Paul Kelders 2013

Learning from the 28th Edition of the Marathon des Sables

Paul Kelders Runner #730

Overview

The Marathon des Sables is billed as the toughest footrace on the planet, and, as someone who works in marketing, it’s a claim I love. However it is a claim that many suggest is a bit OTT. So, like any brand making a big claim, it better live up to it and the organisers, unbeknownst to us, decided this year to ramp things up and make their claim more of a reality.

Even without this ‘ramping up’, the nature of the event – self sufficiency, stages, climate, environment etc – makes it a formidable undertaking, an endurance event on top of a race.

So while we do set targets for completion based on overall time or general placement, a massive part of the MdS is the successful completion of the journey to the start line. It’s a very tough journey but once you’ve made it to that point on day one, the odds of you completing are firmly stacked in your favour. This year, for example, of the 1,024 participants to ‘toe the line’ on the 5th of April, only 59 didn’t make it to the finishing line. And the majority of those people fell victim to either the heat or illness.

Successful planning and preparation at home leads to success in the desert. How you define ‘success’ is up to you.

I’m still very much in the novice phase of my running ‘career.’ I’m still figuring out what it is I can do and how to push harder. I’m still building confidence and technique. One big shift however is that I’ve moved from running to lose to running to gain.

With that in mind, the MdS, for me, was very much a pivot point. My goal, therefore, based on analysis and ambition, was to hit the top 200 (20%). If I’d been a more accomplished and experienced runner I think I’d have pushed for top 15%. And I would have achieved it.

The other factor tempering my ambition was the simple fact that I wanted to enjoy the experience! It costs a lot, financially and emotionally and to run it in a haze of blind ambition not taking the time to take it all in, would have been a mistake. Top 20%, for me, provided a balance between ambition and enjoyment, an appropriate pivot point.

Success was also a factor of how little the training impacted my real life – home and work. This meant 4/5 a.m. starts so as not to interfere with my duties there. Naturally, there was plenty of inference but I like to think I kept it to a minimum over the course of the 18 months leading up to the off…

Race Strategy

Traditionally the race was made up of six stages totalling 242kms and a strategy to manage the distance which would get me top 20% yet was flexible enough to allow changes which may arise due to injury, conditions or whatever.

One option was to simply not have any strategy! But that’s not how I tend to work. I wanted some idea of a target pace, how to approach each day, when to push.

 

1.     Short-ish intro stage 22km

2.     36km

3.     40km

4.     82km

5.     42.2km

6.     20km

 

Chart 1

Looking at the 2012 race pace for competitors from Ireland/UK/SA/Israel, there’s a wonderful straight line graph which shows the ‘Rule of 25’ (yes, I just made that up…) which is that: ‘on average, a gain in pace of 25 seconds per km will gain you 25 places overall’.

So, for example, people who finished in places 26-50 were, on average, 27 seconds faster per km than those who finished in positions 51-75.

Clearly it’s not 25 exactly for each grouping but it’s close enough and was something I was reasonably aware of going into the race and acted as a rough guide for how I wanted and needed to pace myself. It proved remarkably accurate as I estimated needing 9min/km to break the top 200 and that’s almost exactly how it panned out!

 

Chart 2

I needed to see how the different stages were run.

The higher up the rankings, the more consistent the times between stages with greater time spread appearing further down the field.

Stage 1 was run quite quickly; a mistake one would tend to think and then slowing quite a bit for Stage 2. From then, people were saving themselves for the long stage and then pushing for the marathon (S5) and the final dunes stage (S6) with these being the fastest – even after the long stage, people ran these with gusto, possibly trying to make up time lost on the long stage.

 

So the two big principles from this analysis were:

1.     Consistency of time was clearly something to aim for, find your pace and hold it.

2.     Keep the tank full for a long stage push.

 

So the plan, based on previous year breakdowns by stage was roughly:

Stage 1: Take it handy enough on day 1 – it’s short, get into the race.

Stages 2 and 3; up the pace a bit but keep plenty in reserve for…

Stage 4 which was the make it or break it stage with people able to save lots of time by running smart

Stage 5, after the rest day, was to hold you position

Stage 6, the fastest stage- see how you feel and enjoy the run home

 

Training

I had two underlying aims. For me they were simple reminders of my training and race ambitions:

1.     ‘Make nothing of it’ – I wanted to make the MdS as simple a run as possible. It would require effort, of course, but I wanted that to be well within my capabilities. I wanted there to be absolutely no doubt that I would complete the race and do so with a smile!

2.     ‘I didn’t come here to walk’ – I fully intended to run as much of the route as possible. There would of course be times when it made sense to walk (high dunes for example) but other than that, this was a race to be run as it was only by running that I’d hit my top 20% target.

So my training plan involved building a mix of stamina and speed, along with a grounded confidence and competitive mindset. I worked on this by entering various races of differing distances but also by working bloody hard to get my marathon time down.

So plenty of milestones on the way to the greater goal.

Specifically, I used a mix of approaches to develop different parts of my ‘game’, and to prevent any boredom.

 

Running

1.     Long Hill Runs – runs up the Wicklow/Dublin hills are important to build strength and stamina and get the brain used to ‘up’.

2.     Short Hill Repeats – 90 secs fast up a steep enough incline with pack, jog back, repeat.

3.     Street Running  – handy for early morning runs before work with pack; 15-20km/90 mins or thereabouts just to keep yourself ticking over.

4.     Beach runs – tough sessions on Brittas. With pack, up and down the strand, in the soft sand, and then repeats on the dunes, for up to 5 hours, ending with a recovery dip in the sea.

5.     Pool running – look like a complete looper in the pool but it’s a great way of lowering the impact of a run and adding the resistance of the water helps strength. Useful when you’ve niggles or are recovering from injury. Hard to find a pool where you can do it in peace J

6.

Dave Loving The Dunes In Brittas

Races – quite a few ultras and marathons to test self, kit, shoes, nutrition. And build tshirt store.

 

7.     Back to backs – important. 4 hours Saturday; 5 Sunday; 2 Monday for example. With pack. Build stamina and get mind and body used to getting back out there. I can’t remember running twice in one day but that’s an option too.

8.     Random Challenges – what I’d call exploratory runs – grab a map, make a couple of sambos and head out – run from Valentia to Ballinskelligs via Coominaspic (mega hill) along the cliff face. Fun and gets you a little into the unknown. One favourite was laps of the Sugar Loaf.  Another was an 82km run along the Royal Canal with a great group of Ultra runners and friends.

 

The Route Up the Sugar Loaf

 

Strength/Core

 

1.     Personal Training – I really needed to focus on losing weight and building strength. Get your core strength sorted; this will carry you when tired; help conserve energy as you keep your form; help with the backpack; get you up the jebels.

2.     Gym – did some weights/dynamic work for a few months at the start and used a programme designed for me.

3.     Turbo/Spin – for a bit of variety I added a little bike work early on. Did little with 4 months to go.

 

Skills Development

 

1.     Orienteering – started to get into this and it helps with map reading/confidence as well as strength and fitness. It’s also good fun and can be shared with the family – I’ve four kids so options like this are important.

2.     Proper Hill Walking – I didn’t do enough of this. It always felt like you should be running and I’d always end up doing that when the plan called for walking. There is a good bit of walking (up dunes etc) and people who are strong hill walkers can gain a lot over the course of the race. Add to this walking with poles (Nordic Walking) and you can create a strong advantage for yourself. Look at it this way, Marco Olmo walked anywhere it was energy sapping to run and finished around 13th

 

Fitness and Acclimatisation

 

1.     Bikram Yoga – Heat acclimatisation from 8 weeks up to the start (any further out has, reportedly, no benefit). I was quite a fan but started to notice some of the stretched were starting to leave some of my joints feeling strained, particularly around the knees so I kept up attendance but opted out of some of the moves.

