Thursday, 20 December 2012

Marathon des Sables training: Strength work

If there's ever a time to invest in specific strength training as a runner, it's when you are preparing for the Marathon des Sables. It's not just cardio work that you need to do.

You are on your feet for longer so you need strong(er) legs and core to keep you going for that extra distance.

Strength training improves running economy - how efficiently your body uses oxygen. If your body is using oxygen better, it means you can also run faster and for longer too.

It will help keep running injuries at bay, particularly knee and ITB issues - which can become a problem with all that extra mileage you will be doing.

MDS has plenty of hills and dunes to scale up and down and strong legs will help prevent you becoming a sobbing heap of wretchedness at the bottom of the umpteenth one.

Exercises don't have to be complicated or tedious either. I just introduced these easy leg routines into my gym sessions. 20 minutes. Done!

1) Single leg squats.
2) Lunges.
3) Step-ups.
4) Single-legged jumps.
5) The clam and side lying hip abduction.

I started off with 2 sets of 10 and built up to 3 sets of 15. Once I could do this comfortably, I added the harder element to each exercise by either adding weight or resistance from a theraband or freeweight, or doing the exercise onto an uneven surface.

I definitely noticed the difference, and I enjoyed doing the routine, as it was a bit of a welcome break from running all the time!

Don't forget hill training sessions also count as strengthening workouts too. More on that next week.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Marathon des Sables training: Mileage - how much, how far, how fast?

How many miles a week you should be running pre MDS is the big question everyone asks.

A google round other people's past MDS blogs shows huge variation. Some are extremely laid back about the whole process and do just that bit extra to their normal regime. Others go hell for leather mounting up multiple 12+ hour days out, fully kitted and booted up.

In my humble opinion I think less is slightly more. Marathon des Sables tests two main things out on you:

1) Being able to run (i.e shuffle) day after day with no rest
2) Being able to run long distances, by this I mean between 20-50 miles

With that in mind I slowly built in elements of these key things into my running foundation.

I built up back to back runs, from daily jogs to and from work, to 15 miles x3, to 25 miles x3. By January I was doing 15 miles back to back okay. There are many multiday races out there pre MDS to help you do this if you want it to be a bit more enjoyable.

I built up my distance. You need to be able to run a marathon fairly comfortably now and if you haven't attempted an ultra, you should aim to get one in at least. In my training I managed 2x 30 miles 1x 38 miles and 1x 45 mile race. By January I had done all this.

Running long miles takes it out of your body, and it took me far longer than I thought it would to recover from each race. In hindsight I would have liked to have done one more ultra race, just to give me the confidence more than anything, as they are pretty painful!

My weekly mileage tally shows I averaged around 40 miles a week after Christmas - not many miles really. Should I have done more? Yes I probably could have done with fitting in more solid back to back runs with a long run each weekend, but I managed to get round ok in the end. It was the shin splints rather than fitness which ended up as my problem out there. But that's the key - it's more about what type of running you are doing rather than endlessly tallying up the weekly mileage. Quality, not quantity. Your training should be specific to what the MDS is going to test you in.

Finally, pace! Well I ran at an average of 12 minute mile pace for my training runs. MDS will challenge your body like nothing else. It's the heat that means you can't run as you'd like to. If you are going out there with the aim of enjoying it and finishing it, stick with the snail pace as your body will become used to it during training (even 12 min mile pace is pushing it, much of MDS is unfortunately spent walking). If you are going for a top 250 place, you should probably find someone else's blog to read!

Seriously, if you are concerned with placing I would advise you to learn how to keep a steady pace and maintain it, bear in mind that 12 min mile pace is pretty rapid out there, learn how to run in sand and up hills, learn how to look after your feet and keep your pack lighter than 7kg. You can make up heaps of time as well by getting yourself to the start of day 4 feeling in a good way with your feet in good nick and getting it done with no sleep, as many competitors decide to sleep for a few hours before setting off again or are completely broken by this point so are ridiculously slow!

If I've got my maths right the winners run at 8 min mile pace and the slowest run at
22 min mile pace which gives you an idea of realistic pace.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Marathon des Sables countdown: the hard training months

The end is just over that next dune...or perhaps it's the next really, it must be the next one

While I kick back in my armchair laden with pipe and slippers, all you Marathon des Sablers out there will be shuffling away mile and mile, hill after hill, into the depths of the heavy training period.

You lucky people.

I still get asked various questions about MDS so over the next few weeks I'm going to write a few handy hints posts to help you through those heavy miles. I'm no expert so I don't have all the answers but I hopefully will help ease any worries you may have, having shuffled round in 2012.

My posts will be as follows:
Week 1: Mileage - how much, how far, how fast?
Week 2: Strength work
Week 3: Hill training
Week 4: Heat and sand - how to prepare
Week 5: Key equipment
Week 6: Getting used to your MDS kit
Week 7: Core work
Week 8: Speed work
Week 9: Hydration
Week 10: Nutrition
Week 11: Footcare
Week 12: Mental preparation
Week 13: What to expect the week before
Week 14: Camp life
Week 15: Recovery and good luck!

I'd love to hear your experiences so far of training and what you hope to get out of the race.

Remember, you have probably done far more than what you think you have already. If you are sensible and believe in yourself you will finish the race.

The 16 week countdown begins. Good luck!

Some winter running inspiration

The nights are drawing in. It's cold out there. You haven't invested in that new pair of thermal leggings yet. Sometimes a little mantra can help get you out there and keep you going. Chrissie Wellington has the words of "If" by Rudyard Kipling on her water bottle. So here's some lighthearted inspiration for you to motivate your legs to get out the door.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Running apps: useful or useless?

Running apps are a common occurrence now. But are they really that useful or should we save our pennies and stick with the good old tried and tested methods of training?

The top five that people use are:

One of the most popular apps, Runkeeper tracks each run so you can keep tally of how far and fast you run over a period of time, as well as tracking your route run and elevation gained. It allows you to set goals and to log personal records to help keep motivation levels high. Runkeeper also has set training plans or workouts that you can follow. Not content with all that, Runkeeper now has an auto-pause function that magically stops the stopclock when you come up to a traffic light for example. Plus it now supports targeted heart rate training and will alert users when the heart rate is heading above or below the targeted rate. It has detailed health graphs which help users to track their overall health and fitness. Finally it gives you the added functionality of audio cues to tell you how well you have done over set periods.

Verdict? A good all rounder
Price? Free

Map My Run
Map My Run does what it says on the tin. It allows runners to map out their run. I personally use map my run before I set off to work out what route I need to take to run a set distance of miles. Map My Run also has a very useful sharing function where you can search other routes run in your area if you are just not feeling inspired. This is also great if you want a trial pre race run on a popular course route. Map My Run can be a bit fiddly to get used to, particularly if running offroad as you need to switch to "manual" to plot your route. Plus some of Map My Run's tools often do not work quite as you would like them too. It's also filled with annoying adverts that get in the way on the desktop version.

Verdict? Better pre run on the desktop computer
Price? Free

Nike+ Runner
Nike+ Running is a little like Runkeeper. It tracks all your running routes, along with your pace. One of the benefits of Nike+ is that you can double check and amend the accuracy if the GPS signal is a little off kilter. Nike+ will then re-evaluate your stats for you. You can also use Nike+ on the treadmill so those gym sessions can also be number crunched. The other edge Nike+ has over Runkeeper is the ability to be able to alter your music choice easily while on the run.

Verdict? Great for music loving gym bunnies
Price? Free

Endomondo is possibly a more social running app by a margin. It allows you to see what your friend's pbs are over different distances so you can try to beat them. It also allows you to compete against someone on the same route you run. It's a nice clean app (though a few too many ads) and easy to use but it has no easy link to controlling your music, so you'll just have to concentrate on beating your friend.

Verdict? Good for social sparring with friends
Price? Free / Pro costs £3.99

Zombies! Run
Bored of the same, same but different running app? Zombies,Run! aims to scare you into running faster. Possibly not the best app for hardcore stats fanatics or those who are serious about chasing pbs, but a good fun app for those more interested in turning a boring jog into a fun workout. That said Zombies!, Run also does provide structured training plans for those who want to be scared into training for a race.

Verdict? A little gimmicky
Price? £5.49

Overall verdict?
I think running apps are great for a couple of things - tracking and keeping track of your training sessions. So by doing this they can help motivate and provide feedback while on runs and also after runs, by storing all your training and logging all the incremental improvements (hopefully!) over time.

That said, I don't think they can or should take over good old intuition and/or old fashioned coaching. There is nothing better than listening to your own body while training. I try not to run so much with a Garmin for example as I think it teaches you to be able to pace yourself accurately (so vital in races) by knowing your own body and what pace you are running at. I also think running with a club or friends who can help develop your training and provide feedback is far more valuable than a robot voice in your ear.

But, as a tool used in conjunction with other training methods, I can see the real value in running apps so I'll be adding one to my iphone. I just have to decide which one.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Christmas gift ideas for runners

Ah nothing like a bit of retail therapy. Even more so when it involves brightly coloured lycra. Here's my top Christmas gift ideas for runners:

For ultra runners

Injinji compression socks
These socks tick two boxes - blister prevention and muscle compression - both key areas for successful (and less painful) ultra running.

For fashionistas

Stella McCartney for Adidas shorts
Both stylish and effective, these shorts are both lightweight and windproof and will definitely attract some attention.

For the safety conscious

Ronhill high vis winter tights
These tights offer enough visibility to be safe during the winter months but also are not over the top, so can be used in the warmer seasons too.

For gadget lovers

Garmin forerunner
Garmin's lightest GPS watch is also stylish too. Also comes in black and red.

