Saturday, 14 January 2017

My Marathon des Sable

My week in the desert in brief..........Im writing it in brief because to be honest id forgotten to do it and close this blog off.... Im now about to start a new adventure and a new blog, so need to finish this one.

The MDS week started with a trip to Gatwick for the flight to Morrocco With Jon O Hara in his Audi Quattro.. At this point I didn't know that my amazing journey would end with a great drive back to Lowestoft in Jons car....
We stayed at the Gatwick Hilton and that evening we met for the first time, some of our desert tent mates..... Took it easy on the alcohol front, not wanting a flight with a hangover, but some did seem to be having a party.

I had a restless night with a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation ahead of the " toughest foot race on earth" , this carried on through the flight to Morocco and the 5 hour drive out into the desert.
We arrived  in the pitch black, we had to find our tent which was number 135 with our head torches, get our bearings on this huge camp site, find the food tent before getting some kip.

Next morning is technical/administration day..... lots of sitting around, standing in queues, sorting out what you really want to carry for 6 days, getting rid of the stuff thats not going to benefit you, last minute phone calls home.. ( amazing how in the middle of the desert you can get a clear line to the uk, however living in Suffolk, I occasionally struggle). At the admin tent after getting rid of the stuff that your not racing with, your pack is weighed, race numbers ( very strict on where they are placed) and road map are given out... some people had their food checked for calories and also had their compulsory kit checked... but I wasnt one of them......
Once that was done.... there was nothing more to be done apart from to listening to Patrick Bauer + interpreter give a speech and then a band played some tunes... I just chilled out in the tent.

Day 1......a two year journey came down to this day.....oh my god... id watched videos of the famous inflatables at the start lines but being here was something else.... Patrick stood on top his land rover telling to drink plenty, remember to wear our hats and to take our salt tablets because it was going to be a hot day ( no shit Sherlock)
... Jon and Me made our way to some space near the back... Then Highway to Hell by AC/DC starts blasting out of the speakers and we are off.  It soon becomes apparent to me and Jon that running on the soft stuff is pointless and power walking with sticks is a faster and more efficient option.

Nothing but being there can prepare you for being there.... especially drinking warm water.. the surroundings are amazing, varied and at times relentless...... if I remember rightly every day had a dune stage in it some where.
I decided early on that i wasnt going to chance anything with regards to my feet... every checkpoint had doc trotters so as soon as i felt hot spots, I was getting them checked. This proved to be a good decision as i finished the event only having two small blisters during the whole event.
The single days had varieties in terrain but were similar in relentlessness and warm bloody water, but each day ended the same ...... cross the line under the teapot inflatable, get a cup of the most amazing Moroccan tea.... Back to the tent, fire on, hot water on, neck 500ml of Rego protein powder, have a hot meal with two ibobrufen tablets. 10 mins of yoga, check my feet, then into my sleeping bag to sleep with legs elevated on back pack, which turned out to be a good thing to do, as it protected my kit from sandstorms that came through the tent every night. So the sandstorms combined with sleeping on a rug thats are on top of stones didnt end in a good nights sleep being had.

That said, I still felt pretty good going into day 4 ( the long day), a distance of 91.7 Km (57 miles). As it was getting late into the race and wanting to give ourselves the best chance of finishing, Jon and myself made a pact to stick together and pull each other through if required. This stage had everything from the previous 3 stages, jebels,dunes, salt flats. We went through the night and at the half weigh point, I ate the heaviest item in my pack....a tin of fruit cocktail...oh my god that was heaven.
As we went in the pitch black following our head torches and day glow markers we had sand storms going on. I dont mind admitting that at about 1am, I sat at the top of a sand dune that had gone on and on and on and had abit of a melt down...I got myself together and carried on... At the next checkpoint, Jon was ready to stop, so we made a decision to rest up till daylight (about 4 hours) and then carry on to the finish (about 17km). I must have been shattered because i decided to have a wee before getting into my sleeping bag, i closed my eyes, opened them again because i wanted a wee, which i couldnt believe, I looked at my watch and about 4 hours had gone and it was getting light... Jon, however wasn't in great shape...his feet were blistered badly and was unable to weight bare. He was going to have to have treatment, this could threaten the cut offs that had been put in place... because of this threat, Jon told me to crack on, on my own....I surprisingly covered the ground really quickly and got to the finish line at about 8.30am. This gave me the rest of the day to eat, sleep and sleep some more... and wait for Jon to put his head around the tent doorway, but it never happened, and we later found out that he had been pulled out and was already on his way back to a hotel 5 hours away.. This put abit of a dampened spirit into the tent.This said, I dont think that anything was going to stop any of tent 135 inhabitants finishing the last days marathon not even a fractured foot (James Tuffnell)

later pics of Jons feet

Felt good, waking up for the last stage was great. Nothing was going to stop me now...The last few miles went on for ages and ages, but i think it was actually my fastest marathon in the desert. Id carried a union jack umbrella all week and I thought that i would open it with 200metres to go and went across the finish line like Mary Poppins...
what a fantastic feeling but not as emotional as i thought I would get. I actually got more emotional in the subsequent hours as I watched people hobble, stagger and drag themselves over the finish line.

