Wednesday 3 April 2013

Road to the desert...

It's almost here, a matter of days away as opposed to years and months. I have been measuring out bags of granola and milk powder into little plastic bags, labelling everything by it's day to be eaten and calorie content; going all out Howard Hughes basically, minus the peeing into milk bottles. Despite all this it still doesn't feel real....yet.

I have had a great week or so leading up to the event. My girlfriend Tiffany has visited me and as a keen runner herself (watch out triathlon scene) she has been running with me which is always a pleasure. It's been awesome spending the evenings cooking, going out for meals watching a movie etc. instead of compulsively researching lighter kit, how to pack a running bag, where are the toilets in the desert etc. She is very good at distracting me from my MdS curse. Also I had my parents and nan come down to deepest Devon where we enjoyed some pub grub and they wished me well on my travels. I appreciate the stress and strain an event like MdS can put on friends and family, but I'm lucky to have a great bunch surrounding me who want me to enjoy the experience and do well (none more so then my new work colleagues, thanks guys!)

My tapering tactics over the last 10 days have been ruled by how I feel on a day to day basis. I'd go on a 10K if I felt good, I would stay if the legs were tired. That's pretty much it. I had such a top run out with Tiffany and Tiago (who is running a 52 mile event in May!) this week, I actually enjoyed training again! I'm off out for a 5 miler today with Tiffany, slightly because I feel I need to keep the muscles ticking over and slightly because I feel guilty about that Devonshire cream tea yesterday!

Triple Chicken

My bag is packed, 17,000 calories and limited luxury. It went into my 20l backpack surprisingly easy and currently weighs around 6.8 kg. I expect that with the essential pieces of kit handed out in the desert, plus water, it will weigh around 9kg. Joy.

The Kit

All in

I would just like to thank everyone who has donated to my JustGiving page thus far, supporting both me and the mighty RSPB. I bloody love all of you! If you haven't yet and would like to donate here is the link. Cheers! 

Driving to Gatwick today and will meet up with the Northern Tent comrades tomorrow which will no doubt be a laugh. A night in 5 star luxury, admin checks in the desert and then on Sunday I begin the hardest challenge of my life. Bring it.

Keep Right On

Friday 22 March 2013

Back in the game...

After many physio sessions, cycling outings, leg exercises and core workouts I have been running injury free for the last 4 weeks now. Starting off at low mileage and gradually working my way up to around 8-9 miles. It has been hugely frustrating as I have felt fine during the runs but my number one priority is to get to the start line injury free.

Over the last two weeks I have had to juggle moving to Devon, starting a new job, finding somewhere to live and organising MdS stuff. It's been a whirlwind! I managed to fit my training in whenever I could, even running to my house viewings! On my first day off I left my new house with a 6kg backpack into glorious Devon sunshine and headed for the coast.

26.4 miles later I had ran through wind, rain, and hail but it was brilliant! Running is so much easier when the backdrop is as distracting as the Exe Estuary. I hope I can still appreciate the beauty of the Sahara during the gruelling moments and harness that to pull me through.

It's good to know my fitness has remained during the running lay off and it was a real confidence booster to get out there and get the miles in. Obviously, it's never ideal to get injured during training but I feel refreshed and at the end of the day this event was never going to be easy, your'e either going to do it or your'e not and there's no doubt in my mind that I can finish the Marathon des Sables.

From this point i'll carry on running steadily over the next week, take a visit to Braunton Burrows sand dunes and get some back to back middle distance running in but from that point on it will be about rest and preparation. It's so close now I can't wait!

On a really important note, I finally got round to setting up my fundraising campaign! I will be running the Marathon des Sables for the RSPB. The RSPB is an amazing organisation and charity that speaks up for nature in the UK and further afield, conserving wild places through science, campaigning and public engagement. We all have a responsibility to protect our green spaces and by sponsoring me on my relatively mini trans-saharan migration you will be 'Stepping up for Nature' and making me very happy! The smallest contribution makes a difference and will be greatly appreciated. Here's the link to my JustGiving page. Cheers!