For gym fiends

Resistance bands
Much more versitile than heavy weights, and also easier to store away, these resistance bands will complement any runner's cardio training programme with strength training too.

For winter runners

North Face etip gloves
These gloves are a genius invention as they allow you to use your touchphone without having to take off your gloves first. Great for winter training runs with music.

Don't like anything here? Then try the best online shops (IMO) for runners to find your own personal favourites.

Good for triathalon - Wiggle
Good for extreme running - Likeys
Good for bargains - Sweatshop
Good for female runners - Sweaty Betty

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

You thought your run was tough?

Check these ladies out.

Wendy Ingraham and Sian Welch give the crowds a nail-bitingly painful finish at the 1997 Ironman World Championships.

While Julie Moss puts new meaning into NOT.GIVING.UP.

Finally Paula Newby Frazier comes across the biggest wall of her life.

That 10km after work run doesn't seem so bad now does it?!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Running = happy

Hurdling Sri Lankan style

I've been rather busy over the last few months GETTING MARRIED (yey me).

But I'm ashamed to say that after storming through Ealing's cracking half marathon in September I had not run once since as I sidelined it in favour of the small matter of organising and attending my own wedding. Tsk.

That's two months of no running.

Admittedly we did go for a sort-of run on a Sri Lankan beach and had a chat with a Sri Lankan hurdler (as you do on honeymoon) but otherwise nothing.

Yesterday I began again. I huffed and puffed my way to work - 4.5 miles. Usually I get #rangry (my twitter hashtag for runner's road rage*) when I get stuck at a crossing or behind some slow moving pedestrians but yesterday I was secretly relieved I could stop.

I got overtaken as well. Bah.

Anyway, sod the plod. I loved it. Running is excellent fun. Perhaps taking a short break from running is a good thing for your mental state, as it revitalises the desire in you to run.

I've now just signed up for the Serpentine 10km on New Year's Day. I'm not going for a pb, I'm going for enjoyment.

I'm also going to sign up for a few trail runs over the winter to keep up the enjoyment aspect. Again I'm not in it to win it, I'm in it to get muddy, burn some calories, and have a nice cuppa tea and some banter at the end with fellow offroadsters.

*see also #rungry - the ravanous hunger you get at some point post long run

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

First class at Ealing's first half; race review of Ealing half marathon

Sunday 30th September was Ealing’s big day. Over 4500 racers filed into pretty Lammas Park to take part in their first half marathon. I was one of them.

I chose to run Ealing half marathon as it was billed as a fast flat course. I wanted a race where I would have a chance of getting a pb so this criteria was essential for me. It was also located in my neck of the woods (London) and was held at around the right time of year I wanted to run.

Even before the race I had good feelings about the organisation of the race. @Ealinghalf were active, friendly and responsive on twitter, and I received plenty of email updates and information through the post about the race.

At the HQ the pre-race portaloo queue time was around 10 minutes (fair), and bag check in a mere 30 seconds (excellent). Unfortunately pre-start waiting time was a little longer. We were all herded into the start pens according to our estimated finish time. We waited. And waited. And waited. Word soon spread that an incident had occurred on the course (a car had driven into a lamppost!), hence the delay in starting.

After a 20 minute delay the horn finally sounded. We were off! As normal at the start of races, there was some crowding in the first 1-2km, which then eased off as people separated out. However I was able to run at my pace from the start, which often does not happen in larger events and can be very frustrating if you are aiming for a pb.

The course was very urban and very twisty. One runner described the route map as “something someone had made up after a few pints in the pub – all over the place!”

Expecting a flat course I was surprised to find quite a few hills along the way. Fell and trail runners probably wouldn’t have noticed the inclines, but for someone who may have skipped one too many hill training sessions they hurt. However, where there are ups, there are always downs and the change in incline also made for a fairly interesting course too as you had more to think about.

The day was blessed with near-perfect weather. Cool but with sunshine and blue skies. Ealing is renowned for being a leafy part of London, so even though the course was all roads, it was a very pleasant route to run.

The support from the crowds and crew were also brilliant. I guess partly because of the weather, and partly because the event was new to the area, there were a surprising amount of people who had come out to watch.

The route was clearly marked out and manned. Water was given out along the way at appropriate points. One thing I loved was that we were given small bottles of water rather than cups, which were so much easier to drink from. Bar the lamppost incident at the start, the organisation was first class.

The race finished back in Lammas Park. With claps, cheers, a welcome drink and not-so-welcome slap on the back I finished. Everyone received a goody bag and a medal. Disappointingly there was no t-shirt inside. However we were given a can of beer which was unusual but fine by me!

I got the pb I wanted from Ealing half marathon but it was not as fast as I hoped for. If I had known the course was as twisty and undulating as it was I may not have originally signed up. However, I would have then missed out on a cracking first half marathon. Well done Ealing! I’m looking forward to next year. I may just do a bit more hill training first.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

British Heart Foundation Clapham Common 10km race review

I signed up to this race in preparation for the Ealing half marathon at the end of the month.

It's billed as a "jog" to encourage non runners to join in, which I think is a great idea. When I first started running I was initially too scared of entering any races as I thought it would be full of scary running folk. I could have done with something like this back then!

It's a low key event. There's a safety briefing and warm up prior to starting, a couple of portaloos and lots of friendly volunteers manning the registration desks and dishing out bottles of water.

The route follows a 5km lap that weaves in and out around Clapham Common, which is run twice. There were a handful of volunteers pointing out the way and a few signs but unfortunately not enough as the lead group took a wrong turn a couple of times. However as this is pushed more as a fun run than a race, I can't complain too much.

The other disappointment was I was told the course was short. In other words it hadn't been measured accurately. I'd love someone who measured it to reveal its true length as I got a pb, or I think I did!

All in all a nice flat course and great as a training run. Just don't expect it to be too accurate.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Olympics heroes and hopefuls; ones to watch out for in Rio 2016

As with 99.9% of the population I have been glued to the screen for the past two weeks watching with delight at the continued unfolding of Team GB success at the London Olympics.

The big athletic stars are now ingrained in our memories forever; Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, David Rudisha, Usain Bolt, the US female dream team, Christine Ohuruogu, Sally Pearson.

But what about the blossoming stars? Who will shine through come Rio 2016? My top five athletes to watch out for in the forthcoming years includes;

1) Adam Gemili
Gemili, 19, won gold at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona with a 10.05 100m. Only Dwain Chambers has ever run faster as a junior. He qualified for the semi finals at the Olympics but unfortunately didn't get through to the finals. Nor did the men's 4x100m relay team place this year, as Gemili misjudged his timing in the handover.

Gemili is also a talented football player but this year has officially dedicated his time to perfecting his sprint. Let's hope it stays that way over the next four years.

2) Katarina Johnson-Thompson
We've had Denise Lewis, and now Jess Ennis. Could Rio 2016 be the year that Katarina Johnson-Thompson achieves her own gold? She performed exceptionally well at London 2012, setting a new British junior record (and breaking Ennis's past record) by finishing 15th and breaking two of her previous pbs and equalling another.

She's had knee injuries in the past, but had intensive rehabilitation to set this right. It didn't seem to impair her this year.

3) Jonny Brownlee
I don't do triathlons because I know how painful they are. You only have to look at Jonny Brownlee after he finished third in London 2012, running off mid interview to vomit on the sidelines, to understand this. I find it mind boggling that Brownlee, 22, after swimming 1500m and cycling 43km, ran 10km in 29 minutes and 37 seconds. That's quick.

Bearing in mind Brownlee got a 15 point penalty at London 2012 for setting off too early on his bike and still got a bronze, he'll be hot on the heels of gold-winning older brother Alastair at Rio 2016.

4) Jodie Williams
Williams, 18, is the 2009 IAAF World Youth Championships Gold medalist in the 100m and 200m. Williams unfortunately did not make an appearance at London 2012, after pulling a hamstring at the 100m Aviva trials. Up until that point, she was running consistently strong races.

One of the US's greatest female runners of all time Allyson Felix described her as someone with great potential.

5) Joe Thomas
Another runner plagued by injury this year, Joe Thomas is an 800m runner with a pb of 1:46:20. He was set to run in the London 2012 Olympics, but developed a stress fracture following a heel and shin injury. Like Gemili, he also battles with conflicting interests. In Thomas' case it's music. He has even gone as far to say he doesn't really like sport.

Without injury, Thomas is one of our best 800m hopeful, and could follow in the footsteps of Coe, Cram and Ovett. The question is whether he really wants to.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Got the stamina? How to improve your running speed

Hill reps, Ally Pally

I recently completed the marathon des sables. This means I'm now pretty good at racking up the miles. However this also means I'm now pretty slow.

I've lost all the speed I used to have (even though this wasn't much it was still more than what I have presently)

So my current challenge is how to build that speed back up but keep the endurance in time for Ealing half marathon at the end of September?

I'm following a Runner's World half marathon schedule. It's really good but I'm adapting it slightly to take my strengths and weaknesses into account.

1) Fartlek within a steady run
Fartlek running basically means warming up before running at speed for a time, then jogging to recover before repeating. It's an unstructured speed session. This can mean your session is either really hard, or really easy, depending on how much you push yourself.

For runners training for shorter 5-10k distances, it make sense to run shorter bursts. Runners like me training for half marathon plus have to try and stick it out for longer bursts of speed.

2) Horrible old short speed session
My speed session intervals vary from 400m up to 1500m sessions. I tend to run these on flat surfaces; track if possible, or the treadmill.

