Once I’d been accepted onto the MdS and my place had been confirmed. It was time to learn even more about the event and what to expect. One of the most important parts of the race is the preparation that goes on before hand; you can’t just rock up and hope to do well!
You need to be self sufficient in the desert for seven days and there’s lots of things you need to consider fully beforehand; training, nutrition, clothing, shoes, race strategy etc if you want to have an enjoyable time!
The Marathon des Sables Expo Fair is held every year in October and it’s a fantastic opportunity to meet other runners who’ve signed up to do the challenge in 2015 or 2016. I was very surprised at the age range, I thought it would mainly be people in their thirties to forties, but I found a much larger spread with people in their twenties to late fifties and early sixties participating.
As expected there were a huge amount of men there, and the 2015 race also has the largest percentage of women ever entered. One of the great things about races likes the MdS is you meet a lot of other similarly minded people. It’s sometimes difficult to explain why you’d want to put your body through so much pain. The only way for me to describe it is; it’s not about the pain, it’s about going through the pain and surviving and coming out the other end stronger for it. Your body’s capable of anything and it’s getting your mind to do it, that’s the challenge.
They had a great selection of speakers who were there to tell their own personal stories.
James Cracknell, double Olympic gold medallist and MdS veteran.
Rory Coleman, a celebrity in the MdS world who’s completed the race a mind blowing eleven times.
Dr. Mike Stroud, OBE and MdS Veteran and author of, Survival of the Fittest.
Danny Kendall and Mark Kleanthous were also on a question and answer panel sharing their knowledge.
Throughout the day, there was a number of different workshops covering off: -
Nutrition preparation for the MdS
It’s all in the mind
How to train for the MdS
Smart packing – how to strip your pack down to the bare essential
Heat acclimation and electrolyte replacement strategies to optimise hydration
Danny’s Desert Diary
Learning from heat training with Kingston University and its implications to shoe selection race preparation
There was a lot of information to take onboard and I came away with a list of books I needed to read, and copious amount of notes to go through. I’ve written separate blog posts for Rory Coleman’s top tips and James Cracknell’s top tips.
But here are the key pieces of information I took away from the other speakers:
Preparation and planning are so important. Doing it properly will make it a low drama experience.
Look after yourself - 6Ps - Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance
What are your plans for hydration, nutrition, pacing, blisters, recovery etc
1. Arrive in good shape, manage your body
2. Manage your equipment – know how everything works
Shoes should be half a size bigger than normal, as your feet will expand width ways in the heat.
If your arms and legs are going to be covered, you won’t need to take sunscreen.
Take green tea supplements
Eat a low carb diet and increase the amount of protein during training
Reduce the amount of salt in your diet before the race
Carry all your essential items onto the plane
Have an event goal. What do you want to achieve?
Ideally have three goals, write them down now so don’t get goal creep.
1. What’s your dream goal?
2. What’s the best you can do?
3. What’s an acceptable goal?
It’s all in your head: It’s about DETERMINATION
Think through “what if” situations and how you’d handle them. That way you won’t be faced with any surprises. How will you handle blisters? Fatigue? etc
Think about why you entered the race – write it down. How will you remember why you’re doing this?
What’s got you through tough times before? This could be sporting, personal or professional – What helped? Strengthen those memories.
How will you mange the dark thoughts?
Psychological signs of problems to be aware of:- apathy – don’t care anymore, ignoring warning signs and not adjusting race strategy, attention and concentration is stinted, you’re going to be more emotional e.g. fearful and tearful, your perception of time changes - you can suffer time gaps, your brain won’t be acting normal!
Do weights to build up strength - Start NOW!
Train doing cross-country runs (Oct – Feb). Mud will be good practice for the sands.
Train on different surfaces
Do daily press ups, squats and shrugs
Build up core strength by doing the long arm plank
Have a training plan, stick to it, but be flexible
Do some acclimatization to heat training – train with extra clothing, take a hot bath
Start planning your food now
Try all your food before you go
2200 minimum calories per day
Have protein for breakfast and have protein recovery shakes
During the Race
Review your progress by setting your watch to beep every twenty minutes: eat, drink and do a mental full body scan; any stiffness? Blisters or soreness? Should you continue with your race plan or adjust it?
Don’t entertain dark thoughts? Get rid of them straight away with something else
Have debates with yourself while you run
Take two salt tablets per hour
Paracetamol helps to lower body temp
During the long day (double marathon) your stomach can shut down. To reduce the chance of this happening – mix up your food, have variety, slow down while you eat
In the evening: Rest is the aim, but sleep is a bonus
If your feet are causing you massive problems and you’re in a lot of pain. Once you start each day after fifteen to twenty minutes your body will enter survival mode and it will ignore the pain in your feet so you won’t feel it anymore.
Heat related problems you could face: Dehydration, electrolyte disturbance, heat exhaustion (treat with salt and water), heat stroke (If you’re complaining of being cold in the desert you’re in big trouble!)
Have a recovery plan for when you get back: backpack off, recovery drink, stretches, food, feet up, hydration etc
It was fascinating to listen to the MdS veterans and expert speakers; they happily shared their stories and provided useful advice and information. There was almost too much information! I was a little overwhelmed by it all. There were so many decisions I needed to make; which back pack to go with? Which sleeping bag? How to train? What shoes to get? What to eat and when?!
I’d highly recommend attending the Expo if you’ve doing the MdS, it bring the whole event to life and makes it very real and also shows you how much work, just in terms of preparation and training you need to do. It was a real eye opener, and the key thing is it gets you to start thinking and planning.
There are only 177 days left until the start!
Review of the Expo
The ticket cost £77 to attend: and included breakfast, lunch (From Expedition Foods) with snacks (By Bounce Foods). It was a well attended event and there must have been about one hundred to one hundred and fifty people there. I thought it was well organised, with relevant exhibitors and overall planned very well. The only bits of feedback I’d give the organizers would be to give everyone a name badge and also a coloured sticker to indicate if they’re racing in 2015, 2016 or just there for support. This would make it far easier for people to connect with others who’d be doing the race in the same year. They could even take it a step further and have coloured stickers for elite runners who expect to finish in the top two hundred, green stickers for going to give it a good go and blue stickers for the fun runners, walkers and ramblers who just want to survive.
Expo Website can be found here – http://www.marathondessables.co.uk/site/news-article/mds-uk-expo-2014
The other thing to note about the MdS Expo is it’s a not-for-profit event. Any proceeds will be given to the MdS charity Solidarites, a humanitarian organization, which provides health awareness and sports facilities to underprivileged children living on the edge of the Sahara.