It’s been a couple of weeks since the race concluded. I have celebrated by eating loads: my guess is that I consumed around 30,000 calories and ate less than half of that. It’s been fun to catch up!
Like any blog, this one needs a proper ending too. It looks like my blog update from Stage 5 is gone in the Namibian winds – if I can find it, I’ll post it soon but as any update during the race, it wasn’t that ground breaking.
Once again I would like to THANK everyone for your encouragement and messages before and during the race. It was so much more than I could have ever imagined! Thanks to my family, boyfriend, friends and also the 4 Deserts alumni for the KICK ON THE BUTT when I most needed it!!!!
An apt quote that I saw recently on our Grand Slam 2016 competitor Thanh Vu’s wall: "Our character is not defined by the battle we win or lose, but by the battles we dare to enter." I think I learned my lesson before the race had even started.
It could have gone either way but I’m very glad the issues I had didn’t bother me on the course too much. And even if it hadn’t worked out it was worth a try. I put it out there as like anyone I felt a bit of pressure. Perhaps even more so being “4 Deserts”. Once the race started my old “race head” took over and the inspiration from all other participants and the race high took over – which is a great feeling.
No Perfect Preparation
As most people I had my ups and downs and things don’t always go into plan. There are very few, if any, people who feel 100% ready at the start line. It’s OK to not to feel perfect. I felt far from it but reached still my expectations and more than that. When my training started 3.5 months before the race I knew that it was going to be short and potentially stressful. I think 3-4 months is plenty of time for someone who is already fit and used to running / hiking reasonable distances, have their favorite pair of ultra shoes, don’t have existing injuries and have some experiences of ultra distances in the past. For others I would recommend somewhere between 6 months to 1 year depending on fitness level and goals. This way the preparation time is not that intensive and there’s time to ease a few weeks here and there when needed without having to worry.
There’s Never Going to be a Perfect Time
It was challenging to find a gap in the work schedule and time for training but once I spotted the opportunity and got it I wanted to give it ago. I was fit but hadn’t been on my feet actively for nearly a year so it was going to be a challenge. But it was worth it. I REALLY enjoyed getting back to ultras and even more so being able to race alongside with our competitors. It was also so nice to move away from organisers role for the week, have more time to chat, and share equal experiences with other racers.
Some people asked if this experience has changed me in any way? Perhaps having had this personal experience I have now even more energy to cheer all of you out there in the future races. I don’t think my advice to competitors has changed – an ultra is an ultra whether it’s a 4 Deserts or another stage race. But the experience has now become a bit more personal for me and I will have LOTS of great memories.
Memories and Conclusions
Some people say there’s a lot of time to think about life while you are out there. Gosh had that been my case I would probably be much smarter now! I found it hard to have or remember proper thoughts, as you are constantly focusing on your feet, eating, hydration, pace, what to do at the next checkpoint, etc. But here are some random memories:
Thought you might find it amusing that my pack was 11 kgs at the check-in. 11 KGS!!! How amateurish! What happened was that the previous weekend I didn’t think I was realistically going to start and I lost my mojo - I packed like a robot. I didn’t create a spreadsheet to keep a count of every item but packed the food that I knew I needed into zip lock bags without even weighing it. I went heavy on energy powders which are always heavier than a basic electrolyte + snacks combination and that resulted a heavier pack. The first night at Camp 1 was rather ironic when I changed things around and threw some “optional” items and extra food away, making the pack quite a bit lighter.
Had I double checked the equipment list I would have realized that a warm hat is not mandatory unlike in most of our races. Please don’t use this against me in the future! Shawn Harmon promised to do me a gear check at the end of the race :)
Beauty of Stage Races
If you have a couple of single stage races under your belt (whatever sport) I recommend trying a stage race. I always joke that running for long distances makes you (me) stupid. But stage races are for smart people. If you push too much one day, you could be out the next. Or if you are too cautious and take it easier you may be wondering if you were giving it enough. Or if you forget to listen to your body, forget to hydrate, eat or look after your feet, it may hit back too. It’s all a fine balance which makes stage races so interesting!
A general consensus is that these races are actually more about mental than physical strength. Many say the ratio is as high as 90 / 10 but whatever it is, it’s fascinating for each of us to discover how much more you are capable of doing than you think. And that itself is a reason to sign up for a 4 Deserts race no matter what level you are and what your goals are! My longest training run / hike ever was 30 km. Then I had to give a break for my knees and it was getting too close to the race so I never got to do that 50km training that I planned. But I had done long distances before so I knew I’m capable of completing The Long March. And when The Long March came and I had 10km left to go, I asked myself whether there would be another 20-40km more in me. I concluded yes. I would have had to pace myself again and slow down but I could have done another 1/3 of the 80km stage. The true heroes are those who cross the finishline last every day. I believe we all returned home as better, stronger and more confident people.
Here’s a finishline photo from The Long March after my Forrest Gumpish home run having been challenged by stomach pains and the heat earlier in the day.
