Marathon Des Sables – Planning and preparation

Posted on the 2nd February 2017

Taking on the grueling Marathon Des Sables for WellChild – read the third blog post from Andrew…

If it’s ‘all in the preparation’ then I’m now confident that I’m getting more in the ‘prepared zone’ than a week ago! Marathon Des Sables is known as the toughest foot race on earth and for someone who finds attention to detail hard to deal with I have just spent the best week getting my head in to gear and letting the reality hit home: this race is all about the finer details. The ability to run is one thing but when you are adrift in the desert for 7 days; it’s sleeping and eating that are the critical components that can make a finisher or bring a long and expensive journey to an untimely end.

The ultra-running camp #Multidaytrainingcamp meticulously organised by Ian Corless has been a brilliant leveller for everyone who attended. There were the fast runners, the mid-packers and the walkers whose ability to power along a beach is something to be reckoned with. Everyone at the camp had a common goal; to finish the 256km race. However, everyone had very different aspirations, motivations and tactics. That is one of the biggest messages I’ve learnt this week – don’t look at everyone else, your race is unique to you and the strategies you bring in to play are personal.

This week I’ve clocked up the magic 100 miles in 6 consecutive days of running over volcanos, beaches and cliffs. As beautiful as the pictures look it’s been a week of beating the thighs and calves and gurning as the glutes struggled up some serious vertical ascents. We ran 20 miles in one pop; a couple of days saw us run in the morning and repeat it again in the afternoon –  and one thing I thought I’d never say – half a day learning to walk.

From all the amazing speakers their consistent message has been to listen to the body and if you need to walk then do so. I’m now a convert to taking polls on my Sahara mission and if I need to walk I will do so. Why would I struggle in 40 degrees heat with upwards of 7kg on my back trying to run when the reality is that a good paced walk will as likely be as quick? The walkers in the camp proved that on the beach. Aesop’s fable of ‘The tortoise and the hare’ really did hit home!

The week has given me a massive insight in to what I’m going to be faced with and was capped off with a night in a tent in a volcano. We ran with all of our kit up and inside the volcano – pitched our tents and were given a glimpse in to the reality of desert life. It was a very grounding experience, no loos, a campfire to heat the water; and to reinforce what we will face in 7 weeks, an evening meal of freeze dried expedition ‘Thai green curry’. There were no lights and certainly no phone signal! Bed was at 20.30 as we were all exhausted and had used up the foraged supply of wood for our fire. Needless to say we rose early, very early, for a 20km dash back to our base at La Santa for coffee, showers and the bakery counter!  We coped with all of about 12 hours of the anticipated 168 hours we will actually be out in the desert!

Having a big appetite, food is obviously a huge consideration in the desert. Our rucksacks need to carry all of our nutrition for a week. And being frank, I’d easily struggle to carry my normal evening dietary download in my rucksack let alone a week’s worth of meals!!  Our nutrition talk, however, put a new slant on the race and I’m actually looking forward to planning and sorting what I’m going to take. I thought I’d be rationed on pre-prepared expedition food when in fact well-chosen freeze dried goodies are just as beneficial. It seems that custard, the type you simply mix with water is a great energy provider; this will be my Sahara manna!

With 9 weeks to go, my food preparation / planning is going to begin. I need to work out breakfast, dinner and enough snacks to keep up the calories for what could potentially be 12 solid hours walking in 40degrees. Add in the other considerations such as to change clothes or not to change, to even bother heating food with a stove that will weigh the rucksack down and the Marathon des Sables becomes not just a race in the middle of nowhere but a long term planning and logistics minefield. And for a mind that easily races off in every direction, my desert adventure is already well under way as I get my head in to planning and preparation.

Without a doubt the week united a group of 40 people and long term will give us all great solace when we see each other at the foreboding start line in Morocco. Whatever happens and no matter how fast we run: if we are planned and prepared, we will all run the same distance and we’ll achieve the same goal our own personal ways.

It’s back to Blighty now where the weather is freezing and it’s a return to coach Cardy’s regime for the next stage in my Marathon des Sables adventure. I have a rest day on the cards which is my opportunity for a freeze dried food tasting frenzy!  It is after all – all in the planning.

Follow my adventure, but more importantly help me raise funds for WellChild.  

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