Tag Archives: MDS training

Not long now…..

In a weeks time the adventure which has taken over my life for the last year will begin!! clockTime has passed so quickly since I pressed the enter button last May. The training is mostly done – only two more training sessions in the heat chamber and a few saunas left!

Last Friday was the first session in the heat chamber. There are two treadmills in the chamber so we ran in pairs. John and I first with Fiona and Simon following straight afterwards. John and I have followed the suggested sessions from Mark Hetherington at the University f Leeds and so far so good.

1st session. 40 degrees centigrade. 20% humidity. Basic running gear only (no desert kit). 20 minutes steady run 1% wpid-img_337808566563912.jpeggradient. 10 minutes walk 6% gradient and repeat. The third rep we cut short to 15 and 5 in the interest of time. It had taken us a while to get set up. We had a thermometer in one ear and a pulse monitor on the other and  retro sweat band to hold it all in place. We were weighed before and after, as were our drinks. Our temperature, heart rate and speed/gradient were recorded every 5 minutes. I felt in safe hands. Total time on feet 80 minutes. No ill effects and feeling confident. To pass the time running in the big white box we watched the clock and our core temperatures like it was a competition to see who could stay coolest longest. I think JB won by 0.3 degrees!

Saturday we did 2 hours outdoors with 8kg back packs with 1 hour of that as hill reps over the trig point on Baildon moor. wpid-20150322_102945.jpgSunday was my last run outside and it was a stunning morning. Emma joined us for a Baildon Boundary Way recce for me to point out all the marshal spots (I usually organise the marshals for this fab race but it clashes with this running in the desert – Emma has kindly taken over!!).

Tuesday brought session 2 in the heat chamber. This time I wore my legionaries hat, race shoes and gaiters and a pack with 1kg and wpid-20150326_094213.jpgwater.  Same session – 40 degrees centigrade. 20% humidity. 20 minutes steady run 1% gradient. 10 minutes walk 6% gradient and repeat – this time 3 times. A full 90 minute session. At the end of the second walk I felt really hot! (even though my temp was lower than JB’s today!). Wearing the back pack was like having a little coat on! Slightly concerned I cautiously started the final run. Within minutes I felt fine again. 30 minutes later the session was done and confidence rising. Studying the results with interest I learned that my sweat rate (with a pack on) is 1.3 litres/hour. My heart rate settles about 166 after an hour in the heat. The walk breaks bring it back down slightly. Returning home I checked my garmin stats regarding my heart rate on training runs (I have been more interested in miles and time than heart rate in training). Average heart rate for my runs in the last 6 months 163bpm. So in conclusion my body isn’t stressing that much in the heat chamber (good news!)

Heat chamber session 3. Same set up but this time with 5kg in the backpack. We actually walked 1km/hr slower on the uphill walks this time. This worked really well, with my heart rate dropping 25 bpm during this time. By the end of the session I felt even better than the last one. I am again looking forward to the next session which will be with more weight in my pack and for 2 hours……

The last couple of weeks have seen a reduction in my training volume. The upside of this (aside from more recovery time) is that I have been able to catch up with some of my wonderful friends. Without the support of so many of my friends and my family, my preparation for marathon des sables would have been very different. I even have some mementos to take to the desert with me (weighing less that 1g each they are allowed in the bag and will no doubt make me smile!)wpid-20150325_193309-1.jpg wpid-20150325_193325-1.jpg

Friends, colleagues and family have all helped with fundraising too. We raised £240 in 2 hours at a cake bake last week. Incredible and the cakes donated to were so delicious! (no wonder I haven’t quite reached the race weight I might have liked!). Easter bunnies and lots of chocolate donated by my mum in law are being raffled (draw next week) and they have been so popular. Thank you to Nuffield Health at Shipley for the membership to help me in the final stages of acclimatisation by using the sauna. Beta Climbing designs have been super helpful this week in handling a mini MDS emergency when the buckle on my pack got broken. My mum was a star as always taking a day out to collect the bag from me and take it to Sheffield to get it sorted…..I await its safe return as I type.