I hate these sessions with a passion as they hurt! But I try to remember two things when I am doing them. 1) Keep your form. Maintain strong arms and legs and keep thinking about your technique. 2) Keep your pace. There is no point going all guns blazing on rep 1 to shuffle on in come rep 10. Know your rough limits and stick to it. Try to keep the same speed for all reps.

3) Threshold running
Threshold running means running "comfortably hard". Also known as a tempo run, threshold running increases your ability to fun fast, but over a sustained distance. Threshold running trains the body to use oxygen efficiently by increasing the lactate threshold. This means your muscles are able to deal with lactate acid better than before, so you tire less quickly.

Tempo runs need to be done over a fair distance. So for a half marathon, runners need to build up tempo runs up to around six to eight miles.

How to know if the pace is right? You need to be able to sustain the distance without stopping i.e. it's not race pace, but it needs to be feeling like it's challenging (and you'd like to be able to stop if you could!)

For me these runs are crucial, as I now need to build up speed but over endurance.

4) Hills
Ah hill repeats! How I love thee. Like speed intervals sessions but uphill. I'm incorporating these into my training about a third of the way in, and doing them once a week, nothing more as they are very intensive.

As with the interval sessions, the key is to keep good form and maintain the pace. Hill repeats build great strength in your legs, meaning you will be able to further without tiring.

5) Strength work
Combined with hill training, targeted strength work firms up those thighs no end. I'm focusing on my quads, gluts and hip flexors and doing two sessions a week.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Adidas 24 hour Thunder Run: Race review

"Challenging" "Different" "Exhilarating" "Horrendous"

Some of the words used to describe the 2012 Adidas Thunder Run. Billed as "a 24 hour off-road relay race against the clock", the Thunder Run attracts some 2000 runners to participate in a race like nothing else they've entered before. Myself included.

I took up the challenge with four other female runners. None of us knew what to expect. You can run as fast or as slow as you like, but one member of the team must be running (or walking) on the 10km trail track at all times over a period of 24 hours. The winner is the team with the most laps completed after the 24 hour deadline. Game on!

Thunder Run is held in Catton Park in South Derbyshire. It's a lovely spot - undulating, varied terrain including woodland, grass and track. Runners arrive on Friday and can set up camp ready for the 12pm start on Saturday. This year the festival-like atmosphere was even greater with the organisers setting up a big screen so we could all watch the Olympics during our rest periods.

As a strategy of sorts, my Sportsister teammates and I decided to run each lap in roughly one hour, knowing that the night and early morning laps may not be our finest hour in 10km running, and so would be a little slower!

We then chose who would run when, but agreed that if anyone had any problems we would swap, or just adapt as we needed to. Our aim of the race was to finish it, to enjoy it, and to work as a team to look after each other.

I was the fourth starter in my team, so I set off around 3pm for my first lap after three of my fellow teammates had completed theirs. Feeling much more nervous than I thought I would I waited in the pen, eyes peeled for my teammate to come round the corner, baton in hand, to hand over to me.

The 10km course kept me amused. It's a challenging course, with enough twists and turns to make even Tigger dizzy. It's also great fun. It felt a bit like I was on the Krypton Factor, leaping over boggy sections, weaving in and out of marked sections of woodland, legging it up and down grassy hills.

A quarter of the way through, runners pop back out to race through the campsite and be cheered on by fellow competitors. Again at around 8km, runners pace through sections of the camp to be further encouraged to the finish line.

The last kilometre is brutal. The organisers know what they are doing. Give runners a glimpse of the finish....then send them up another hill before the end is really in sight.

Baton safely handed over to teammate five, I go back to camp to drink, eat, stretch and rest. It feels rather strange. I've just raced 10km, yet I can't relax as I have to do it again in another three hours, and then again, and again and again.

Round two came round too soon and I was off again. This time I knew what to expect, I felt a little more settled and really enjoyed the loop.

Round three at 1am was a slightly different race for all as it was pitch black. Headtorch and luminous jacket donned, off I set again. It was also the start of the unknown territory. Yes I've run Marathon des Sables but at least you run it all in one go then can rest. I've never run 5x 10km laps interspersed with non existent sleep. I've never run later than 10:30pm nor earlier than 7am. And I love my sleep.

However, I really enjoyed the night run. Maybe I have some weird fetish fantasy of running alone in the woods at night with only the sound of heavy breathing coming up behind me. Either that or the safety of the dark meant you couldn't see further than a couple of metres ahead which also meant you couldn't see the hills coming up. Either way, it felt like a magical mystery tour. Would I land in a bog or a pothole? Would I be attacked by the boogaman? Would I fall asleep while running? Endless possibilities.

Safely back again, I tried to get some more shut eye before the next round at 6am. The milkman round was less enjoyable. Even if I hadn't fallen asleep, lactic acid definitely had in my legs so I ran lap four feeling like Mike Tyson was clinging from my thighs.

11:30am. The final victory round. Feeling a little worse for wear, but determined not to let team Sportsister down I tried my best, though I will feel eternally grateful for the two lovely chaps who helped me round the first few kilometres with a bit of random banter. I managed to sneak in under the hour and our team came a very respectable sixth in our category.

Would I do it again? Most definitely. It's a brilliant, weird, exhilarating way to spend a weekend. It's also a great way to meet those even stranger runners who do the course solo. Much respect due to them.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Best running routes in London

An alternative view of King's Cross

I posted recently about my lack of enthusiasm for running in the city of London. However this hasn't always been the case.

There are some amazing places to go running in and around London. I got to know London by running in it, and I still believe it's the best way to really understand the size and diversity of our capital.

Here are my top five favourite routes that I've run in the five years I've been living in London.

1) Best for the views (and the hills) (and getting lost) - Hampstead Heath
This route is challenging but rewarding. Enter the Heath either from Gospel Oak or Hampstead Heath. Then follow the various paths up and down and round the varying terrain. Woodland, heath, track, grass, Hampstead Heath has it all.

My favourite part of Hampstead Heath is the little-known section across the main Spaniards Road at the top end of the Heath. Full of woodland tracks with little or no other people plus a welcoming cafe in Golders Hill Park.

Finish the run with a blast up Parliament Hill to be rewarded with that view at the top. Always smile inducing whatever the weather.

2) Best for not getting lost - Thames Path from Richmond back into the city
Join the Thames Path at Richmond and head back in towards London. Along the way you will see geese, ducks, dogs, horses, walkers, runners, rowers and even some highland cattle.

On one side is the Thames, the other is trees and greenery. Glorious. It's such a pretty route, nice and flat, and not tarmac, so a little bit easier on the joints.

Either stop at Barnes or Putney to catch a train back home, or carry on into the urban jungle through Battersea Park and along the South Bank.

3) Best for spotting celebs - Richmond Park - Wimbledon Common
I've now seen Andrew Marr, Nell McAndrew, Ben Shepherd and a variety of elite Kenyan athletes all running round Richmond Park.

Other than gawping at the other species I like to run one lap around the park then head out of the Robin Hood Gate, across the road and into Wimbledon Common.

Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common both have a few hills which, other than Hampstead Heath, can be difficult to find in London. They are also just beautiful locations to run in.

I usually run around Richmond Park, but cutting across the middle via Pen Pond has got to be one of the best feelings. Downhill all the way with Richmond Park opening up in front of you. Great any time of year.

Finish your run either with a cup of tea and a bacon buttie at the super friendly Windmill Cafe in Wimbledon Common or do a quick change and head into the posher Fox and Grapes gastro pub for Sunday lunch.

4) Best for spotting non celebs - Hyde Park - Green Park - St James Park
Start at Westminster, head up through St James Park, cross over into Green Park, up to Hyde Park Corner into Hyde Park. Do one loop of Hyde Park and head back. For a shorter run, stick to the each of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park.

To add on extra miles, either start further up the Thames Path before crossing into St James Park, or head further North and join the canal at Paddington.

Always good for a spot of people watching, whatever time of day.

5) Best for flat peaceful running - Regent's Canal
My two favourite spots of the Regent's Canal are either joining at King's Cross and following the path West towards Little Venice, or joining at Victoria Park and heading East to the Limehouse Basin.

King's Cross-Little Venice gives you Camley Street Nature Reserve, St Pancras, the millionaire houses of Camden, Regent's Park and some giraffes at London Zoo.

Victoria Park-Limehouse gives you the greenery of the Hyde Park of the East, a more urban grit feel, the boats and cafes at the Limehouse Basin and views of Canary Wharf. Carry on down into the cobbled streets of Wapping and head back into the city via the Thames Path if you want to go longer.

So that's my top five favourite routes to run in London. I'd love to hear about other favourite routes to run from fellow runners.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Lost! Two toenails. Last seen on foot.

The other morning I lost a big toenail. On the plus this means my feet now match again as my other big toenail disappeared about a fortnight ago as well. Pleasant.

Surprisingly the problems started prior to running marathon des sables, so don't let that put you off signing up to MDS dear readers.

I did a little research into the subject and here are the five top things I learnt about runners and toenails...

First, the science bit...
The impact between your toe and the source of pressure causes small blood vessels to burst as a result of fluid accumulating from damaged tissue. The fluid and blood give the look of the black toenail. If damage is severe enough the fluid will separate the nail from its bed and the toenail will drop off.

But why does this happen?
1) Your shoes or socks probably don't fit...
They could be too small, so your toes will be squashed together and will make it more likely that damage will occur, or they could be too big, meaning your foot is not secure in your trainer so the tops of your toes will bang against the tops of your shoes.

It's not just your trainers which may be causing damage, it's your socks. If they are not roomy enough for your feet to breathe, they will also act as a barrier for your toenails to continue to bash themselves up against.

