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Blog: Follow St Mary’s physiotherapist on his 250km run

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Setting yourself a challenge means different things to different people. For St Marys’ physiotherapist Rory Brown it means running 250km in the desert over Easter. The Marathon des Sables (MdS) is an annual event attracting over a 1000 like-minded individuals from around the world to Morocco, where they take on the heat and sand dunes of the Sahara.

So far, Rory has completed training runs across Box Hill and the North Downs, running over 30 miles a day consecutively. Rory has been ticking training goals off every week, and with the race start-date looming (9th April), we caught up with him to see how his training schedule and nerves were holding up.

“My training is on track for the race date and it has been a good but tough few weeks: I am managing to keep the momentum and training going. I have completed some more long runs on bridle-paths and bye-ways, ensuring I have been training on a good mix of terrain, and with the harsh windy conditions brought by Storm Doris, I have been able to tick off another one of my training ‘should do’s’.

For this week’s training I mimicked the MdS by undertaking ‘medium sized’ runs on the first three days and a ‘long run’ on the fourth, followed by one recovery day and finally two further medium runs on the last two days: totalling over 130miles. That mileage is more than I have ever done before, but sticking to a nice steady pace and holding back to run the following day seems to have worked well. Admittedly, this was a reality check as to the challenge ahead. By the fourth day my legs were extremely tired and heavy and, although long, the distance I ran was not nearly as far as I may have to cover in the desert. It was a definite struggle. The recovery day did its job though and on the last two days I felt ‘okay’ again.

Another ‘to do’ is to complete my long runs with a race weight pack. In the marathon I will have to carry all my equipment with me, including food, water and kit, totalling on average 6-10kg. Equally, I need to complete runs in the heat chamber, available at St Mary’s University, which I now have booked in during the two weeks before the start of the race. I am looking forward to working with the physiologists and hopefully seeing and feeling the effects of adaptation as I run in the heat.

On the planning side, I am still working on creating balanced food provisions for each day, bearing in mind I have to carry my own supplies. The minimum requirement is to carry 2,000 calories for each day, although with the running time and heat this will be way below calories used. Some studies of the MdS suggest around 2,800 calories per day is required for you to perform effectively and have your most successful race, regardless of whether you are at the front, middle or back of the pack. The challenge is to remember that I am not just adding up a calorie list, but that the food needs to be relatively enjoyable, edible in the heat and maintains a good nutritional intake. I have particularly found breakfasts to be quite difficult to get through, although these provisions have a good calorie count: it all needs to balance out.

The other key area is specific kit items. I have started using soft water bottles and drinking through a tube, which I have found very comfortable when worn on the chest with strap holders. My shoe choice for the race has just about been made, and now I need to take them to a cobbler and get velcro attached to use with the sand gaiters, which is an essential item to try and protect my feet and stopping my shoes filling with sand in the desert! More interestingly, I now own an anti-venom pump… this was a mandatory piece of equipment for the race which I certainly hope I never have to use! It doesn’t fill me with confidence.

I am now in the last six weeks before the race starts. There does still seem a lot to do but everything is going to plan and at this point I just want to get there and start the race!”

Next month will be race time for Rory, but before that we will get his final thoughts in next month’s newsletter and hear about his last preparations, including his training in the heat chamber, as we count down to when he takes to the line and hears the starting gun of the 32nd MdS.

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