And another photo of the early arrivals the next day, the true desert heroes, this man in the 60-69 year category.
Are interesting as well. You start with an issue that you are worried about but soon the body starts telling you about other issues too. And then it kind of blends into one. There were aches every day but it’s the desert high and the strength you get from your desert friends that make it fade away. Don’t be afraid of aches and pain. Or blisters.
Just like your thoughts, so go your reactions. I was on the final stretch of Stage 5 which was really the true final stage. We had a volunteer trio of older gentlemen at the race and on that day they decided to wear which to me looked like Scottish clown hats. One of them was in a roving point about 3 km before the finish line. It was only 100 meters later when I realized that he may have looked like a clown. Sure enough I found his buddies on the finishline with these hats.
Young Woong’s first ever overseas trip
Bless, my tent mate Young Woong, a lovely young man from South Korea was not only taking part in his first 4 Deserts race but this was also his first EVER overseas trip! He is strong as anything but very smart of him to spend much of his time on the course taking photos.
Is competing easier than volunteering or working as part of the staff?
Hell yes! So if you are considering volunteering in a future race, think again J
Slight Sand Blast at the End
A 4 Deserts race wouldn’t be perfect without a slight sand blast. At that stage nothing bothered us so a perfect ending? for the week. Here’s Beth Barr's photo of Zeana, Dolfen and I.
I’m very grateful for new friendships. And also getting to know people I thought I already knew even better. There’s also know desert race without lots of stories and funnies. Mo’s Dirty Girl Gaiters, Ralph’s well chosen time for dental care, endless discussions about food with Markus, wine with Judy, getting to know new tent mates, etc we all bring home stories that help fuel our lives until the next adventure!
Thank you again for your support! I’m passing the challenge on. I hope to see you out there at the Gobi March, Atacama Crossing or at the Sahara Race in Namibia :)
We are at camp 6 in Torra Bay by the Atlantic Ocean. The race is nearly over. Just the last 10km tomorrow. Imagine some people sign up for 10k races and here it’s just the last little bit you do after 240km!
This morning I made a plan to go slow. Carolina had an hour lead as she had a good constant long stage, and I figured I could only close that gap if I felt really strong in the morning. Today’s stage was also tough and with a fair chance of high temperatures again so I decided not to risk my finish by pushing it too much. Kristinet was an hour behind so I decided to go at my own pace. Part of me thinks why I didn’t race on Day 1. Why on earth did I decide to take it easy and walk some part of it when I didn’t’ need to? But then again it’s always easy to say this on a hind sight. Who knew on Day 1 when I was still worried about my feet.
Third place will be great. I say that running long distances make you (=me) stupid but stage races are for smart people. There’s a fine balance and the race can be easily lost if you push too much, get your nutrition, hydration etc wrong or get injured.
The previous day and night at Camp 5 was really hot and there was little chance for recovery. So I started slow. After the first 10k to CP1 ‘I was feeling better so I picked up the pace and by CP2 I was back in my usual place in the field. This is where the small inland dunettes ended and we arrived to the start of a huge belt of a sand dune that continued all the way to the coast. This was possibly the best part of the course. From the top you could see the red mountains that we surrounded by on The Long March. On the other side there was just the endless blue of the ocean. We were running on the ridge of the dunes that seemed to continue for ever. 10km later the course dropped down to CP3 and from there I was on a home stretch along the coast to Camp 6. This was really the real finish for us and I got to tell you, those last few hundred meters to camp felt SO GOOD. I got in 9th so not a bad day, with these beaten legs.
It’s been an afternoon of celebrations at the camp. People have been sitting around the camp fires and when finishers come through, the whole camp site has been there to cheer them in. Another great sunset as well made it perfect!
I’ll write a better update after the race as it’s getting late. Time for bed as it’s 8pm :)
Sun is setting here in th desert and I just sat down to read messages – so thrilled to hear from all of you! It’s been a mad hot rest day at the camp, it’s 6pm and the temperature is going down only now so we can finally start recovering. No energy to anything before now.
So The 80km Long March is now complete. It was a really hot day from the start. The course turned in land so that was expected but unluckily the East wind started blowing here which means that it picks up heat over the African continent. It was like being in a massive hair dryer all day. Here’s a brief summary of the day:
Camp to CP1: started easy, running with Kristine who is currently the women’s leader ad Rafael. That hot sand was on our faces and sand was soft. Nicola Bennetti joined us half way. We formed a little peloton with Nicola to safe energy. Every time ‘I see Nicola /’I think about Parmesan cheese. Not a good thought when you don’t have it!
CP1-CP2: Knowing it was going to be a tough day I dropped out from the group and slowed my pace down. I crossed rocky plateaus up and down following the guys ahead but no one behind. This was only a 7km section but by the time I got to the CP I was out of water.