2) ...but then again they might do
Jeff Galloway says just the repeated action of running can give rise to black toenails, as the pressure of the swing action forces more than normal blood into the toenail region. If you increase your training too quickly or generally run long distances there will be a greater chance that you will succeed in achieving black toenail status.

3) The weather has a say in your toenail status
If it's hot your feet swell, meaning less room in your trainer. If it's wet, your feet are not as secure in your trainer. Meaning, that's right, the possibility of a black toenail.

What do I do if I get a black toenail?
4) Nothing

It's under the toenail. You can't touch it. The pain will gradually decrease. If the pressure is too intense you may have to release it. Eek. Just remember to use a sterilised needle and bite down on a stick before you stick the needle in.

5) Top tips for prevention of black toenails
Trim your toenails straight across.
Make sure your trainers have only half an inch gap between the top of your toe and the end of the trainer.
Lace your trainers up securely.
Wrap your toes up in cotton wool (seriously!) or use padded toe protectors.

And finally...
Be proud

Getting a black toenail means you are a proper runner. You are in the club. You can also treat yourself to some new nail polish - Chanel Rouge Noir is a shade of choice (sorry guys) to hide the evidence.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Country versus city running; which do you prefer?

Parkland Walk, Capital Ring

Originally I fell in love with London through running. It's one of the best ways to get to know the city.

There is not much that can beat the feeling of running along the Thames Path with Big Ben in the foreground, or puffing and panting up Parliament Hill to be rewarded with the view of our stunning London skyline.

However when you have lived, breathed and pounded the streets of London for five years it can become a little monotonous.

There is the option of choosing the same old routes to run or facing down an hour commute if you want to find new routes to run (why does everywhere take an hour in London to get to by the way?).

Coupled with that are the added city perils of breathing in London traffic pollution and the ultimate runner's rage - SLOW.MOVING.WALKERS.WHO.TAKE.UP.THE.WHOLE.PAVEMENT. The worst culprits are those that are heading towards you. They can see you coming and still they don't part to let you through. I just don't get it.

Finally there is the sad disappearance of the Runner's Nod in London. Try as I might to get some warmth and a smile from fellow runnners in London I estimate a 15% return on investment in my attempts.

I grew up in the countryside. Not even in a village, but a hamlet, with fields and country lanes for company. In the depths of rural Kent running would be interrupted by a quick chat or hello to fellow runners or dog walkers.

Plus the world was your oyster for places to run and terrain to cross, and if you weren't feeling inspired, a quick 15 minute drive to a new destination would bring a whole new world of running. And the only perils of running in the country appeared to be dodging cow pats and puddles rather than people.

Today I ran one of my usual routes in North London but tried to see it through fresh eyes. Parkland Walk, Queens Woods, Highgate Woods, Alexandra Palace. It's pretty amazing to think all this greenery is only four miles out from the concrete jungle of central London.

Queens Wood is one of my favourite places in London. It feels more unkept and wild than Highgate Woods. It's an ancient forest that used to stretch all the way out to Hertfordshire and Essex but now sadly is only 50 acres. More often than not I hear, and see, woodpeckers. That, along with the rich earthy woodland smell, and dense, fresh air brightens up my run no end.

One of the reasons I like running is that I feel it puts me back in contact with the big Mother N. But in London that's pretty difficult.

On my new journey to the delights of the Ealing half marathon, I'm going to continue to find those places in London that can still be rewarding and away from the concrete and crowds, even if it might take me an hour to get there and some people avoiding to do so.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Spicy sausage spaghetti

I was supposed to run today but I couldn't be bothered.

I think I'm still feeling a little lost post marathon des sables. (This does not bode well for the beginnings of half marathon training.)

So to combat any more blue feelings I thought I'd at least eat some healthy runner's food, even if I didn't make it out the door (again).

This is one of my favourite can't-be-bothered meals, when I still want something filling and good for me.

It's high energy (probably better if I had actually gone for a run), the tomatoes have cancer fighting anti-oxidants in them (from lycopene apparently), vitamin K (basil) and vitamins A, B, C and E (chillies). Plus veggie sausages are lower in fat and higher in protein that normal sausages. Win!

Ta da!

400g dried spaghetti - the long stuff is best (more to wind around your fork)
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Handful of sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 Linda McCartney sausages
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped - I keep the seeds in for extra kick
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Bunch of fresh basil, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
Parmesan (if flash with cash) or cheddar (if not)

Heat the oven to gas 6/200 degrees. Cook the sausages for 18 minutes.

Then bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook 9-11 minutes.

Meanwhile heat some olive oil in pan. Add chopped garlic and chilli. After a couple of minutes when the garlic has started to brown (but not burn), add the chopped tomatoes, basil and sun dried tomatoes with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Heat on high for a couple of minutes with a splash of balsamic vinegar, then bring back to a simmer until the rest of the food is ready.

Once the sausages are done, chop them up and add to the sauce.

Mix the spaghetti through the sauce.

Sprinkle with extra basil and cheese.

Serve with a big green salad and an even bigger glass of red wine.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

What next? One smaller step..but still a giant leap

It's been over two months since I conquered (albeit slowly) the epic Marathon des Sables. So what have I been doing since then? And what now?

The first few weeks post MDS were spent recovering. Mainly for my poor ankle and shin which had ballooned to the size of a sumo wrestler's leg. But also because I'm a bit lazy and do have periods when I can't be bothered to run, or do anything in fact, other than sit on the sofa and drink tea and watch reruns of TOWIE.

Watching Arg and co run the London marathon I pondered whether I should go for a marathon again? Could I get a PB? Or perhaps I should go for a longer ultra? 100 miles perhaps?

No. I decided to run a half marathon.

As much as I love running I want to enjoy my life a little for now, and not be constantly training all the time. I will do a marathon again, or longer, but a half gives me the chance to get my speed back up, and to enjoy running fairly long distances but without the constant demands and toil that marathon and ultra training can have.

It also means I can spend more time watching TOWIE reruns.

I've signed up to Ealing half and it's all about the speed now! The aim of the game is to beat my PB. I may not do it but I'm going to give it my all. Pretty excited about it, and having a new goal to work towards.

I've never actually trained for a half marathon. I've always run them off the back of longer distances, so it will be an interesting journey to see how I get on with incorporating speedwork into sessions (I hate running fast).

Over the next few weeks there will some changes to Just a Jog blog. I hope the MDS section will still be useful (and funny) for future competitors but Just a Jog will have a new focus that will look at good old "normal" running - warts and all from a "normal" runner (that would be me) trying to get that little bit faster without being sick.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

MDS training advice

NEW! What worked and what didn't: the training rules for Marathon des Sables

Updated and revised training plan for the marathon des sables!
I now have less than 12 weeks to go and am learning a lot about the what training works for multiday ultra races such as the marathon des sables.

1) Don't forget the shorter, faster runs
Running long wears your body out (well it does mine). Training needs to be about QUALITY not QUANTITY, so I'm now focusing a little more on shorter, quality sessions.

Speed training also ensures you feel fresh and keep your motivation. It may also help ensure you beat the camel!

My shorter runs range from 3-10 miles, and are done without a backpack to make sure my technique is as good as possible and I can run as fast as possible! I've been mostly doing this on a treadmill, but will try to build in a lunchtime run outdoors without a rucksack to get some variation.

2) Hills, hills, hills
Urgh! Hate 'em but MDS has A LOT of dunes to conquer so they are a necessary evil. Plus you get killer pins from them, and they wear you out like nothing else and make you feel damn good for the rest of the day.

Again, varied between the gym and the great outdoors, and also between length of hill and speed run at.

London has some excellent hill training choices:-
Primrose Hill - probably the worst of the lot, fairly long and steep, but you are rewarded with great views.
Parliament Hill - similar to Primrose Hill for view rewards, but can be done over a longer, slightly less steep incline.
Ally Pally/Muswell Hill - short, sharp and painful sessions can be done here.
Queens Woods - one of my favourite places for hills. Very, very pretty and off road terrain too.
Richmond Park - there a couple of longer, punishing hills here and a rather nasty short incline.

Plenty more places I am sure.

I'm also venturing outside of London to, again keep the motivation up, to Boxhill - home of the cyclist really, but notorious for it's long, long inclines.

3) Sand, sand, sand
There's a definite technique to running in sand. I've tried it once and managed a mile, so slightly concerned about 150 miles, but hey.

The biggest sand dune "The Big Dipper" in Europe can be found near Bridgend, South Wales apparently, so I'm off there for a long weekend of running up and down, up and down, up and down etc etc etc.

For a change I'll be trekking over to my parent's home on the Suffolk coast for more sand running. And if you can avoid the dog crap, Hyde Park's rotten row is also a poor man's sand choice.

I'll also be doing The Running Man in my neighbour's sandpit (kidding).

4) Targeted strength training

5) Core work

6) Flexibility and stretching

Otherwise I've amended the below - some is still very relevant - other parts I've not achieved, or I now realise it's not that good a plan!

Original training plan for the marathon des sables - September 2010
Surprisingly there isn't much out there on how to train for an ultra. There's plenty of advice on running marathons and also 50-100 miles races, but not back to back multiday events like the marathon des sables.

So here are some initial beer and wine inspired thoughts on what should come in a multi-day ultra training plan ...

Thinking came around what new challenges there will be, some milestones for how to prepare for them, and how that preparation fits in over the next 6 months:

1) Running with a heavy bag: Do lots of running to and from work with a progressively heavier bag throughout the next 6 months.
Updated - I now think this should be fairly targeted. Do some runs with a heavy bag but not all. Good technique is more important.

2) 50 mile run: Get one of these in in after Christmas - take it very steady with lots of stops.
Updated - yes. I've got one 45 miler under my belt now. Still working out whether to do one more at the beginning of February. Watch this space..