I continue to be overwhelmed by sponsorship donations from so many different people. The messages I have received in cards, emails and on just giving are all really special to me. Thank you all. I have had a few little cries too! When I have said bye to friends who I won’t see till I am back, hugs have been a bit longer and stronger than usual, reminding me of just how epic this adventure is going to be!


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Vacuum packing pot noodles

Less than three weeks to go now! Excited is an understatement….but there are plenty of other emotions I am going through too.

This week was the 7 year anniversary of losing my Dad and also what would have been his 63rd birthday. I’ve let myself think about what he would make of me doing the MDS. It’s hard to know what he’d think of the actual challenge but he would have been super supportive for sure. He would have been happy using his scout leader discount at some outdoor shops for all the food and kit I have been buying too!

I have actually quite enjoyed planning my desert menu! Tasting the foods wasn’t always as pleasurable as I would have liked, but now I have found what I like I’m quite looking forward to it! This is the plan so far:


Typically, a days food consists of granola and milk powder and a cup of tea for breakfast. 2x yummy 9bars, pepperami and some cashews or jelly sweets during the day and then either a freeze dried meal or double pot noodle in the evening. I have desert survival formula, nuun and goodness shake procovery to supplement the real food. It sounds incredibly civilised eh! the only problem is it is really heavy….I might need to sacrifice some calories to save my shoulders.

I have found out after much trial and error and the help of my neighbour that pot noodles do not want to be vacuum packed and afterwpid-20150309_175746.jpg what I though was initial success the air all leaked back in. A zip lock bag seems a better option and after a trial run of fitting about 70% of my food in my rucksack it seems as though it should all fit without too much bother (we’ll see though!!). Ziplock bags weigh 4g  and these still need to be added to my spreadsheet!




This week training volume has been much less. The accumulative effect of the last few months training has caught up and I have enjoyed a much more restful week. With a month membership at Nuffield Health Shipley I have been able to do a bit of conditioning and start some acclimatisation training – sweating in the sauna. An early morning 3 hour run with MDS buddies John and Fiona meant I had all Saturday afternoon to catch up with friends which was lovely.

2 hours on my feet (walking rather than running), including over an hour of hill reps with a 6+kg pack today was a good session – especially with the mixed terrain of the hill – loose rocky stuff combined with steep concrete steps and some grass/mud sections.  On my 4th rep of the hill I heard the little voice “this is really hard – do I really have to do 10?” soon after through the switch was flicked and my mind was happily busying itself with other thoughts. I even did an 11th rep just because I could (and it was the quickest one). Despite this brutal session I feel like I have had a really lazy day with only 2 hours of training.


This time in three weeks I will have finished my first day in the desert! My main objective between now and then is to stay well – germ and injury free. I think hand sanitiser will be coming everywhere with me and I might pick up some echinacea and vitamin C from the chemist on my way to work in the morning!

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Like a snail without your house

“Like a snail without your house” is what my boyfriend said to me about running without my pack! Rather than take offence at the insult of being so slow at the moment this really made me laugh! The pack and its contents are such a big part of the MDS journey. Yesterday I ran the Trollers trot – 25mile off road run with 8kg weight on my back. No prizes for time but a great run in the bank and another confidence boost.

Yesterday was an exciting day in my MDS world. I met the local MDS celebrity Mark Roe – author of the book ‘Running from the shadows’ which was the first of many books I read when I entered MDS. It gave me such insight into the race and the race preparation. Even more exciting he recognised me from this blog! It’s not just my mum reading this (which is also exciting to learn!). By chance we met one of our future tent mates too. It is getting so real  now!

mds route

This last week so much seems to have happened. The race organisers have ‘leaked’ some information about the route. This year the long stage will be the longest in MDS history. This means it will be over 92km! The guestimates are that it will be 100km. Wow! 62 miles in one stage. How long will that take me? Will I be able to finish it in a day and still get a rest day? Or will I need to sleep out on the course and take the rest day as a second running day? Who knows? I think I will have to see how it goes?

