Marathon des Sables; Sand Dune Training

It’s been a while since I blogged, so will try and rattle out 2 or 3 in the next day or two to fill in the blanks. First up sand dune training and hill work.

Sand Dune Training – 8th March

With 4 weeks to go until I am in the desert, I wanted  to do a full dress rehearsal to test my gaiters, hydration, bag, shorts, t-shirt, snacks, camera, hat and perhaps most of all… running on sand.

A quick dash along the M4 into south Wales and through Bridge End eventually brings you to a great little village called Merthyr Mawr. Methyr Mawr is the home of a big sand dune,  so it’s an ideal place to train for the Marathon des Sables. On arrival I started to get the feeling I should have done it sooner; aside from the Big Dipper, there are great sand trails to run and some stunning views.  Never mind, too late to worry about what I could or should have done, I need to use the time to train. So I get kitted up to a few funny looks from some tourists that are here for casual weekend walk.

Gaiter Options:

After taking the plunge and buying the Sandbaggers knee lengths gaiters last summer, I recently discovered the shorter ankle height options from Raidlight and RaceKit. They look better (not that looks are important in the desert – but they did catch my eye 🙂 ) and look less “flappy”. Though they might not keep all the sand out when I am ankle deep in the dunes. Being keen to make sure everything is just right for the MdS, my credit card took another hit and I ordered the RaceKit  gaiters (pictured below)

RaceKit Gaiters

The plan was to run an hour of hill reps in each style of gaiter in order to pick my favourite. I set about a my first hour of hill reps on the Big Dipper. I ran the first rep before realising that the energy sapping sand quite simply prevents you from running more than a few yards. I could have managed running the second one at a push, but it really wasn’t effective… you waste a huge amount of extra energy for very little gain. At the top of each rep I added in a  200m loop along the undulating trails to get the legs moving more quickly and get a feel for the gaiters whilst running. After thee or four reps I started to get a cramp in the bottom of my left foot- I’ve never suffered from cramp here, so suspected the gaiters were a possible cause. I slackened off the ankle strap and continued with the hill reps. This helped a little, but still didn’t completely clear it… I pressed on until I hit 65 mins. Time for a  check point style break. As brief as possible, but enough time to get the next set of gaiters on and drain some of the sweat that was accumulating underneath my waterproof jacket .Pretty disgusting, but the sun was getting warm and the extra layers were doing a good job of raising core temp!

With the Sandbaggers strapped on I start knocking out another hour of hill reps on the Big Dipper. They feel quite airy as the wind blows and the silk moves around my calves. Also the cramps seem to have stopped and no sand gets into my trainers. Whilst it isn’t conclusive that the RaceKit gaiters were the cause of the cramps, I don’t want to risk it during the MDS. It’s perhaps as much psychological as it is a physical difference. come to think of it, I’ve never got on with wearing my Compress Sport calf guards whilst running- felt like they were squeezing my Achilles tendon. I love them for recovery after long runs though… real or placebo? I’ll take any benefit for the MdS.

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After a legs sapping two hours on the sand dunes I’m still happy with all of my kit. A good morning of testing. My bag, water bottles, the 0.5 size larger trainers, t-shirt, compression shorts and socks all feel great. The only things that doesn’t work for me s my raidlight cap… it’s too bloody tight and doesn’t come down onto my head enough. It feels like it will blow off! Still, of all the things not to work I’m happy it’s only the hat.

For those of you that are interested, I’m going to post my full kit list at some point. Maybe one night during the taper when do a dry run of packing,

Brecon Beacons

No rest for a wannabe ultra runner…from the dunes of Merthyr Mawr I drive straight to the Brecon Beacons to meet training partner Mike at the Storey Arms and hit some more hills!

By the time I arrive in the Brecons I have cooled down a lot and started to stiffen up – the wind is blowing hard when I step out of the car and get the shakes within seconds. Time to layer up and hit the fells. Mike and I kit up and get straight out on the run, we’re aiming for a 13 mile loop that takes in Corn Du, Pen Y Fan, Fan y Bigg and Cribyn.  For those of you know the Brecons well, we hit the long slow 2 mile climb to the left of the Storey Arms. For those who don’t know the Brecons quite so well, the Storey Arms isn’t a pub. I was very disappointed the first time I discovered that!

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Having covered part of this route during the 10 Peak we were keen to make sure we got around it more quickly than we did on that epic 36 mile adventure. We made good progress but the serious headwind and my 9kg pack slowed the pace – mike was setting a great pace. I think we managed the first 2 or 3 peaks quicker than we did during the race, but the “flat section” after Cribyn around the crescents to the top of the reservoir felt slow. The mornings sand dune reps were starting to take their toll and I was reduced to a plod. Great training!

As we descended down to the reservoir we got some protection from the icy wind that had been whipping over the lip of the peaks; there was still some snow lying on the high grounds. The descent was over all to quickly and the quads had taken a beating. We skirted around the reservoir, past an old pump house (I think that’s what it is) before starting the tough, slippery climb back to the ridge. This was familiar ground- we did the climb during the early hours of the 10 Peaks ultra; it was better in the dark…. I couldn’t see the climb that I had ahead! After a few “oh shit” moments where earth/stone slipped from beneath me, we were back on the ridge traversing back towards Pen Y Fan. With all of the earlier peaks in view we took a sharp left to take the speedy descent back to the road. Although the picture doesn’t show it, Mike was taking it easy at this point after rolling his ankle on the descent to the reservoir

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And that was it. A little jolly along some tarmac and we were back at the car. 12.9 miles – a perfectly planned route by Mike!

Actually, on the subject of Mike. I owe him a big thank you. He has been a great training partner during the MdS prep- we’ve completed 2 ultras together, 4 or 5 adventure races and a good handful of long Sunday runs. Mike isn’t running the MdS, so I hugely appreciate the effort he’s made. It must be frustrating for him at times; running a at a slower pace because I’m hauling 9kg, or because I’m tired from the weekly mileage. When I’m back from the MdS  I’m looking forward to dropping the pack and getting some speed back so we can attack the L50 again! We’ll home before midnight this time Mike!!!

1 thought on “Marathon des Sables; Sand Dune Training

  1. Thanks to you mate for letting me tag along on your journey, just wish I was able to do some more of the training with you (at least 1 Barrett had to put some effort in 🙂 I’m sure I’ll speak to you before but the best of luck, I know you’ll do great, just START STEADY & LOOK AFTER THOSE FEET 🙂 as for me running at a slower pace, I’m dreading you losing the pack as I’ll be playing catch up!!

    Mike

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