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!
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