Rather than this news instilling panic or terror it has made me so so excited. It will soon be here and it is going to be seriously tough! My training is going great and some of the confidence building runs are working a treat. Last weekend I ran the Mary Townley Loop with is a 47 mile bridleway circuit in Yorkshire and Lancashire. It is beautiful scenic and hilly route – although underfoot it is pretty rough. Not sure I’d like to take a horse around some parts of it, nor a mountain bike! http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/sites/default/files/mary_towneley_loop_leaflet.pdf


On the day garmin said it was only 45 miles but with over 7000ft of climbing on all kinds of terrain it was tough. The guidance from the national trail booklet says 3-4 days on foot! Yeah right! Not when you are training for the toughest footrace on Earth…..

I ran with MDS taining buddy John. My boyfriend James supported us and two other mates came along on their bikes riding part of the route in reverse which meant we had some good targets knowing we’d meet them along the way. The weather was changeable with some sunshine interspersed with sideways rain. The outcome of the day was we did it and felt great. Walking up the hills and running the rest works well, with 4kg in the pack we returned to where we started, guided by the head torch exactly 12 hours after we started. Moving time of around 10hr20. The biggest achievement of running the Mary Townley loop was perhaps the fact that we were still running at the end. We still felt good and in fact a little disappointed that it wasn’t the 47 mile we expected! Sunday I trotted round at the back as sweeper in the West Yorkshire Winter League cross country series. Aside from being very tired this week there have been no ill effects and on learning that the long MDS stage will be 62 miles – at least I know now I can do 3/4 of that and feel ok. Looking forward with childish giddiness now!

In more practical terms all my race food has been tested and purchased!wpid-20150304_185912.jpg

My race shoes are bought and have been sent off for the velcro so be sewn on. wpid-20150302_205602.jpgThat was a mini drama in itself! Wearing a UK size 8 usually and being prone to swollen feet I opted for a size 9 race shoe. My shoe of choice is the salomon womens speedcross 3. When I went to order some size 9’s online no one stocked them! Not even salomon’s own website had any in stock! Argh! With a list as long as my arm of things to sort out, all of it being squeezed around a full time job and training this was the last thing I needed! To the rescue though, my local running shop was able to order some in for me. Better still this meant I could use my Christmas present voucher from my father in law towards paying for them. This feels pretty special too.

All my acclimatisation sessions in the heat chamber are booked. Eeek! So that will be a taper in the heat. The ECG and medical form sign off is booked for this week. My main aim now is to stay in one piece and get to the start line feeling fit. Yesterday was my last long run. I managed to trip over a tiny tree root and superman dive onto the riverbank but wasn’t hurt! It is all coming together well – my aim was to be 65kg starting the race and at 66kg I am nearly there,

4 weeks today I will be completing my first marathon in the Sahara! Woo!

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March 8, 2015 · 6:53 pm

The desert has us now….

As everyone around will know I seem unable to talk about anything except the desert at the moment. Luckily a lot of this talk happens on training runs with my MDS buddies. This blog consists of a couple of emails which I received from John (JB) yesterday and today. They are a great example of what the race is doing to us! So reproduced with JB’s permission…..

Monday 23rd Feb. 18:54 Subject: Playtime

Sara away.
Radiator off.
Window open.
Time to play…. Deserts!!


And the outcome of playing deserts

Tuesday 24th Feb. 14:35 Subject: Playtime

The wife was away and so it was time to play sleeping in the desert last night!!

