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