Marathon Des Sables 2014

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Moerieda Mackay:

I’ve been dreaming about running the Marathon des Sables for a while now. It’s on the bucket list…so just a matter of time. In the mean time I enjoy reading about other runner’s race experiences and learning as much as I can about the race to prepare myself for the event :-)

So how do the the elite train and run Marathon Des Sables? Sharing Danny Kendall’s MdS 2014 race experience (placed 5th – highest place achieved by a Brit in the history of the race!)

Originally posted on danny kendall:

The Marathon Des Sables is an iconic multi-day race in the Sahara desert which requires the 1,000+ competitors to cover around 150 miles on foot over 6 stages/7 days in semi self-sufficiency (bottled water for drinking and an open-sided 8 man tent are provided).  Extreme temperatures are to be expected and 50C+ is not unusual.  Food for the week and various bits of equipment must be carried in a backpack weighing anywhere between 6.5kg and 15kg and includes the long list of compulsory stuff such as a minimum of 2,000kcal per day, an anti-venom pump, signalling mirror and of course tropical disinfectant (causing many debates on the forums as to what it actually is!). 

The MdS is often dubbed “The toughest footrace on earth!” and many documentaries have been made about the race featuring celebrity runners such asBen Fogle, Jack Osbourne

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Magaliesberg 22km Challenge

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Running the Crazy Store Magaliesberg Challenge has been on my mind for a while. Hubby did it last year and it sounded like a lot of fun. So this year was my turn. I’m very selfish when it comes to my running but sometimes feel guilty spending Saturday or Sunday mornings at races so whenever there is an opportunity to turn a running event into a family affair I do! With trail and track it is easy. My kids love it, even my teenager. Not much of a choice tough…new places and outdoor adventures vs TV or iPad games? I hate getting to events late so the challenge with taking the whole family to races is getting everyone up and ready in the morning to be on time.  It basically comes down to sacrificing an hour of sleep to ensure everyone is ready, but I’d much rather prefer everyone comes with me and we all have a good time. I’ve since learnt to organise everything the night before so that everyone is ready at least one hour before I would have left if I was going by myself. Must say that strategy has been working well. We arrived at the venue on time and very relaxed! We had coffee and muffins and then I went to register.

Out of My League

I was seeded with the A batch. Let just say I was a bit optimistic with my finish time. The start was very exciting to say the least with the helicopter hovering around and then following the runners as the A batch sprint off. What de hell was I thinking. I did not even warm up! The adrenalin rush just to keep up and the feeling of running fast is amazing! Needless to say I could only keep up that performance till we disappeared into the bushes and out of helicam sight :-).

I was dropped by the A-batchers! I started to relax and ran my own pace. Finally, I could breath again…

Pushing My Limits

The first 5km I ran faster than planned (blame A batch runners), but then the terrain became a bit difficult to run with some big loose stones and hills to climb. I didn’t plan on racing this event. It was going to be an easy “hike” or run/walk. But I was feeling so fit and full of energy I decided to run as much as I can of the course. I felt so strong. All I could think about was how much I am enjoying it! I was really proud of myself.

There were a lot of fast steep downhills and short steep uphills and the only way I could get my body up the hill was to run the downhill section fast. At some point I was thinking I am a mountain bike – insane! Then there were the longer steep uphill sections (the once that would make me stay away from trails…) but everything was moving so fast, there was no time to think…just do! I literally had to tell myself don’t think about how you going to get up there just get up there. Grab grass, a branch, the ground…just grab something, get your footing right and get your butt up there! OMG. If I had to get stuck or slip and fall. Hilarious – opened my eyes to the importance of core and upper body strength!

The Desert Bulldozers

Everything went really well – I was running the race. I now understand the importance of having the right shoes! I ran with my Brooks Cascadias. I’ve done a bit of research on the shoe. Suppose to be “the trail shoe” for medium and long distances trail running.

My “don’t think…just do” strategy worked because I trusted my shoes. They are not yet perfect (for me), but they have grip! Loved that feeling of landing on an incline and not slipping. Not once did my ankle roll. The shoe is a bit heavy and is feeling a bit hard on the upper (reminds me of safety shoes) – it’s a real desert bulldozers. But I like the cushioning and the support plate to protect your feet from sharp edges. I had a look at some of the other trail running shoe brands and felt soft (flexible) and I am now playing with the idea of getting other shoes but if this is going to be the conditions I run in all the time than it’s probably better to stick to the Cascadias for now. I have Mont-Aux-Sources coming up so I better make friends with my shoes.

Keeping my longterm goal into perspective…everything I am doing must prepare me for my race in the desert. I can see now it is going to be lots of experimenting….that goes for shoes, clothes, food and a whole bunch of other stuff. No point taking anything with me that is not going work or that I wont need. But first the shoes.

The Epic Fall

So while everything was going so well I started to notice at 12km that my right calf wanted to go into a cramp. I backed off with the running and started power walking uphill. Terrain was also very rocky so everyone was walking at this stage. at 13km we started the descent – I was happy about that! I started to run easy again. I can’t run downhills, not even on road. So was happy to just move along and felt good. At 15km I was on a runners high….such a beautiful day, we’re descending what more could I ask for…and then out of the blue a massive cramp attack in both calfs…at the same time! I was still flying through the air (in the zone) but the minute my foot touched the ground I went for a dive! The difference between falling from a slip or tripping over something and falling from losing your balance because of calf cramps is that when you fall you can’t move…at all! Trust me, any attempt trying to move will result in extreme sounds. Crazy Store Magaliesberg Challenge had me screaming like a women who was about to give birth on a single track! So embarrassing…but amazing support from all the trailees to the rescue! I had two ladies each massaging a calf…halarious! Finally I was able to move the legs and got up. Manage to walk the next 3km, but from there on my “race ” was pretty much over. It was still another 5km to go. Do you have any idea of how slow 5km go on trail when you too scared to run? Finally managed to just relaxed and started running easy again…no pushing thinking I am some ultra trail elite runner!

River Crossings

Close to the  finish there is a river crossing with a flimsy, dodgy wooden bridge. I made myself as light as possible running over that bridge as fast as I could (no way I am falling into that water!), but almost ran into the arms of the gorilla! Then another river crossing, no bridge…so no thinking, just walk through the water with your shoes on. So refreshing!

This was a 22km trail race that ended up being 23.5km…1.5km of turns and ups and down and river crossings can get a bit much after you’ve already run 22km!

I must admit though, I don’t remember when last I had so much fun running. I absolutely loved everything about this race. Yes, I had a real scare with my fall (lucky that I was not injured) but it is all part of the trail running experience. Hope I am forever cured of my fear of falling! What amazed me most was how brave I was to challenge myself to do things I thought I was not able to do…must have something to do with the fact that I decided not to “over think” things too much…. Just Do It! Will take this atititude with me to my next road race :-)

But first, Mont-Aux-Sources, a 50km trail race in the Drakensberg – BEYOND MYSELF FROM EXCITEMENT!

Quote of the day: “Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity “- Louis Pasteur