CP2-CP3: Took 2.5 liters as this was a 12km section. I passed Ole Norstad and Paul Borlinha but at this time I had slowed down to walking. Going any faster just seemed suicidal. Kept drinking and eating but at around 9km mark the heat started to be too much. I was getting light headed and sure enough shortly after I fainted. Luckily I had Paul behind me who was such a star!. He kept me going till CP3 which seemed for ever. I didn’t think my race was over but /I desperately needed to recover. Dr Noland and Bev took great care of me and everyone else, while I slept there for 2 hours. Kind of ironic to lay there next to guys that I have so often revived myself – a true 4 Deserts experience? J
Cp3-cp4: I got a clearance to go at 14:40 so I walked on with Ian and Neil. By this time so many people had over taken me but this is what these races are like. It was still really hot but less so than 2 hours earlier.
CP4 was where I saw so many others who had to stop for resting as well. The heat had been overwhelming for many. I needed real food so I made most of the hot water and made myself noodles. The sun was setting as I set off again in to the night. I felt good again so I started my Stage 4 B – home run marathon to the finish. I kept running in the dark, enjoying the cooler weather and the beautiful night. Felt like Forrest Gump as kept passing people who passed me during the day. 6 hours and another 40km of running later I made it to camp I think in 16thplace. That was just before midnight. I lost my second place there but Carolina was very strong throughout the day.
There was a small crowd cheering and as I sat down around the camp fire to share stories with the guys, it was actually a very good day. At least I got the full spread of the experience.
Cybertime is limited so I have to go. 200km is now done and tomorrow is the last hard day. Lots of heat expected as w climb over the big sand dunes and finish at the Atlantic Coast again.
The plan is to take it easy as that’s the only way to get through the heat.
I cant believe Day 3 has finished! I guess that’s a good sign. Today was quite mental and it suited me, managed to come in 16th, or something like that. The first 30k pretty much were on the beach. I switched my bran off (some how quite natural for me hah!) and shuffled whole way. The Skeleton Coast is absolutely stunning! Wind wasn’t on our side which made the morning quite hot but it did pick up properly by the time the course turned against it – typical! Seals colonies were fun to watch. As smelly and noisy they are. The same shipwrecks were still n place. As fun as it would be to stop for a proper chatter at cps I worked on a plan to get out of the hot course asap. The last 1k turned in land and it was hot even with a strong wind – just under 40c.
The pack is thankfully lighter now. Less food makes all difference. My loyal friends the golf ball, stretch band and a pair of crocks are still touring with me. My tent likes them too, except princess size 42 crocks which are always on the way when you step in the tent.
Afternoons at camp go surprisingly quick: recovery drink in, cleaning up (in your imagination), blister care aka footcare, stretching, catching up with tent mates and everyone and dinner. The day is gone quick. It’s now 7:30m which is almost my bed time :)
So tmr is The Long March, 80km stage. Interesting as it’s on stage 4 so that changes strategies – if one has any. I may come up with one or two in my dreams..
I just saw all the emails and blog comments from day 2 and 3 – thanks so much guys. It really helps out there!
More updates after the long day.. Good night from Namibia!
PS Wish I could send you the sunsets we have here..amazing!
When I ran (or let’s admit) shuffled today, I had all sorts of thoughts including what I’m going to blog about today, but now a few hours later at camp, I have no recollection of any of it. In anyways today was a good day. The beginning of the course was different from last year, but really cool scenery. We crossed an old bridge in the middle of the desert at very start and then were just surrounded by Namib that reflected all shades of red, brown and cold. You should check the website for photos, I took none as cameras are too heavy to carry and it’s nice to just remember all that.
I did my own thing today and ended up shuffling whole way. Figured might as well get away from the heat asap. Had guys ahead of me and behind me but for most part sticked to my own company. I did ran a bit with Hannes from Namibia after cp2 when we approached the coast. Camp 3 where we are now is possibly my favorite camp site of this race. Surrounded by dunes and beach just behind. I was thinking about kite surfing quite a bit today. couldn’t help it seeing the ocean with white caps. Wind anyway is our best friend here. It is very hot on the course so the 15-20+ knots we had behind our backs today and yesterday was a treat!
Most of the course was quite runnable today but there were some very soft parts as well. Tomorrow is all along the beach and will be hard work as it gets even softer. I guess none of us are looking forward to that. But there will be seals, ship wrecks etc to see so look forward to that.
Bits and pieces are kind of cooperating. Foot has been good. Sandy and Jacqueline, you were right about desert sand looking after them. The softer terrain seems to cause less issues. Blisters, of course but that’s just part of the game. Groin that’s another thing I pulled some time ago and I’m feeling it but let’s hope that taping keeps it happy.
Anything entertaining…hmm.. LOTS of stories but I’ll tell you later.
I’m off to hang out by the camp fire and get some dinner. There were no connection here today but I’m sure I will get to read incoming messages tomorrow.
I’m supposed to go and drain a blister, but ended up to the cybertent – this is more fun. So Day 1 went well.
The highlights were:
#1 Waking up at 6m to the sound of the 4x4 fleet heading out to the course. Was soooo nice to turn and keep sleeping!