Keep Right On


Devon Runner (Glasses!)

Wednesday 23 January 2013

The Injury

I thought I was invincible; running 5 days and 50 - 60 miles a week. It had become joyful routine, mid distance in the week, long distance (20+) at the weekend and I genuinely enjoyed it. Sure, after clocking up the miles muscles ached and fatigue set in but it all passed once Monday (rest day) came along. I was progressing through my training programme nicely and eagerly anticipating my first Ultra Marathon in Anglesey on the 19th of January.

9 miles or so into a 24 mile run I noticed a slight discomfort mid shin on my right leg, as if it were bruised. I presumed I'd knocked it earlier in the day and soldiered on finishing the 24 miles, tired but comfortable. The first steps the next morning were tender ones, with sharp pains coming from my right shin. It eased up as the day went on and I dismissed it as acclimatisation pain, this is what it feels like after running 24 miles, right? 

I ran through the discomfort for the next 4 days, thinking I could power through it like other niggles I had experienced. Discomfort turned to intense pain however with a certain spot on my shin too painful to touch. On Christmas morning I covered 4 miles on the treadmill and every foot landing was agony.

A trip to the physio and a suspected stress fracture. I have done no running in almost 4 weeks and missed my Ultra Marathon debut. Naturally I was completely gutted, demotivated and seriously considering deferring my registration to the 2014 event. After some helpful talks with Lia and Sara at RunningSahara I banished those thoughts and cracked on with my glute and cardiovascular exercises to maintain fitness and build overall leg muscle; thus spreading the strain more efficiently across the leg. It's no substitute to running and I may have to re-calculate my MdS ambitions in terms of finishing time but I'm desperate to get to the start line, injury free.

I feel no pain when walking now, not even going up/down stairs. Ill give my leg as much time as possible though and look to start running again first thing in February. It seems several of the MdS runners have picked up similar injuries at the same time, just as the total miles per week tally gets near its peak. Although its obviously a set back, this injury has been a learning curve. The body clearly has its limits, limits that can be overcome, but it will let you know when to draw the line if you're listening. In the future I will take every niggle or discomfort seriously and look to nip it in the bud as soon as possible, even if it means taking a week or two off.

I'm already planning my running endeavours after recovery, with a trip to Merthyr Mawr sand dunes and the Pembrokshire coastline before the pre MdS taper begins. I can't wait.

Keep Right On

Thursday 6 December 2012

Runners Breakfast

My Runners Breakfast

Homemade Granola:
Rolled Oats, Brown Sugar, Honey, Cinnamon, Golden Linseeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Dried Cranberries, Fresh Raspberries. MILK.

Morning Motivator

Tuesday 27 November 2012

What, Why, How...

Why am I blogging? I'm really not the blogging kind of guy, I mean, I don't update my Facebook status every five minutes to inform people of my dinner plans, the weather or how I slept, so why spend valuable time maintaining a blog about my running endeavours? I guess it's because I scrawl the internet so vigorously myself for information, advice, stories and resources on the Marathon des Sables that I think it may be insightful to other MDS runners, past and future, to follow the progress of what I can only describe as an average runner who wishes to traverse the desert on foot for 6 days. 

In addition, I hope to utilise this blog to meet other like minded runners and MDS'ers whilst promoting my fundraising ambitions for a charity that is yet to be confirmed!


What is the Marathon des Sables

The Marathon des Sables is a 6 day, multi-stage, 155 mile ultra marathon in the Moroccan Sahara. Competitors carry all their food, sleeping and navigational requirements with them whilst managing a rationed water supply provided by race organisers. The terrain consists of dunes, rocky ground, flat planes and...sand. 