2.     Sauna sessions – just sitting in a sauna – on the lowest level as you don’t need any hotter!! –  for up to 45 minutes with breaks if needed. Would run on the spot for 10-15 minutes.

3.     ‘Heat Run’: Running with Layers – To get the miles in, a simple tactic is to go for your usual run but with layers of clothing. I went for plenty with 5-6 layers top/bottom; extra hats; 2 pairs of gloves;  2pairs of socks; buff etc getting yourself as close to 100% covered as possible. And then add your backpack. Again, you look like a lunatic, but at least no one will recognise you!

 

Getting dressed for a heat run took time. As did peeling the layers off afterwards!

 

Other Notes:

 

·       Run with your pack – For the 6-8 months leading up to the race I ran with my pack loaded with 2L water bottles. Typical weights 4-13KG depending on the duration of the run/proximity to the start date. 1L=1KG so I could easily measure what I was running with. Because it was only water, I could easily ditch a kilo if I got tired by emptying a bottle. I felt this really helped me with my ‘Make Nothing Of It’ goal.

·       Get a training partner – I ran with Dave Riordan for 18 months which was great on many levels, not just friendship but motivation, laughs, advice, ideas, comparison, carpooling etc

·       Weekly Mileage Goals – I seldom hit over 120km a week but did set targets for duration rather than distance.

·

Training with Dave…always a pleasure :)

Join a walking group – plenty of groups out there doing big walks and they’re great strength builders. There’s an art to it…

 

·       Tapering – Tapered for a good 3 weeks, partially due to work/time pressure but actually, a good rest before races seems to help me a lot.

·       Heart rate – I started to get into this and will continue to. I got to know my resting heart rate and use that to assess fitness/well-being. I had a target HR zone of between 140-150 bpm for training and whilst I didn’t stick to it all the time (as I’m still not sure as to how to use it properly as a training guide) I have used it as an indicator of exertion and effort.

·

My Feet Were Largely Trouble Free

Feet – There are entire blogs and book dedicated to this and I don’t think any of them are right. Or wrong. One thing became clear, everyone’s feet are different. Chances are you will get blisters. The real objective behind good prep is to minimise their impact. I used Nok Cream on my feet for a couple of months before the race. I walked 8-12 km every day for 2 years, usually in Converse, which toughened them up too. One thing to think a lot about is your shoe strategy. Most people recommend shoes 1-2 sizes bigger than you normally wear as your feet swell with the heat. I think ½ a size up is plenty; any more and your feet move in the shoe and such friction contributes to blisters. Another contributing factor is moisture/sweat and making sure your feet are clean and dry and aired is important.

 

Learnings:

1.     Core strength work is a must and more important than total weekly mileage

2.     Keep practicing taking on water/food as you run

3.     Variety is great

4.     Specificity is critical – so training in a quarry would have been a great idea.

5.     Sand running good to do a few times but I would worry too much about it!

6.     Injuries are a natural part of preparation – be mature about it!

7.     Improving my marathon times really helped with the need to be mindful of pace

8.     Back to backs important.

9.     Enjoy the training, it’s a fundamental part of the experience

10.  Get a good physio and masseur; people who don’t think you’re nuts.

11.  Go further. Do not give up on a run. The body can do more than the mind knows.

12.  Take rest days and  taper well.

13.  Avoid alcohol but remember a little wine (and I mean a little) made me happy

14.  Get some night runs in with the head torch

 

 

The ‘Art O’Neill’ Ultra was the perfect training programme for the MdS with night runs; tough trails; core strength etc. At the cross  with Neil and Dave.

 

Nutrition

The race organisers stipulate a minimum of 2000kcals per day. This includes gels but excludes powders; a bit of an annoyance at first as I had hoped to use Peronin powder as a meal on a couple of days – a great product with 500kcals per pack. As it turned out I only used it on the long run day (Stage 4) for ‘lunch’ on the run and, despite ‘gastro issues’ on the day, it worked well.

 

Having completed the race, 1500kcals from ‘solids’ and 500kcals from powders such as Peronin would have been fine for me but I do think the solids provided a more satisfying and psychologically rewarding ‘eat’.

Nutrition planning is a hugely important, and enjoyable, part of MdS prep. I went from knowing nothing to knowing enough to be ‘consciously incompetent’.

 

The fundamental challenge is to create a nutrition plan which contains the highest number of calories for the lowest possible weight. Remember, you will be carrying your 12,000+ kcals for the week.

 

Digging below the surface of this challenge and considering a nutrition ‘strategy’ i.e. your overarching demands from food, was important for me.

 

Packing before the off

 

 

I decided that I needed:

 

1.     Variety

One option is to find what works and repeat for 8 days – no pun intended – but this wasn’t for me. In addition, previous runners had mentioned how they’d have improved this in their plans so I took that as a learning.

2.     Satiety

I wanted food that felt like food (there was some ‘chew’) and was satisfying and helped, therefore, control hunger/the desire to eat more

3.     Low Volume & Low Carb

I’ve been on a calorie restricted diet for a few months and decided 2000-2500kcals a day would be plenty. I’ve also been trying to become a ‘fat burning machine baby!!’ so protein/fat important. Ideally I’d run without gels but packed 2/day ‘just in case’…

 

Low Carb Training Breakfast Actually Really Tasty

 

4.     Treat

I also wanted to have functionally efficient food which I could look forward to eating.

5.     Healthy

I didn’t want calories for calories sake. Many great kcal:weight ratio products are loaded with crap (yes Mountain House I’m looking at you…) I wanted food as natural as possible.

6.     Tailored

I knew there’d be a short day, a couple of longer ones, a long day and a marathon and I knew at what stage they’d happen so I planned calories in accordance with that – for example, more kcals the night before the long run; lots of snacks and teas on the day off. As it happened, they changed the format meaning I had to rejig some food bags but that was ok.

 

Looking back now, ‘Light’ didn’t really feature as a listed priority. Not sure why not…I was very aware of the calories per gram of everything and when packing stuff at home and realising how heavy everything was, I ditched loads of ‘inefficient’ options (see spreadsheet in next section).

But I didn’t, for example, decant my freeze dried meals…this might have saved me 100g. Doesn’t sound like much but it’s over half a sleeping mat…it all adds up.

 

If I was doing it all again, I’d get a lot tougher on weight.

From Strategy to Execution:

 

I broke my nutrition plan into four categories:

 

1.     Rise – light meal first thing/90 minutes before the off

2.     Race – High protein with gels/similar as back up

3.     Recover – Immediate post race carb/protein hit

4.     Replenish – Get protein and kcals in in an enjoyable ‘meal’

 

I created a spreadsheet to capture nutritional info; kcals/gram; weight etc by day so I could play around with various options. It also allowed me see my spread of calories across the day; protein:carb ratio…

 

Did it make me faster? Doubt it J

 

But I do like a good spreadsheet and it did make me think about my nutrition plan a bit more carefully. Again, I was (and still am) coming from a very low knowledge base and was at least ‘Consciously’ if not ‘unconsciously incompetent’.

 

1.     Rise – light meal first thing/90 minutes before the off

·       300kcals/70g from a cereal mix

·       Flahavans Hi8 (Oats – I ‘dislike’ porridge); Lizi’s Granola (big kcals); Chia Seeds (protein); ‘Energy Seeds/Berries’ (chew/good)

·       Used a Rubex tablet + water instead of milk

 

·       180 kcals/47g drink from Powder High5 4:1 drink

·        kcals not allowed but decided it’d provide a good boost.

·       Pukka Tea (Green/Lemon)

Also, for two days, additional

·       286kcals/75g from a Flapjack/Berry Bar

 

Results

·       Cereal mix was great but the sweetness of the Rubex grew tiresome after stage 3 and I ended up donating the Rubex to my scurvy ridden tentmates.