#2 OMG how nice it is just to lay in the tent feet up having finished the day! No work or duties. Such luxury.
But yes the course is beautiful and had fun company and good conversation so that first 38k went quite quickly. I shuffled most of the way and walked a bit where it got soft and pointless to ‘run’. That confirms that the foot was pretty good – lets hope it will last this way. Actually before leaving the hotel, I gave my running shoes a good beat up: a bit of hair dryer and then smashing with a gold ball. As violent that was it seemed to help a little too.
At the finish line Scott from tent 4 and I pulled out our socks to investigate any damage. It was like Christmas. “Look look what I got. “ Scott got no presents luckily. I got one bloody blister but luckily only one.
Anyway its still early days. Let’s hope tomorrow goes well, for everyone in the field. No one pulled out today and everyone was pretty quick in.
Tomorrow is 39k and we head towards the coast. Past a diamond mine that has opened their operations again so if you see me as inactive I have gone digging.
THANK YOU all for the lovely messages. It means a lot to read them. I may not write emails back as the cybertime is limited but I will keep updating the blog.
Love you all.
I have just arrived in beautiful Namibia, in Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast where the 4 Deserts is keeping base. It’s good to be back!
Lots have happened in a short period of time. It was only until the last weekend when I had to admit to myself that doing the race may not be a good idea. For those who have followed and encouraged me for the last 4 months I thought it would be good to explain, which I’ll do in the end of this blog. Uncertainty aside I have been preparing like everyone else. The last training run was on Saturday and then started packing.
The Art of Packing
Packing for a 4 Deserts race is an art itself and as much as it can be daunting to see how heavy your pack may get, it's also quite fun. It’s amazing how quickly you know how many grams each item weights and how much energy anything edible has. Although I’ve done many many mandatory equipment check for others, packing your own gear is always different. We all know what the mandatory gear is but I find entertaining is what extra people bring – more on that below.
Here it is, all laid out expect food. To answer one of the most common questions: Yes it’s all mandatory – really. But actually much of this stuff you’ll wear so what’s in the pack is not that heavy. Pick as light gear as you can.
Food I packed separately into daily packs, Day 1, Day 2 etc to make it easy for those who check it but more importantly find and manage it myself when tired. Food items weight easily most, but the good thing is that you eat your way towards a lighter backpack. I ended up making my own breakfasts of muesli, fruits, mild powder etc. Freeze dried for evening and in between: snacks, bars and energy / electrolyte powders for the course, noodles and recovery shake for arrival at camp and a big freeze dried meal for evening. Around 2200-2300 kcal per day so a little extra. (2000 is required per day).
The challenge with the recent developments is I was no longer sure how much I’m able to run. The longer you spend on the course the more snacks you need and less food at camp. One of the “advantages” of this job is that I’ve become quite good at cracking a packet of noodles open and eating them dry. Yum - All the things you learn! This “back to basics power bar” works OK if the day on the course looks to be longer.
The above is all mandatory so the photos aren’t going to vary that much from anyone else’s. But what could be interesting is what extra goes into the pack. Obviously as little as possible but some comforts are useful, see from 1-5, in this order:
When you write this all down it ends up being a long list – This doesn’t weight more than 1.-1.5 kg extra but let’s see what actually goes in on the start day??
Start Line Decision
Now…on to the hot topic: to start or not to start? I could explain this for hours but or say it in two words: Shit happens. The below picture describes perhaps best what going on - this time:
So yes ironically knees are now fine but it’s the ball of the right foot that is not. Having super high arch feet, the second thing that hits the ground after heel is the joint of the first metatarsal. So all pressure goes to that small area…for each and every 250,000 steps of this race. This is nothing new but usually I don't have this issue until the first 50-100kms of any race. At the moment I can do about 15km before it starts. And this final week the foot has just been quite sore.
I’ve had to go through a few pairs of shoes and orthotics recently to find the right pair and as my feet are ergonomically a mess, I suppose all this has aggravated them too much. If it was just the pain that could be managed but having rheumatoid arthritis any damage I do I have to live with it after the race. So the outlook at the moment is that I may not start, or if I start it’s quite likely that I won’t finish. It’s a decision I need to make in the next couple of days.
I have prepared a bag with little arts and crafts items. Shoe sole material, cushioning etc. So it’s going to be a creative day of trying to make things a little better! Tomorrow I will head for a little stroll and will then make my decision. What ever it is, it will be the right decision. If it’s not this race, there will be other races.
After all the training and being fit and strong otherwise this is SUPER GUTTING. But it’s a FOOT race after all. Besides work this is pretty much the only thing I’ve managed to think for the last couple of weeks. Then again they say that the sun will still rise the next day? Hmmm.. This will be a great race regardless and if I won’t run past checkpoints, I’ll be there to support everyone else.
9 weeks into training! I have really enjoyed it and it’s been great to have a training goal (I'm not just saying that because I work for the company :D). I’m sure this applies to many others: It’s not just about the race but about the journey getting there. Besides experiencing the race and the desert adventure, for most of us it’s a reason for keeping in shape, having structure to life, leaving the office on time etc.
