The answer lies in the journey – Marathon Des Sables 2016

The mystical shifting sands of the Sahara beckoned and lured me back for a 2nd time to compete in ‘The Toughest Footrace on Earth’ Marathon Des Sables (MdS).  A 257km, the longest MdS distance in the 31 year history of the race, gruelling multi-stage, self sufficient race in one of the most inhospitable climates on earth – the Sahara desert.  Crossing salt flats, climbing jebels, and running through the never ending sand dunes of Erg Chebbi in baking temperatures of up to 50 degrees under the scorching Moroccan sun and contending with billowing sand storms as if it wasn’t hard enough.  But why come back for a 2nd time you ask?  I had some ghosts to put to bed as I explain in more detail in my previous post.

After a typical Scottish winter it felt good to be back in Morocco; under a canopy of startling blue skies and wispy clouds the stark surroundings have started to feel strangely like home after quite a number of visits to this beautiful country for various types of holidays and adventures.  I for one couldn’t wait to join the other 1,250 runners from all different walks of life for one single purpose, to finish this challenge.

Ouarzazate sunset

Ouarzazate sunset

Leaving civilisation behind in Ouarzazate, the 6 hour bus ride out to the first bivouac (camp) site feels long even though en route I met my running idol, Fernanda Maciel.

Selfie with Fernanda!

Selfie with Fernanda!

Once we get there and settle into our tent that will house 7 of us (3 previous finishers among us), tent number 156, we know we still have a full day of administrative checks the following day to endure before we get anywhere near racing.  The 2 nights spent in the camp before the actual race start is a gentle tease as you slowly get further away from creature comforts, for the first night you still have all your belongings including phones and toiletries (important in exactly that order) and delicious meals are provided by the race organisation.  But then it starts to strip away, the day before the race you hand your luggage in and the race registration takes place of checking your kit and ECG/medical before handing you your race numbers and bag of salt tablets before it all suddenly starts to feel very real.

Dinner MdS style

Dinner MdS style

Every day the bivouac comes alive well before the sunrises with competitors unable to sleep they start stirring and faffing about in their bags, with many wasting precious energy being up so early and being ready well before time.  I remained cocooned in my sleeping bag until at least 7am before peering out and starting the morning rituals of changing into my progressively filthy kit and preparing my body to face the day ahead.  Being the only girl in the tent I was nicknamed ‘Queen of the Desert’.

Queen of the Desert & tent 156

Queen of the Desert & tent 156

You can’t help but be swept up in the grand scale of this race, the ultimate show.  Patrick Bauer (race director) addresses the runners at the start before blasting out AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ and we are off with a helicopter swooping low over us all to film us all smiling and waving our way along our own personal highways to hell.  That song will always give me goose bumps whenever I hear it and with it comes memories flooding back of MdS.  It is without doubt the blue riband event of multi stages, nothing else compares.

MdS should not be under estimated, it is a humbling experience where the race kicks the stuffing out of you and redefines you whatever your experience and expectations.  I had previously placed 377th overall (27th female) in 2014 and initially had my goal set at a top 200 finish and aiming for a top 10 female finish; that was until I saw the strongest ever female field registered for 2016.  Never has there been so many females finishing in the top 200 of MdS, with 2 females in the top 20 alone, and a whopping 21 females in the top 200 (13 in top 200 in 2015 & 2014).  Wow!  Proud to be part of the ever strengthening women’s field, go girls!  I was delighted to finish in 147th overall as 13th female with the finishing times so close together it was a massive improvement on my first performance.

Stage 1 official video:

I loved the sand dunes this year!  They were as huge and as beautiful as I remember and there was still no end in sight but I ran them, in 2014 they near killed me and here in 2016 I ran them and came in 93rd place for day 1!  As my husband Dion (http://www.findinggobi.com) so eloquently put it in an email to me ‘Day 1 result, 93rd, Did I read that right…Holy Fuckballs!’  That result added pressure and I felt that the next few days where I slowly slipped back some positions but I will hold that result close to my heart forever, so proud!