·       The Flapjack was great. A solid, reasonably efficient eat which tasted great. Ended up using giving one to a tent mate who was in need and using the other for breakfast on the Marathon day when I really needed a motivating pick me up.

 

Learnings

·       Keeping brekkie simple is a ‘must’ as you have so much going on – clear tent; get dressed; roll up sleeping bag and mat; pack bag; double check route; hit the toilet/queue; check the day’s food is in place; stretch; bandage feet; wash; get to the start in time and so on.

·       All this while you’re trying to get mentally ready for the race ahead and plan your pace and you’ve got butterflies or the memory of a tough day previously or recovering from dehydration…keep it simple!

·       Bar and a cup of ‘traditional’ tea should lead with cereal and plain water as the ‘mix it up’ add on.

 

2.     Race – Enhanced liquids; High protein plus high carb food options with gels/similar as back up

 

Liquids

·       I knocked back a High5 4:1 about an hour before the start.

·       I had two 750ml bottles fitted to my shoulder straps. Idea was to have one flavoured and one unflavoured electrolyte.

·       Elite Water (unflavoured bottle) – bit of a last minute decision to use half a bottle a day to convert water to electrolyte replacement drink. Worked well but I did get tired of the taste.

·       Nuun tablets (Flavoured bottle) – nice variety of these (grape; citrus; lemon tea) which I used throughout. Problem with tablets fizzing up and dripping from the bottle or squirting me in the face out of the straw! Very annoying and a bit sticky. Ended up having to use half a tab per bottle.

·       Orbana – had hoped to use more of these. Recommended by Adrian Tucker and I had used them for part of the Mourne Ultra and I liked them. Also fitted with my ‘healthy’ goal. However I only brought three packs as they were adding a lot to weight. They also got quite sticky in the heat. Good product, not ideal for MdS though.

·       Peronin – only used one pack half way through the long day as a ‘lunch’ 500kcals and, importantly on the day in question (!), no fibre.

·       Salt Tablets – 4mg per bottle. Provided by the race organisers. I took a little less as I was already taking in some via electrolytes and solids but really vital to take plenty on board.

Solids

·       I tried to get very kcal efficient and easy to eat-on-the-run foods.

·       I also wanted at least one protein rich option and one more carb biased option. It’s easy to get carbs in so focusing on protein solutions meant I was adhering to my overarching strategy.

·       Used a mix of:

 

Protein Options

·       Promax Meal Bar (Cookie Dough) – for Protein moreso than kcals. Great bar; didn’t tire of the taste; chocolate didn’t melt; break off a bit, put away the rest.

·       Beef Jerky – got to like this and found the M&S options suited my tastes best. Great for protein but also as a savoury, chewy eat it was a great break from the sweet stuff.

·       Salted Almonds – salt and protein and kcals. These are just so calorie efficient that they had to be included, especially on the long run day. Need a good bit of water to wash down but not a real issue. Bought M&S.

·       Salted peanuts – same purpose as the almonds but had less fat, more protein and more salt.

 

Carb options

·       Panda Liquorice Bars – light, yummy and, as Adrian Tucker advised, seem to do something for ultra runners…boldly threw a few in and glad I did.

·       PowerBar Sweet n Salty – higher carb option with a promise of a less sweet taste – happy with it.

·       Chia Bia bars – more carb efficient. Really enjoyable seeds etc with a little chocolate which melted but no drama! Made in Waterford.

 

Rejected options

·       Tried loads of stuff and kept a record of most

·       Dates (Messy);

·       cheese (Baby Bel lost out to Beef Jerky);

·       Mule Bars (inefficient);

·       CLIF bars (inefficient although their Walnut/Date biscuit bar is fab!);

·       Nakd bars (inefficient). By ‘efficiency’ I mean too few kcals per gram;

·       Pot Noodles (few people mentioned them – I ate one for the first time in the run up and it was tasty but I couldn’t do it J);

·       Pepperami (just ‘not to my taste…’).

 

Gels

·       High5 IsoGel+ – Really didn’t want to use these and budgeted two per day which I didn’t use and ditched at the end of each run.

·       I did use two during the last 10km of the marathon on the last day at which point I needed a boost having had an ‘unpleasant’ previous two days which left me quite…drained.

·       PowerBar Lemon Jellies – For the long day which were a great treat and a bit of a boost.

 

Treats

·       Wrigley’s Extra Peppermint Gum – actually, more than just a treat for me; I find chewing gum on long runs refreshing mentally/psychologically and physically.

·       An important piece of kit!

 

Results

·       Overall very happy with this.

·       I don’t tend to eat too much during races nowadays. I remember my first few marathon and ultra training runs and races and packing tons of bars, sambos, M&Ms etc just in case I found myself marooned somewhere miles away from a service station…now I view it as only being out for a few hours and I’ll eat when I get back.

·       That said, for a marathon distance, one Promax bar per run with a portion of Beef Jerky is great to have.

·       The gum is a nice ‘head cleanser’ and the PowerBar chews are handy.

 

Learnings

Keeping breakfast simple is a ‘must’ as you have so much going on –

 

clear tent;

get dressed;

roll up sleeping bag and mat;

pack bag;

double check route;

wash;

hit the toilet/queue and so on

 

3.     Recover – Immediate post race carb/protein hit

a.     High5 ‘Energy Source’ 4:1 – within 15-30 minutes of the finish

b.     Dioralyte  – also within 15-30 minutes of the finish

c.     Water. Just water. Refeshing and untouched. Lovely…

 

 

4.     Replenish – Get protein and kcals in in an enjoyable ‘meal’

·       This was the big deal. Replenish what was taken out that day and get ready for the next day’s challenge.

 

Fuizion Freeze Dried Foods

 

·       A real find here – thanks to Mark (@runner786 – really worth a follow!). The quality of their meals, from what I could find, was unparalleled.

·       I had tried a few ‘Mountain House’ meals and they were inedible. And that’s me being generous. Fuizion, by comparison were generally delicious. Truly!

·       The only issues with the Fuizion food were:

o   Calories tended to be lighter than other options but the difference seemed to lie in fat content. The MH food could leave quite a greasy residue on your spoon…no thanks.

o   Beef pieces in some meals were quite tough

o   Pasta and rice took quite a while to soften

o   But the flavours were great.

o   I had:

§  Spag Bol (twice) – good enough to eat in its dehydrated state

Looks like Spag Bol…TASTES like Spag Bol!

§  Coq Au Vin – delish

§  Savoury Mince

§  Chicken Chasseur

 

·       One ‘watch-out’ with them:  the food is only available online. They didn’t charge me for delivery and then realised that they were meant to and didn’t send my order until I called them wondering where it was at which point they explained they hadn’t charged postage in error and so couldn’t send it until I paid postage. Very annoying. They then send the food via regular post and it only arrived the day before departure. Stress!

 

·       To be fair to Mountain House, one of the guys didn’t order until late and they priority shipped everything to him and were willing to accept returns on any excess.

 

·       Also, anyone else who tried MH seemed happy. I would suggest they try FFDF and then come back to me J.

 

John West Tinned Mackerel

·       This was a stroke of genius…if I do say so myself!

·       After the long run all I wanted was a cuppa and a quick feed.

·       Needed good and simple protein hit with a new flavour.

·       And something that wouldn’t have me heading for the toilets for the umpteenth time that day.

·       This was delicious; all natural; all protein; eat from the tin…bang on brief.

 

Bounce Protein Balls

·       I’m a big fan of these. Great taste, good ‘eat’, compact, good protein hit, very efficient.

·       Brought a mix of Almond and Peanut options

 

Treats

·       Used as a bit of a reward but also to boost calorie count

·       Bombay Mix – from M&S. Light; very efficient; tasty.