I'm not that busy organising races yet, so I’ve been training generally six times per week, 2-3 cross training sessions and 3-4 running / hiking sessions, and at least one rest day. Pretty much as what I typed in to my training plan (the previous blog). Cross training has been mainly circuit training / strength sessions and the runs / hikes have consisted of shorter week day runs, including beach sprints which, as odd as it sounds, I quite enjoy. On the weekends I’ve been doing back to back days with about 50k total distance. Sometimes more, some times less. The long ones bore me out but I’ve been lucky to have friends to join at least for some part.
So I felt like I was getting a good base and started thinking about transforming myself into being a donkey (= carrying heavier backpack).
CHANGE OF PLAN
If didn’t quite go like that. My knees started to disagree.
That’s not a surprise. As I told earlier in my blog, I have a rheumatoid (joint) arthritis and it has flared up as a result of training. I have had this pretty much all my life, and no kidding… running for extended periods of time doesn’t go well with arthritis! I have run ultras and stage races in the past but there’s always a chance that my body decides otherwise. If I was sensible I would be grateful for the fact that I can run 10-15 km. Not aim for 250km. So here we are. Knees are swelling, even my hands are swelling. Great.
How do you get rid of knee ache?
In Finland we have a saying (which actually refers to headache but knee is also OK). If your knee is aching, put a tooth pick under your toe nail and kick a wall. Preferably really hard. And just like that you won’t have knee ache anymore!
As much as beer is great for recovery it also fixes pain. At least until the next morning. However both of these options have rather short term effects and as you can guess are not official 4 Deserts advice!
SO WHAT NOW?
I see three options:
I’m quite competitive with myself when it comes to sport and a bit of “do it well or don’t it at all” character so it’s hard to stay motivated … but I’ll try to be a bigger person. It’s hard to know what will happen but I’ll try option 3.
So here’s what I did this week:
*Brilliant Olivia Chiu, a good friend and a 4 Deserts competitor who also happens to be a great physio!! helped with Plan B: More careful and focused strength work and weekends sessions as knees allow. Reduce running. No more long back to back weekends! My request: Replace it with biking and paddling to keep up cardio – and for mental health.
I’ve also got great tips from Hong Kong based podiatrist Brock Healy, who is a star when it comes to finding an ideal running shoe for your foot type.
40% RULE AND CAMARADERIE:
Many 4 Deserts competitors battle with injuries or a fear of getting injured at some point. It’s important to respect rest days (the number of them depends on your fitness level and plan). If it looks like an injury is looming, stop doing what you are doing and consult a physio or a sports physician, preferably someone who understands ultras.
While it’s never recommended to start a race being injured, issues can occur. If you are training alone and feeling stressed and worried, the main thing to remember is that you are not alone. When you join a 4 Deserts race you will have so much support. Camaraderie in these races is indescribable. It’s incredible how much extra strength you find from yourself with the support of others! This morning I saw a quote from an ex-navy seal which I thought was apt: when you think you've reached your limit, you have just about reached 40%.
While battling this I’ve had to remind myself that my problems are relative to others. While I think of my inflamed knees, I also think of Camel (Kam Hung) Fung, a Hong Kong based competitor who is training for the Gobi March 2017. He’s an amputee.
All of us will be challenged by something. It wouldn’t be great if it was easy.
GEAR CHOISES: BACKPACK
Let’s move on from one first world problem to another: which backpack? The two most important equipment items are backpack and shoes. I’m still deciding on between two (or more!) shoe models ....
...So I’m not going to cover that yet! Hope the below helps anyone who’s deciding on the pack.
Training with the backpack:
The Sahara Race, just like any other 4 Deserts is a self-supported race. Admittedly wanting to carry a 7-9kg backpack over 250 kms is not the first thing one dreams about, but there’s a sense of satisfaction in the idea of living out of your backpack for the week. This was Mary’s idea for the races when she started the race series 15 years ago. Back to basics, to push your physical and mental limits.
There’s a fine line how much training with a pack you want to do. It’s good to get used the weight and you can also use the pack to do your strength training exercises. However it’s not recommended to do all your training with a heavy pack as that can lead to an injury. But carry it enough to get stronger and used to it – there’s not much shopping around the Skeleton Coast, if you find that your pack gives you chaffing in the middle of the race (!).
Choosing a pack – a session in the park:
I was going to write more about this but remembered then that we have this expert article that lays out the essential considerations when choosing a pack.
To start with I identified the models that I thought could work. I asked friends around who already had backpacks from past stage races and borrowed them for a trial session. I ended up with OMM 25, OMM 32 and Osprey Talon 33. I packed a few bags of rice and a couple of towels, plus the bottle holders and bottles with water to make this resample race packing as much as possible.
Off to a nearby park. I strapped the first pack on and went for a short run. I came back, switched the load quickly to the second backpack and did the same run. Came back, changed to the third backpack and did the run. This worked well as I could feel the difference easily with quick switching – and the park staff was amused.
