Bonjour!That was an interesting first day; amazing sand dunes, an active mine and a dried up river bed! The most amazing place to run. I found the conditions ok – heat didn’t seem too bad. The sand dunes (12km!) of Erg Chebbi were hard work on the quads but great fun to run down, then walk up! Spent some time running with Chris from our tent; great guy & good to have some company. Left Chris at CP1; the middle sector was more runnable, so tried to get a run/walk/run combo going. Good sector. Approaching CP2 at the mine, a fellow brit took a tumble – looked painful, but he got up and pushed on! The next sector was also good to run on. Caught up with Andy from our tent, but pressed on. None of us were enjoying the heat at this point. Towards the end of this sector we had another 3km of dunes in Erg Znaigui, the heat was crazy – from the sun & the sand! At the crest of the final dune I could see camp – amazing! Not sure on place just yet-felt like top half.missing u!xxx loving this! 🙂
With so many training miles going into the legs, making sure you are injury free is critical. It’s the only way to get to the start line. I personally know 3 people who have picked up injuries that have stopped them from taking part in MdS 2014. It must be devastating after so much hard work. So far, I have remained unscathed….apart from one toe nail and the occasional blister! 1 week left… I hope I haven’t tempted fate!
As you might guess, most of the injuries I’ve heard of/seen are leg and knee related. A really good friend of mine has torn his ACL and did some damage to the meniscus. Two guys who I work with have also picked up injuries: one with a very bad calf strain and the other also has knee ligament issues. As I scroll through Facebook posts on the MdS group I see it is littered with people picking up injuries form all the mileage. In some cases it is purely bad luck. In others it’s perhaps over training after leaving the mileage to the last minute. In some cases is a re-occurrence of an old injury. Now, I’m not professing to be an expert in training for ultra-marathons or multi stage races. Nor am I any whizz when it comes to injury prevention, but I’ve managed to stay injury free, so thought I would share few thoughts
Top 5 Tips:
- Start slow and steady. I had only run a half marathon 2 years ago, so spent the first few months following a marathon training plan and then built it from there with my own adaptation of a 50km ultra training plan. From there the mileage crept up to 40-80 mile per week depending on races and work commitments.
- Cross train. Build in at least 1 cross-training session per week. For me this was normally 1 hour of circuit training per week. Towards the end of my training I also added in a swim – it really helped my legs freshen up the day after a long run. It also meant I could use the sauna for heat training!
- Train with your back pack sooner rather than later. Even if it only has a small bottle of water in it. The sooner you can build some good core strength the better. Also make sure you run without it. In my opinion, you need to make sure you keep some faster, pace work in the plan and work on good running form. Variety helps mentally too.
- Listen to your body. I tend to run through little niggle – I find it usually loosens up during a run. However, if it is still there the next morning, I get it looked at. Take a rest day or do something non weight-bearing.
- Rest. Yes, I’m regurgitating stuff I’ve been told by my coach at BMHAC and that I have read in every good running book/magazine… but that’s because it’s true. You need rest days to allow your body to recover, rebuild and become stronger and fitter. I’m guilty of not taking enough rest days – going for a 50 length swim isn’t a rest. It’s a good cross training session and will help your legs recover but it isn’t true rest. I try and take 1 full rest day per week…I often use it that day for 20 mins of stretching and doing race admin (there’s plenty!)
Two other things that I introduced to my training towards the end were hot yoga and sports massage.
I have been going to hot yoga classes since the middle of February and absolutely love it. I go to Bikram Yoga Fleet (http://www.bikramyogafleet.co.uk/). The team there are great and have had many MdS runners train there in the past. My flexibility and core strength has improved loads. I really notice the difference when trail running and carrying pack. If time permits, I’ll try and do the occasional session after MdS – it’s a great way of switching off after work!
For sports massage I have been seeing Elise Beechen in Reading (http://www.elisebeechen.co.uk/index.html). I am absolutely convinced that the sports massage has played a huge part in keeping me injury free. I used to be really cynical about this kind of thing, but I genuinely believe it helps. I helps to ensure that those awkward niggles don’t turn into a proper injury – I’ve had plenty of niggles, but nothing that has stopped me running. There have been a few occasion where I suspected my ITB was flaring up, or my hips were getting tight, pain in my glutes… all the usual stuff runners get from time to time. A good massage later and all is fine! Yes, it may have sorted itself out anyway, but why risk it? aside fro the injury prevention, it’s also a good way to relax and take you mind off running for a while! Elsie has also hooked me up with a great stretching routine that I’m supposed to follow each day in the desert. I’m not sure if I will have the energy, but I must make the effort – it will play an important role in keeping me supple and “fresh” for the next day. I definitely intend to try… I promise.