·       Tried Forrest and Tesco options. M&S won well.

·       Had also looked at spiced nuts but decided the Mix would add variety

 

Liquids

·       Pukka Tea – I brought a selection of their Love; Three Mint and Original Chai Teas. Really great to have a hot cup of something different and refreshing

·       Nescafe Azera – I’m a bit of a coffee snob and so this was a nice, if surprising find. Cup of coffee so welcome on some days.

 

Kit

As with the food, you need to weigh anything you’re thinking of bringing. My mandatory kit weighed in at 1.6kg – I could have had it closer to 1.4kg with a better sleeping bag choice (although I was cosy J).

 

Mandatory Kit

·   Rucksack

·   Sleeping bag

·   Torch

·   Torch batteries

·   10 safety pins

·   Compass

·   Lighter

·   Knife

·   Anti-venom pump

·   Whistle

·   Signalling mirror

·   Aluminium survival sheet

·   In addition, each person carries a flare (c350g); 120 salt tablets and is given 1.5 – 3L of water at each checkpoint. Remember, 1L Water = 1kg so the minimum weight you’ll be carrying is just under 8.4kg

 

Pack

Used the Innov8 RacePac 25L with front pack and Raidlight shoulder bottles

Was all on for using OMM as I’d used them over the past couple of years but the shoulder straps were starting to cut into my shoulders; the waist strap was a little too high and, most importantly I couldn’t reach back into the side mesh pockets to grab an extra hat/bottle/compass/whatever.

·       The Innov8, with slanted mesh pockets and well designed straps solved this.

·       The pack worked well; was light and comfortable. Enough space.

·       Some fraying of compression straps but  they held well.

·       Storage on waist straps is generous.

 

Couple of issues:

1.      It was top access only – so every night I had to unpack everything to find anything…and repack every morning. Some packs – Raidlight; MDS – had full pack opening which allowed for complete visibility and I liked that.

2.     No obvious additional straps for extra bottle

3.     Hard to store/access walking poles

 

Frontpack – handy but on occasion became an unwelcome insulator. On reflection, I didn’t really get as much use out of it as I had thought I would and might actually go without in future.

 

Sleeping Bag

Used a Marmot ‘Hydrogen’ – great bag. 700kg. Very comfortable and light. Bought it to stay warm at -1oC which had been reported. And, given the cost, I wanted to be able to use the bag again, in Ireland…

 

Most of the other lads were in lighter bags and I would go lighter if doing it again.

 

Sleeping Mat

Used the mat from one of my OMM bags. Very small, light, thin. Took the edge out of the terrain.

It saved me space and weight.

 

Had thought about using inflatable mattress but never found it all that comfortable or easy to sleep on. So I donated it to a guy whose luggage got lost in transit and needed help pulling a new kit together.

 

Walking Poles

Got some great usage out of my Raidlight Poles. Light and foldable, a real help on the uphills and when power waling/marching to push your pace.

Supposed to help save lots of  energy.

 

Clothing

This Season, Paul Will Be Wearing Mostly Red. And Orange.

I decided to run with compression gear:

 

1.     I’d been training with a Nike combat top under a tshirt and that had worked well for me but I wanted zip neck tops for ventilation.

2.     I was worried about my hamstrings and psoas muscles holding out over 5 stages as I’d had trouble with these in the recent enough past and whilst they were ok going into this, psychologically at least, I wanted as much  support as possible

 

Top:

·       Compressport had just brought out some ultra wear and I decided to give them a go as it was white; light; zip neck; wicking an a big plus, it’s seamless so a reduced risk of annoyance.

·       I also wanted a long sleeve with zip neck to wear over the compression top and only found the perfect top the day before we flew out from North Face.

·       I planned to wear two tops to prevent chaffing from the backpack. Exactly like wearing two socks to prevent blisters. It worked and it wasn’t too warm. Also, the compression top really seemed to help.

·       The long sleeves were also chosen for protection from the sun.

·       They took some hammering over the race. The backpack wore down much of the material in the North Face outer layer for example. But everything performed well.

 

Bottoms:

·       Compressport again. Great shorts. Seamless with ‘grips’ on the outside over the quads to prevent your hands slipping as you press them down on your legs on uphills.

·       They ripped around stage 3 – probably my own fault overwearing them.

·       Reckon they protect my upper legs as planned.

·       Wore light Nike shorts over these with the mesh cut out.

 

Legs

·       Compressport calf protectors. Trained with these/similar and really think they help.

 

Feet

·       Socks were 1000 Mile. Liked them but would probably switch to Injinji for this with wicking socks over them as I think this would provide better protection from blisters.

·       I brought two pairs, throwing out the first after Stage 3.

 

Shoes

·       Brooks Cascadia 8s were released just a month before the race so I picked up a couple of pairs; one a single size too big for me to allow my feet space should they swell from the heat or bandaging.

·       I had the Velcro from my Raidlight Gaiters stitched to the shoes and all seemed fine.

·       Comfortable and appropriate footwear.

·       I think the ‘one size up’ thing is not necessary for all and may actually contribute to blisters as feet move in the  bigger space etc

 

Head

·       Buff and Mamut Hat

·       Buff for face to block  sand; hat with side flaps to protect ears and neck.

·       Smaller and flexible peak which meant that the wind didn’t take it away.

·       Watch out for hats with holes in the back above the strap

 

Eyes

·       A big deal for me.

·       My eyes are actually quite weak and my vision, without corrective lenses, is awful…I’d be well lost in the desert on my own without them.

·       Used J+J daily disposables which were actually fine to put in/take out

·       Didn’t want any sand in my eyes so needed good quality goggles so bought pair of Wiley X (used by various military organisations) with changeable arms/straps and lenses – orange for daytime; clear for night…sandstorms don’t just happen during the daytime!

·       Goggles can get a bit…intense so I had a pair of Julbo sunglasses with straps and side protection; the idea being that I could change into these when the goggles weren’t needed  and let my eyes breathe.

·       I also had my glasses to use in the evening at camp to rest my eyes.

·       As it happened… I didn’t use the Julbos that much at all and the Wiley X’s, whilst they were important, didn’t get as much use as I’d imagined. But I was glad I had them.

·       Brought along a de-mister for the goggles as combat condensation.

·       Also had eye drops to refresh the eyes at the start and end of each day.

The Final Run In

About a month before the off, we were informed that the distance was being cut to 230km with the final stage being reduced to an 8km charity run for UNICEF and many people were pretty annoyed about it, myself included, for some reason I now forget, because I was bloody delighted towards the end of stage 4 that I didn’t have another 10km to run.

 

As was everyone!

 

What it did mean though was that we could not rely on previous years for learnings on how each stage would pan out and so a little more unknown creeps in.

And you gotta think that if they’re claiming to be ‘The Toughest Footrace on the Planet’, if the distance goes down, the difficulty levels must go up.

 

And they did.

 

One week to go to MdS and the training conditions in Ireland go from bad to stupid

 

Pre Race

 

Sticking with tradition, we were given our road books (maps with details of each stage) on the bus ride to the first camp and we now saw how the stages would be broken up this year:

 

230kms over six stages.

 

One stage per day with a rest day after the long stage (4).

 

Day 1; Stage 1 – 37.2km

Day 2; Stage 2 – 30.7km

Day3; Stage 3 – 38.0km

Day 4; Stage 4 – 75.7km

Day 5; Rest or complete stage 4

Day 6; Stage 5 – 42.2km (Race completed)

Day 7; Stage 6 – non competitive 7.7km charity stage

 

The organisers, to ‘compensate’ for the reduced distance, upped the challenge making each stage tougher than and more demanding than before. For example, the opening day was described by Ahansal as the toughest he’d ever run and by the end of stage 3, both of last year’s winners had dropped out.

