Marathon des Sables; The Final Update!

A week on from completing the 2014 Marathon de Sables I’m still not quite sure how to describe or explain the experience. It was everything I imagined and more. And in some cases less (but not many cases of that!). Here is an attempt of describing how it felt on the final day.

The Finish

After 18 months of training I was stood at the start line of the most exciting marathon I have been involved in. It doesn’t take much, considering I’ve only run 2 marathons before (if I exclude the ultras). Nevertheless it was promising to be an interesting day. The top 200 were being held back by 90 minutes. Disappointingly I was position 201 going into the final day. To say I was gutted is an understatement! I wanted to be with all the quick guys chasing the rest of the pack down! However, that all changed as we were milling around at the start line and one of the guys from tent 110 announced to me that I was the fastest guy on the start line. The fastest guy out of 800 people! Oh shit… I’ve never been the fastest guys at the start line before. And most likely I’ll never experience that again! For a very brief second it was excited, then I had an “oh shit” moment at the prospect of navigating (well following the pink rocks) with with lots of people following! The reality is there were plenty of people around me who are quicker at marathons, it’s just my cumulative time over the first 4 days was a few minutes quicker – I think my double marathon nudges me ahead of some guys who are quick at the “short” stuff. I had no doubt there would be faster runners who would be keen to lead the group off and set the direction. Just like the other 4 days, I planned to let them shoot off and then chase them down as the day went on. I wanted to run a 5 hour marathon and hoped to beat the front of the elite group home. I was assuming they would run 3:00-3:30 marathons so it would be pretty tight (almost impossible) with a 1hr30 lead – but figured it would be exciting to try!

Before we knew it music was blaring over the speakers, helicopters swooping over our heads and we were off. The final marathon was under-way! The chase was on! Run! At the first check point I was still feeling fresh and the temperature was still cool so I pressed on. A  number of runners were stood refilling water bottles, so I continued with my week-long tactic of always moving. Even though it means carrying the empty bottle in my bag, I wanted to save that precious minute in my attempt to stay clear of the elites. Over the next 11km we ran on some awesome trails and flat stony plains. Having taken 80 mins to get to the first CP I spent the whole of the next leg thinking of the elites that would now be chasing me down. Not that they knew they were chasing me but it certainly helped keep the legs turning. As I checked in at CP2, I noticed that there were very few foot prints in the sand and not too many bottles in the waste bin; I seemed to be doing OK. I grabbed my 1.5L bottle of water and poured half on my head (much to the amusement of some cameramen and the check point officials) and half into my drinking bottles. In all the excitement of running I hadn’t been drinking as much as I should have done. it also meant I hadn’t been taking much salt on. So I swigged down a belly full of water and 3 salt tablets. All of these checkpoint shenanigans lasted no more than 20-30 seconds and I was on my way again.

Early morning miles

 

With my legs starting to burn and my hands throbbing (a sign of dehydration) I set off for the final CP whilst slurping on my carb drink. This was may favourite leg of the whole race. Perhaps in my life. Bold claim, I know! But it was truly epic, the route, the company, the solace, the views, the climb up to a jebel pass and then a few km up high before a fast decent into a lush green check point I ran hard. I was still ahead of most of the 800 in the early start and none of the elites were in site. In fact, I could barley see anyone in front of me. As I arrived at CP3, I received a huge applause from some families that were in Morocco to see their friends/family finish. The CP staff were also extremely attentive and rushed… I got the impression I was near the front and they did everything they could to get me in and out as quick ad possible. I declined half of my water ration in an attempt to save time and repeated my speedwalk and water admin departure from the CP. This was going better than I had planned and I could sense the finish.

No more CPs left in the MdS 😦 no more “beep” as I cross the CP entry gates, no more practising my pronunciation of  “Bonjour, six deux six”. The next “beep” would be as I crossed the finish line! Best a get move on. For about 3-4 km we were running along a dried up river bed… I say running…. it was a jog! My shuffle was still reeling in one or two of the front runners of the early start. I could see them in the distance in the river bed. As we neared the end of the river bed I was overtaken by a camera crew in a Jeep who jumped about 400m ahead and set-up their tripod. Surely not for me…. nope, just the winner of the day, Abdelkader el Mouaziz! His PB for a marathon is 2hr06min! I could see him in the distance behind me. Minutes later was I running alongside him, albeit for a matter of moments… what an phenomenal athlete! His exit from the river bed was effortless, he dashed up the side of the rocks to climb onto the plateau.  I clearly looked bemused as the Camera crew pointed me towards the trail of footprint I should be following… there were 5 maybe 6 sets of foot prints in the sand.