13km of sand dunes on day 1 to start the day

13km of sand dunes on day 1 to start the day

MdS threw everything at us; dune after dune, endless salt flats and jebels (mountains) to climb that needed ropes to pull you up the last section mixed with heat that cooked you from the inside and sand storms that exfoliated your skin to inch of its life!  My body started to revolt from day 2 with nausea and legs like lead and I joined forces with gal pal Marina Ranger to find strength in companionship and we pushed each other through the good times and the dark times, finishing the rest of the race side by side.  I faced my own demons on the long stage with bouts of diarrhoea leading to heat exhaustion by the halfway point on this day but we soldiered on together with a lengthy conversation for the last 30km about why and what makes us do these things to our bodies.  We couldn’t answer that question at the time, maybe it was the fact that we were almost delirious from tiredness and the heat or that the answer lies in the journey.  We are all changed from the experience in some way or another and we dare dream even more to find that next escape and the freedom that comes from the adventure and challenge of pushing your body and mind to its limit.

X-Bionic twins soldiering through the desert

X-Bionic twins soldiering through the desert

Preparing for this race takes months of meticulous planning and training.  It is not enough to just be able to run this race takes more, much more!  You need strength, fitness, mental tenacity and the ability to deal with a week in the most primitive of conditions where cleanliness and hygiene are non-apparent and you become the filthiest you have ever been in your life.  It’s harder than you can imagine lying there in an open tent being blasted by sandstorms filling every orifice of your body trying to recover from being out in brutally tough conditions for anything from 5-15 hours, needing to eat and sleep to be ready for the next day.  This is what starts to break people down bit by bit and what makes this race so totally unique and iconic.

With 3 MdS finisher medals to our household that previous experience helped me build a plan specific for MdS.  I ensured that I trained the hardest and the smartest I ever had, incorporating hills, speed, long runs, strength & conditioning and flexibility combined with fuelling my body with the best food to build it even stronger and healthier than ever before finishing off with some heat chamber sessions of up to 44 degrees to prepare my body for the sizzling temperatures it would face.  I kept focussed and trained my mind to keep that competitive & stubborn mindset (my husband is legendary at this!) to be able to push through the guaranteed pain & discomfort that would be faced throughout the race and I spent hours poring over my kit & food spreadsheet ensuring I had the best kit available and the best fuel for my body, at the lightest weights possible but without scrimping.

As a proud X-Bionic athlete I wouldn’t dream of wearing anything else into the desert, it has seen me through every desert multi stage I have done with no issues of chafing, riding up and even in those extreme temperatures the kit doesn’t smell, it’s amazing stuff and I couldn’t recommend their kit highly enough for anyone coming to MdS or any other desert race, trust me it works!  I wore a Runderwear crop top which aside from being very comfortable meant that I didn’t have to tape up to avoid chafing as there was no chafe! At all!  Aside from your clothing shoes are imperative to this race with so many people suffering from horrible blister issues this is something you need to avoid, I came away with all 10 toenails intact, still perfectly pedicured, having experienced only one small blister on the side of my foot over the whole week.  How?  I wear New Balance Leadville shoes, initially they were half a size up to what I would normally wear but I now wear this as my normal size (don’t go too big a size up or your foot will slide around & cause friction), coupled with Injinji toe socks (I only had 1 pair for the whole week, who needs fresh socks?) and then a set of AR gaiters over the top.  You can’t do this race without gaiters and keeping the sand out is so important so I get my Velcro stitched on by a professional, Dave at Sandbaggers offer a gaiter fitting service, they are stitched onto your shoe in such a way that it doesn’t affect the shape of the shoe & they will not come loose, I saw a lot of people with issues caused by unprofessional gaiter fitting processes.

X-Bionic is the right kit in MdS

X-Bionic is the right kit in MdS

Sleep is such an important element of this race that this time around I sacrificed 200g to have both a pillow and a sleeping mat (trimmed down) to give myself the best chance of sleep.  I used the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 which felt very comfortable all week and managed to have my starting bag weight at 6.8kg (dry).

Food choices are individual but one thing that is the same for everyone is that whatever you take, you will get sick of eating it at some point so variety is the key.  I find that I prefer savoury items for both breakfast and for my snacks and dinner once I am in from the day, and grazing throughout the afternoon is better for me than a bigger meal, but I stick to gels and energy style drinks such as Torq energy and Hammer Perpetuem to supplement those when I can’t stomach the gels anymore.  I wouldn’t be without my For Goodness Shakes recovery powder either at the end of each day.  In the heat of the Sahara it is difficult to eat anything and I can’t get any sort of whole food such as bars down whilst I am out on the course.  My favourite tips from this year’s MdS would be to take some Oxo stock cubes to add to your water in the afternoon for a tasty salty treat (heats up nicely in the sun) and tea bags for ‘iced’ tea (not quite iced but tasted surprisingly good in tepid water) as you get so sick of drinking tepid water all day, so anything that will help you hydrate is good.