 

The bigger issue was that the plans formulated on the back of how the race had been set up on previous years were in need of swift revision:

·       The notion of using stage 1 to acclimatise went out the window as it became a more significant chunk of the race and needed to be paced properly.

·       Calories needed changing around; food options switched

But this was all fine and added to the challenge, and the fun.

 

Tent #113

 

Eight people to a tent – shared #113 with a great bunch of lads from Ireland

 

 

L-R: Me; Aidan Lanigan; Colm Howlin; Conor Duke; Aidan Blake; Ollie Shortt Dave Riordan; (Absent: Derek Boyce)

 

It is really important that you manage to share with a good crew – you’ll be together for eight nights and need a balance of humour, interest, space, support. Some others weren’t quite as fortunate as I to get in  a good tent and this takes away from the experience.

 

We all ran hard, shared much, laughed a lot. Thanks to each.

 

Getting Settled

 

T-1: Mandatory Kit and ECG Check                             Simple Rule: Stay Ahead Of The Camel – If they Pass You You Get Pulled!

 

Home Sweet..nah                                            The ‘In’conveniences

 

What It’s All About                                           Kicking Back With Mohamed Ahansal

 

Paddy B Laps It Up                                          Long Bus Ride; 300 Blokes; All Well Hydrated…

 

Terrain

 

Five principle underfoot conditions (est % of route – pure guesstimates!)

 

1.     Sand dunes (10%)

Typically slow incline with steep descent. March up; speed down. Always try to walk in the footsteps of others as they’ll have compressed the sand making it easier to climb.

 

There were dunes in each stage from 3km to 13km stretches. I found them draining but easier than expected, especially when I stopped blindly following the marked course and started contouring thereby avoiding constant ascents/descents.

 

Most people tended to walk up and run down.

 

Walking poles invaluable (although I think the percentage of top 50 runners using them is very low – like 0!)

 

2.     Jebels (15%)

Hills comprising a mix of sand and rock/loose rock. Tough to run on, very technical. Easy to do some ankle damage.

Ranged from 25% to 1-in -2 inclines.

 

There were opportunities to run some of these but given the difficulty of some of the climbs/peak traverses/descents, people often stalled to a walk and it proved hard to take advantage of the caution of others as overtaking was challenging, if not sometimes impossible.

Bear in mind too that we were often tackling these right at the hottest part of the day adding to the challenge.

 

Walking poles a great help here on the ascent but quite often a hindrance along the top.

 

3.     Low Dunes/Sandy Flats (25%)

Tough to run on, especially if the ground has been disturbed by 200+ people ahead of you. Find undisturbed sand if possible and get into a rhythm of ‘gliding’ along the top of the unbroken sand. Easier said than done.

 

Walking poles useful but not necessary – really depended on your own frame of mind at the time.

 

4.     Rocky flats (40%)

A lot of the race was run on this terrain. Up to 10km stretches of flat, barren, desperately stony/rocky landscape.

 

There were pathways through these rockfields, typically a foot wide which forced us to run in single file and making overtaking risky.

 

Walking poles occasionally of use if only to aide concentration.

 

5.      Flat/salt beds (10%)

Very flat, cracked baked mud/salt beds/dried river beds. Nice enough to run on. Can give way a bit underfoot.

 

Tended to attract a lot of heat (probably imagination but the highest temperatures tended to be recorded at these locations).

Walking poles no functional benefit although did help with concentration when getting tired.

 

 

The Race

 

Final Position

Time: 33h:20m | Position: 187 | Time behind leader: 14:21 (that’s hours:mins lest there be any confusion J) | Av Pace: 6.7km/h

 

GPs Route Map thanks to Seán Brosnan

 

 

Day 1; Stage 1 – 37.2km.

Time: 4:49 | Position: 190 | Time behind leader: 1:58 | Av Pace: 7.7km/h

 

This was a bit of a departure as we were straight into a long, tough stage. Typically there’s a shorter run at this point of around 20km to help break people in but this year they decided to mix things up a bit and we were straight into a tough aul run with plenty of climbs and dunes (well, what we thought were dunes) and lots of rock.

The great memory here is of course, your first experience of the race start ritual – PB’s talk; ‘Highway to Hell’ on the speakers; Cessna flyover; buzzed by the TV chopper; trampling a photographer; stopping for a whizz 250m into the run…

 

I was very conscious of using today to find my pace and get used to the terrain and heat etc whilst also saving energy for the long stage (4).

The problem was, however, that as the stage jumped from 20 to 37kms, it became a little more important to keep one eye on your position as it now represented 16% of the race rather than the usual 8%. Taking things too cautiously would potentially open a gap which could be hard to close.

 

Water was very gratefully received at the checkpoints and the ritual of trying to eat some protein bar, fill my water bottles, extract a salt tablet, add a Nuun, pop in 20 drops of elite water began…I had little doubt that pretty soon I would be popping protein into the water, swallowing 2 Nuun an hour and munching on salt tabs if I failed to follow a good fuelling and hydration regime.

 

Actually, what did happen at stage 5 was that I filled my shoulder bottles and bent over to pick up my second bottle – without having screwed on the lids of the shoulder bottles – splash. 1.5L of water lost to the sand and a similar amount in tears lost to the atmosphere.

 

I was also really keen to avoid getting blisters. This proved challenging as you could feel your feet contorting in your shoes trying to gain some purchase on the dunes. All this rubbing was only leading one place. I ended the stage with blisters on both big toes and a couple developing elsewhere.

 

I made the decision to visit Doc Trotters and get the experts to look after my feet. Once I had blisters, I wanted them looked at every day with appropriate action from the Docs be it draining them or simply rebandaging. So I spent 40 minutes in the waiting tents each evening waiting my turn to visit the Docs. May as well recover there as in my tent!

 

So the scene was set and the plan delivered. A little surprised at taking the guts of 5 hours to do 37km but happy to arrive at the camp in fairly good shape.

 

Back to base; pick up 4.5L of water; head for the tent; change; hit Doc Trotters’; cook; eat; chat; sleep.

 

Sleep.

 

Sleep did not come easy. The ground was, quite simply, terrible with stones everywhere. We’d try to sweep out the majority of the debris each evening but there’d always be one who’d get away…

 

And 8 men in a tent isn’t always the most conducive environment for a sound rest anyway!

 

Some of the lads had sleeping tabs. I wasn’t pushed on this as I’ve never taken them and am just not really into the idea. Although by 3am I was beginning to climb down off my high horse…and up the bloody walls. Not even The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s ‘Jazz Impressions of Japan’ helped.

 

This should not really come as too much of a surprise as the only camping I’d done of late was a couple of hours per night for four nights on by bedroom floor. And even at that I was back in my wonderbed by 3am.

 

However I was warm. The other lads were freezing in their uber-light sleeping ‘bags’. In fact I had the luxury of sleeping naked – this was good as it meant that the only clothes I had – my running gear – got a bit of an airing each night.

 

As did I.

 

Recovery went well and as the Berber’s lifted our tent from over us as we prepped breakfast, I was looking forward to Stage 2; a short one of only 30km.

 

Day 2; Stage 2 – 30.7km

Time: 5:01 | Position: 228 | Time behind leader: 2:22 | Av Pace: 6.2km/h

 

 

The ‘short’ stage of only 30km turned out to be an absolute bastard. Three tough jebels – which measured in at roughly 1000m  of climbs combined – impacted on pace and had most people out for the same time as the previous stage.

 

On the plus side, the views were great but that can only compensate so much.

