It’s the small things that matter most

During my experience as a runner I have learnt a lot of things and sometimes it’s all the little things that can make the biggest difference.  Whether that’s out on a training run or a big race event or adventure challenge.  Here’s my wee list of the small things that matter to me.

  • Hat – Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just for when the sun is out, a visor make a great rain shield for your eyes as well you know!  I have a variety of hats and visors for different conditions.  I love running in a visor in the UK, the sun is not that hot or scorching that you need the full head cover and the visor actually means you can let the hot air from your head escape easily.  My favourite is the Compressport pink visor.  For more full cover I use the Salomon XA cap which I used during Transvulcania this year.  When I head to the desert though nothing beats my Raidlight Sahara Cap, aptly named as it works a treat in the Marathon Des Sables through the Sahara desert keeping you neck covered up from the scorching and unrelenting sun.
  • Sunglasses – A recent convert to Julbo sunglasses after a thorough and glowing recommendation from hubby, Dion, I’ve got myself a pair of the Julbo Run version.  They sit well on my face without slipping down the bridge of your nose.  Previous to that I had been using Naked Runner sunglasses which had served me really well too, lasting about 2 years through some pretty hard core events so they certainly took a beating.
  • Beanie – I don’t like the cold, so I have to keep my ears and head warm and I turn to my X-Bionic Soma Cap Light, it fits as snug as a bug and keeps me toasty warm up top.
  • Headband – When I’m not wearing a visor/hat/beanie I use a headband as my fly away bits of hair can get quite annoying when they hit you straight in the eye, so I reach for my Lululemon Cardio Cross Trainer Headband or their Fringe Fighter Headband (which can also double as an ear warmer in the slightly cooler temperatures).
  • Sunscreen – It’s all too easy to get burnt out there, so I always reach for an all day protection called P20 so I don’t need to worry about re-applying when I am out all day, or out in the extreme temperatures of the Sahara desert (I use the 50+ for that).
  • Socks – I don’t know whether I have just been lucky or smart but I won’t be changing my sock formula anytime soon as I don’t (touch wood) suffer from blisters.  I have two favourites.  I love Injinji socks and they have got me through a lot of multi day stage races wearing just one and only one pair of socks through extreme heat and sandy conditions without washing, and secondly are the X-Socks range from X-Bionic that just keep on going in the same way no washing required!  Ideally washing is great, but I can safely say these socks are fantastic and it is definitely worth investing in a few decent pairs to keep your tootsies in tip top condition.
  • Salt tablets – During exercice you lose a lot of sweat and more specifically, sodium (or salt).  As most of us have probably cut down our intake of salt over the years based on nutritional advice you could be not getting enough.  Especially if you are an endurance athlete.  I tend to use salt fairly generously in my day to day cooking due to the level of exercise I do, and rely on salt tablets only for endurance events so anything where I will be out for longer than 4 hours.  During an ultra run I will look to take a salt tablet every 1-2 hours depending on the conditions (I took 1 every 2 hours in the Ultimate Trails 110km in The Lakes but I took 1 every hour during the Marathon Des Sables and KAEM.)  I have found during events if I haven’t taken my salt consistently then I can feel nauseous which then means I don’t eat, which means I don’t have energy to compete and then subsequently suffer from cramps during the night.  Other runners I know have complained of other symptoms such as cramping, disorientation and slurred speech.  This is probably why you might find yourself craving savoury items rather than sweet during heavy exercise or soon after, your body does try and tell you what it needs after all.
  • Menstruation – Just for the ladies, but it happens and it can be a pain in the you know what.  I’m lucky I can plan my cycle (with the pill) around races so I don’t have the added hassle during an event but for when it is due I like to use a Moon cup rather than tampons or liners.  The moon cup is a reusable silicone cup that you insert and as required remove, rinse and re-insert.  It’s safer, greener and cheaper and you can find them at your local Boots store.  The good thing with the moon cup is that it doesn’t need to be changed every few hours, I can pop it in and go all day and sometimes all night depending on which day of the cycle I’m on without needing to remove which is really handy when you are out for some long days on the feet.
  • (R) Underwear – As a long time sufferer from chafe I was delighted to find out about Runderwear.  For years I have stuck to running commando for the lower half, but still ended up with some chafe especially if the heavens open and it’s that delightful mix of sweat, rain and all sorts of dust and debris rubbing together to make that un-loved and rather painful chafe.  And for sports bras, I have tried every brand of sports bra out there and even though I am not that well endowed up top anymore (only just scraping a B cup these days) I still got chafe for any run over a half marathon distance.  Throw a running vest/back pack on top and I have scars to prove just how bad chafe can be, my solution to this was to tape my hot spots up with zinc oxide tape which does work but what a ball ache!  But no more!  Runderwear to the rescue!  I was sceptical to say the least but after trying out a pair of briefs, g-string and crop top I am converted.  To date they have got me through a marathon (wearing a running vest too) without a hint of chafe.  The Runderwear briefs and g-string are perfect for all but the crop top doesn’t offer the full support some of the more voluptuous chests would call for, but I would highly recommend for anyone fitting into a B cup or below as it gives me enough support.  Stay tuned for a full write up on the Runderwear in full brief (get it!).

I hope these ‘little’ things help you in your running adventures.

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.

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.