Marina & I on the finishing line webcam:

I promised myself out in the Sahara that this is the last time and have told both Dion and Marina that they must not allow me to sign up again, and I won’t……I don’t think.  It’s funny but you very quickly forget how much it hurts, how much it takes to do the MdS as soon as you step away and the afterglow of the event takes hold.

I love this quote from Jason Schlarb, it really sums up MdS!

 “This has been a miserable challenge, a misery train, but a life experience.” Jason Schlarb – 11th Man MdS 2016

Animo Transvulcania

Animo (Spanish) for spirit & courage

Courage and spirit are most certainly what’s needed for this race that is a true test of strength and true grit by all that venture to even the start line. Transvulcania is a 73.3km single stage race set on the volcanic island of La Palma, with 8,525m of climbing, reaching its most vertical point at Los Muchachos at 2,426m (57.8km into the race) with temperatures in the 30’s it tests the body’s ability to cope with both heat and altitude whilst pushing quad & calf burning climbs and descents.

Brilliant idea for races!

Brilliant idea for races!

But it’s precisely the brutality of the race that makes it all the more rewarding. To be fit enough to be able to enjoy this experience of exploring this stunning island on foot and finish the race is reward enough. After having run my first mountain race in March, Transgrancanaria, finishing just half hour an hour before cut off my goal was to finish this race strong and well before the cut off time of 17hours. I had 3 goals in my head before I started as I think for a race of this magnitude whilst you want to be positive you also need to be very realistic, so I planned for either a 10.5 hour finish, 12 hour or 14 hour finish. Failing any of that I would of course take a finish! Having learnt some lessons from TGC(read my blog here), I came armed to this race with poles. I had always looked at them as cheat sticks which is the reputation they have in the UK and are even banned in a lot of races, but in Europe they are widely accepted and encouraged and if they’re all using them then it’s good enough for me. I’m not entirely sure of the science and actual percentages to back it up but they are there to help your posture and muscle preservation by distributing the weight better, giving you better stability and when all else fails you can lean on them when you are exhausted! I would not have made it down the final descents in one piece without them and now swear by them for mountain races. I used Mountain King Trail Blaze which are super lightweight and fold up nice and easily for easy stashing, not that I stashed mine I found them quite easy to run with as well. Some of the runners could use some lessons in pole etiquette though, be mindful of people swinging them about randomly, stabbing and/or tripping you up. Poles were the only thing I changed from TGC as I am pretty set on my usual kit which is listed below.

The race itself is great value for money with the entry fee at 90 euros. Obviously the costs add up with travel (my flights were about £350 all up, accommodation (60 euros a night shared) and extras of course. It’s not the most straight forward place to get to so wherever you fly from you are going to have to connect. I flew with Ryan Air from Edinburgh to Tenerife South, bus up to Tenerife North and then across to La Palma on a local flight. This was a girly holiday with fellow gal pal ultra runner Marina Ranger and we decided to stay in Los Llanos which was also the location for the pre race registration and most importantly the finish.

Registration was simple, open for 3 days prior it was relaxed and not too busy with no queues, quick and easy we showed some ID got our number and spent some time checking out the expo stands, of which we both purchased the race tattoo which was really helpful throughout the race to check what was happening with the elevation and when your next checkpoint would be.

Registration

Registration

The last thing you need after a massive race is logistical problems to get to your bed so the plan to stay there worked well, though if I came again I would probably plan to leave Los Llanos and move to Tazacorte the following day as the beach is there, but saying that the regular buses were only just over a euro to get there and our apartment (Apartment Adjovimar) was fabulous, with a great little pool and out door area for relaxing in, popular with runners as it is only 1km from the finish I would ensure you book early. The beauty of an apartment is being able to have a fridge and prepare your own food which is handy for that early morning 3am taxi to the start line and of course post race food. Cheese & prosciutto rolls for breakfast did the job and super noodles with a recovery shake and a beer chaser were the order of the day once we’d finished. It’s always imperative to have the post race food organised as believe me the last thing you feel like is going out or finding a shop to buy food. The organisation has buses that leave at 3am from Los Llanos bus station to take you to the start line however we decided to get an extra hour in bed and share a taxi which was 45 euros between us.