Only one bit left to do before getting the bus back to the hotel......The charity stage, an 11 mile walk out of the desert..

Back to normality out of the MDS Bubble

Trip back the hotel in Ouzazate...Berber Palace
I slept on floor for some of the first night in the hotel as i couldnt get to sleep in the bed, it took a good few showers to get the ingrained sand out of my skin. 

Summary of things that Ive taken from my MDS Journey

  •   Fantastic experience with people from 50 different nationalities
  • Ive made some fantastic friends 
  • Found out i am mentally stronger than I thought
  • Life wouldnt be so bad without our mobile phones
  • if I put my mind to it, i can achieve things
  • learnt to get things sorted before they get out of hand
  • I really do hate drinking warm water
To End this Blog heres a video

Monday, 30 March 2015

Only a few days to go.

Everything is going on at the moment. In my wisdom ive also decided that I need to catch up all that has happened before I go.

So the research program stuff has been ongoing and at times tedious, with filling out food diaries and activity diaries. I really didn't find them easy and had to try to remember to log all ASAP.

Last month was my birthday, so I thought a good way to raise some would be to " go bald for my birthday" I wanted to see if my hair would itch when growing back and so then be better prepared for desert. I asked all to put in my Mencap bucket and promised to shave off all my hair if I reached £500 ( cunning plan, cos I would have done it for £1). Amazingly in 6 weeks the bucket had in it. Thank all that put in, absolutely amazing. This is my hair before cutting it cut, probably the longest it's ever been.

This is the shaving off of my hair at my birthday party. I think everyone had a go at one stage or another.Press to watch

There are lots and lots of people that have helped me prepare for the event, with information, treatments, yoga, and I am really grateful for the time that they have spent. I wanted to advertise their businesses as a thank you, so I had a t shirt made up with their logos on.

On the 20th April 2015 I went back to Porsche Human performance at Silverstone for my second heat chamber run. I didn't have any major changes in my performance from last time, but Jack, one of the technicians said that he wouldn't expect to as I hadn't done any heat acclimation since last time.

Following the heat chamber I wanted to carry on with the heat acclimation, so I decided to do step aerobics every day until I was heading down to Gatwick . I started with 20 minutes and worked upto 35 minutes. That is hard work. The sauna was at 50 degrees plus.

Time to pack..... This was going to be easier said than done. All this

Into a 20 litre rucksack. Thankfully I had the use of my good friend Jon OHaras vacuum packing machine. We got there after a few hours of packing and re packing.

I have really rushed to get this last blog done in a slimline version  before I go, will fatten it up more, when I get home.

Whilst I'm away, I can be followed at

My race number is 0424 

One last thing before I head off to my adventure in the desert.

I am currently at £9290 for Mencap

Thank you all so much, and will have loads of pics and stories to tell I'm sure, when I get back

Sunday, 15 March 2015

4 weeks to go till MDS 2015

Last September I received this from Dr Justin Roberts, who works at the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge......

To all Athletes,
Firstly may I express my sincere gratitude for the overwhelming response to take part in our research study surrounding the MDS 2015. The deadline for applications is 22nd September but I think we have hit saturation in terms of numbers now.
This is just a quick update to let you know of progress and next stages. Firstly, I will be moving jobs to Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, as such from the 29th September my email will be and you have my phone contact details from prior emails.

Onto the study: this is the first of its kind so as you can imagine there are complex and multiple logistics our end to cover ahead of the start of the research. This is in hand. Due to the large numbers applying we have extended the nature of the project to include multiple groups (which means that most of you will no doubt be selected). I have brought on board a new PhD student – Mr Craig Suckling – who will be dealing with a large percentage of this study and who will become a main point of contact in due course. The outline for the study and next stages are as follows

· To assess the impact of nutrition on training adaptations and race performance. We are not intending to interfere with training or normal build up to the race. However, once the selection process has been completed and you have been notified of provisional study inclusion you will be randomly allocated to a study group. The groups will involve obviously a control group (normal training and diet intake), a nutrition group (we will be looking at dietary intake in relation to training load), and two supplement groups (probiotics and probiotics/antioxidants). The supplements planned for use in the study are of clinical grade with no adverse or known side effects, and are commercially available. We have used the products before and demonstrated benefits to ironman athletes. Hence we are interested to find out how they might benefit MDS runners
· Testing will start effectively in December – we plan to hold a main study briefing for ALL participants in early December, and collect some provision data (training/diet) from you before xmas.
· The main test dates at present will be 8-12th Jan (to be held at Anglia Ruskin Uni, Cambridge), 26-29th March (also at Anglia Ruskin) and 17-19th April (post race – to be held at Middlesex Uni). In addition to the first two blocks, we are arranging for you to also have a DEXA scan (body composition) at Middlesex Uni – more to follow on this
· In addition to the UK tests, we (the research team) are aiming to be in morocco to collect body composition and blood data approx.. 5 hours post finish at the race HQ.
· Rest assured we are aiming to be as supportive as possible for you as athletes/participants and in no way planning to impede or hinder your race performance.
· I will be at the MDS expo with Craig in Oct should any of you wish to speak to us

