How do you train for that?

“How do you train for a race like that?” This is the most common question that people have asked me when I’ve told them that I will be racing Marathon des Sables. Well, that is after they have asked “Are you mad?”

I thought, rather than writing about whether or not I think I might be mad, I thought it might be more interesting to write about how I propose to train for this race. Over the last couple of years I have met a few people who have done the Marathon des Sables (MDS) before, and I asked them the same question (knowing that I really wanted to do the event and stocking up on tips early!). More recently I have read a number of books: Running from the Shadows – Mark Roe; Highway to Hell – Grahame Harvey; Survival of the Fittest – Mike Stroud. A year or so ago I was lucky enough to hear Mike Stroud speak at the University of Leeds as part of a seminar series on physiology in extreme conditions. He is a fascinating man and captivating speaker. I made lots of  notes.

Last week I attended a Webinar provided by Simon Ward and Rory Coleman. Simon Ward has been 220 Triathlon Coach of the year a number of times. He completed MDS in 2001, but mostly completes in Ironman triathlons. He is also a good friend of mine, who is going to complete MDS in 2015. Rory Coleman is an ultradistance marathon runner and coach. He has completed MDS 11 times and coached scores of athletes to a successful completion of MDS. This webinar was excellent and really helped me to put my MDS thoughts in order and start with a plan.

What have I done before

Over the last few years I have competed in various triathlons from sprint distance to half iron distance.

I have completed many one day and multi day cycle endurance events. I have successfully raced in cycing time trials and mountain bike races.

I have run consistently for  a few years. In the last couple of years I have run mostly off road, and on the fells. I have twice completed the Yorkshire 3 peaks fell race.

In May this year I put it all together and raced City to Summit – an Iron distance triathlon with a mountain at the end!

I know that I have endurance. I have learnt that I need to respect rest and recovery. I know that I need to spend more time on strength and conditioning.

Where am I now

Since the City to Summit race I have struggled to train consistently. Through July I had a number of bouts of cold/flu. In August I have got back into riding my bike and a few good runs. I weigh 70 kg and am 27% body fat. That is a size 10/12. I am 5ft7 – 169cm. While this weight is in the healthy range, it is heavier than I’d like to be for MDS.

Training phase 1

This will be a 13 week period where I build back up to training 8-12 hours a week (as I was until the end of May this year). This will start with riding my bike most days, with a few runs and swims. I will then build on the running so that I am running 3 times a week, up to 30 miles in total. I’ll maintain some cycling and swimming. Some weeks I will include a long walk with a back pack. I will also find some local sand to run in when I can.

During this phase I will run a couple of marathons and culminate in three back to back marathons.

Every three weeks I will have a recovery week with reduced training volume – especially the run volume.

I will start with regular gym sessions. I will aim to lose 5 kg.

Training phase 2

This will be a slightly shorter 10 week phase and will incorporate some high training volume over Christmas and New year. My runs will be off road wherever possible, testing out my new head torch on the local trails.

I aim for consistency and will try and maintain some cycling and swimming, because I enjoy them and also to help reduce injury risk and for cross training strength benefits.

In January I will increase the number of sessions where I train with a pack. I will also gradually increase pack weight. I will be sure to build stretches of walking briskly into my run sessions. Running and walking use different muscles and I don’t want the walking muscles to get a shock when I get to the desert!

Training phase 3

Another 10 week phase. I will hopefully have all my race kit by now and will be able to use it in training. I will fine tuning my nutrition requirements for the race.

The last two weeks before I leave for MDS I will undergo some acclimatisation training in the environment suite heat room at the University of Leeds.


So that is the plan! I’ll keep you updated with how it goes!


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