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RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 Blogs

Stage 1
31-Aug-2014 02:08:04 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Day 1, 36km down and what a rude return it was back to the hot sandy past I had long forgotten. Classic non rookie mistake: I bolted out of the starting block a little too ambitiously and knocked the first half down relatively quickly, across sand, rocks and some dusty tracks. At the 18km mark the full force of the 37C day with intense sun hit me like a brick wall. The second half was tough but I settled into a much slower pace that was more consistent with my undercooked ultra fitness. I felt the reminder, in my sore legs, that I haven’t clocked a run longer than 20km, in the last year.The blister gods are already acting up and there toe blisters forming – will be watching them closely as can’t afford to much havoc on that front. On a positive note my pack at 7kg feels nice and light, although i have leaned my diet to achieve this so am trying not to salivate at the other competitors’ larger meals. The whole equilibrium thing with water, electrolyte and food intake is vital in the hot temps. Loving the scenery and just to torture us our camp tonight is on the most ridiculously picturesque beach – the experience would be easily heightened by cocktails (which of course are not being served). Tomorrow is 46km over tougher conditions – worse sand, hills and hotter – so will be proceeding with caution. Thanks for the messages to the Madagascar competitor site. Now you just donate and I will do more hot miles.

27-Aug-2014 01:08:10 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

I’m off to Madagascar today to get ready for my sixth 250km ‘Racing the Planet’ ultra-running race, which starts on Sunday 31 Aug and finishes up Saturday 6 September. For 240 of us from 42 countries, ahead lies a marathon each day for six days across wild and remote landscapes. I’ll lug a 7kg pack with all my gear, as it is self supported. We’ll dodge wildlife and quite a few of us will probably get lost at various times. Actually, I once thought I was going to die in the Gobi when I went off course and ran out of water for hours. The Atacama, Gobi, Sahara, Antarctica and Namibian Deserts all tested my limits between 2004 and 2009. Now five years later, I set out to test myself again. Last week, I pretty much decided to pull the pin on the whole thing. I have just done so little training - ridiculously little training. I wouldn’t even call it training. I couldn’t even get myself motivated to buy, let alone pack my equipment. This is not like me! Tired from travel and with an unrelenting work diary, I just basically felt I couldn’t be bothered doing Madagascar. Perhaps it was too much cheese, wine and sunshine on a recent holiday in Spain and Italy with mates, where I actually took the foot off the gas for once. It felt good. I got into ‘life’s too short, enjoy it and don’t torture yourself’ mode. All sorts of negative thoughts flooded through my head last week: “You’ve done five of these before: does a sixth really matter?” and "Who cares how interesting Madagascar sounds: a quick break to catch up on sleep in the Maldives would be much better.” But I came to the conclusion that as much as life IS about eating cheese and drinking great wine and glamorous holidays and pure relaxation, paradoxically it’s also not. I reflected that the reason I originally signed up for Madagascar was to give myself that giant pin prick - that it’s important to sometimes clamber out of the bubble and cross-check one’s physical and mental limits. In doing 250km on foot in one of these events, I learn more about myself than a year of normal living. I road-test my pain threshold and re-check my concentration levels. There are no tech distractions - no showers or luxury. Just 240 of us, moving along through the landscape, in a similar aura of stink, facing the same physical hurdles, irrespective of outside success or failures, wealth or debt. This one is REALLY going to hurt. I know I’m in for an almighty hiding in Madagascar. Perhaps that’s part of the curiosity this time. Can I complete this with so little training? Will I finally crack? How bad will the blisters be? Since I haven’t trained with my gear or my pack, how terrifying will the chafing be? Will I just make it to Day three of six and then check into a hotel? Stay tuned from Day 1 on Sunday 31 August 1) You can follow daily at http://www.4deserts.com/beyond/madagascar/ 2) You can send a message at: http://www.4deserts.com/beyond/madagascar/email (I’m competitor 32) 3) My company will re-post my daily blog updates via Facebook 4) I’m raising money for The Tommy Lim Initiative, and we’ll publish details later this week. Tommy was a colleague who passed away. Concluding with a special thanks to the close mates who rallied around me, over the last week, to give me that push I needed to JUST DO IT.
Preparation is Key (or Not)
06-Aug-2014 05:59:06 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Just four weeks away from Madagascar, I chuckle at how ridiculous I have been in signing up to do this 250km run this year. I am wildly under-trained, but strangely unfazed. Hopefully this chilled perspective somehow allows me to levitate across the plains. Samantha Fanshawe, I know you think I’m going to pull out - but I won’t let you down! As I file this week’s entry I find myself travelling in Turkey, Spain and Italy for a combination of work and holiday, juggling the demands of early morning conference calls, middle of the day/afternoon sightseeing, evening dinners with some mates I am travelling with, and then back on to late night calls again. My sleep is compromised, my diet is out of kilter and I’m consuming way too many cocktails. I’ve been jamming my Madagascar training in before dinner, which in summertime Madrid and Rome has certainly had me sweating when it has still been 35 degrees Celsius at 6pm. I’ve averaged about 40 minutes to one hour of “serious” training, over the last week, mostly on hills, and some days with a 5kg pack. I’ve tried to nail 200 pushups a day as I’m not doing the gym while travelling. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it’s great to be perfect in your preparation…but don’t panic if you’re not. In the past five deserts, I’ve been side by side with people who are seemingly perfectly prepared, only to then find them on a drip in a later stage. But please do help me, if you see me melting in a puddle of under-preparation somewhere midway across Madagascar. Key priorities for me right now: 1) Get my diet sorted for the race. Dave, a fellow competitor, in Singapore, has been super helpful and we have most of our food things ordered. I’m pretty happy with the diet I’ll be following, and in comparison to my last race five years ago, my diet is much ‘tidier.’ We’re totally preservative and sugar-free and eating vegetarian. I’ll stick to 2000 calories a day, 70% of which will be in the afternoon/evening after the race is done. This seems to work for me. 2) I have most of my equipment from previous races, so I’m about to dust that off when I get home to Singapore. I will be ruthless, in order to get my pack to 6kg - at all costs. I will take trekking poles this time (thanks Oscar for leaving them in the attic). Otherwise, it’s two shirts (one long and one short sleeved), two compression pants (one long and one short), a hat (with a floppy tail), sunglasses, two pairs of socks (Fox River brand), a small square of foam (for bottom of my back when sleeping), a pair of bike gloves (to prevent sun burn), a buff (really handy) and a few other basic items on the compulsory equipment list (which I still need to cross check). 3) I’ve had the flu twice in the last seven weeks, and my body is telling me I’m burning the candle at both ends. Granted, I have a pretty good threshold, but I’m trying not to land at the starting line coughing and spluttering. 4) Running my shoes in. I know it’s late to be doing this, so I am trying to wear them all the time. I’m liking my Olympus shoes, after breaking away from Asics, which I have used previously. Happy cramming. Sunburn one word?
Less than 50 Days and Counting…
04-Aug-2014 01:37:20 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

