So in 10 Days time I will be flying out to the Sahara Desert to run Marathon des Sables. It’s a little under 18 months ago I signed up and booked to spend 7 days fully self sufficient running through 250km of deep sand in the hottest place on the planet. Several ultra marathons, marathons, races, and hundreds of training hours later I’m simply excited, if a little anxious. Because, despite all the tips and tricks I have no idea how a week at 40 plus degrees is going to affect my body. I fly from Gatwick on Friday 8th April and return 18th. I am self sufficient for 7. I can’t wait to enjoy the challenge. Now to cross my fingers and hope I finish for starters, but I’d also like to do pretty well. Over the last 18 months I keep changing my mind on if I’m going for decent place or just enjoy it. The decision has been made. Both. The overwhelming advice I’ve been given from my coach, friends and media, is to run your own race, don’t push hard because you won’t last the week. I understand that. Ultra running is a long tactical slog. So for this my tactic is to run a gentle easy pace for the first 2 days. Reassess and then go for it. This way I have a chance of retaining some energy for the long night stage but also surviving. Primary aim is to finish, a close second is to finish in the top 50. Top 25 would be great, and a British podium would be the dream
Let’s take a look at some prep work:
The start of sorting through my potential multi day event food
High 5 – always a go to choice.
Some treats throughout MDS, only 33g of wiglets per day.
Here’s a snap shot of my race day meals. Oh and the small tablets, are salt, anti inflammatory, pain killers, cod liver oil, and a multivitamin.
Here is all 7 days of food before packing up. The Orange packets are my freeze dried food from Expedition Foods
Thanks to my sponsor Nuun, i have calculated about 52 tablets per day. 2 for each checkpoint
Simple, calorific, and light. Expedition food has provided freeze dried pouches. I’m taking 3 flavours having researched the ratio of weight to calories. Custard and Apple, 577cals, Granola and Raspberry 804cals, and Rice Pudding and Cinnamon 405cals. Along with this a packet of fruit pastels per day, plus twiglets for a treat, protein powder and electrolytes, salts and energy powder. That’s the lot.
I can run, but running with about 8kg on my back, in sand, in the scorching heat is going to be interesting. I have been lucky enough to test my limits in a heat chamber. Thanks to Chichester Uni, and thanks to you Andy. You know who you are. My body temp came close to 39 degrees (about .5 from dead or at least passing out) and that was just an hour uphill. I tested my bottle combination, my fluid intake etc. In short I didn’t drink nearly enough. I lost 2kg of weight in just 1 hour. My sweat rate is high but cramp wasn’t a problem… I have a feeling it will be in the desert.
I’ve tested a number of bags, and got advice from people I meet at races, but making my final choice was hard. Having been told that weight is everything a small bag is a must. But what about 7 days of food, clothes, mandatory kit, sleeping bag and running equipment? So a small bag, but adaptable. The bag I’ve gone for is the olmo 20 litre raidlight ultra running bag. Built for this event, it’s one of the best. Having forked out the £100 I ran with it once and it broke in two places. Despite my gut instincts I’ve ordered the same bag again, this one if more sturdy. I’m hoping just a dodgy item. My start weight on my bag at day one should be around 6.5 kilos. I’m going for the lightest possible. The regulations state the bag must be 6.5kg without water on day one. Apparently 1kg can add 25 mins of running time per day. A big chunk over 7 days.
The debate on long sleeve, short sleeve, compression, no compression, lose fitting trainers, tight fitting trainers, high gaiters or ankle ones… the choices are hard. My logic on clothes is to take what is comfy and light and most of all short sleeve. This is despite advice to take long sleeve to protect against the sun. Now as yet I am still undecided if a black or a white top is sensible. I understand the absorption and reflection of black and white colours but I want heat to escape from my body and be reflected before it hits my body in the first place. Tough call. I’ll let you know what I decide. Oh and the trainers, I’ve gone with my coaches advice on these. Saucony Mirage 4. I’ve worn Saucony before and loved them. These are a little different and certainly lighter. Most important however is the width. My feet will swell up, so comfy cushioned ankle high socks with wide fitting shoes (about e) will mean my feet will hopefully be affected by blisters less. We will see. I’ve ran with these trainers for a very short time, only about 3 weeks but they are comfy, if a little flimsy. I sent the trainers off to The Shoe Healer and had the trainers back with the gaiter Velcro attached in about a week. It costs £50 but works a treat. We will see what it’s like in sand.
Blisters I have a high pain thresh hold for blisters, I’ve lost more toe nails than I can remember, blisters are a given even with the perfect feet, shoes, and socks. I also have a nice juicy bunion which give me the extra rubbing I really don’t want. Despite knowing I can cope well with blisters I think the desert is going to give me a new bench mark. These are my feet after a 10 mile mud run… my trainers came off twice, stuck in the mud, they ended up full of mud, twigs, and water. So let’s hope this is as bad as it gets. I have a feeling I’ll be paying a visit to the doc out there.
My coach tells me the story of a very unfortunate lady who tripped and sprained an ankle in the first 10km. If this happen to me, I will cry, like a baby. If I give it my all, enjoy it and make some friends, I’ll be happy. If I do something stupid I’ll be incredibly frustrated. I’ll pay the £5,000 do race again immediately.
At the MDS expo in London in November last year one of the most significant pieces of advice was to take food that was light, that was a given, but also tasty. I will want a treat at the end of a day and variation is key… so I have sort of ignored that advice, because I hope my mind can deal with some not exactly exotic food for a while. However chocolate is the issue. I love chocolate, and chocolate and the desert don’t match. Bit hot. So not chocolate is going with me. Not only will I be putting myself through my paces in fitness and mental durability I will be going cold turkey.