The forecast was 3-4°c overnight with a good breeze in the air and so I set up camp early in the evening choosing a generous area of sandy coloured carpet, I turned off the radiator and opened all the windows to let the room cool and then I chilled downstairs next to the wood burner until bed time.
I’d debated (with myself of course as even the dogs are fed up of MdS talk) about wether to use my sleeping mat, as the inch of thick twill 80/20 and underlay would be better than I’d expect in the Sahara, but decided I’d try it anyway. 
At bedtime the old thermometer I’d found told me it was 10°c, a lot warmer than it felt and I hoped that time had made it inaccurate. 
I wiggled my way into my zip less, borrowed “it’ll suit ya down t’ground that lad. It weren’t cheap and its proper down ya know” sleeping bag and drew the hood tight at about 11pm.
My head was resting on my full pack all was lovely. Comfy and cosy until at least 11:02!!
I sleep on my side and was feeling ever rib I have, but hey I’m a roughy, toughy desert runner so I doubled over the long mat (which I’d intended to cut down before the race) and drifted off to sleep for couple of hours.
My minuscule bladder, back ache, stiff neck and sore ear woke me at about 1:30. 
The room felt freezing on my trip to the loo (no I didn’t go into the garden as I didn’t want to wake the dogs) but the ageing thermometer hadn’t budged.
I squirmed my way back into the bag almost twisting a knee (bags, tight spaces and tired legs are going to require care and practice) but couldn’t settle. 
The pack/pillow was just too uncomfortable. So I stuffed t-shirt in the sleeping bag stuff sack and surprisingly that was enough to solve the issue. 
Having doubled up the sleeping mat earlier I now folded it to 3 layers. It was finally sufficient padding but now too short!!
As I fought my way back to sleep I wondered if I was getting cooler and the next bladder alarm at 3:30 told me I was. 
The thermometer stubbornly insisted it was still 10°c as I squirmed back in to the chilled bag. I needed more warmth but surely not. I was inside at 10°c ‘apparently’. In the race I could use my race/camp kit I suppose and use the tiny pertext wind top I’m taking but I didn’t have this to hand.
Resisting the king size bed I reached out to find the Yorkshire flag that might find its way to the finish line depending on my final pack weight and hey presto, a sheet. 
I stuffed it into the bag on top of me and it did the trick. I slept again until 5:30 when I didn’t give in…… “NEVER EVER GIVE IN” …. but I concluded that there was nothing more to be gained from my experiment. 
Having learned valuable lessons I climbed into the marshmallow giving the pillows an extra plump and doubled over the 13.5tog quilt and fleecy blanket on top of me. Bliss!
So what had I learnt:
My sleeping bag might not be adequate alone. I need buy a liner as I will have limited kit to layer up.
I need to stop being tight and buy a proper sleeping mat and give the wife her exercise mat back!! Sleep=recovery!!
I can tolerate using my pack as a pillow but need to take time to get things right. 
What did I already know:
I’m always cold in bed. (So why have I fought against a liner. Listening to the advise of others and what works for them doesn’t always work for you. An extra layer obviously works for me)
I’m 53 and have 2 discs missing from my back (So why haven’t I bought a decent mat)
I’m a thrifty Yorkshireman (but that’s a good thing)
I pee a lot in the night (So need to be organised and careful getting into a sleeping bag)
What can we all learn:
Be honest about what you can live without.
Examine yourself today. (Your not the person you used to be or think you will suddenly become out in the desert.)
Test out ALL your kit even if it means looking a twit you need to learn lessons now not when it’s too late.
Early night tonight me thinks
Cheers JB.
Please take a look at my latest adventure. https://www.justgiving.com/John-Blyth/
What I have learnt from this:
(1) John will be allocated a position on the edge of the tent so he can get out to pee in the night!! and
(2) I ought to try out my sleeping bag, liner and mat on the stone floor at home and not on the sofa as I did a couple of weeks ago!
(3) The desert has taken JB too….

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A bit of a change

The last couple of weeks have brought some variation to my training. In addition to my usual off road moor runs I have enjoyed some long road runs home from work, a beach and dune run and running with a much heavier pack – although I didn’t enjoy the latter much and cycling.

Work hard, run home


So road running is not really my thing but after struggling to motivate myself out into the freezing cold after returning to a warm home following a long day at work I decided it best to cut out that step! The next day I changed straight into my running gear, filled my pack with all my work gear and set off running home. As many people have pointed out to me (and I already realised!) work to home is all up hill. I chose a ‘scenic’ even hillier route and feeling like forrest gump off I trotted home. Nearly 13 miles. Lots of busy road crossings. 2.5 hours. Training done for the day. The following week I did it twice. This week will bring it again.
What took me slightly by surprise on these runs has been my ability to zone out and take my mind elsewhere – a skill which I’m sure will serve me well in the desert! With most of my running being shared with the company of great friends or being off road and concentrating on the next step I haven’t experienced this complete zone out for a while.