As I say, I’m not an expert in injury prevention or training methods. This is just what worked for me. I’m yet to find out whether it will get me across the desert, but I’m pretty sure it will get me to the start line. And from what I’ve heard, it would seem that getting to the start line if one of the biggest challenges!!
8 days until I fly. That’s 4 runs, 5 hot yogas, 1 swim and a massage. Oh and lots of sleep!
The fundraising is all going to plan, with over £4,000 on the Just Giving page and a few hundred quid in cash donations! Thank you to everyone who has donated so far.
To stir up a little extra support at the office we had a coffee and cake sale whilst Adrian (@MDS_Runner) and I did a presentation on the MdS and the charities we are running for. Much to the excitement of my boss and some of our colleagues I had somewhat foolishly agreed to having my head shaved in the build up to the MdS. Well, with a boss volunteering to be a barber and a generous audience willing to throw a few quid into the charity pot, Thursday seemed like the perfect time to do it. Here’s how it went:
Shaving my head after 8 years of having long hair was a pretty big deal. In fact I was more anxious about doing that than I am about the MdS. It’s all for a good cause though. You can find out more about the Evelina here: Evelina London
If would like to donate (either for the head shaving or the running :)), you can do so at http://justgiving.com/running-for-evelina
Thanks again everyone!
2 weeks to go….and now the sun hat fits! Perfect!
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.
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)
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.
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,
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!
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
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!!!
With 25 days until I head to Morocco, I figured I should direct some focus to fund raising. We’ve made great progress so far and we hit £3,000 at the weekend, but would love to get to my £5,000 target. It will make a huge difference at the Evelina! if you want to help me on the way, you can do so here: http://www.justgiving.com/running-for-evelina
It would take hours to explain how good the Evelina Childrens Hospital is. In fact, I cant do it justice in a blog, so figure I’d just share a few videos and let you judge.
Two years ago I was sat here worrying about my first ever half marathon (Reading 2012) … where do I park, what drinks do I need, what should I have for breakfast, how long will it take me, where do I pin my number? It went OK, I ran a 1:54 and finished it asking the guy next to me “how the hell does anyone run back the start”.
Two years on and I’m staring down the barrel of the biggest challenger of my life – in 5 weeks time I’ll be stood in the middle of the Sahara Desert waiting to run 250km! How times change!
Tomorrow’s half is a training race – I never thought I would be saying such a thing. I’m out to enjoy the race and make the most of the atmosphere. Reading Half is always well supported and the steel drum band under the bridge is a highlight – it’s perfectly places at about the halfway mark. I’ve had so many months of long, lonely training runs, it’s going to be great having lots of people out supporting the race. I can’t wait!
I hope to knock out a 1:45 with a few kilos on my back…. let’s see, it’s just a training run and staying injury free is the key!
Kit ready, drinks prepared and legs rolled!
Ok, with 9 weeks to go until the MdS,I had hoped the Thames Trot would go much more smoothly. As I’m lying in the sofa thinking about where things went a bit pear shaped and how I missed my target by so much and ended up slower than C2C (where I was wearing a 6kg pack).
I finished- that’s the important thing! But, it took me 9 hours (target was 8) and my last two sectors were horrifically slow – I’m waiting to see the results to see how much time I lost and how my pace averaged out.
So where did it go wrong. I can think of three things I fell victim to:
1) Failure to prepare is preparing to fail
2) Never use food/drink for the first time in a race
3) In a self navigation race, don’t blindly follow the person in front of you
So here comes a dissection of the race. I’ll spare you the usual checkpoint by checkpoint story. Other than to say I felt like I was having a great race all the way from Oxford to Abingdon, Benson, Goring, Purley… It felt like I was strongly in the middle of the pack! Then boom – doors off! catastrophically!
So what was the cause? I hope thinking about this, whilst it might be a bit boring to read, will help me prep for the desert and will help me mentally when it gets rough in Morocco!
#1 Failure to prepare is preparing to fail
I probably didn’t have enough rest going into this race- it’s only 3weeks since the last ultra. I also did quite a bit during the week – 1500m swimming, 14miles running (inc hill reps) and yoga. Great MdS prep in the long run… But not ideal prep for the Thames Trot. Also, the day before the race I got my planning all screwed up- I accidentally skipped lunch as I was on a conference call and I didn’t have a proper, carb load meal in the evening!! I was meeting friends in London so ended up with a KFC for dinner! Not a great meal at the best of times, but definitely not a pre-Ultra meal! Stick to the Pasta!!! Then after a good evening in London I ended up on the last train home, then had or fetch my car and so don’t get into bed until 1:30am!!! I’m normally in bed at 10pm pre-race! With the alarm going off at 5:30 meant, I only had 4 hours of broken sleep! Urgghhh! So, not much sleep and low on calories. A lot of gels, carb drinks, fruit cake and nuts were needed on route! My poor planning also meant I didn’t have my usual Nuun tabs and high calorie savoury snacks to balance out the gel/sugar overload!!
