Marathon des Sables training – two competitors’ views

We are writing this trying to process the most intense, insane, painful, joyful week of our lives.  A week in which, both of us finished the 28th Marathon des Sables.

We are confident that in the subconscious of every MdS participant there is a small but very real flicker of doubt. There are questions about whether we have trained enough, do we have the right food, is it enough, are our packs light enough, how/will we cope with the environment and will we get along with our tent mates etc. It is all these factors that, together with the distance, terrain and environment that contribute to make this an extreme event. It is not merely overcoming the physical, but rather conquering the MdS at both a physical and mental level which enables the MdS to be billed as ‘the toughest foot race on earth’.

Our background

We were two complete novices at trail running 18months ago, and we are both in no doubt that our success was determined by one predominant factor:  the consistency of dedicated training and the continued motivation that was brought to the table 12 months ago in the form of a training schedule formatted, adapted and regularly updated to our individual requirements and physiological/physical responses by Lecky.  We opted for the advanced coaching package.  This consisted of weekly Skype consultations with the opportunity to talk/text more frequently if there were any issues.  We also had several face-to-face training sessions during which we were taught technical aspects of trail running.

We felt that the advanced package suited our requirements of dealing with much more than just the physical aspects of training as we also had to learn about efficiency and strategies involved in being successful in a multi-day ultra race.

The physical aspects of the training package

The following is a summary of some of our key training in figures:

·         Average long run – 30km’s

·         Longest run  – 42km’s

·         Greatest distance covered over a 7-day period – 98Km

·         Number of days training per week – 5 days

The efficiency aspect of the training package

Lecky taught us how to pursue efficiency.  We were taught that it is a matter of running when it is relatively effortless to run, and walk when the effort of running outweighs the benefit of running and to seek a way to use our energy as efficiently as possible.

The strategy aspect of the training package

Another important lesson Lecky taught to us, and which went beyond a simple running schedule was how to strategically manage all our actions this meant managing everything, our feet, hydration, heart rate, food intake and racing with a back-pack weighing a minimum of 6.5kgs. The MdS also requires focus and concentration especially important regarding hydration and salt intake, when you are both physically and mentally tired.

The variable terrain aspect of the training package

The MdS is over variable with soft sand, hard & sharp rocks, dried lakes, ridges and Km’s of undulating sand dunes.  Lecky’s training programme enabled us to encounter each of these differing technical terrains with confidence and an adaptable technical approach which allowed for a consistency in our racing pace.  We live in the Lake District so this obviously helped as most of our runs incorporated rocky, undulating terrain.  To gain experience of running on sand and more specifically sand dunes, we took the advice of Lecky and took a two week training holiday to Lanzarote.  This proved invaluable as we encountered the various terrains on the MdS course and it was also an easy day-trip to the neighboring island of Fuerteventura and the sand dunes there which meant that when it came to “running the dunes’ we had the confidence which allowed us to make up a lot of places as other participants gingerly negotiated their ascents and descents.

It is therefore with certainty and humbleness that we both know that our ability to participate in the MdS is not a product of personal greatness but rather, the result of a an intense training programme developed by our trainer whose support made this all possible. It was Lecky’s commitment to our training programme that took us from novice runners and made us both better and competent trail runners with the endurance and stamina needed to compete and complete ‘the toughest footrace on earth’.

We cannot thank you enough.

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