Here’s what I thought:
The pack is a bit longer so you can really tighten it around your waist. However it was bouncing around my shoulders and I couldn’t make it tighter. Works nicely for a hiker or someone with broad shoulders but not for me. (Consequently it say it’s men’s model). This pack is also a bit heavier but it has a proper frame and netting against your back.
The pack is pretty snug and it’s easy to tighten so it doesn’t shake around too much. The straps are soft and cushioned but for me they go over my trapezius so I felt the weight quite a bit on the side of the neck/ traps. All in all thought very comfortable. And lots of pockets for equipment you need to access easily.
Basically the same design as OMM 25 but the back part of the backpack is a bit longer. Works equally and generally better for taller people. Both OMMs are very lightweight.
I continued the trial at the RacingThePlanet store another day (yes, brought my rice and some cat sand as weight). I added a few more packs for comparison:
Raidlight Runner Light 30:
Comfortable pack but the lower part of it is larger so the bottom part can get quite heavy and bulky. Lots of pockets so a practical design. I know many people who love this pack but I opt to not to use it for myself.
WAA Ultra Equipment:
This is only a 20L backpack but it comes with an extra front pouch (that could also be worn at the back). Also quite a comfortable design but unless you are very strict with your packing, you will run out of space. Because of the snug size, this pack is a favorite to many experienced ultra runners.
Inov 8 Racepac 25:
Had the most comfortable fitting around my shoulders and I really wanted to get this one! But when I started running with the pack bounced against my upper back between the shoulder blades a bit too much. I thought my lungs would not be happy about that after 40km.
So which pack? I think I will go for the OMM. I’ll have a couple more runs with the 25 and 32 to make the final decision on the size. (Thank you Lene Larsen for lending yours!)
A couple of reminders for backpack shopping:
So…. A few weeks have passed since I signed up to “race” 250-km in Namibia. No more requests to join the volunteer team but a few have requested to do my mandatory equipment check. CP Captain Tony Brammer has promised it’s going to be thorough – I better not show up with patches wrong way around or with a small whistle!
I’m happy to report that training has started to take some sort of shape. When you change sports or start it all over again, it always takes a while to get into the routine and start liking it. But I think it’s gradually sinking in. My legs have got use to it: a 15k run no longer hurts my hips or muscles the next day and the couple of times I’ve gone paddling, I haven’t been able to keep up with others, so as annoying it is, it must be a good thing!
I think I had a highlight of my training this week. It was early morning and I ran from the south side of Hong Kong island, over the hills and then along a flat Bowen Road that overlooks the city centre. I was overtaken by a woman. Crap how annoying! I blamed the big backpack that I was testing and didn’t like. Another woman goes past. Now this is really annoying. So I speeded up a bit and passed them, but towards the end the other woman passes me again. We got to the end of Bowen together where she turns around to go back and shows her PREGNANT belly! And it wasn’t a small bump. It was a proper at least 5-6 months pregnant bump that looked like it should slow you down. I should probably look at my pace again! But good on her!
Friends Are the Best & Worst
I’m lucky to have a few 4 Deserts veterans living in my neighborhood. As much as I value their tips, I (secretly) think they get satisfaction of telling me what to do J But so far we are still friends.
Here’s a few:
Lene Larsen – Atacama Crossing 2015, Gobi March 2015 and The Last Deserts 2016:
“Don’t forget to run in the sand – it makes your ankles strong”.
Andrew Strachan – Gobi March 2008, RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009, Iceland 2013
“Fix yourself a standing desk. You’ll find your legs and back tired first but you’ll be much better prepared for being on your feet.”
“Don’t train too much. You’ll be fine with a couple of times a week!” [This is my personal favorite!]
Ali Chaudhry – RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009, Australia 2010, Nepal 2011, Iceland 2013, Madagascar 2014, Atacama Crossing 2015, Gobi March 2016, The Last Desert 2016
“Put lubricant everywhere. I mean EVERYwhere!” [Ali developed a rather personalised walking style for ignoring his own advice in Iceland 2013.]
Jo Eades – RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009, Australia 2010, Gobi March 2014
“When I did Namibia, the best training, besides a few runs on the beach, was tackling the twins [these are 400 meter peaks in Hong Kong]. They’ll get you strong for dunes and step training helps when you’re sliding backwards in the sand.
Ross Eathorn, Personal Trainer – Sahara Race 2009, Atacama Crossing 2012
“Everyone’s different - what works for one may not work for another person but it’s good to have some kind of a structure in training.”
It’s great to be able to absorb their experience and views, and just talk about training in general. It makes it more interesting and there’s always something you haven’t thought about.
Despite Ross’ advice, I decided not to opt for a personal trainer so I can keep living in my dream world (ha!), but I’ve begged and begged and managed to find friends to do some of my training sessions with, and identified a couple of training groups to make this all it as fun as possible.
