kristen, makes it in late that morning to our relief and we all spend a quiet afternoon discussing our own trials & tribulations of the long day in between a few cat naps. We all get up to welcome the last runners in very late in the afternoon, before which we were treated to the mythical can of cold Coca Cola, which actually didn’t taste half as good as we’d all built it up to.

Stage 5 is the marathon day, 42km, and Dion starts an hour and a half later than me as he’s in the top 200 at 110! This was my favourite day by far, it was slightly cooler to be fair and the terrain for the first 32km was completely runnable! Hard trail, my favourite! I join fellow Brit, Helen Bridle, for the first 2 legs, wordlessly pacing each other in turns which works really well. I lose her after checkpoint 2 due to her suffering an injury and I crack on, having an absolute whale of a time on the 3rd leg. There’s a group of supporters, family & friends of other runners that have come out at checkpoint 3, and the vibe is electric as you pass through. I feel unstoppable, and then hit a never ending sandy river bed! I think it’s more mental now than anything, and in my head sand and me just aren’t working and I’m back to a trudging walk feeling sorry for myself. Still pushing on though as I know Dion must be catching me and my goal was for him not to, or not until the finish so we could cross together. I catch a glimpse of the finish line from afar as we crest a hill and get all choked up, I have a group hug with 2 others as it feels like the right thing to do and we crack on again. The last 2km is dunes which are tough going, but I get through without seeing Dion, so 100m from the finish I stop. And I wait 23mins for him (unbeknown to me he had peeing blood but still managed to finish 87th for the day) and we hurtle to the finish together hand in hand. I must have had a 100 people pass me while I waited, but my time wasn’t as relevant as finishing the race with Dion which made it a more memorable moment.
Then it’s done. It’s finished. It’s over. All of that, and MdS is no more. Patrick is there, unfortunately the magic of finishing is somewhat diminished by having to queue to have him put the medal around your neck with a kiss and a hug, but what an awesome feeling. There must only be about 20,000 people in the entire world that can say they have completed the MdS, and I’m one of them!

Presented with my finishers medal

Presented with my finishers medal

We work out roughly when Kristen is due to finish and we head back to the line to cheer her across as well. That night the awards are presented, which unfortunately is rather long winded, so by the time Patrick introduces our surprise, a performance from the Paris Opera, we all disappear off to bed as we are shattered. Bit of a shame, as I don’t think anyone really appreciated it and most agreed that the whole evening needs a bit of improvement.

The final day is a 7.7km charity walk in aid of UNICEF, and it’s compulsory but not timed, so every competitor walks even though at the end is the bus back to civilization. The three amigos from tent 62 do the last day together, chatting en route to 5th place, and highest Brit ever, Danny Kendall; and gratefully receive our lunch packs as we cross the line for the final time. Real food at last! We board the buses and after a short wait we are off for our 4hr trip back to Ouarzazate, lunches scoffed in quick succession. Shower! Oh yes please! My hair is like dreadlocks and takes 3 washes to get out of the braid it’s been in for 10 days! There’s so much sand to wash off, and there is no way that’s all going to come off in the first wash, especially when I’ve got Dion waiting for his turn. Plus we are keen to get to the bar. It’s been 3.5 months since we’d had a drink, and there were a number of cold Casablanca’s with our names on it. It’s strange to see everyone looking clean and not wearing running kit for a change, and we all catch up over a few cold ones. Although the hotel we are allocated is a right dump, the bed feels like heaven after sleeping on the hard ground, but the sleep is fitful, I think after a week of disrupted sleep it’s going to take a few nights to get back to normal.

3 amigos from Tent 62 ready for the charity walk

3 amigos from Tent 62 ready for the charity walk

We are off early the next day back to Marrakech for the night in a magnificent riad, Riad Menzeh, before we fly home, and enjoy a couple of lovely meals and THE best hammam and massage, scrubbing away the remnants of the Sahara and leaving my skin glowing!

The MdS was a race on my bucket list and I am so proud of both Dion (in 108th place overall) and I for finishing. It is tough, very tough and not for the feint hearted. Would I do it again? Never say never, but for the price and all the little niggles and hassles that go along with such a highly subscribed to race (i.e queues, the long travel etc) there are a lot of other fantastic races out there to try, that will each provide their own unique experiences and challenges. But it has worked its way into my soul and my heart, the magic of MdS is not lost on me.

On my next blog I plan to share my thoughts on what worked/didn’t work with my kit/training/food so I hope this is of help to future entrants.