3) Back-to-back long runs: Structure some cumulative long mile weekends - e.g. Build up to doing this one week in mid Feb: Thursday 10 miles (to work/back), Friday 15 miles (to work/back plus extension), Sat 30 miles, Sun 20, Mon 10 (to work and back). In addition, doing back to back weekend runs of (say) 20 miles Sat, 10 miles sun.
Updated - yes. I'm now focusing on 10-20 mile back to backs to make sure I have the day after day endurance built up.

4) High weekly mileage: I reckon the most I've ever done is 50 in a week, and 150 in training ain't gonna happen, but will target getting up to 75 miles per week average over a month.
Updated - I'm only up to around 40 a week at present, though this will increase over the next two months. I still feel it's important to get many miles under your belt, but it should be more varied, with greater hill and speed sessions as well.

5) Heat: Instinct tells me that you can only really heat acclimatise a fairly short time before. Lots of saunas! (And maybe press-ups etc. In the sauna), Bikram yoga, running in lots of very hot clothes (looking like michelin man).
Updated - yes. I'm booking into Bikram yoga 10 days before we go, and will be mostly found sat in a sauna.

6) Sand/blisters: Am open to suggestion, but best I've read on this is to toughen up feet by running without socks for a month, and then start putting a bit of sand in your shoes for runs! Shoe and sock choice will be key. As well as generally getting plenty of miles in.
Updated - Fixing your Feet website is excellent. I'm trialing surgical spirit now. I haven't braved running without socks or with sand, and I'm not sure I will either. I'm hoping to rely on good trainers, gaitors, socks and foot hygiene and taping knowledge.

7) Long days outdoors: It sounds daft, but it's actually quite tiring just been out on your feet and exposed to the elements for long periods. Supplement long training runs with days/weekends out walking in hills etc as time permits.
Updated - yes, definitely. Helps save the joints too, and is fun.

8) Food/nutrition: Research and test what to eat. I'm looking into protein powder recovery drinks as apparently a good idea. Expedition Foods seem good. Nuts and raisins must be good too. Chocolate and chips possibly not. Though would like.
Updated - yes. See my post on foods for marathon des sables.

9) Sand dunes and rough terrain: Do as much of the training on hills and off-road as possible. Hill reps.
Updated - yes, definitely.

10) Kit: research and test all the kit we'll need.
Updated - yup. This is another key area so I've dedicated a page to kit and equipment for the marathon des sables

Monday, 14 May 2012

My weekly mileage for MDS

Week 1 22.5
Week 2 23.5
Week 3 37.5
Week 4 19
Week 5 35.5
Week 6 29
Week 7 41.5
Week 8 54
Week 9 23
Week 10 39
Week 11 1 - eek
Week 12 0 - argh
Week 13 40 - phew
Week 14 49.5
Week 15 - 35
Week 16 - 63
Week 17 - 45.5 (plus hardcore dunes)
Week 18 - 35 (dodgy hip and snow)
Week 19 - 35 (hip still dodgy - falling apart, need zimmer)
Week 20 - 40 (hip less dodgy but still dodgy plus knee and calf hanging on by thread)
Week 21 - 86 WOOHOO
Week 22 - 15
Week 23 - 28
Week 24 - 26.2
Week 25 - 5

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Blisters, bruises and bloody toenails: the foot horrors of MDS

She decided she was so good at taping she would go as a mummy to next year's Halloween party

The post you have all been waiting for. The horrors awaiting your feet when you undertake the Marathon des Sables.

There is some good news and some bad news.

The bad? Those pictures you can google (type marathon des sables feet and see what happens) are for real. I saw plenty of mashed up feet during my week in the Sahara. Toenails hanging off, huge blisters under the big toe, the whole under carriage of someone's foot hanging off. You name it, it happens.

The good news? There is lots you can do to prevent the worst cases happening to you. Some people do not get blisters AT ALL.

So in no particular order, here are my top tips for keeping your feet healthy during the Marathon des Sables...

1) Pre-prepare your feet.
Unfortunately this varies from person to person as to effectiveness and what to do. Many people use surgical spirit to harden up feet. Others run with sand in their trainers. The good news is if you are running heavy miles, your feet are already well on the way to being ready. I think the only thing I would do differently is do some training without socks to really toughen the feet up.

The one annoying thing is I did daily bikram yoga two weeks prior. This is great for heat preparation but not so great for your feet. I developed two blisters prior to leaving!

2) Learn how to tape your feet.
There are two types of foot taping you need to know about, and they differ depending on whether you are back at camp or out running:-
a) Fixing hotspots.
As soon as you feel a hotspot, stop. Trust me, the few minutes you'll take to sort it out will save you hours if it goes on to develop into a bad blister. I used compeeds on hotspots when out running. If I was back at camp I would clean and air it, then pre-race the next day I would make sure it was dressed with tape.

b) Taping blisters.
If you've got an actual blister out running, don't compeed it! The compeed will melt into your skin - grim. You will need to clean it with an alcoholic wipe, pop it with a sterile needle, and tape it. If you can get to a checkpoint, I would get Doc Trotters to do this for you as they can do it in a sheltered spot, and with iodine as well, which helps to dry the blister out.

3) Use Doc Trotters wisely.
Some people love Doc Trotters. Some hate them. Some say they just slice blisters off, leaving them open to infection. My personal experience of them was very good. I preferred using them in camp as they could clean my feet, and fix and dress blisters in a sterile environment. They were also far better at taping than I was. The only problem with them is you have to wait for ages before you can see someone and they did become more slap dash towards the end of the week - but I don't blame them. Who knows how many stinky feet they had seen by that point!

4) Take a basic, but not elaborate kit.
My essential kit included:
Zeozorb talc
(Injinji toe socks)

Alcohol wipes
Sterile needles
Soft gauze
2x different sizes of tape - dream tape and hapla. I preferred hapla.

Have it easy to hand on your run. You can pick up pretty much everything else you may need from Doc Trotters.

5) Learn what works for you.
This is unfortunately a trial and error. I personally went for zeosorb (like talc but better), Injinji toe socks, then bodyglide over the socks. Halfway through the day I would change my socks and reapply the zeosorb and bodyglide.

Other people swore by Hydropel. You just need to try different things out beforehand.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Training for the Marathon des Sables: what worked and what didn't

If I were to advise one thing for those planning their training for Marathon des Sables, I would say get used to long days out hiking/running with a heavy bag.

Do this and you will be fine. If you can do this in a hot country, you may even be a contender for a good place.

Otherwise this is what my training looked like and how useful I found the strategy to be:-

Running with a heavy bag
I think it's important to get used to this, but don't do all your running with a bag. You'll lose your technique (and your love of running, trust me).

I had virtually no issues with sore back or shoulders. I had no chafing problems either. Some people had horrendous sores on their back.

See also what equipment I took. My bag weighed 9kg. Get down to this or less if you can, particularly of you want a place.

If you are serious about a top 200 place your bag must be in the 6.5 to 7kg range.

50 mile run
I managed one 45 mile race, the Country to Capital. I wanted to fit in two but in the end felt I wouldn't have enough time to recover (I only trained for 6 months prior to the race).

The race helped me but more in a mental way. It was hard! but I knew I could do it.

I would aim to get in two long races if possible. Maybe aim for one fast time, and one with hills and a pack.

Back-to-back long runs
Essential. You need to get used to running long miles day after day after day. I built up from running into work everyday (4.5 miles) to three back to back 25 milers.

I think these were important as they help you get used to the right pace. Go too fast and your muscles will be ruined to do a good job the next day.

Unless you can get out to a hot country and train, this will be a problem. I thought I'd be ok as I love the sun, but 50 degrees is 50 degrees.

I spent two weeks prior to leaving doing sweaty yoga, stretching in the sauna, having hot baths and exercising in my flat with the heating up full whack!

I still suffered from sausage finger syndrome and felt fairly nauseous out there.

If you've got the time (and money) invest in some heat chamber sessions as well as doing all of the above. I would also try and get out to the desert a week beforehand and acclimatise.

This didn't really trouble me too much. Many sections are hard and rocky which is something to bear in mind. Training down in Mertyr Mawr did prepare me for the dunes though and I would recommend this, even if it is just to test your trainers and gaiters don't let in any sand.

Long days outdoors
In hindsight I would have added in more weekends away out hiking outdoors in hilly locations. This is great preparation for the Marathon des Sables. It also gives you a chance to have a break from running, and gives the joints a bit of a rest.

I managed to get in a fair few hill training sessions - some short, fast, others long, slow. I tried to do 1x specific session a week, and at least 1x run that included hills. However on reflection, I don't think I did enough slower, long sessions with a bag.

Now I've completed the Marathon des Sables, I would say hill training is essential, essential, essential. There aren't hills everywhere, but there are a fair few - and they are big. There are also all the dunes, and the slow, steady inclines to factor in.

Some hills you will have to walk up. Others you can shuffle up. I found I did overtake people up hills as my legs felt strong.

Targeted strength training
Your legs have to be strong. Especially your hip abductors - your key stability muscles for walking, and also supporting your bag.

I made sure I included at least 2x week targeted strength work. I would recommend this for all runners though. I've never done this before - I just ran - and I noticed the difference. I would start this as early as possible as it takes a while to get the right technique, and build up the strength.

Strength work also helps you identify potential weak areas, which helps prevent injury too.

Core work/Flexibility and stretching
More of a generic one for all runners again, but I tried to fit in 3x week core work, with 1x week yoga or pilates session. I found my joints became very stiff with the increase in training, so the pilates and yoga really helped this. I was also religious about stretching after a run.