This is the view from the final jebel after a 250m vertical climb (photo and route profile thanks to Genis Pieterse)

 

Derek, one of our tentmates, had to call it a day half way through this stage which was actually very disappointing for us as we knew how much it meant to him and how he’d prepared for it. Unfortunately the severe stomach problems which he’d endured for most of the first stage returned and simply finished him off. He had been out for the maximum time the day before and we knew something was seriously wrong. He spend much of the night recovering in the Doc Trotters hospital tent and bravely toes the line on day 2 but the constant heat and exhaustion from day 1 was too much. Sensibly, he bailed.

 

He has resolved to come back in 2015/16.

 

No matter how well you prepare, there will always be elements outside your control.

 

We knew ourselves that all would not go well and that everyone was almost guaranteed some curveball.

In our tent alone:

 

·       One of the lads got quite badly dehydrated on day one (in addition to Derek’s severe stomach condition)

·       Another could barely walk by stage 4

·       A dust devil levelled our tent as we tried to recover after Day 3 (and yes, my toilet roll went up to heaven – this proved to be very significant)

·       I spent the long stage looking for bushes in the desert…

·       Another of the lads all but collapsed over the line on the final day

·       And so on.

 

The key is to remember that it’s all part of the gig and there are plenty of people around you who will help out.

Or find your toilet roll and not tell you about it until it’s almost too late… J

 

I was happy enough with my performance on this stage. The hills were tough but nothing we couldn’t manage. I  consciously I didn’t push myself too much on this stage as I was starting to think more about the long day and if it was anywhere near as taxing as this stage there would be trouble.

 

I had to stop at the Doc Trotter tent at CP2 to get rebandaged which cost me around 20 minutes. Very frustrating. But important.

 

 

 

As with stage 1, our first sight of the camp proved to be horribly misleading. Distances in the desert are typically twice what they appear to be and as would become the norm, the run in to the camp was so very long and so very flat and so very challenging as your mind is in your tent whilst your body still has 45 minutes of running to do.

 

Day3; Stage 3 – 38.0km

Time: 5:05 | Position: 190 | Time behind leader: 2:05 | Av Pace: 7.5km/h

 

What was remarkable about this stage?

 

Well:

 

1.     the temperature hit 54oC on the dried out lake

2.     the beguilingly described “sandy deceptive slope” was not as pleasant as it sounded

3.     last year’s female winner dropped out half way through with heat exhaustion. MdS takes no prisoners.

4.     Conor found a camel

 

Today was about getting ready for tomorrow – not mucking up my feet which needed a little Doc Trotter love; not exhausting myself; refuelling and hydrating well. And getting back to the tent in time for a solid recovery period.

 

Day 4; Stage 4 – 75.7km

Time: 12:40 | Position: 197 | Time behind leader: 5:45 | Av Pace: 6.0km/h

 

Ok. I’m cutting to the chase here a little. This was the stage I’d been waiting for. This was my MdS.

 

I’d done a couple of 80k distances but only one under any race pressure and with any climbs (Mourne Ultra). The other was a gentle enough trot along the Royal Canal which took a surprising amount of time (i.e. lots) and left us knackered.

 

I’d learnt quite a bit from those runs and was really looking forward to this challenge.

 

One thing I had been doing in preparation was fasting twice a week (36 hours and 24 hours) in order to stimulate the use of fat reserves and, frankly, reduce the size of my appetite.

I planned to run the 76km with around 2500kcals and, as with the other stages, avoid gels as far as possible.

Not quite ‘running on empty’ but certainly running on less than I would normally.

 

This stage had everything. Including more ‘deceptive ascents, descents and ridges’. We were presented with all types of terrain and some fine dunes.

 

Part of the challenge which developed was to actually get by your competitors without causing serious injury to yourself or them. Quite often, people would slow to a walk – on narrow ridges or even steep dune descents – which I found very frustrating as these were generally all very runnable. So you ended up either taking stupid risks to pass people out or getting pissed off at people taking stupid risks passing you out!

 

Then, between CP2 and CP3, the wheels came off for me.

 

My stomach had been a bit iffy all morning and as the temperatures hit the mid fifties again, I started to slow, kick stones, feel light headed, slur my words – all warning signs of dehydration which wasn’t all that surprising as I needed a couple of pit stops. I wanted to take some Immodium but had been advised not to take too much too soon as if you have a bug you want to get it out of your system…so I held off and held on until CP3.

 

Dave Riordan my training partner and running buddy on this ran on a bit as I sought respite among the rocks and generously waited for me at CP3.

 

As I arrived in he was understandably keen to press on so we didn’t lose too much time on this key stage. He tried to help me refill my water bottles it all became too much for me – my head was not in a good place and I just needed to rest and somehow refuel and rehydrate. So I ‘gently’ suggested to Dave that he press on and I’d catch him later…thankfully Dave overlooked my rudeness and we’re still training together! I’m blaming the heat and the gastric issues!

 

What was happening now was that I was starting to lose my hold on my race. I was in a tailspin. The notion of setting off my flare actually flashed across my mind. This was one of those ‘lows’ one reads about. Given it was physical as well as mental made it quite serious. I needed to regroup.

On top of all this, I was running low on toilet paper. This might sound funny now but it was an additional point of stress. I wanted to concentrate on the race and ended up focused keeping body and mind together.

 

I went for a lie-down, if only to get my head back together in the shade and take on some fluid. I dropped 20 minutes there and got some Immodium form the Docs which I took.

I also downed 500ml of Peronin which, as it didn’t contain any fibre, was worth the risk taking.

 

So with a renewed focus I pulled myself together and hit the road. With a smile. Sounds silly but I really do find that if at any point on a run I’m feeling low, by forcing myself to smile I actually send positive energy to my brain and body. (should I have shared that!!?? J).

 

The rest of the stage was a tough old slog and a real disappointment as I lost at least 90 minutes through unscheduled stops and reduced pace.

 

Between each checkpoint I had to make on average, two unscheduled stops.

 

But I drew strength from the memory of all the training; the constant early mornings; the snow, rain, wind; the slog over Valentia island and up Coominaspic; the awful runs where nothing goes to plan; the injuries; the great runs where you find your mojo and joy; the core work; the sauna sessions and bikram; the strength building…all that led me here and all that would get me through the rest of this.

 

It wasn’t all bad though and despite the cramps I enjoyed being alone in the dunes and occupying my mind with race strategy and going a little off the beaten track using techniques like ‘contouring’ to minimise the climbs over the dunes.

 

It’s funny how most people unthinkingly follow the person in front of them hitting marker after marker rather than plotting the shortest or smartest route between two/three points.

 

And a great bit of luck! As I trundled on, I skipped over a pack of Kleenex dropped by someone on the trail ahead of me. Moments later my brain joined the dots and my toilet paper worries were solved!! The miracle of the sands. Genuinely, a joyous occasion.

 

Another enjoyable part of the long stage is that the top 50 men and top 5 women start three hours after the rest of us so we get the opportunity to see them as they speed by. And they sure did speed by. Getting to see Mohammad Ahansal in full flight was great.

 

Yet another bonus was bumping into Marco Olmo –  a challenge I’d been set by Adrian  Tucker. Box ticked!

Great to see his approach too; run when you can; power walk with hands clasped behind your back up the dunes. He finished 13th; 10 hours ahead of me!

 

 

The stage seemed to go on and on. As it started to get dark I decided to pick up the pace a bit – I didn’t want to be looking for quiet spots in the desert in the dark. Camelback spiders, scorpions and me do not mix. So I cautiously chugged a couple of Imodium and gingerly upped the pace.

 

As can happen, there was a bit of sparring with other runners and you start to get used to bumping into certain people who have a similar pace to you. I was also a bit concerned I wasn’t seeing too many of the same people I’d seen over the past 3 stages.

 

This was important as the battery in my Suunto had died at the start of the day and that really left me flying blind. Another challenge.

 

Once I picked up the pace however, I started to come across some familiar faces and that was quite reassuring.

Every now and again, you’d come across kids in the middle of nowhere on their bikes, wearing jumpers, looking for a treat or your buff or a high five.