Ready to rock n roll

Ready to rock n roll

The race starts at 6am so it’s still dark and a bit fresh but I decided to tough it out in my race kit rather than taking any extra layers, but a bin bag would have been nice! Superb atmosphere to start and the place was rammed with runners, we headed down to the start line with the intention to get ourselves in closer to the front but it was so rammed we ended up probably three quarters in the pack. The race kicks off at a charge around the lighthouse and then it becomes very narrow very quickly bringing the pack to a crawling pace.

Fuencaliente lighthouse - the start

Fuencaliente lighthouse – the start

You have no choice but to be patient, conserve your energy and keep out of harms way as there a people pushing and shoving with poles everywhere, the main objective is to keep moving forward and not fall over. A few runnable sections but most of the way to CP1 is a walk. I get there in 1h19 for 6.1km climbing 709m, I made sure I ate (marzipan balls with fruit & nuts) whilst walking, sticking to one item per hour to keep the energy up whether I feel like it or not along with a salt tablet every hour. The CP is busy and the crowds are tremendous, the whole village at Los Canarios has come out! 2nd CP is another climb of roughly 1,200m over 10km which takes just shy of 2hrs, again this is mainly a walk with some running in patches.

The big crush - me in pink!

The big crush – me in pink!

The next 8km to CP3 El Pilar are my favourite, dropping gently about 500m it is on beautify pine forest trails where you can really get a wriggle on, I do this in about an hour and you can hear the aid station a good 10mins before you get there, music blasting and plenty of crowds to cheer. This is the start location of the marathon which started at 9am and finishes in Tazacorte, it is also the finish line for the half marathon that starts later in the day from the lighthouse. From El Pilar it’s 19km of what looks like flat on the elevation profile for the first 7km to a minor aid station and then another 10km of uphill to reach Pica de la Cruz and takes me about 3hrs. Again all the while eating, having finished my marzipan for my first 3hrs it’s time to switch to gels.

Calf breaking climbs!

Calf breaking climbs!

There’s some mistake here on the details and the checkpoint ends up being 4km further which means I, and many others run out of water, a mistake they have already announced they will rectify for next year. I survive, and I mean survive as the heat is really bearing down on us now and altitude is causing everyone to struggle for air, with many including myself stopping regularly enroute to get the heart rate down. I ask 2 separate passer-bys for water which thankfully they give as I’m dry and pretty disturbed by the amount of people I have seen so far vomiting and/or passing out and being stretchered off. The medical support is everywhere though and they are talking to each and every runner to check with are ‘bien’ – good. Yes 👍’great!’ I keep responding! I make the CP, thinking it would be Los Muchachos already but alas it’s not, that’s another 7km to go taking us to the highest point of the race. 2h20 to do 7km! It’s a slog, but at no point do I consider its too tough for me, I’m hurting but loving every minute! I just can’t explain how awe inspiring the views are, you are just going to have to see it for yourselves but I will say it’s magical, at one point we were running above the cloud line, it was like something out of a movie and the landscape is phenomenal. Speechless! Or is that breathless from the altitude!?

High above the clouds

High above the clouds

Los Muchachos is busy and I waste no time filling up water and devouring some water melon, orange segments and coke, this is the only food I take from the CP’s to substitute my marzipan, gels and Hammer perpetuem. Eat the watermelon! OMG! So good! It’s 11km with a severe drop of 1,300m to El Time and on legs that are shot already this steep technical descent is murder even with poles (I think I’d struggle even on fresh legs), some people run past me obviously much more confident on this very technical terrain and I reach the CP in another 2hrs.

Los Muchachos

Los Muchachos

From there it’s the final drop to Tazacorte beach which I have been able to see since we started descending trying to tempt you down so it’s another 7km with 1,150m drop, again mostly very technical so I’m reduced to a hobble but I enjoying running the steep road. There are some crazy drunk locals out supporting offering their homemade wine to runners, I think why not and down a shot at their avid encouragement. I figure I can’t get any slower maybe this is the rocket fuel I need and I reach Tazacorte in 1h 40 to a heroes welcome. The bars are heaving down here and it s a full dance party atmosphere, people are high fiving you and screaming out your name and shouting ‘Animo, Animo!!’ which you hear all along the way along with ‘Vamoos’ (depart hurriedly).