High weekly mileage
I ended up only racking up an average of 40 miles a week (see right for my tally) whereas I thought I'd do more. In hindsight I think this was okay. I've read blogs of people who do less than this and finish. Again I guess if you want a good place you should do more miles.

I struggled a bit with knowing when to taper. In the end I went for 3 weeks before (though I did run a marathon in my taper. Ha!).

I think a lot of people underestimate the effort your body goes through (unless you normally train in this way and this number of miles).

I felt really good at the start. My muscles and joints were relaxed. I had spent the last two weeks doing a lot of yoga and stretching which was also beneficial.

Short, fast runs without a backpack/speed sessions
These ranged between 3-10 miles. They are not necessarily specific training to the Marathon des Sables, and I wouldn't concentrate too much on them, but they do help add miles to your weekly total, and break up the monotony of the super long days out!

If you are going for a place then these will definitely be more important to you. I'completely lost my speed. 12 minute mile pace (as opposed to 8) is my comfort zone at the moment, but I can jog at this pace for a long time!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Stage 6: 15.5km (9.6 miles)

I'm swearing inside - where's the finish?!

A measly 9 1/2 miles. Piece of cake.

So the organisers gave us the big dunes today.


The last day was an actual race up to the first checkpoint. 6.5km of flat, stony ground. We all sped up to the start of the dunes. I felt like I was running a pb time, though it was probably still painfully slow.

Hit the dunes. And return to shuffle/walk.

And on. And on. And on.

It was deliciously awful and wonderful at the same time. You are so, so close but you aren't. You know there is only a few kilometres left from near 300km at the start, but you can't see the finish line.

I didn't think I'd be so relieved today, as it was only 91/2 miles, but I was. It felt so, so good to come in. People cheer you in. Some, having just finished around you giving you hugs. Others just staring vacantly in sheer exhaustion, can't believe what they've just done.


Stage 5: 42.2km (26.2 miles)

The beauty of the desert. Today was a good day

Slightly apprehensive now about this stage, given the state of my rapidly-ballooning painful leg. Nothing to do though except shuffle off. Luckily the odds are in my favour today as the course terrain is pretty forgiving and I end the day completely, completely exhausted but strangely satisfied by my new-found ability to keep calm and carry on.

The day's environment varied widely from stony ground, to sandy, to dunes, to valley beds. I strangely found it easier to shuffle very slowly rather than walk, so the better half and I played a game of catch up. I would shuffle off. Then he would run to catch up with me and go back to a fast march. I would then catch up, overtake and repeat.

I also treated myself to some tunes today which made a world of difference. Nothing like a bit of Michael Jackson!

Today was quite an emotional day, but this time for a good reason - I was fairly staggered by how beautiful the dunes were. How lucky was I to be doing this and having this experience. I knew I wouldn't remember the pain of my leg once it was over, but I would remember the good parts.

The environment. The banter with other people about feet. Laughing out loud with the better half over some funny joke. The relief of crossing the finish line each day and being welcomed in with a clap, a smile and a cup of steaming hot mint tea. Even the freeze-dried food.

In a way what I found most refreshing was the race empties your mind of anything other than a) when was the last time you drank b) when was the last time you had a salt tablet c) when was the last time you ate (with a little bit of foot anxiety in between). Worries about daily life, work, or relationships disappear. It is a bit like finally being able to meditate, but in a non-happy clappy way.

Regardless of enjoying today's race, my body is starting to moan. At the finish I collapse completely and utterly exhausted. I can't move. I can't eat. I can't talk. My body is beginning to give up on me. It doesn't want anything in it though I force down a few dates, some salt tablets and another litre of water as I'm quite dehydrated.

I fall into a dark dreamless sleep, apprehensive and eager for tomorrow to come and go.

The rest day: marathon des sables

rest day
Can of coke? On a carpet? In a sleeping bag? In the Sahara? Don't mind if I do

Oh the relief. A day off. Our plan of stopping at checkpoint 5 to sleep worked well as we got in just after 9am on the rest day, but having had a good nights sleep as well.

Unfortunately this meant our placing was now towards the bottom, but I didn't care. I was so close to giving up yesterday because of my painful leg but I hadn't.

The long day was behind me. Only a marathon and 10 miles to go. Easy!

And a day of rest. Oh it was divine.

There has not been a day where I not wanted to do anything more than sit in the desert in a sleeping bag on a carpet drinking coke. So I did. And it was great.

Never mind that about an hour before the above photo was taken it was hailing. Yes hailing. In the Sahara. With a vicious sandstorm to boot. Some poor soles (ho ho) were still shuffling it in from the day before (not so ho ho)

Friday, 20 April 2012

Stage 4: 81.5km (50 1/2 miles)

About half way down the HUGE dune

And it arrives! The day of doom.

Tried to think positively (see my PMA training has paid off!) by thinking of those poor people whose feet are much worse than mine.

I've been religiously getting my blisters cleaned and taped by Doc Trotters each evening and am starting to see the evidence of some severely wounded feet. Mincemeat comes to mind.

So with that positive thought tucked safely in I set off.

As usual we started to jog to the first checkpoint but hat the stop as got too hot. I see a theme occurring here...

Pre checkpoint 1 we had to climb a long, steep rocky ascent, followed by the most fun I've had out here - a technical descent down the biggest sand dune I've ever seen. The organisers had to add a rope to hold onto to descend, but many people just ran down. I'm sure some of them would have lost their footing and rolled down. Faster I guess at least.

Trotted through some flat rocky plains to reach checkpoint 2. I had noticed my left ankle had started twinging. I tried to ignore it. Mind over matter. But unfortunately it got progressively worse.

I stopped halfway through checkpoint 2 to try and tape it up. Then at checkpoint 3 I had to ask them to tape it some more and supply me with some strong painkillers.

So frustrating.

This is the thing I've found about Marathon des Sables. It's not really all about fitness. It is a bit about luck. You may get blisters. You may not. You may get dehydrated. You may not. You may develop shin splints when you've never had a problem with them before. Or you may not. It's a bit of a gamble.

You can either go for it and be a competitor, and risk not finishing. Or you can err on the side of caution and be a completer - hobbling through it all come what may. There were a lot of teeth gritted out there let's say!

One of the high points of being a completer rather than a competitor was on day 4 the elites set off three hours after the rest of the field, so at around 1-2pm you see them all overtaking you.

Pretty incredible to watch them. My favourite, other than the legend that is Ahansal, was our incredibly talented Jen Salter. Women do tend to do better the further they run, and Jen is outstanding. Felt very proud to be British and a woman as she raced past.

And then I went back to my comical hobble/shuffle.

As the sun started to go down, we all entered the twilight zone. And dunes. Bastards.

I started to fantasise about sleeping while hobbling again, and begun to see motorway bridges. Not quite sure why. I kept thinking I was running underneath the M25.

More painkillers at checkpoint 4. And on. If it wasn't for the better half I think there is a chance I may have given up here. I was in pain, tired and tearful. My leg had ballooned.

We trekked on as we entered the dark phase (in more ways than one). The headtorches came on. The glowsticks attached to our bags. We past people kipping in their sleeping bags.

Along the way we gained a friend. A Korean man tagged onto the back of our train. I think he was feeling a bit low as well and wanted some company. Was quite touched on reaching checkpoint 5 that he wanted a photo with us. The most I could muster through those kilometres was a few grunts and shouts of pain.

I think the better half secretly enjoyed this phase as at one point we had a train of around 15 people with him leading the way. I heard the word "marines" mentioned a few times.

We made the not-difficult decision to get our heads down at checkpoint 5. I was really upset by this as I wanted to get it finished, but my leg was having non of it. We ended up sleeping for 7 hours which became a bit of a joke among our friends. And probably for those at home who know how much my better half and I love our sleep!

5am we carried on. Some malt loaf, salt tablets, immodium and painkillers were order of the day! The morning was a different story. It was light. We felt refreshed. It was cool. So we managed the last two checkpoints in record time and got in before 10am, giving us a full rest day, and having had some kip.

Seeing and finally crossing that finish line was stupidly emotional. The race wasn't over, but I was in bits. I was so relieved I hadn't given up. I was so grateful to the better half and I was so bloody relieved to stop moving!

Stage 3: 35km (21 3/4 miles)

Pretty happy chappy here

The nerves at the start line have been replaced by mild excitement and mild dread in equal doses. The days are starting to fall into a bit of a routine now.

All you think about is the next checkpoint. Do anything else and you will die. Your head cannot stray further than the next checkpoint, the next step even. Thinking too far ahead will mess with your mind. I refused to think about the dreaded day 4.

Most days start at 8:30am which gives enough time to jog up to the first checkpoint, before it gets too hot. It then turns into a fast march/hobble the rest of the way, with the sparse flat, not too hot sections jogged.

This morning's description in the roadbook was a "false, flat ascent". In other words: uphill.

Started jogging. Turned into a powerwalk as started overheating. I thought I'd be quite good in the heat as I generally operate about two degrees cooler than other people. I also did some sweaty yoga in London. Seems laughable here. Though I have heard it does help! I'm not really sure what else UK bods can do to acclimatize other than get a fair few heat chamber sessions in or go live in Morocco.

I was also increasingly worried about the effects of the heat as one of our tentmates had unfortunately been pulled from the race. We found him on the eve of day 2, grey with pulsing calf muscles. He was delirious. Seven drips later he returned and tried stage 1 of today's race, but dehydrated again and had to have another drip. Game over.

So with that thought, I carried steadily, boringly slowly on.