Selfie with the wild camels

Selfie with the wild camels

Pre Marathon Des Sables – the final preparations

The time is nigh! The 29th edition of Marathon Des Sables will kick off in the Sahara desert on Sunday 6th April, with me and hubby, Dion taking part and aiming to have the race and time of our lives. Joining 1077 other participants, we will be undertaking an epic adventure to ‘run’ 160 odd miles through the desert, being fully self sufficient for 7 days, with the race taking place over 6 stages ranging in distances from 30km (18 miles) to the long day of 80km (50 miles). Not forgetting that we will be running in temperatures ranging from 40 to 50 degrees celsius and going over challenging terrain from desert sands, massive sand dunes, jebels (mountains), rocky paths and goodness knows what else which will push even the toughest to their limits. This is our chance to experience the beauty of the Moroccan desert in a unique way that only a precious few will ever have the opportunity to do so in what is also dubbed “The Toughest Footrace on Earth”.
‘Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, or an hour or a day, or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit however, it will last forever.’ If you’re struggling, listen or watch this to get you going http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgmVOuLgFB0
Want to follow my progress and that of the other 1077 participants? Go to http://www.marathondessables.com here you will be able to track me by looking up my full name – Leonard, Lucja ID number 961, or for Leonard, Dion number 972. You will also be able to send us any motivational messages, there is a section ‘write to competitors’ ensuring you put my name and ID details in the subject line. Don’t include any attachments or it won’t get through. I won’t be able to respond but I will have a friend updating my twitter account, @runningdutchie and my facebook account as I should (fingers crossed) be able to get out one message a day all being well. There will also be a live webcam at each stage finish so if you are interested you will be able to watch the reactions of the runners as they complete each stage. I followed it last year and I constantly had it on in the corner of my computer, I was hooked!
My pack (Raidlight ultralight Olmo 20L, no front pack from Likeys) has weighed in at a ‘light’ 6.8kg without water, which I am pretty impressed with. The race regulations are that it must weigh 6.5kg, have at least 14,000 calories (2,000 a day for 7 days) and a list of mandatory kit items. Still to the last day I have been tossing up whether to take out my stove, camera and sleeping mat to save an entire 400g, but I just can’t see myself going without, so it stays. If you are wondering how I managed this, see the spreadsheet (LL MdS Weight for exact items by weight and what food I am taking by item, weight and calorie content. I have tried to stick to tried and tested food, shying away from sweet items, focused on savoury and ensuring a good mix of different items to help prevent menu fatigue. I know from my experience in the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon what worked for me and what didn’t, such as swapping out dried fruit & nuts for just nuts as the fruit was too sweet last time. Your body really craves salt, which is hard to imagine before you take on a massive multi day challenge like this when you are used to running half or full marathons and the focus is more on jelly babies & gels, all sugars which are great for relatively short to medium distances to give you a sugar high, but then you get the dreaded sugar crash which can leave you in a worse position! So you need to think more about slower burning energy, yet still something you can (and possibly even want to) consume on the run. Obviously I have stripped out any luxuries, my only ‘luxury’ item would be my camera. No deodorant or hairbrush; when you’re not showering for a week in those conditions these items really won’t make any difference, plus we will all smell as bad as each other!

Ready to go - full kit rehearsal

Ready to go – full kit rehearsal

I’ve had my bag packed for over a week now, which is great to alleviate any concerns in my head. I have heard of others still buying kit 7 days out to race day which would drive me crazy, and is would certainly be using up some valuable energy. I’ve actually been sorted on my kit for a good couple of months, preparation is key!

Packing!

Packing!

It’s hard to know when to taper, and by accident I think I have started to taper too soon in my eyes, see my training plan for my actual mileage, but perhaps this will be good in the long run with fresh legs to run on. I had planned on another 20 miler on the weekend of the 16th March, followed by a couple of 13-15 milers on the weekend just gone, 22nd/23rd March, but to be completely honest I just didn’t feel like it, so I didn’t! I have been spending a fair bit of time doing Bikram yoga, and have even managed to get Dion along, and surprisingly he seems to also be enjoying the experience, and hopefully the heat will work in some form of acclimatisation, if not it’s been a good form of forced stretching & relaxation which can only be good for us.
I’ve finished my taper with a great sports massage at FASIC in Edinburgh, had my nails done (it is my holiday after all) and I’m ready to rock and roll. It will be a great experience and I am looking forward to meeting some fantastic people taking part that will all have their own unique inspirational stories of why & how they are taking part. I am also looking forward to disconnecting from my day to day world and fully immerse myself in the beauty and tranquility of the desert, to dig deeper than I have ever done and find what I am capable of, and again be amazed at what the human body is capable of.