Measures and figures:
I don’t use a GPS watch that much but I think it’s good to record some mile stones along the way. Let’s say in the beginning, half way and towards the end.
Speed: I started by noting down the time of my first longer training session which was a combo of running and hiking. It was 3 hrs and I covered 18km with 600 meters of elevation gain and loss. It’s obviously not a flat run so I figured the hills compare to the soft sand and dunes in Namibia. So let’s say around 6km / hr will be my starting pace, which hopefully then equals then a medium / tired pace in Namibia. Although that could be a little optimistic with a heavy backpack.
Heart Rate: When I studied physiotherapy years back we did a lot of fitness testing. Since study times, I’ve used a heart rate monitor very little. I believe more in knowing your base HR levels (rest HR, max HR and the basic training levels, usually around 70/80/90%) and training based on how you feel. But of course it’s good to check those here and there. Just as speed, a heart rate is an indication of fitness level and it can be motivating to keep an eye on both.
During my first long run (and not having used a HR monitor for a long time) I noticed that during a 3-hour run, my heart rate was more or less 150. Whether it was uphill or downhill or flats, it stayed around that mark. Occasionally it reached 160 but didn’t go above it.
A good example comes from the 100km Trailwalker races that I completed in 2007-2009. Kobi Jansen who was our team’s captain used to insist on walking ALL uphills. Looking back, that was just the right thing and allowed all four of us finish the 100km-race, even that year when the temperatures were around 30C mark. Pacing is going to be the key in order to finish something as long as 250-km.
But then again on shorter week day runs I think it’s good to really work on getting the heart rate up (and down). Nothing beats interval training, as awful as it can be.
After a couple of weeks “warm up” I drafter a training plan. In brief it’s about short but more intense training sessions on the week days to build strength and speed and then building up the distance on the weekends.
The Namib Desert is full of sand. It’s the oldest desert in the world so that’s obviously not going to change. That sand is going to slow everyone down and make it much tougher – and drive me mad.
Trails in Hong Kong are quite the opposite. Although it has some of the beautiful trails in the world (see yourself):
... the government here likes to pave trails. All most of the common trails are paved – where there is no pavement is where they ran out of concrete!
Why am I talking about pavement? Well it makes running much quicker. So as preparation (both mental and physical) I’ve decided to find awkward places to run from time to time. I’m lucky to have a few beaches around but for those who don’t have, it could be a swamp, snowy trail, soft forest track.
For those who live in hot countries, I think training in heat is also good. It makes your training runs slower but it builds up stamina. Whether the race is in hot or cold environment (for most part the course in Namibia is not particularly hot).
Below is what I came up with:
1hr bootcamp / gym
Short Run / Intervals
6-13km / 1-2 hrs
1hr bootcamp / gym
Short Run / (Intervals)
6-13km 1-2 hrs
14km < / 3-4 hrs
14km < / 3-4 hrs
+ Stretching in the evenings (although this is often replaced by snoring!).
A “couple” of notes:
The “plan” is to change the plan. When I’ve followed this for 4-6 weeks, I’ll see how it all feels and make some modifications. The changes include:
I presume all the above is going to suck at some point. If it happens, I will then take a day off and go to movies after work - or have fatty hamburgers and a few beers. Relaxing either way!
I think that’s it for now. I feel like at this point I still enjoy writing more than training. But as they say: “Do what I say, not what I do”.
So here we are: I have FINALLY decided to jump to the other side of the fence by signing up for the Sahara Race (Namibia): 250 kilometers, 7 days, self-supported by my own feet. For anyone who has signed up too, don’t worry, I’m not going to be conducting customer research or spy and expose you for penalties – I’m going to be SUFFERING, LIVING and LOVING it over the 250 kilometers and 7 days like the rest of you.
Since I shared the news, some of our past competitors have asked to join the volunteer team. Just for the sheer pleasure of driving past me by 4x4 is my guess! (Haha I hope this doesn't turn into a Dacar Rally.)
I obviously have a few obstacles to tackle, like how to get ready for the race in just over three months, but what I do really look forward to is having the time to enjoy the race from a participant’s perspective and selfishly focus on me (thank you my dear colleagues for letting me slack this time!)