It got a bit mad when that started to happen in the dark; you’re running along and all of a sudden there’s a group of 5 young fellas sitting at the side of the trail chewing the fat or wishing you luck…I’m sure that’s what they were saying J

 

I caught up with three English fellas who were going at quite a nice pace and as I was feeling a little disorientated not knowing how far we’d run or had yet to go to the stage finish – the Berber kids said “3km, 3km” which I accepted as highly probable even though I reckoned I’d only left the final checkpoint 10minutes beforehand and there were 10k to the end. A case of wishful thinking!

 

As I ran with the English guys we got a bit excited as we came across low dunes which we thought were just before the finish line and the three of them picked up the pace. I wasn’t in the mood for a chase and left them off. But then my stubborn Kerry head kicked in and I knew there was no way I was going to cede that battle that easily:

 

1.     there was probably only about 1-2 km to go and the memory of all those 1km speed runs with my club – Rathfarnham – was summonsed. Also

2.     there were three of them running as one. If I could take them, I’d jump three placings…

 

Undeniably simple logic but it put a spring in my step and off I took. I flew past them and could sense them discussing a response. I’m not fast but I can do 800m in under 2:50 so two of them and I’m home. The question to you three was “what have you got!?”

 

The response came and I could hear them shouting abuse at me – all good natured and it lifted my mood no end. After 12½ hours of running with a dodgy tum, no company and no GPS, it felt great to race.

 

The only problem was that as we rounded the bend to the camp clearing with 500m to go, it wasn’t very clear whether we should run straight on or a little to the right or hard right. I chose hard right. The English lads picked up on my hesitation and suggested I run straight ahead. It was then that I knew hard right was the right call. We legged it to the finish. I opened  and held  a gap of about a minute as they obviously gave up.

I finished in 197th place and not 200th had I not given in to my stubborn streak. I went to bed very happy.

 

Dave and Conor finished around 50 minutes ahead of me, a really great run as they continued to strengthen into the event.

 

In fact all the lads in tent 113 were having a great race despite some setbacks at the start and the other Irish guys were having storming races too. The Irish representation did very well overall.

 

Back to the tent and some good chats with the lads already ‘home’ and a visit to a toilet with an actual seat.

 

As for food; all I wanted was a quick hit and rest. This was where the tin of mackerel was just perfect. A great taste, no fibre, pure protein, easy to digest, omegas, change of scene and no prep required…genius.

 

We slept  well.

 

Truth be told, it was a day of mixed feelings for me. I had hoped to really push myself on this stage and get a great time out of it. As it happened, I did end up pushing myself and in the circumstances, getting a good time; just not in the manner I’d hoped. C’est la vie.

 

Great story of one of the guys going to Doc Trotters with blood in his urine and the response being a Gallic shrug with “that is the nature of the race, of the MdS…if it’s still blood in 4 days, come back to me”. Love it!

 

The following description of the long stage is taken from the road book.

 

STAGE N°4

http://www.darbaroud.com/en/j4-stage-journal/roadbook.html

 

STAGE N°4 : TAOURIRT MOUCHANNE / JEBEL EL MRAÏER : 75,7 Km

 

Km 0 : Go East (course 101°) until CP1.
Succession of sandy ground with vegetation and pebbly ground.
Km 7 : Deceptive sandy ascent.
Km 11,5 : CP1CP1. Go N/NE (course 31°) until Zireg Jebel. Sand then stones.
Km 13,2 : Start of ascent towards panoramic view from the top of Zireg.
Km 13,5 : Summit. CAUTION! Carefully follow small footpath for 200 m to descend on stable ground.
Succession of sandy ups and downs until km 16.5.
Km 16,5 : Stony passage near trees. Sandy descent towards gorge.
Km 18 : Small silted-up gorge. Follow oued bed.
Km 19,3 : End of gorge. Go east (course 89°) until CP2, in sandy, stony valley. Deceptive slope.

Km 24 : CP2 close to lone tree. Continue E/NE (course 74°) until km 26.1.
Km 24,8 : Rocky peak to the right.
Km 26,1 : Single hill to the right. Same direction (course 65°) until km 32.
Km 26,6 : Small passage between hills after deceptive ascent.
Km 27,1 : Second passage between hills on variably stony ground.
Km 30,4 : Turn left into ascending sandy pass.
Km 32 : Cross Rheris Oued at course 55°. Dirt track, fech-fech and tamarix.
Km 34,4 : Exit oued. Same direction until CP3. Rugged dirt track becoming variably stony.
Km 36,7 : CP3 before dunes. Cross dunes on course 107° until km 41.
Km 41 : Sandy summit of Lahnoune Jebel. Panoramic view. Sandy descent.
Km 41,8 : Bank of dried-out lake. Follow side of jebel to the left direction N/E (course 54°) to reach CP4.

Km 45,2 : CP4. Follow markings to avoid highest dunes and take course 74° until laser point position.
Hilly and sandy.
Km 52,9 : Dunes end. Cross oued, then climb towards laser.
Km 53,5 : Laser point position on small rise. CAUTION: CP5 is further on!
Km 54,2 : CP5. Go north (course 5°). Small dunes then variably stony terrain.
Km 56,6 : Cross a sandy oued.
Km 57,8 : Touh Ilh Jebel to the left. Direction N/E (course 37°) until CP6.
Km 59,1 : Succession of small, variably stony valleys.
Km 64,2 : Cross a large track. Continue N/E (course 37°). Slightly stony valley.
Km 65,2 : CP6. Continue until El Jdaid Oued.
Km 65,6 : Sandy oued bed: turn right, general direction E/NE (course 62°).
Km 67,9 : Exit oued. Sand mounds and camel grass then stony plateau.
Km 68,9 : 2nd zone of sand mounds and camel grass.
Km 69,6 : Cross valley with few stones direction E/NE (course 58°).
Km 72,7 : Cross Outanouel Oued direction N/NE (course 27°) until bivouac.
Sand mounds and camel grass.
Km 73,8 : Small dunes to the right. Slightly stony terrain.
Km 75,7 : Arrive at B5

 

Day 5; Rest or complete stage 4

 

Rest day so…

 

Pedicure, correspondence, constant snacking, disappointing toilet experiences, rest, can of coke (yes! A coke.

It was gratefully received. By all!)

 

The idea today was to move as little as possible and just recover for the final marathon stage.

 

Right throughout the day, people continued to arrive back at the camp from stage 4.

Many took the option to camp at the various CPs (from 4 on) that night rather than travel in the dark.

 

The comms home via phone and email was great and I got to chat to SInéad and the kids which was a great boost. Also sent some updates home which she circulated for me.

 

Also really buzzy to get mails from home and these were distributed each day by our wonderful MdS team.

How lovely it was to get the mails and messages and that people were interested and bothered enough to help nudge you along.

 

 

 

Day 6; Stage 5 – 42.2km (Race completed)

Time: 5:44 | Position: 228 | Time behind leader: 2:26 | Av Pace: 7.31km/h

 

Another temporary low.

 

I was still tired from two days of stomach upset and a long run; and, truthfully, disappointed that I’d fallen a good bit behind some of the lads, I was at my least motivated at the start line for another stage I had been really looking forward to.

 

The day off also played a part in this ‘heaviness’ for me as it meant  a  lull in the event which I would have preferred not to have happened and was starting to wish it was all over…repacking my pack; not washing properly; still unsatisfactory WC experiences; poor stage 3; blah blah blah…

 

So I found this a bizarre stage. I was thinking of trying to make up time on the other lads, whilst being quite demotivated, and wanting to finish the race with Dave who I’d trained with for 18 months, but found quite a decent pace, which Dave couldn’t keep up with as he was feeling very tired, and it was very hot again, with big stretches of salt flats…I didn’t know what I wanted.