· Logistics our end – this will take most of October
· Participant selection – we will be aiming to recruit most of you and will notify all participants around late October
· Subject Briefing – early December
· Provisional data collection – mid December
· Test dates – Jan, March, April
I/ we look forward to working with you and will be in touch around the end of October for an update

Very kind regards

These are the test groups...... I have been placed in the control group, just carry on as normal was the brief

On the 9th January 2015, I went first to Allianz Park and then upto Anglia Ruskin university to take part in the first testing session for the research programme. At Allianz park I laid on a Dexa Scanner, which measures and locates body fat. It was like lying on a big photocopier.

Dexa scan..... Click to watch

Following the scan, I had a 90 minute drive up to Cambridge to Anglia Ruskin university for the following tests... Blood sample, blood pressure, resting heart rate, Electrocardiograph, VO2 max test, body composition test. Prior to the testing I wasn't allowed to eat for 6 hours... Which for those that know me, know that that wasn't an easy task.

The test were performed by university students, under the watchful eye of Justin Roberts and Craig Suckling. Great afternoon and an insight into a purpose built,testing facility. The hardest bit was the Vo2 max test, especially having not eaten for what was 71/2 by the time I got on the treadmill. As well as vo2 max, I was linked to a computer to show the biomechanics of my running style.... Interesting.

Click to watch....

Biomechanics to watch

It was interesting to me to see how low I was lifting my feet. I'm not sure if that has been an adaptation that I've made since starting to run ultra distances, in order to save energy.

Following the testing, straight out for food and a 2.5 hour drive back to Lowestoft.

Fundraising is going well. As usual a Massive thank you to all that have donated.

Happy New Year

Well here it is ...... 2015......the year of the 30th Marathon Des Sable. I'm writing this blog with under 12 weeks to go until I fly out to Morocco. Quite a bit has happened since my last blog and not just christmas and new year. So sit back and enjoy my latest instalment.

On the 15th November, I went to Silverstone race track to The Porsche Human Performance centre, where I had sweat test

Press here to watch

That has to be the easiest fitness test that I have ever done. Following an easy test came the not so easy part. This said, I'm glad I experienced it, as it gave me valuable information and feelings that could be useful when in the Sahara. The heat chamber was set at 43 degrees, the plan was to stay in there for an hour. I'd asked the technician Jack to take me to the limit, as I wanted to feel when I would need to slow down in order to be safe. I went in with 1.5 litres of squash on my back. Started on the treadmill slow and then the speed was taken up to 10kph, every 5 minutes, Jack checked my core body temperature. I managed to run for 40minutes before my core temp got to 39.4 degrees. I was losing concentration and my fingers felt like hot pins were being stuck in the ends, so I figure this was quite a dangerous level. The speed was slowed down, my heart rate came down, as did my core temp and I saw out the hour in there. When I came out I was weighed and had lost 1.2 kg in the hour. My water bag was weighed and I had drunk 1.2kg of fluid, happy days.

Heat chamber.... Click to see

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Beachyhead Marathon

On the 24th October 2014, Paula and me made the trip down to Eastbourne to Meet up with Rachel from Mencap and some of the other Mencap MDS runners. we were also given a presentation from Rachel about Mencap and the work that they do and we were treated to a great insight to the MDS by a participant of this years race Simon Moran. He gave us some great information and tips, which may make my trip to the Sahara a bit easier.

Race day was forecast to be hot and sunny throughout. It started out cold, but with a hill to start, I'm Glad it wasn't hot.

The organisers announced that we should add 40 to 50 minutes onto our normal marathon time. It soon became apparent why. Fantastic scenery, but was a tough hilly course.

The sun appeared after the first hour, and became quite warm. I ran with my race vest and didn't need stop at the checkpoints for water. The last 5 miles (pictured above) were the 7 sisters ( aka the bitches). The were steep in parts and had me down to a walk. My usual hip and hip flexor problems didn't kick in until the last 3 miles. The finish was down the hill that we started up, great for your knees (not).

coming into finish..... click here

finished in 4hrs 39 minutes........ happy with that

The Mencap boys at the finish

With less than 6 months to go, and with the information from Simon Moran. My mind has been on to my food that I'm going to take. MDS race rules, say you have to carry a minimum of 2000cals per day. So the trick is to find foods with highest cal to weight ratio. The best thus far is Macadamia nuts at 718cals/100g.

Other stuff Ive tried has been freeze dried

These packs weigh 180g and on average, contain 700cals, and surprisingly they taste pretty good.

Thanks for reading......please sponsor me at my justgiving page.... just click