Stage 3, in the end, was really rather enjoyable. Stunning views. Bit of banter with fellow shufflers. Shuffled through a herd of camels who looked on mildly in confusion. More panic over ever-increasing blisters. (Annoyingly the better half got one blister the whole race. ONE. That's it! And on his little toe. It's embarrassing. All that prep for blister taping and nada!).

The best part was the last few kilometres where we managed to actually RUN. The temperature must have cooled slightly and it was nice and flat, so we gunned it. It felt like we were Usain Bolt, though I expect in reality we were going at 12 min mile pace.

No matter, it was great fun and captured the essence of what I wanted from this. Freedom, satisfaction, joy and relief.

Stage 2: 38.5km (24 miles)

Endless, endless valley beds

More Patrick Bauer chat. More ACDC. And....shuffle!

Felt pretty good after stage 1. Kept an eye on the blisters. On reflection I was rather paranoid about them. Been looking at too many gruesome pictures of people's feet. They got worse today, but were still manageable. Thank goodness I wasn't getting any on any weight bearing areas.

Stage 2 was a cool 52 degrees. I couldn't really tell the difference between this and stage 1 to be honest. It was just hot full stop.

Stop press: I managed to shuffle all the way to checkpoint 1 today! Rather pleased with myself. We then hit some small dunes (dunettes - how cute!) followed by another loooooooonnnnggggg valley bed stretch. The valley beds seem to hold the heat in more and are a little like an alternative reality. You move but you don't. You can see the trees in the distance (or can you?) but they don't come any closer.

Until they do.

Pretty tired by the third checkpoint but still had about 10km of dunettes (not so cute now). My overwhelming need at this point was to lay down and sleep. I was even fantasising about working out how to sleep while shuffling and tried it a bit.

Managed to shuffle in the last half kilometre or so.

I was very pleased to reach "home" today. By now our camp was complete luxury to me. A sight for sore eyes. Sultan tea sponsors the Marathon des Sables so you are welcomed over the finish line with a hot cup of sweet Moroccan mint tea. Heavenly.

Stage 1: 33.8km (21 miles)

You won't be smiling in 5 hours time

Oh the nerves! It was rather strange as I knew I wasn't going to all out for a pb, it was going to be more of a shuffle race, but I was so incredibly nervous before we started.

Each day starts with a round up of news from the infamous Patrick Bauer, the founder of the MDS. The briefing includes information about the course du jour, birthday wishes,and the elites and their placement. Excitement is increased with a daily rendition of ACDC's "Highway to Hell". Then we're off! And shuffle!

The first day I found fairly pleasant.

This was probably because I walked all of it.

My better half aka Captain Sensible said "We're come here with two objectives. 1) To finish 2) To enjoy it. So let's not burn out on the first day."


Stage 1 (day 1) was a mild 46 degrees apparently. It felt hot anyway. I endearingly named my hands "sausage fingers" as they were so swollen. Dread to think what my poor feet were looking like. I can only imagine them thinking "wtf! WHY have you stuffed me in two pairs of socks, doused me in talc and decided to shuffle 21 miles in 46 degrees?!"

Day 1 I managed to acquire a couple of blisters on both big toes. Fairly impressed by them really.

The day started fairly flat, and passed through some old ruins. Children came tumbling out to say hello, and steal stuff out of our side pockets. I think Patrick Bauer may have placed them their to get us slower movers going faster.

Our first technical ascent and descent came after the first checkpoint. It was pretty tough but not horrendous. All that hill training definitely paid off as my legs felt good powering up the slopes. The view from the top was just magical.

Our excitement changed rapidly on the downhill as we started to see the first casualties. One Japanese man puking for Japan. Another guy sat convulsing along the first valley bed.

And take salt tablet and drink water.

And drink a bit more just in case.

And now eat because I'm now paranoid I've drunk too much.

And repeat.

A couple of ridiculously hot, hot, hot valleys later, we began the last climb up a sandy ascent, followed by the first glimpse of camp about 3km away.

Oh the agony! It's like a carrot in front of a donkey. Never comes closer.

Until it does. And it did. And we finished. Phew!

I did lie earlier. We did run. We ran about 200m then gave up as it was too hot. But we tried.

Day zero: Camp life on the Marathon des Sables


Marathon des Sables is more than just running. It's a different way of life for a week. Two days before the race starts, we head out to the desert to settle into what will be our home.

After five hours on the road comes a rather amusing cattle lorry ride - with-bags-and-all - for a couple of kilometres. Blinking nervously once the lorry doors open, we all descend down and into the strangely familiar sight of a semi-circle of black canvas tents, peppered with berbers and camels.

Tent 61 is my tent. I am sharing with my two friends, better half, and two laid back Israeli guys. We are lucky to only have six people. The tents do hold up to eight.

The tents are pretty robust. They consist of a large sheet of black canvas nailed down into the ground and supported by wooden poles. The berbers take these tents down and reassemble them on every stage. I thought we'd be sleeping on bare ground but they put down a red-coloured carpet as well - luxury! The tents can be adjusted slightly, which is really useful to know if there is a sandstorm.

Tent 61 ends up being a rather valued tent. We are the first tent on the left as you finish. Those spared metres end up being a godsend after trekking all day! Tent 61 also faces opposite the legend that is Mohamed Ahansel - one of Morocco's finest runners. I found it fairly staggering that little old me could be opposite such an elite runner. What other races offer this opportunity?

Before the race starts, runners are looked after in what I thought was 5-star luxury. Food and drink is provided. And it's good food. Crusty bread, fresh yogurt, spaghetti bolognaise with parmesan cheese, creamy mushroom soup. Even red wine is thoughfully given in the evenings!

The purpose of going out earlier is to go through all the logistics - medical sign offs, kit check, final bag pack. So for the whole of day zero, all 800 plus nervous racers packed, unpacked, repacked, took things out, put them back, then panic bought from the "shop" cleverly engineered.

My bag ended up weighing 9kg pre water, which is fairly reasonable. Bags tend to range between 6.5kg-15kg.

The checks went well for me. My ECG was signed off and no one wanted to see the contents of my bag. Now just the anxious wait till stage 1.

My nutrition for the week: the joys of freeze-dried fish

Below is exactly what I took for the race. You have to carry a minimum of 2000 calories a day. The organisers do carry out random checks. More so for the elites, but I did hear of normal people getting asked to see the contents of their bag, so it it wise to make sure you have enough.

People react differently to the conditions. I was absolutely ravenous till day 5 then just couldn't stomach anything much. I reckon if you are running more than walking, you may find it difficult to eat. If you were more of a plodder like me, you may well be hungry!

From the below I ditched a lot of this on day 3 (pre long day). The nuts were not really doing it for me, particularly the almonds. No idea why. I also hated Geo bars by day 2 (though had to persevere with them). If you are taking cereal bars, I recommend taking a variety! I also ditched some of the malt loaf and dates as they were heavy.

Winners for me were the veggie pepperami, crisps and recovery shakes. The flapjacks and soup were also really nice. Some other good choices include ginger cake and shortbread.

I did also take some tea, salt, sugar, chilli and herbs but ditched these as well in the end as I kept forgetting about them!

I took a few energy gels with me but didn't use them. Again, people do vary. I didn't train with them so did not want them. I think I would have been sick if I tried. So I would go with your gut (no pun intended!). Take what you enjoy eating.

I did not mind the freeze-dried food up until day 5 where I just couldn't eat it. Some people hated it, but I thought it wasn't bad for what it was, even freeze-dried fish. If you are hungry you eat anything! The other options include things like supernoodles and couscous. You just need to make sure you take enough calories.

Day 4 is a bit of an odd one as you are running all day (and all night). I just survived on a few snacks in the day, then a malt loaf early doors on day 5 - which I think saved my bacon as I was feeling pretty rough by this point. We had thought we could stop and eat a meal, but the winds got up so there was no chance, and we couldn't be bothered either.

Day 1
Breakfast Malt loaf and apricots 438
Race Almonds 2XGeo Electrolyte 866
Tea Veggie pasta 800
Snacks Recovery shake Hot choc Malt loaf Pepperami 342 2446

Day 2
Breakfast Muesli 800
Race Mango 2xGeo Electrolyte 691
Tea Vegetable tikka 800
Snacks Recovery shake Soup Crisps Flapjack 653 2944

Day 3
Breakfast Hot cereal with mango 800
Race Peanuts 2XGeo Electrolyte 825
Tea Fish and potatos 800
Snacks Recovery shake Hot choc Malt loaf Pepperami 342 2767

Day 4
Breakfast Muesli 800
Race Cashews 4xGeo Electrolyte 1157
Tea Veggie pasta 800
Snacks Recovery shake 2x Pepperami Crisps Flapjack 693 3447

Day 5
Breakfast Hot cereal with mango 800
Race NA
Tea Vegetable tikka 800
Snacks Soup Malt loaf Pepperami 582 2182

Day 6
Breakfast Porridge 800
Race 2xGeo Electrolyte 274
Tea Fish and potatos 800
Snacks Crisps Flapjack Protein bar 652 2526

Day 7
Breakfast Hot cereal with mango 800
Race 1xGeo 137
Tea NA
Snacks Recovery shake 937

Dates 295
Banana chips 525


Thursday, 19 April 2012

Marathon des Sables kit: what worked and what didn't

So here is the final list of kit that I took out to the desert. Be warned. If you decide to do MDS you will face down a week of packing, unpacking, panic packing, panic unpacking, repacking, then ditching half of what you originally packed on day 4!

My bag at the start, without full water bottles and the supplied kit weighed 9kg. I figure the only way to get it down further would be to omit the luxuries - iphone, spare shorts etc, and to go low on food. Don't take a stove, repackage your meals, take the bare minimum of calories.