With 5km to go I crossed the “stony plateau” described in the road book. I could smell the finish. I could also sense a couple of elites not too for behind me. One of the marshals gave me a great a cheer and  said “they’re about a half a km behind you. you’ve got 5km to go!!”. As I started the descent down the rocky hill I kicked a rock so hard I screamed. And swore. I swore lots! but F#@K it.. I had lasted all week… there was only 4km to go I wasn’t going to stop and check it now! From a quick glance over my shoulder and I could see Danny Kendall and Carlos Sa – the fastest two Europeans in the MdS (British and Portuguese respectively). 300m behind.. and they seemed to be speeding up. As we hit the final descent onto the last 2.5 km of dunes Danny flew past me. Shortly followed by Carlos. I felt like I was stood still – I think they were locked in a head to head race for the marathon stage (if I remember rightly Danny needed to beat him by 5 mins to over take him on the overall GC). As I crested the first dune and I could see the finish… I overtook one last person and then ran as hard as my legs will let me for the last 2 km of dunes.

250km later!

Choked with tears, excitement and some dehydration I collected my medal, tried to smile for the camera and gave Patrick a big sweaty hug! I then hobbled to the water tent to collect my 4.5L ration of water before slumping in a heap to recover. I had a brief cry (not sure if that was pain from the marathon, the relief of finishing the MdS or disappointment that the best 18months were about to be over). A few harsh words with myself and I soon realised I should gather my shit together and cheer in the rest of tent 110! We had been together all week and the best part for the others was just about to happen. By the time I dropped my kit at 110, Andy was also home and dry. We wandered up and cheered in the rest of the troops. First Chris, then Gerrit… a short while later Tom, Matt and Adrian made it over the finish line of the 250km hammering.

So that was it… the last day in the MdS. How did we get there? Well, I had intended to write a detailed review of  each day when I got home. But in all honesty I have been pretty tired and still trying to get my head around what happened over those 10 days. When I finished the race and for the first few days after the run I didn’t feel like I had been running at all. Let alone 250km in the desert. By Tuesday I was tired, the adrenaline and endorphins had all died away and I was left genuinely exhausted. I’ve been napping most days and having lots of sleep every night. Recovering is the easy bit: eat, sleep, stretch, eat, sleep! So, there’s my excuse for not writing a full report of the week. Also, I kind of like the short summary that I sent from the desert. It captures it as it happened…. so there you have it. the MdS 2014.

Thank you

There are countless people I want to thank. so in no particular order… here goes.

The office – thank you to everyone in the office. You have put up with a lot of running chat (sorry, but that will likely continue). The support has been phenomenal!

Mum and Dad – I know you didn’t really want me to do this when I first signed up. I blame dad! He did Kilimanjaro – that got me hooked!

BMHAC – great club, great coach and great Sunday morning runs!

Ruth & Luc – The endless lunchtime running chat, the company on the treadmill, stretching, Wednesday runs to work, kit chat, all the stuff that non-runners hate. Awesome work at London by both of you! Ruth posting a “good for age” time and I think Luc securing a “Championship Start”! Both huge achievements!

Mike – Epic training partner. Enough said!

My mates – all of the guys I should have been out drinking with for the past few months… it’s time to catch up on those nights out!

Tent 110 – you know how much fun and pain the week involved. Awesome tent mates.. looking forward to a catch up beer soon!

Lucy – a HUGE thank you to you. I know I have been obsessed with the MdS for the past 18 months. Thank you for being so patient (most of the time ;)) and putting up with all my stinking kit, washing and early mornings. I’m looking forward to a few normal weekends just as much as you are 😀 xx

What next?

No idea. I haven’t planned anything yet. I’ll perhaps run a few road races and work on my speed over the summer.. I popped to ParkRun this weekend and found it hard going, so need to get back down to BMHAC soon.  I’d like to run a sub 1:30 half and maybe a quick marathon. who knows. In the meantime, lots of food, sleep and rest is needed.

Until next time…. no, not the next MdS, just the next adventure….

Rob

p.s I’m still counting up the cash donations… looks like we’ve smashed £6k… will update tomorrow!

Advertisements

Marathon des Sables; Injury Prevention

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 weekI 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!

 

Fundraising for The Evelina Childrens Hospital

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:

Twitter_Pic

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!

10 Weeks to Go!

Two weeks on from the Country to Capital and I’m sat reflecting as to whether I’m in the right shape for the Marathon des Sables. With only 10 weeks to go until I’m at the start line, I’m starting to feel as if I should have done more running. Typically I run 30-40 per week. Sometimes it nudges 50. If I run an ultra, it peaks to 70. Each week usually has a swim and a circuits class thrown in for variety. I suppose, most people will always feel like they could have done more – whether its Reading Half, a local 10k or the MdS.

I try to keep reminding myself that I have to be realistic. I’m there to finish, not to be in the top 100, or 200 for that matter- when I signed up for this thing, I had only just finished my first half marathon! After the Country to Capital race, I felt as if I had come a long way in terms of running fitness…. but that confidence has gradually faded over the course of the last two weeks. I’m starting to squeeze in a few extra sessions here and there, whilst also trying to not over train and injury myself. I’m nervous.

Today I’ll start off with a “quick” 9 miler around the villages near home and then finish of the day off with either a swim or a hot yoga session. Tomorrow will be slow 13 miler and some race admin. The MdS nerves have kicked my ass into gear!

It’s fair to say the journey to the MdS is up and down!