I’m back on my blog, after a four week workload-induced absence. Less than 50 days remain until I’m running across the wilds of Madagascar. If I hadn’t paid up for my flight and entry fee, I would be tempted to abort. But it’s not an option: I’ll still compete in the 250km run, even if my fitness is going to be a long way from past levels, when I did the other five deserts.

Am I prepared?

Absolutely not. The last four weeks I’ve been distracted with travel and just haven’t had the energy or the time to train. I’m snapping out of it though, as with seven weeks left to train, time is of the essence. On the plus side, I think not training too much has rested my body. I have kept up four gym sessions a week, and I’ve done some good cross training, like cycling and hiking; so I haven’t been totally sedentary. I’ve averaged two runs a week since June, covering a mere 20km on average in total. I was really pleased yesterday though. I decided to just hammer it and see what happened to my body. I logged 22km with a 5kg pack with three fellow Singapore based runners. I felt surprisingly good.

What’s the plan

I’m focused on sticking to the knitting from here on in, and logging four runs a week. With such a dramatic rise likely in my miles, I need to be careful and make sure I don’t injure myself. I’ll get regular massages and be religious about my stretching. I’ll do all my runs with at least 5-6kg in my pack, to quickly strengthen my legs. Thankfully my body is in good shape strength-wise, as I’ve been consistent with the gym for the past few years.

Importantly, now is the time to get organised with food and equipment. When it comes to food, I’m going for all natural with no additives. This is usually the way I eat, anyway. When I did my last desert run in Namibia in 2009, I fuelled myself with gels and other artificial things. That’s changed now. I’m quietly impressed with the amount of natural race food out there.

What’s worrying you now?

Thankfully not too much. I don’t stress out about the enormity of doing one of these races. No, I haven’t trained enough, and yes it’ll probably hurt. But I also remember that success in these races is about strong mental willpower, good planning and the right equipment. I’ll rely on these areas, and then hope that my suboptimal fitness carries me through. Walking fast is as important as running, as is making sure you keep moving and not loitering at checkpoints during the race. And I thank you for reading my blog, but I don’t read many other blogs. I find too many people make the whole thing sound too hard-core, and it’s easy to get scared by people logging wild miles. Focus on yourself, I say, and remember it’s about quality miles, not the quantity of miles.

Any advice for first timers?

Apart from some of the points I’ve made above, I think it’s important not to take too much equipment, and definitely don’t pack too much food. If your pack is over 8kg, get help from someone who knows what to take and what not to take. Some of the key pearls of wisdom I would offer, having done five of these buggers in the past are:

1. You CAN do without an inflatable sleeping mat, if you want to save 300-400 grams. Take a small rubber mat (some packs have these inside) and place it under the bottom of your back. The first night is hard on the ground, but you get used to it. If you like comfort, take a ThermoRest, but you will pay the weight penalty.

2. You won’t eat as much as you think - especially at breakfast, and even more so, during the race. Whatever you are training with (gels, bars, etc.), take half of it. I know that sounds risky, but you’ll appreciate the weight saving. 2000-2200 odd calories is enough to get you through each day. You’ll need more for the long day (day five), but remember these calories also last you for two days.

3. Try to get the lightest of everything with your equipment. Keep a spreadsheet, buy a set of electronic kitchen scales and weigh everything. Don’t overpack things in plastic bags. I once emptied someone’s pack of 1kg of plastic, in Namibia! With food, try to decant your food into as minimal wrappings as possible. Those freeze dried bags can have the edges trimmed off them – the little things can make a difference.

4. Don’t panic about buying all the equipment. It can be overwhelming at first, but most of what you need is now on the ‘Racing the Planet’ site. You can spend crazy amounts of money buying the best, but I really don’t think you do better in the race because of it. I’m no longer caught up in the fashion element of having the best.

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RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 competitor


Entrepreneur with interests predominantly in the recruitment sector and secondary interests in farming and hospitality.



Why are you competing?
To re-sync my personal and work balance. Ironic
that it takes entering an ultra marathon to get
myself focused on this!

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