There is also a definite knack to packing your kit. This is what worked for me:-
Food first - day 7 up to day 1. Pack recovery snacks separately to race food.
Then the rest of your stuff on top.
Pack a bag with your camp kit - then everything you need is in one bag - headtorch, ear plugs, spork etc etc.
Camp clothes in a separate bag.
Pack a separate medical bag. Keep a few essential medical supplies in an easy to get to pocket when on the road.
Pack your passport, cash and card in a separate pocket or right at the bottom.
Pack your hopefully-won't need-but-if-I-do-I'll-need-them-quick in a separate bag in another pocket e.g venom pump.

When on the run I kept loo roll, tape and medical stuff in the side mesh pockets. In my front Raidlight pocket I kept food, salt tablets, tape, zeozorb, bodyglide and lipbalm.

Anyway - all good fun.

Backpack - Raidlight Runner. 32l. The bag itself was brilliant. I didn't have any problems with it at all. I ended up borrowing someone's smaller Raidlight pocket bumbag to add to the front which I would definitely, definitely recommend. It meant I could keep essentials close to hand - lipbalm, salt tablets, food, tape, bodyglide. I also wouldn't buy the 32l again. It was way too big. 20-25l is plenty.

Lots of people suffered from chafing around the shoulders and bag. I was very fortunate not too. I'm not sure if this was because I trained a lot with the bag (not necessarily a heavy one), but it probably helped get me used to carrying it. I also taped my back and shoulders and used bodyglide to help.

Hydration - One Raidlight bottle and one For Goodness Shakes bottle. Hated, hated, hated the Raidlight bottle. I knew I would. It leaked randomly and after day 4 the top got stuck so you had to pull the whole straw off to have a drink. I'm sure there is a gap in the market for a well-designed desert bottle!

Sleeping bag - Mammut Ajungilak. Great sleeping bag. Can't fault it. The weather this year was a little unpredictable so I was either way too cold at night or way too hot. Not really much you can do about this other than take a liner, or wrap yourself in your survival sheet.

Sleeping mat - Thermarest Neoair extra lite. This was a rubbish choice really. It punctured on day 1. You can still use it - it is a slow puncture, but I just couldn't be bothered to dig out the repair kit to try to sort it out. If you are lucky and it doesn't puncture it is fairly good. It keeps you away from the cold ground. Otherwise the ground isn't really that bad to kip on. They provide a carpet to sleep on. You are not directly on the sand. I'd take a foam mat if I would do it again.

Trainers - Brookes Cascadia. Great choice though I did get severe shin splints in my leg shin, so not sure if that was partly down to the trainer or to the terrain. I've never had them before. Otherwise the tainers were very comfortable. I was very lucky to only get blisters the first few days, and on my toes, so not too much of a problem to carry on with.

Brookes were also very grippy and not too heavy - great for the long days and traversing up and the down the rocky parts.

Gaiters - Sandbaggers. Could not fault. I think I got a bit of sand in my shoes on the last day (6 miles of dunes) but not much. Would definitely recommend them. I bought the velcro ones and got the velcro sewn into my trainer. I then gaffer taped that also.

I would say they rip easier than the Raidlight gaiters, so be careful when going through the many acacia plants. Take gaffer tape and needle and thread for repair jobs.

Torch - Petzl lite. Great. Essential.

Spare batteries - Did not use.

10 safety pins - Used only for pinning my number.

Compass - Did not use. It is pretty essential that you do know how to use a compass though so worth having a play before you go!

Lighter - Essential if you want hot food!

Whistle - On rucksack already. Did not use.

Knife with metal blade - I took 4 Deserts Jelly Card. I didn't use the knife but I did use the scissors an awful lot to cut tape. Would recommend this.

Tropical Disinfectant - Tea Tree Oil. Did not use.

Anti-Venom pump - Did not use.

Signalling mirror - Did not use. Could not bare to see what state my hair was in!

One aluminium survival sheet - Did not use, but could be useful if you are cold at night!

Road-book - Some light bedtime reading!

Distress flare - Annoyingly heavy.

Salt tablets - Essential! Liked popping my salt tablets. Quite staggering how much you have to take. Each tablet has .5g of salt in it. They recommend up to 20 tablets a day!!

Punch card - Attached to rucksack.

Luminous stick - Given to you on day 4.

1x running top - Under Armour Heatgear pink baggy top. Brilliant. No problems. Kept me as cool as possible.

[2]x running socks - 2x pairs of Injinji toe socks. 1x pair Hilly mono skin. 1x pair Bridgedale Trail. These all worked fine. I started off wearing two pairs but progressed to just wearing the toe socks. In hindsight I wonder whether I should have just gone with the toe socks as my feet were incredibly swollen from day 1. I'd also probably buy the Injinji compression socks as well. Injinji toe socks are really good. I wore the mono skins one morning and felt the difference. I felt like I would get blisters really quickly. The toe socks helped keep each toe separate and doing it's own thing, minding it's own business.

2x running shorts - Under Armour Heatgear again. 1x baggy. 1x tight. Both were great. I'd probably only take 1 pair - the baggy pair next time.

1x hat with neck guard - Essential!

1x buff - old one. Blue! Another essential. Quadrupled up as a snot rag, hat, sleeping mask and wind shield!

1x bra - I took an extra sports bra in case my one started rubbing. It didn't so I probably didn't need 2 bras, but was nice to have a change half way through!

1x sunglasses - I managed to get a pair of reasonably cheap prescription wraparound sunglasses which was great news. The glasses have a prescription insert attached to them which you then get your optician to add your prescription. The glasses were a little odd to start with as they feel a bit chunky and they also slightly distort the ground when you go downhills, but otherwise they did a great job.

Glasses - for the camp/night stage. I didn't bother with contacts at all, though I took a couple of spare pairs just in case the glasses broke.

1x spare t-shirt - Even when dirty it was nice to change out of your running top into another top so I would take this again.

1x windstopper - Used a little when it was cold in the mornings. Not essential though.

1x lightweight fleece - I bought a lovely red Montane fleece which was lovely to put on in the cold evenings.

1x slippers - I took Trekmate polar slippers. These were great in one sense as they protected your feet from the sand and were really comfortable, but on the other hand, they did make my feet really sweaty so I was paranoid about my feet getting worse! I think I probably would take these again as they were brilliantly comfortable if you had blisters. Otherwise I would probably take sandals with one strap across them, not flip flops.

1x leggings - Old pair of skins.

1x stove - Esbit pocket stove. Great. You can get by without this but you will be eating cold food for the whole week.

1x cooking pan - Esbit titanium pot. Great.

Fuel - Esbit solid fuel tabs. Bit of a pain to light when it gets windy but boil the water fine once they are lit.

1x spoon / fork - Esbit spork. Good.

Wind shelter - tin foil. Didn't bother. Just used bits and bobs from around the tent. The big water bottles you get given as rations generally work fairly well as they are a bit taller as well.

Hand sanitizer - Essential. It's really important to get into a good routine with hand washing. Tummy troubles are the last thing you need out there.

Foot and back tape - Dreamtape and Hapla. I took a couple of different tapes and of different sizes. They both worked well once I'd practiced taping my feet a bit - there is a definite knack to it! I'd probably only take one type of tape again as Doc Trotters have loads of the stuff.

Painkillers - Ibuprofen. I took 2 a day. Don't know if it did anything. I also took more when my shin started causing me problems. Doc Trotters also carry paracetamol and tramadol - both of which I used!

Suncream - P20. This stuff was amazing. It looks like oil but you just need a small amount and it protects you all day. I ended up with a fairly nice yet random light tan!

Body glide - I found this useful. I applied it on my back, shoulders and on my feet.

Engo blister pack - I took these but did not use them. I don't think I'd take them again.

Immodium - Was used. Let's just leave it at that!

Friars Basalm - I took a tiny pot of this with a small brush to help make the tape stick. I did use this quite a lot.

Zeosorb - I took a small pot of this too which I used a lot. It helped keep my feet dry.

Alcohol pads - Really useful. One to clean your feet in general and two to clean blisters pre taping. However Doc Trotters do have these so you can get them from them.

Lip balm - Essential. My lips got really chapped from the wind and sand more than anything.

Compeed - Here's a tip! Compeed melts in the Sahara so do not put these on blisters! Compeed is great for hotspots though so I would take this again.

Anti inflammatory gel - I used this a lot for various aches and pains. Not sure if it did much though.

Water purification tabs - A just-in-case. Don't think I'd take these again though as 1) there is no water about 2) there are more than enough MDS bods about. I would think it's nigh on impossible to get lost for long anymore.

iphone with Speck cover - I used this for music on day 4 and 6 and for taking some pictures. A lot of people's solar chargers did not work so prepare for this! I just left my iphone off until I needed it.

Sewing kit - Needle and thread in case of emergencies. Did not use.

Toothbrush and paste - My teeth were clean if nothing else!

Toilet roll - Took the roll out of the middle, then took about half a roll. Lasted well. Thank goodness.

Ear plugs - Useful to combat 500 odd snoring folk.

Watch - Breo. I don't usually wear a watch but found this really good to have as you can monitor when you last ate or drank, and when roughly the next checkpoint will come!

Cotton buds - Didn't use.

Pen and paper - Alas! I was going to write along the way but I was so tired each day I didn't.

Gaffer tape for gaiters - Took a tiny bit spare in case of emergencies.

Cord to fix pack - Ditto.

Passport and travel details - I took my passport, bank card and noted down my insurance details.

EUR 200 - You have to take this for emergencies so I'm told. It was also fairly useful for the shop at the end you had to visit to collect your finisher's t-shirt. Cynical - moi?!

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