Selfie before the final descent

Selfie before the final descent

The last 5km section takes me 2hrs, aptly named the ‘sting in the tail’ starts with a few hundred metres in a sandy riverbed with about 500m of a nasty climb back up, here I see more people passing out, with Marina telling me later she sees the same guy I saw passed out then being airlifted out! When you finally reach the top, there is a flat road section to the finish which must be only about 1.5km but feels like forever, the street is lined with people and they are all cheering loudly and high fiving you so you can’t walk even though your legs want you too after that last climb. You see the big Transvulcania sign ahead but it’s not the finish that’s another 300m, turn right, turn left and there it is, the red carpet lined with throngs of supporters. I’ve done it, I’m a super legend! High five, high five! They’re all shouting and cheering me on, arms raised I cross in 14h 31min. What a day! I lean on my poles for a second before I spot a bench with a spare spot between 2 finishers, I sit and burst promptly into tears! Emotional the runner beside me gives me a congratulatory hug with tears in his own eyes. It’s not 2 minutes later and my running pal from TGC, Luis, finishes as well. I’m quickly on the phone to Dion I’m so excited I need to hear his voice but it’s so loud there I can hardly hear him, I hear his super proud of me and that Marina is only 20 odd minutes behind me, so I get back to the finish line to see her cross in 14h 54m! So proud of her as she has improved so much over the 7 months I’ve been working with her putting together a specific training plan first tailored to her Kalahari Race last year and then leading up to this incorporating specific training to get her mountain ready. I seem to be training her too well as she’ll be beating me next!

Finished!

Finished!

We’re elated to be finished before dark, just, and head over to make use of the physios for a quick rub down before heading back to the apartment to get cleaned up and start the recovery process. Sleep does not coming easy that night with our bodies full of adrenalin we stay up chatting for a few hours before a restless sleep on very tired legs keeping us both awake. We spend many an hour talking about the race over the next 3 days we have on La Palma whilst enjoying some well deserved RnR.

Recovery La Palma style

Recovery La Palma style

We hire a car to make the trip back up to Los Muchachos to see it with fresh eyes and whilst there go for a little run. We can’t believe the effect the altitude has on our breathing and still can’t believe how high up we were, even the car struggled to get up there! Recovery has been great, the legs feel very good not that I’ve really tested them as yet. I’ve made sure I’ve drunk lots of water, eaten well and spent a lot of time relaxing by the pool with my feet up and a few dips in the pool. Post race I had my recovery shake within about 2hrs of finishing and ate my super noodles before bed.

The only difference to my normal routine is that I’ve tried CurraNZ which are tablets made from black currant extract, a high potency anthocyanin/antioxidant superfood which is supposed to aid performance and recovery by reducing muscle soreness. It’s the first time I’ve used them so it’s really hard to compare as this race doesn’t compare to anything (TGC I had terrible recovery as I was pretty much straight on a flight!) but I am feeling very good. So…..I’m going to try them again for my next race and see. As advised by the guys at Totally Fuelled (who by the way will give you 15% off any order if you use the code ‘dutchie’ valid until April 2016) I took one tablet a day 3 days before the race, one 2hrs before the race and 2 tablets during (1 every 4-5 hours of exercise). Only time and a few more races will tell. If you’re looking for a challenge that’s as much awe inspiring as it is demanding then this race is for you. It is not to be taken lightly though with 402 Did Not Finish (DNF) out of 1496 starters gives this race a 26% DNF rate, so even if you consider yourself a serious contender, this race is really about listening to your body and getting to that finish line!

Finishers medal & shirt

Finishers medal & shirt

Kit list

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta pack (my review here)

2 x Ultimate Direction soft flasks (420ml each)

1 x Salomon soft flask (500ml) used for Hammer Perpetuem

Salomon lightweight XA cap

Bliz sunglasses

X-Bionic Trick top

Running Bare sports bra

Lululemon pace setter skort (commando)

Injinji toe socks

New Balance Leadville shoes

Mountain King Trail Blaze poles

Black Diamond head torch

Garmin Fenix 2 watch

Taking on Transgrancanaria

I’ve always looked at the elevation chart before a race but the numbers don’t normally sink in as let’s face it I’m hardly a mountain runner, so when I was studying the finishing times of Transgrancanaria (TG) and the high amount of DNF’s I did start to wonder what on earth I had signed up for this time. Not content with signing up for the Advanced version of 83km I had of course signed up for the big daddy, all 125km with 8,500 of ascent, climbing the height of Everest!