Beach run

Woah – sand dunes make your legs burn! Especially with 6kg in your back pack – but this is nothing compared to miles of dunes with up to 10kg on your back which I will be experiencing soon. All said though I loved my day at the beach (Druridge bay) made even better by the company of my two oldest and bestest friends, one with her beautiful newborn son. Part of my beach running involved dune reps back to my friends who soon sent me on the next rep!! Lovely food and a good catch up followed. Fantastic day. I learnt some valuable lessons about how to ascend and descend dunes, how it feels to have sand in your shoes and a but about how sand moves. All this sounds really obvious but you think about things in a different light when you are heading to the Sahara for a week. It has helped me decide on sock choice (injinji toes socks with my usual running socks on top), shoe size (with the double socks and knowing my feet swell I am going for a UK size bigger for my race shoe) and also encouraged me to add some steep hill reps in the coming weeks training.
image  image

Pack weight

I have become perfectly happy with 5kg in my pack for long hilly runs. An increase to 7.5kg was a shock (especially as I thought I only had 6kg until l got home and weighed it properly!). At no point was I going to abort my 15 mile run but I was much slower than usual and forced to walk most of the climbs. I am confident that I will soon become accustomed to the heavier weight as I did with 5kg.
I also find it mildly entertaining to fill my pack with bags of muesli and rice to get the weight up.


In an attempt to get the best calories per gram for food I actually like I have a spreadsheet to add the information to. This also includes macronutrient content so that I can try and have enough carbohydrate during the day and fill up on protein and fat at night. Dehydrated foods seem the best option. John, Simon and I got together and had an MDS picnic (whilst watching Genis’ webinar) to try a few. We tried four. For me – two were ok, even pretty nice – one was unpleasant but edible and the fourth just revolting!! I love my food and will eat most things but am at my fussiest when I am tired. So it is going to be really important for me psychologically to know that I’m going to eat food I like at the end of each day in the desert. While it is expensive to keep trying these dehydrated foods I need to find another that I like. I have sorted my snacks though. 9bar! I love them! The peanut ones are 290kcal for 50g weight and they taste like food not just energy goo. I am also taking some pumpkin bars (250kcal/50g) and the breakfast bars. Twiglets, jelly beans, granola, allsports desert survival formula and pot noodle will constitute the rest of my food in the desert.


Riding my bike has been on the back burner with run training taking priority. The last few weeks have been me on my bike more often, mostly for active travel. I have really enjoyed it. It is in addition to my runs but I feel like it has taken pressure off running somehow.

MDS dreams

Scorpions, being hungry, being stuck on a treadmill going nowhere….are featuring in my dreams during the last week! I can tell the event is getting closer…..

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How many miles?

Many people have asked me what the format is for the Marathon des Sables – is it a marathon every day? Sort of…..The exact distance and route for this years Marathon des Sables is not announced until we (the competitors) arrive in the desert. To give you an idea, this is what the 2014 race looked like:

  • Day 1 – 34km (21.3 miles)
  • Day 2 – 41km (25.6 miles)
  • Day 3 – 37.5km (23.4 miles)
  • Day 4 – 81.5km  (50.9 miles)
  • Day 5 – rest day (but only once I have finished day 4 – which could be during this day!)
  • Day 6 – 42.2km (26.4 miles)
  • Day 7 – charity walk (!) Back to the bus 7.7 km (4.8 miles)

Total 152.4 miles!!!


The 2015 route will not be the same but the format will likely be similar. Now you can all share the miles with me! My race number is 0414. Once the race starts you will be able to track me online (I will send all the details round again before I leave).

A couple of people have said that they would like to sponsor me by the mile for the Intensive Care Foundation. Just Giving cannot process this on their site – they can only take payment at the time of the sponsorship pledge. If anyone would like to pledge per mile, you could comment on this blog post and then donate via http://www.justgiving.com/michellemorris-mds when I complete the event. This way you can experience every mile with me from your pockets!

Please pledge your donation in the ‘Leave your reply’ box below.