The stages roughly translate as follows:

Day 1.   15 Miles

Day 2.   21 Miles (Sand Dune day)

Day 3.   23 Miles

Day 4.   50 Miles

Day 5.   26 Miles

Day 6.   13 Miles


The first thing 99% of people ask me when they find out I'm running the Marathon des Sables is...'Why?'

This is the hardest thing to answer, not because I'm disillusioned by my reasons but because it can be difficult to portray these reasons to those looking bemused (just ask my Mom), but its a bemusement I completely appreciate. Not only is there a huge physical demand required by this race but perhaps more significant, at least for me, is the massive financial burden that comes with registration cost, kit, training etc. So, why the Marathon des Sables?..

Having discussed my excuses for partaking in this event with several other MDS runners I have been able to better prepare myself for the question, 'Why?'
So, ill attempt to answer that question now...

The Challenge

I think I first came across the Marathon des Sables whilst watching Trans World Sports and immediately knew it was something I had to do and without much thought handed over a £500 (student loan) deposit in 2011 to register. Having completed the Tough Guy race a couple of times and recently recovered from a broken leg sustained via a casual game of American Football, I clearly thought I was well equipped for 155 miles in the desert. Fool. It's the feeling of achievement I crave though and it's this that drives my 5 days a week training come wind, rain or shine. I only have to recall the image of Mo Farah charging down the home straight at London 2012 with Steve Cram shouting 'he's kicking hard now!' to remind me of why I'm doing this, I'm hungry for my own slice of athletic triumph. No doubt i'll utilise the same Olympic vision when out in the desert to keep me going. 

The Experience

Travelling through the desert on foot for 6 days amongst hundreds of other journey men and women whilst carrying a weeks supply of food and rationed water is at the very least going to provide a memorable experience. I appreciate at times I'm going to loathe the experience what with the relentless desert heat, blistered feet and crippling thirst, but it's got to be fun, right? I want to be able to look back and think "I may have failed at a lot of things in life, but I did run 155 miles across the desert".


Running such events provides a great platform for raising money and I intend on taking full advantage of this. Im still undecided on my charity but it will revolve around wildlife conservation. I plan to raise over £1000 although this might be harder than the training....


I had (potentially still don't) no idea how to train for an event like the MDS. With past events I have prepared by simply going for a run a couple of times a week with no thought as to structure, time, terrain etc. I knew I couldn't get away with this for the MDS so luckily I befell upon 'Relentless Forward Progress: A guide to running ultra-marathons' by Byron Powell. For anyone considering running an ultra-marathon, if you're a seasoned marathoner or casual runner like me, I highly recommend this book. After scrutinising every chapter I bought myself a wall planner, adopted a 4 month training plan from the book and began a regimented 5-days a week running programme.

The programme consists of 3 weeks progressive running, gradually upping the total weekly distance. The 4th week is a recovery week, where the total weekly distance drops off. After 2 and a half months, my current weeks running schedule looks like this:

Monday:  Rest

Tuesday:  9 Miles

Wednesday: 5 Miles

Thursday: 7 Miles

Friday: Rest

Saturday: 24 Miles

Sunday: 5 Miles

It has taken 2 and a half months to get to this point but I dare say I could have got there sooner had I skipped forward a few weeks on the programme. Although it has been gruelling and de-moralising keeping to a strict running regime I believe this progressive technique has kept me safe from injury and promoted a more sustainable fitness. By following the plan I will be covering distances of 31 miles by early January.

The next step is back to back running. I have already clocked runs of 12 miles and 10 miles on consecutive days, but will need to translate these to 20 mile + runs. Should be a laugh...

I could go into loads of depth on kit, training sessions, preparation events, nutrition etc. but I think this first post is long enough as it is. I will keep the blog updated regularly with all these things however, including a proposed Christmas Day marathon and weekend training session on the Merthyr Mawr sand dunes. 

For now though, here's an image I took whilst watching the Paralympic athletics at the Olympic Park this summer. Helped kick off the motivation...

Keep Right On