Elevation map

Elevation map

TG is part of the 11 races that make up the Ultra Trail World Series and billed as being one of the main highlights on the world stage it didn’t disappoint.
We chose to stay in Las Canteras in the north of the Island as we had a few days before hand as well to relax and it was close to the bus pick up point at La Fuente Luminosa that would take us to the start at Agaete. We had sorted accommodation in Maspalomas for the finish to save having to travel back up far after the finish as we were concerned about how we would get transport back up in the early hours of Sunday morning. Dion had come along to enjoy the local trails for some running and acclimatisation before he heads out to Marathon Des Sables in 3 weeks time, and was undecided whether to race or support me in the race. Las Canteras was a beautiful spot with great beaches, full of local culture, some great local trail runs and well away from the cheesy, garish Maspalomas.

Not a checkpoint unfortunately, but some tasty fried calamari pre race

Not a checkpoint unfortunately, but some tasty fried calamari pre race

The race expo at the aptly named Expomeloneras was well organised with brand stalls for runners to buy last minute kit or get enticed to other races that were also being advertised. The registrations were clearly marked with queues in lines of bib numbers for each race, I had no queue time but heard mixed reports from others. Find your number on the wall join the queue, show your ID, and you are sorted. No kit or mandatory kit checks so you don’t need to come or bring all your gear. On registration you were given 2 drop bags (one for Garanon 82km in and one for the finish line). Tip here is to bring your kit for the drop bags with you so you don’t need to come back later that day or next. In my Garanon bag I had a change of shorts, long sleeve top, socks, beanie, spare batteries and some more food (mainly gels & perpeteum). My finish bag consisted of a fleece jumper and chocolate milk. I had grand plans of hooking up with a number of twitter chums that were running the various distances but with the 2 days worth of registrations and 4 different time slots to come along it was difficult to co-ordinate with everyone, I did manage to hook up with Daniel Rowland and Cat Simpson for a chat over some chilled water. From the registrations which commenced on the Thursday through until the finish line in the early hours of Sunday there was a party atmosphere.

Pre race catch up

Pre race catch up

The race starts at 11pm on the Friday night so it’s imperative that the day be spent doing as little as possible, eating, keeping hydrated and lazing around trying to get a few naps in. I did this pretty well, had a tasty big bowl of pasta and pizza at about 7pm and felt alert and ready to go at the start line. The bus takes about an hour from La F.Luminosa so I had packed a roll to eat before the start as well to keep the tanks topped up. It was Carnival in Agaete at the start so there was plenty of interesting characters and loud music to build the atmosphere.
The elite runners were being introduced as I made our way to the start line and squeezed in a bit too near the back as I’d left it a bit late to make my way into the holding pen, but it’s a long race right?!
And we were off! A bit of a jog uphill through the village, no need for head torches yet and then we hit the first long climb up. Trying to avoid all those bloody poles tripping you up, people swinging them around in all directions, who uses poles anyway? Only about 98% of everyone at this race….I wondered why? Switch back trail all the way up for 9km to the first checkpoint which took me 2hrs to reach, it was a steady hike up, there were only the smallest of sections that you could run. It was a sight to behold to see the long train of head torches and flashing red lights snaking up and down the mountainside in the moonlight.
The next 2 checkpoints came and went in the dark, I took the uphill slow, and had to take some of the downhill even slower as I am terrible at descending and the terrain was so technical that without a pole (bloody poles) it was hard going. I had read prior to the race not to use the down hills to make up time, but to use it for recovery. Good tip. When I reached the 3rd checkpoint (33.5km in 7.5hrs) Artenara, I found Cat sat at the checkpoint, crying about to pull out. I don’t know if it was the fact that dawn was breaking or I just had to help a runner in need and I became Miss Positivity, cajoled her into coming along, at least until Fontanales the next CP, and we ended up keeping each other company until just before CP8.

Cat & I along the way

Cat & I along the way

It was brilliant to watch the sun come up and the villages come to life as we climbed up and up these mountains. The climbs were brutal and I started to think that even the downhill’s on the route description were actually uphill’s as well. There were some nice runnable sections along the way, but the legs were broken so running is a loose term! The CP’s were mixed, very friendly of course, but in terms of food I am glad I wasn’t relying on them, bits of cheese & cold meat along with some bread sticks that had dried out in the wind and some dried fruits that didn’t look too appetising. The highlight was the cola and strong espresso’s they were offering with about 3 sugars in them, rocket fuel! At Cruz de Tejeda the 7th CP I scoffed what was remaining of some salted crisps which were heaven sent.
Cat and I parted ways just before CP 8, I wasn’t sure if I was going to see her again enroute but I pushed on to the last final big climb up to Roque Nublo. It was tough too, having been out for about 17hrs already to push through another 1,000m of climbing was hard going but I wanted to push on to get to Garanon before the sunset as that was my ultimate goal as the CP here closes at 7pm, so apart from a couple of photos on the way (it was too beautiful not to) I moved as quick as I could to get there. I made it to Garanon with 10 mins to spare before the CP closed and embarked on a speed eating session of a bowl of oily, salted pasta and changed into a warmer top as it was beginning to get pretty cool again now with the sun dropping. 2 marathons down, 1 marathon to go now right?! 7pm at night and I’d been on my feet for 20hrs.