There are lots of amazing things to experience (pictures can never bring justice but below is a few to give you a better idea): The Namib Desert (the oldest desert in the world by the way) and all those incredible things along the course: huge waves and strong currents of the Skeleton coast. Numerous seal colonies, and the cute small black seal heads that keep popping up and down in the waves. They are seriously funny to watch! Historical ship wrecks on the foggy coast, including Henrietta on Stage 2, which is partially covered by the sand. Huge golden and red sand dunes (we have added a few more to the 2017 course). All that deserted red landscape with canyons and valleys where the course leaves the Skeleton Coast. A random diamond mind from earlier this century and its rusty structures in the middle of the desert. The ever so happy local team who love chanting their traditional African songs as they set up the tents (or when they sneak out to play football), and a local Himba tribe who wears nothing but leathers and their handmade jewellery, but are some of the most beautiful people on the African continent. And just as important, I’m looking forward to not rushing around but let my beloved colleagues do it J. Instead I’ll focus on having endless chats with other competitors, enjoying the sun rises and sun sets around the camp fires – and of course a good tent gossip! Looks like there’s a great bunch (and still many signing up) - Between us we share over 30 nationality flags! www.4deserts.com/sahararace/competitors
What I think will be challenging for me personally besides the obvious (distance, challenging terrain and testing weather) will be blisters. Just for the record, I lost SEVEN (!) toe nails in my first 100km Trailwalker. But that was long time ago there’s lot you can do to prevent them. The second thing maybe limitations on what you can fit into the backpack. Don’t get me wrong. I love getting back to basics and I find a week without showers or changing clothes incredible relaxing. But I’m used to having a heavy warm sleeping bag and lots of food (just for the record, it’s never been any different to competitors. I enjoy the same orange packs as you). Anyways keeping the weight of my backpack could be challenging!
So I signed up pretty late (a couple of weeks ago). Just less than 4 months to the race. I do admit that being an organiser for living, I may not be most organised in my personal life – ad hock things do happen. All the time.
Typically the first things to determine when you decide to sign up for a multi-stage race are:
1) Motivation – why do you want to do this?
2) Your current fitness level and;
3) Your goal/s and based on that;
4) Your commitment (ie training plan)
So why do I want to complete the Sahara Race? Besides the points I mentioned earlier, I have always loved sports. I was more active before I made my hobby my living, but being active has always been part of my life. When I was just over 2 years old, my parents noticed that everything wasn’t quite right. My feet were starting to crow in a funny direction, swell and I seemed to be in increasing pain. Six months later after lots of tests, I was diagnosed with a severe juvenile arthritis. The doctors said that I may never be able to run, and even walking could be difficult. A couple of years followed with regular visits to hospitals, intense treatments, medication, shots and I started slowly getting better. Thanks to the great level of healthcare we have in Finland and an incredible amount of patience and love from my parents to go through all this I am what I am today. For all of my teen age and adult life I have been able to do sports and enjoy it. Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that will always stick with me and it does from time to time remind me of its existence but all in all I consider myself VERY lucky. And that’s why I try to keep in mind that being healthy and being able to enjoy sports is not something you can take for granted. But while you can, make the most of it.
Current Fitness Level
"Do you compete and organize these races at the same time?" is a question I’m often asked. It's a common assumption that race directors are fit. This is probably a false assumption – at least in my case it is. There’s enough to do just managing the various aspects of the 7-day race. If we are lucky we could sneak out to mark the course, pick up markers etc for a while. The days in the office can be quite long too. When the races get close we can easily spend more time at our desk than traders at theirs.
But I try to exercise as much as I can. Usually in the mornings as it starts the day in a really nice way. I think about running related things a lot, so much of my free time I like to spend on water. Currently I paddle a boat faster than I run. That’s kind of a problem… so I’m going to try to change that (quickly) to get FROM THIS:
[By the way, Salameh Al Acra holds the trophy for several top level stage races including the Sahara Race 2014 with an overall time of 22:44 and the MDS so even to finish in double that time I would be very happy!]
#1 My first goal, like every 4 Deserts competitors’ goal should be, is to finish. There are so many factors that affect a 7-day ultramarathon in the middle of nowhere, that no-one can show up and state that they are 100% going to finish. Exhaustion, stomach bugs, dehydration, injuries are some of the challenges.
The number two most common reasons for withdrawing in our races are:
2) Stomach issues (caused by dehydration, exhaustion, bugs etc)
So I thought I would take a modest approach and as corny as it sounds “listen to my body”. If it wants to walk I walk and if it feels energetic I might run, or in the context of the desert, shuffle.
2# My second goal is to train as well as possible in the time I have so I can “enjoy” the race. Train well doesn’t mean train a lot. Or not train enough. But lazy as I am I’ll try to train smart.
3# My third (secret) goal is to do as well as possible. I don’t know yet what that means so more about that probably towards the end of my training.
First Training Run:
Seven years with the race series, it’s not going to be hard to make a training plan, but as most things in life, sticking to it will be challenging. I did my first run a week ago on Sunday. You know that feeling when your GPS watch vibrates and you’re glad to know you’re making progress? I thought I had covered the first kilometer but no… that was just the GPS just registering! Someone reminded me to try to find my inner Chi and the enjoyment in running. I think I found my Qi at some point but probably because I happily forgot myself into a slow pathetic shuffle - at times just standing around. But it’s all about the time on your feet right? Right.
I did manage to cover 18k, and did even enjoy it, but not a surprisingly, the Rigor Mortis during the next couple of days was equal to the experience – I felt dead and stiff. Also the amount of chocolate that went down alongside with full meals was pretty incredible. I’ll start eating healthier soon.
I’ve done a few more runs and cross training sessions but by the next update I’ll share a more precise training plan. That's all for now, speak soon!