#2 Never use food/drink for the first time in a race
Ok this is ridiculously stupid and something I always bang on about to people who talk about gels for race day – Never use a gel/bar/drink that you are unfamiliar with during a race! At the Purley CP, I stupidly forgot this age old rule. The marshal kindly offered me a Gu electrolyte tab and I happily dropped it in my bottle (instead of getting my usual powder out of my bag- I had three left (one for each CP) in a very easy to access pocket- I didn’t even need to take my pack off!).
Anyway, I set off on this penultimate sector and within two miles of the CP my stomach was in knots- the drink tasted fizzy and wasn’t sitting well. Three miles after the CP I was violently sick! I’ve never been sick like that from exercise- ever! It was like a bad hangover. It was bad- I spewed my guts everywhere twice in the space of 200m! Thank you to the runner who stopped and kindly offered to help with his drinks and some “proper food” – fellow runners are awesome!
#3 In a self navigation race, don’t blindly follow the person in front of you
I knew the middle 30 miles of the race like the back of my hand! I have run/cycled/driven all of those sectors countless times since living in and around Reading. No help needed with navigation- bonus! At the start there are always a enough people to play ‘follow the leader’ with a reasonable amount of confidence! And if someone goes wrong there are plenty of people to debate it.. And if you are all wrong… It has not significant impact on the positions. The final sectors is always much more sparse. When running with Mike we are usually pretty hot on our Nav- usually Mike more than me, but we always have the course in hand and have never been lost (well, there was one adventure race… But that’s a blog entry on its own!). However, after a spate of vomiting and simply plodding my way to CP5 (with the company of Luc and Ruth) I wasn’t really thinking clearly. I followed the bunch in front who had it about 90% right.. Up until the last 2 miles…. We found ourselves knee deep in the Thames on the footpath in Henley! We had taken the old route…. Not the updated, diverted route! Bollocks! I had to back track half a mile, cut up to the road and the run hard to the finish. After the 8 hour goal had slipped through my fingers, I was desperate to hit 9 hours! I think I clocked 9:04! Bugger! Without the detour at the end I might have just made it – note to self, trust your own Nav! The group I was with had decided to walk along the flooded path using the benches as markers- braver than I am! I was too knackered to risk tripping up in the Thames 🙂
I have never been so pleased to see the finish line of a race! And the best part- Lucy was waiting at the finish (she had been stood there for a good hour – based on my original target of 8hours! Ooops!). It’s the first time she has seen my finish an ultra – she now questions this bizarre “hobby” even more!
Finally, I owe a seriously big thank you to Ruth and @lucjolly! They are both training for London and decided to meet me on a stretch of the Thames near where we live. Unfortunately for them, they joined me about 10 mins after the vomiting episode! I was running on empty! Luc did a sterling job of keeping me company whilst Ruth clocked some marathon training miles in the opposite direction before looping back to chase us down! Luc had already knocked out 20miles by meeting up with various different racers that he knew and was happy to keep my company at 11min miles rater than his usual 5:30-6min/miles! My request that he should “just talk at me – I haven’t got the energy to reply… But I am listening!”… led to some good chat and MdS motivation! I can’t remember much of it, but I’m sure it was good! Ruth hunted us down much more quickly than I had hoped- the training is paying off Ruth! We knocked out a few miles as a trio, before Luc departed for a shower and to spruce up or the six nations. I was so close to DNFing myself and joining him! A burger, chips and a Guinness would have sorted me right out! Ruth and I plodded all the way to Sonning bridge, navigating many stretches of shin deep ice cold water! As we hit the final CP, Ruth was at 14 miles on her training run and was “only” planning to do 18-19. So when the marshal told us that it was 8 miles to Henley… I’m not sure who was more gutted! The re-routing of the race, due to all of the floods, meant that last leg was a lot longer than the planned 5! Ruth VERY kindly joined me for the last 8! Legend! She could have easily popped home and had her planned 18/19 in the bag! Instead she got an insight into the final leg of an Ultra! So that’s both Lucy and Ruth well and truly convinced that Luc and I are both stupid for entering these ultras!
I was so close to DNFing myself after spewing up- the company and motivation to meet Lucy at the finish was key! Huge thank you to Ruth, Luc and Lucy!
So, all in all, it was my worst outing at an ultra! By a long way! I had an awesome first 30 miles but the final 15 were pure hell! I was probably a little complacent going into it and let some basics get in the way!
Right time to rest and recover- a quick power nap before Super Bowl tonight – I’ll be making sure I recover well and replace all those missing calories!!
Another huge lesson in ultra running! But I think I’ll be stronger at the MDS because of it!