 

Well, I did actually. I wanted to run a solid final leg and so reluctantly left Dave behind and as much as the recovering stomach would allow, I picked up the pace and started to enjoy the run again.

 

The lows are defeatable.

 

This was a very hot, very long, very challenging 42.2k and I felt deep joy as I sprinted for the finish. Sprinted.

As I kept saying over the past 2 years: “I didn’t come here to walk!”

 

(Let’s not kid ourselves by the way, there was plenty of walking. There had to be, for me at least. And if it’s ok for Marco to walk some, it’s more than ok for me J).

 

Crossing the line, lollipop in hand – my eldest, Saoirse, told me to bring one so I could remind myself to suck it up when it got tough. Nice – was quite emotional. Some were in tears. I’ve always been more of a ‘lump in the throat’ kind of guy rather than tears and this was the case when Patrick placed the medal around my neck and two kisses on my cheeks (rather him than me!).

 

Other runners had gathered there to welcome us home which was lovely and a real sign of the general air of solidarity to be found at the event.

 

 

This wasn’t just the culmination of 230km, it was the end of a journey lasting at least two years and thousands of kilometres. A journey of exploration of one’s mind and body.

 

That night we had a great dinner courtesy of the organisers. Beer, wine, short film about this year’s event, meat and veg and cheese and fruit and soup and more beer.

 

Towards 10 pm, the cut off time, the final runners/walkers arrived in to a rapturous  welcome from the assembled runners and media. That was moving. Everyone was so happy for these final competitors and it was such an honest and generous celebration that it was almost a shared collective release of emotion as we celebrated with them and sub consciously for ourselves and the group who made up the 28th MdS.

 

Sleep.

 

People have asked me whether I discovered anything about myself and truthfully, I don’t think I did. Running helped me do that quite some time ago. What it did do was help me reaffirm and apply some of those learnings.

 

I know I’m very competitive. I didn’t think I was in sport but I am.

My running goals are simply to be better than I was yesterday, enjoy what I’ve achieved today and set a benchmark for tomorrow.

I know I can do anything, and do it well.

I know I can set stretching targets.

The only thing I don’t know is what I cannot do.

 

 

 

 

The Top 15

 

Day 7; Stage 6 – non competitive 7.7km charity stage

 

This was a slightly bizarre event. We were to run almost 8km, wearing UNICEF t shirts, across the dunes, past the highest dune in the Sahara, to our buses and on to the hotel.

 

The stage did not count to our overall placings.

 

 

 

We walked.

 

After a 90 minute or so stroll we faced into a challenging 6 ½ hour bus ride…

 

Suffice to say, the bar didn’t know what hit it.  A fine feed of everything followed by lashings and lashings of ‘Casablanca Lager’.

 

It was a late night.

 

 

 

Recovery

 

This is the bit that has taken me a little by surprise for three linked reasons:

 

1.     Physical

 

a.     I’ve planned 3-4 weeks of rest…which is needed as my legs are more tired than I’d anticipated. They feel heavy. One week after the last stage I tried a gentle 10k run in my local park and decided to stop at 5k. Three weeks later and I ran my first 10k – very gentle on a local track. Good to get it in.

b.     I didn’t go immediately for a massage. I wanted to hold off and see whether there were any lingering aches/sore spots before going. Not sure of the logic behind this to be honest…seemed like a plan!

c.     I do believe that good physical recovery is also linked to a sound Nutrition plan for the recovery phase…

d.     Post massage my legs are still quite heavy…maybe I just need to run!

 

2.     Nutritional

 

a.     This has been a huge mistake. I have been eating like a lunatic, unable to control my sweet tooth or overall calorie intake.

b.     Also important is continuing to take Amino Acid supplements to aid muscle repair.

c.     Time to get smart and for me, the only way to get back on the dietary track is linked to the next area…

 

3.     Mental

 

a.     My mental recovery has been fine however, the fact that I don’t have a follow-up goal is starting to negatively impact my motivation and eating (there’s the link to the Physical and Nutritional issues!).

b.     If I had a firm goal in place for a couple of months out, with a training plan in mind, I’d be eating better and more focused on a more timely recovery.

 

 

And finally…

If you can afford it (time & money), do it.

 

 

 

Patrick Bauer Represents Me With My Medal

 

 

Dec 2009                           Apr 2013

 

Prologue

In August 2010 I was almost 17 stone, a ’20-a-day-for-20-years’ man. I knew I was overweight…but I reckoned I carried it well. I was 40.

Sometimes we need help us to see the obvious. Prompts. I say that many moons had to align for me to realise that I had to retake control.

Moon 1: on holidays three things happened: I couldn’t run the length of Ballinskelligs beach with my kids.

Moon 2: I got gout in my foot (Gout FFS!)

Moon 3: couldn’t understand why my favourite shirt didn’t come in XXXL. Alignment.

I started running on September 1, 2010.

Where I live there’s a 1km block of houses. I set out to run it. I made it 300m and had to pause. And then the next 300 and then home. My first kilometre. I was hot, uncomfortable, sweaty. There was no pleasure in the experience. Day 2 was worse. Tougher to get out there as I knew what lay ahead.

But I did it. Again and again and again. And every day I ran a little more. And every day Sinead, my wife, told me how great I was – I’m a bloke, I need that! And I lapped it up and upped my laps. My first 5k; 10; half marathon. I lost three stone in three months. I’m now around the 12 mark and no longer run to reduce weight. I now run because I can and because someday, I may not be able to.

In April 2011 I ran the Barcelona Marathon in 4:02. Standing at the start listening to Freddie Mercury belt out ‘Barcelona’, the lump in my throat arrived 26.2miles earlier than I expected.

In September 2012 I ran Amsterdam in 3:01 and was disappointed. Isn’t it great. A top 5% time and I’m disappointed.

Last year I started to move to Ultra marathon running. It was a perfectly logical progression – I like running, so why not run for longer? I completed the wonderful 55km Art O’Neill event; the challenging 63km Connemarathon Ultra; the 85km Mourne Ultra and am lined up to compete in the 2013 Marathon Des Sables (250km over 6 days) and the 2013 Lakelands Ultra (160km). I’m excited and daunted in equal measure. I used not know what I could do. Now I’m not sure what I can’t.

Running takes resolve, determination, motivation and in return gives health, friendship and joy. When I run, especially over hills, I smile. My heart pumps with excitement. My lungs and legs are wrecked but my heart’s loving it!

And all the while there are wonderful people willing you to do better, happy to share knowledge and experiences, happier sometimes to listen to yours. There is such generosity of time and knowledge amongst runners it’s truly inspiring.

At the moment I’ll train 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day. My challenge remains controlling my eating – toast, butter, marmalade is my nemesis –  and am getting back on the Paleo way of eating wagon. Tough with kids, but important. I also fast up to twice a week for recovery, weight management and focus. An important tool for training my body to use available fuel sources…fat!

Training involves strength training with Corefit (personal trainers) three mornings a week; run work with my club Rathfarnham AC; hill work with friends.

People ask where I find the time – I get up at 5 and I’m training by 5:30.

People ask ‘why?’ (in very accusatory tones it must be said) and all I can think to answer is ‘why not?’.

People tell me I’m mad and all I can think is that what we, as a society, define as mad is screwed up. Mad isn’t pushing yourself to see what you can achieve with the one mind and body you’ve been gifted with; ‘Mad’ is 17 stone, 20 a day, no exercise for 20 years, pissed that a shirt doesn’t come in XXXL.

Mad is ignorance. Mad is never challenging yourself. Mad is giving in and giving up and I refuse to do that.

Mad is no knowing what you can do. Now I’m not sure what I can’t.

Such is the spirit of the Ultra runner and people who don’t know what they can’t do.