Eat, sleep, run, repeat.

As many of you will know, I’ve just returned from a Marathon Des Sables specific multi-Day training camp.

The camp was based out of Club La Santa in Lanzarote. A sports complex/hotel that many running friends had told me about, but for which I hadn’t experienced.

I’ll admit that the thought of spending a week with people I’d never met before, sharing a room with a stranger and logging the highest mileage week I ever have, was making me very anxious. I like to be in control and don’t like surprises, so this camp was really out of my comfort zone.

Also, only proper athletes go on training camps don’t they? Apparently not as, when I got to CLS, there were all sorts of people there, all shapes and sizes but with one thing in mind – their fitness.

I have decided to try and not be a control freak when it comes to MdS, so didn’t specifically ask to share with anyone before I went. I wanted to leave it to fate. I was so glad I did as I ended up sharing a room with a lovely woman called Sarah.

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My awesome room-mate, and 2 x MdS finisher, Sarah. 

Sarah has run MdS twice. Over the week – as well as loaning me a jacket, walking poles, gurney goo (anti-chafe) and indulging in sweet feasts with me – she imparted SO much invaluable advice about her experiences in the Sahara. I felt so much more informed and confident as each day went on. So THANK you to her.

Once we landed in Lanzarote, and were settled into our rooms, we ventured out on our first shake-out 5 mile run. To be honest, I got too cocky, went off far to fast and wasn’t paying enough attention to the technical terrain (volcano rock, sand, stones). I rolled my ankle on a rock about 2.5 miles into the run and, upon hearing the inevitable ligament crunch, my immediate thought was ‘oh shit’.

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Before ‘crunch’ time.

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After consulting with the coaches Ian Corless and Elisabet Barnes they suggested taping the ankle and taking it easy the next day. So, on Friday I ventured out for 20 miles with Marie-Paul and her walking group. Looking back now (isn’t hindsight a great thing) the ankle roll was the best thing that could have happened and let me explain why.

HAVING to walk the first day took the fear out of taking walk breaks (which at points I will need to) at MdS. I am a runner, I run. So walking has always seemed to me to be a sign of weakness. But it’s just not true. The pace at which we were walking would have meant – according to a group mate – that we would finish each stage well within the cut-off time. This gave me such confidence. To know that, even if I walked, I could complete the MdS at the pace I was moving really lifted my spirits.

Also, who knew that there was a skill to using walking poles? Marie-Paul was amazing and showed us the technique for getting the most traction and speed wen using poles. It really does take practice.

Every day after that first day of walking I just felt stronger. I progressed from the walking group to the walk/run group to the mid-pack group and, on the last day, was catching up with the group in front of that.

Yoga pose atop a volcano – why not?

 

I felt stronger as each day passed. Why? I think it’s down to  months of training and the strength and conditioning I have been doing. My thighs – although a bit larger than I would hope – are powerful. That’s due to the squats and deadlift sets I do weekly, as well as other exercises my PT has given me. It all seemed to show itself this week on the quite technical terrain of Lanzarote.

Ian Corless, who organised the #LanzaroteTrainingCamp is an amazing photographer and captured some great shots. (C) @iancorless.com

Three things that I really wanted to experience was camping out during the night in order to test my equipment and jebel/sand dune running.

We camped out on Monday night, running for 2.5 hours to the mouth of a dormant volcano. There we set up our tents and got to test our kit out. Things that didn’t work for me were:

A) Sleeping Mat – Not comfy at all. Had an awful nights sleep due to just not being able to find a good position. I have got a few recommendations from other runners, so will test these out.

B) Super Noodles DO NOT rehydrate well with warm water. The water must be boiling in order for the noodles to soften proper. As my water will not get to boiling point in the desert, I will be sampling different foods for dinner.

C) I do not need as many layers to sleep in at night as I thought I would. I got too hot in my sleeping bag and was stripping off clothes all night. This is somewhere I can save on pack weight.

D) I need to find stronger coffee to take. Nescafé doesn’t cut it.

The Bivoac

Getting to grips with setting up the tent.

The morning after the night before – not a happy bunny!

When it comes to ascending the large Jebel (mountain) in the Sahara, our coaches wanted to simulate the ascent for us. The best way they could do this was to set us a task of running to a dormant volcano and performing 6 x hill efforts up (and down) it. This would mimic (on the ups) the ascent for this section of the MdS.

I was DREADING this but I really loved it when I was doing it. It was bloody hard but my legs just kept going and would not give up. There was such a sense of elation when I knew I was almost done. I kept thinking ‘wow, if I was in the Sahara, I would be half way up the jebel by now’. That thought alone kept me going.

The other technical aspect of the Sahara that I have been worried about are the dunes. The sand can sap a lot of energy from your legs. I knew that I wanted to get as much practice and tips as I could from the coaches about the best way to tackle these. Again, although hard work and definitely energy sapping, I enjoyed this part of the camp.

I’ve never run up and down dunes before and, once I understood the most efficient technique and started practicing it, I enjoyed myself. Of course I appreciate that it’ll feel different in 50 degree heat wearing a full pack and being calorie deficient/dehydrated but, for this practice at least, I had FUN.

Weeeeeeee!

Footsteps in the sand.

So, overall, I felt really good upon leaving the camp. In terms of fitness I feel I’m exactly where I should be. For the next 10 weeks it’s all about staying strong, injury free and focused.

It’s time to confirm all of my kit, continue testing it and work on my mental preparation. Goal setting is a must as was discussed by another of our coaches Tom Evans – 3rd Male at Mds 2017 and highest ever placing Brit. I’ll be looking at setting some A, B and C goals.

Would I recommend a training camp like this? Hell yeah! If you want some me time, take your training seriously and are maybe heading towards a big spring challenge. What could be better than a week in the sun, practicing your ‘thing’ in the company of like-minded individuals. Ian has opened up registrations for his 2019 camp. You can find out more information here 

Now, back to cold weather training in the Cotswolds. I’ve got my last ultra marathon before MdS next weekend – The Pilgrims Challenge, a 62-mile 2 day race which takes place next Saturday and Sunday. I don’t think i’ll need to worry about the heat….

Please help me raise £5,000 for Allsorts Charity. Read my story, and donate, here

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