Selfie at Roque Nublo

Selfie at Roque Nublo

Out of Garanon and straight back into a short but very steep hill and at this point I was joined by Luis, a local runner with whom I had been playing CP tag with all day. He had constantly been telling me how tough I must be for doing this without poles and I had joked that a true gentleman would give me one of his which he now made the point of doing, he knew what was to come next and without the use of one of his poles I think I’d still be stuck up there. Luis was good company had done the 80km version before and could describe in detail what was coming next though maybe you are better off not knowing. After a gruelling descent down what the locals call ‘Quad Breaker’ in the dark the wind was now picking up strongly blowing the dust over from the Moroccan Sahara (called Calima by the locals) straight into your eyes and throat making vision difficult and swallowing even more so.

Quad breaker road - photo courtesy of Ali Dixon @alidixon

Quad breaker road – photo courtesy of Ali Dixon @alidixon

I was getting texts along the way from Dion here telling me the cut off times of each CP which was differing from the information we were getting at the CP’s, we just made Arteara in time after the worst descending experience of my life. Imagine scree but rocks the size of grapefruits, and tonnes of it, on a hill that is so steep you have to lean backwards to stop from tumbling off. Thank goodness I had Luis’ pole to get down that and if ‘Quad breaker road’ hadn’t done my quads in they certainly were now.

But no time to rest, another text from Dion indicated that I now had to run 9km in 1h15, we thought we had 1.5hrs. Now that would normally be okay but after so long out and having to still climb up another kilometre before some semblance of a road (dirt track with pot holes and big rocks) it was a big call. But I pushed, boy did I push. Laboured breathing, snot pouring out of my nose with my throat gagging from the Calima and everytime I tried to drink water it was coming straight back out. I saw the time slipping away and all I could see ahead was darkness, there was no hope of making this CP……..and then Dion was there on the side of the track yelling and screaming at me to run, run harder! I don’t know how I did it, I couldn’t have done it without him running beside me but I sprinted as hard as I could for the last few kilometres and made the CP with 3mins to spare! Absolutely in ruins I still had 8km to the finish.
Dion knew what was ahead so he kept me in control, telling me that we have to jog gently the next 3km then I could walk for a couple through the river bed, and then I would need to jog again for the last 3km. I couldn’t talk so just nodded and let him lead, grabbing his arm for support now and again as I felt all my strength just disappearing. But sure enough, there was the beach. I could hear the loudspeakers, I was going to finish, actually finish!!! A little jog through the sand to finish off before the home stretch and you could see the finish line and the time. I had just over 20mins to spare so I just cruised it in the last 100m soaking up the cheers of about 20 people still there at 4:30 in the morning on a Sunday and I crossed that line with my arms up high and the biggest smile imaginable on my face! I had done it! Finished! 29 hours 42 minutes.

Finished!

Finished!

Transgrancanaria is a monster of a race and I have the utmost respect for anyone that even dares to toe the start line of this beast, let alone can make it to the end. There is a high number of DNF’s (262 in total) including some big name runners and that doesn’t just happen for no reason. Prior to the race I had broken the ‘day’ into three goals, get to daybreak, then get to Garanon, then get home! I had also analysed the finishing times although I had no runner to compare to just looking at how long it was taking runners between checkpoints and how many DNF’s there were it was already in my head that I was going to be out for at least 25hrs, without that being in my head I don’t think I would have mentally been able to handle the time on my feet.

My graph of progress

My graph of progress

I loved it! I absolutely loved this race! I would recommend it even as I sit in my chair still a little broken knowing that this is going to take a few weeks to truly recover from it has been a fantastic experience and one where I have learnt more about myself and how strong I can be mentally as well as physically to push my limits even further.

Kit I wore
Lululemon Pacesetter skort
Shock Absorber sports bra
New Balance tank top for the day time
Lululemon long sleeve run swiftly top for the evening
• Salomon Cap
North Face FL Race vest
New Balance Leadville shoes
• Injinji toe socks underneath Run_mummy_run compression socks
• Buff
• Black Diamond Head torch

And yes, I’ve now bought a pair of those ‘bloody’ poles so watch out for me at Transvulcania swinging them about.