Some suggestions:

  • 1p per mile = £1.50
  • 5p per mile = £7.50
  • 10p per mile = £15.00
  • 20p per mile = £30.00
  • 50p per mile = £75.00

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February 13, 2015 · 8:56 pm

More wind, more snow and a brass monkey

Well the Yorkshire winter weather continues to test my mental toughness. Character building I am told…The odd thing is I am loving it :o)

Last weekend James (my boyfriend) and I treated ourselves to a weekend at the lovely Harewell Cottage (www.harewellcottage.co.uk) in Glasshouses. Only 40 minutes from home, but a new set of training routes on the doorstep. Once the training is done, there were no distractions aside from the log fire and complementary vino. Perfect blend of training and rest. On Saturday we enjoyed an 11 mile hilly loop, walking together, with my backpack loaded (I have an Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 from my race kit – so far it is great. The service from ‘My Race Kit’ was excellent – but more about that in the kit blog which I will write soon. There was plenty of snow on the ground but the really challenging bit was the frozen ice – and there was lots of that too. Despite James’ best Bambi on ice impressions it was me that ended up on my derrière! Ouch. It didn’t dampen the mood though and we treated ourselves to a lovely cafe lunch in Pateley bridge on the way back.


Sunday was real treat for me – a cycle ride. Something which I haven’t done for weeks – well maybe months! There is a reason why the area is called Nidderdale ANOB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).


A beautiful 30 odd mile loop past Brimham rocks, into Masham and back over Lofthouse Moor – what more could you want. What about 30-40 mph wind? Yes – we got that too. Full on head wind over the moor. I saw the speed on my garmin drop as low as 2.5 mph. I felt like I had done battle with a  wild animal the next day – I had needed to rag the handlebars that much to get up the climb into the wind. James waited gingerly at the top, nervous of a potential of a tantrum but he was greeted with ear to ear smiles. It was so much fun – ridiculously tough – but just ace! I enjoyed a nice 10 mile run on Monday morning – such a treat when I’m usually at work. A sports massage in the afternoon topped the weekend off well.

All this followed a different kind of weekend where I had a brief foray with road running. I raced the Brass Monkey half marathon at York. The race conditions lived up to the name – it was freezing! With the exception of large sections of black ice en route it was near perfect running conditions. Despite all my long slow training miles I surprised myself to carry off 8 minute (well 8:04) miles to run a pb of 1:46:28. I also surprised myself to quite enjoy it. When I completed the same race in 2012 I said ‘never again’. I found the fast, flat smooth roads incredibly boring. I missed the hills, the mud, the bogs, gates and styles, but this time it was all a mind game. There will be flat endless sections in the desert where it will be mind over matter to keep going. So Brass Monkey was a test of the mind. I couldn’t let it beat me and it didn’t. I might even go back next year – the marshals all around the course were second to none and really made it a fantastic race. Getting to catch up with a very old friend at the finish made it a fab day out.

Today the mind games continued as again my training ventured away from the usual routine. I caught the train with Fe and Simon (MDS training buddies) to Skipton to walk/run back along the canal. When we live in such a beautiful area with open moorland, fantastic trails and woodland I rarely bother with the canal bank. I didn’t ask any questions about the walk/run routine. I assumed it would just be mostly running with a bit of walking to break it up. My pack today weighed in just short of 5kg again (3 bags of porridge oats today’s weight of choice). Only when we set off did I realise the session was much more formal – Simon set his watch to beep every 2 minutes. 2 minute run, 2 minute walk, 2 minute run, 2 minute walk…..It was fun with good company. We nearly had the extra laugh of Simon slipping into the canal, but he corrected himself just in time. After 2 hours of 2 minutes run, 2 minutes walk I chose to keep running. I needed to be back in time for lunch and I was pleased with myself for sticking it out for 2 hours. Simon, having done MDS before, assures me this will serve me in good stead for the desert. I am happy with another 19 miles in the bank today.

This weekend has been topped off with a couple of hours picking the brains of a friend of a friend who competed in the 2014 MDS – with a fantastic top 100 finish (I’m in awe of that!). Some great tips and kit to try and a photo slide show. My giddiness and excitement reached a new high…..bring on next weeks training :o)

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