Check out my little video here and the official video here.

Costs to enter – €140 for 125km race early bird price, rising to €160 euro, plus you need flights to get there (we flew Jet2 from Edinburgh) plus accommodation.

The gravity of the situation dawns on me!

It’s 7 (& a half) weeks to go until Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon, and I’ve fallen off the wagon. I could blame work, actually I will blame work as I was cracking along great guns until this whole help out in Edinburgh for a few weeks turned permanent move came up; and that has thrown a spanner in the works. Really, it has! Longer hours, mentally & physically challenging and draining and extended travel by train has caused my weekly mileage to plummet. I was working up well to maintain 60-70 mile weeks, ready to start pushing that to the 100 mark a few times, but now over the last 3 weeks I’ve been lucky to hit 40! Not ideal preparations. I have signed up for crossfit, and I’ve been 3 times (over 3 weeks)….the problem with a new form of exercise is the serious muscle pain afterwards (DOMS). Last week after a monster ‘Leg O’clock’ session of squats I couldn’t move for 3 days! I think I’m thorough the worst of it now though. I did manage to get a couple of runs in and even enthusiastically went via Morrison’s to stock up on 5kg of rice for some weighted bag training (finished with 2 miles if that which was a real killer). I also managed to get into the steam room for one session, 10 mins followed by 5 mins, which was long enough to reduce me to a sweating, trembling mess.  I’ve had a nice relaxing bank holiday weekend, getting in a 15 miler and a 6 miler in Formby through the sand dunes (which was a wake up call in itself), so feeling ready and raring to go. The final purchases have been made for the event, including food. Thanks Mountain House and Expedition Foods for your sponsorship discounts, it certainly helped, and look forward to giving some feedback on the products soon. The backpack (Raidlight Runner-R-Light 30L from Racekit) can be filled once this all arrives this week and we can start practising with our ‘dry’ pack weight on. I’ve tried out my new New Balance Leadville’s, see my review here, ready for the big event and all my clothing is tried & tested too. I’m scared, I’m worried and very mindful that 7 weeks is not long, but still long enough. It’s now or never. I’ve got a great level of fitness, but I need to push on now for a good 5-6 weeks, getting back to LSR (long slow runs) and B2B’s (back to backs) regardless of time constraints or energy levels, there’s nothing wrong with running late into the night or getting up extra early right? The Kalahari desert won’t forgive! And back to better eating, get into my crossfit for my 2 sessions each week, and start up this dreaded Bikram Yoga. I say dreaded as for one I’m not a yoga fan and two, the heat element! My slackness in training has meant I had nothing to blog about, hence the nervous, panicky blog today! I promise to you and myself that I will be better!

A week of ups and downs

Coming down off the adrenaline rush that was Adidas Thunder Run was always going to be a tough week for the mileage.

With only 42 miles in the bag for this week, its a pretty low mileage week but I was feeling pretty knackered all in all.  I did make good use of my runs, as I am setting up some jogging routes for my hotel (who else should be tasked with this except me?) and have used Map my Run to get these underway.  A great little tool that you can use to either pre map a route, or run with it on and it logs your route and you can have this on a map and see your elevation etc.

Work has been a killer, being on my feet all day running around the hotel, moving beds, you name it has been draining my energy, so have had to have a bad week.

I did however join up to Crossfit in Edinburgh!  Did my fundamentals session on Thursday night, and got to a session on Sunday which was great.  Super tough!  I was sore after fundamentals, which wasn’t even a session, it was just showing me the ropes!  Sundays session was great, we did 10 repeats of 100m run, 7 x pull ups, 7 x 25kg front squats, 7 x handstand press-ups!  Ran the mile there and mile back and finished it off with a 25km cycle on the stationary bike.  I am well and truly beasted now!  I’m really pleased I have joined, I think the body needs something different to just running to knock it up a gear, so have signed up for 2 sessions a week, would love to make it 3, but lets see how the time constraints go.

I am looking forward to getting home next week to try on my New Balance Leadville 1210, that they have kindly given to me to use for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon.  I was going to unpack them for TR24, but thankfully decided against that idea!  So they are waiting fresh as daisies at home in Manchester for me to come and try them out!!  Don’t they just look fab?!

New Balance Leadville 1210

New Balance Leadville 1210