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Training For Races That Never Happen, then those that do!

Training for MDS

So the great news is, I’m feeling fantastic, I’ve nailed the juggle of training, family and work with only a few hiccups along the way. I’ve even had two wisdom teeth removed, one of which was “quite a job” according to the dentist.

All my planned races were postponed (particularly Dublin to Belfast which I was very excited about) so my cunning plan of a virtual backyard Ultra was looking awesome, happening the Friday before Easter (which gives me an excuse to eat plenty of chocolate guilt free).

My personal goal was to do 100 miles (I’ve never run that distance before), however, the Dutch government (I live in Amsterdam) have extended the curfew until the end of April. So legally I won’t be allowed outside for non-essential activities after 10pm. Making a 100 miler impossible for me.

So I have been casting about for my next challenge and an email dropped into my inbox with perfect timing. It was from the team at Marathon des Sables (MDS), saying that the 2021 race has been postponed until October. Clicking through to the site, I decided to put my name down for 2022, from what I had read in the past there is normally a 2 to 3 year waiting list, so I was very casual about the whole process.

Type, click submit and I get a page saying “Congratulations”, pay the fee to confirm your place in MDS 2022. Getting caught up in the moment, I immediately made the transfer, still thinking there is a mistake and I’m on the waitlist, a few days later, the confirmation comes through, I’M IN MDS 2022!!!!

Quick Sidebar: For those that aren’t fully up to speed on the MDS, it’s a 5 day stage race in the Sahara desert. Over the 5 days runners will cover approximately 155 miles in approximately 50 degree heat.

Immediate panic stations set-in, so like all MDS entrants I immediately begin scouring the internet for race reports, advice, tips, what kit etc. I then download onto my Kindle every book I can find about MDS and read them like my life depends on it.

After the massive dump of information, it was obvious that there are three groups of people in the race. The elites at the front of the pack, the mid-pack and the A&E group at the back of the field. I really want to be the mid-pack who have a hard buy enjoyable 5 days

With 12 months to get ready, I make a very short to-do list for the first 3 weeks

  • Start the weight loss process. This is easily my biggest performance gain from a running economy and dealing with the heat perspective. At the time of sign up I was just over 13 stone which on a 6ft tall frame isn’t massively overweight, but there is an easy 1 stone and a harder additional 1 stone of weight I could lose
  • Do one run a week on the beach as getting used to running on the soft surface feels like a no-brainer particularly as I live a 30 minute drive from the Dutch coastline
  • Get a really strong “Why”
  • Find a coach with MDS experience as getting a structured plan in place is crucial

Status by week 3

  • I made some small tweaks to my diet (basically portion control at dinner time) and lost half a stone of very easy weight
  • Done two runs on the bach of 3.5 hours each, which where absolutely energy sapping but thoroughly enjoyable
  • My Why is super clear and is focused around my son, I want him to see that with hard work you can do something seemingly impossible as running for 5 days in the desert. It will be with great pride that when I get back I give him my medal as a reminder that anything is possible with hard work (and some luck).
  • Approached the famous Ian Corless, coach, photographer, ultrarunner, podcast host (is there anything this man can’t do) to be my coach and luckily he had a space available for me.

Lost weight

Next Steps from today:

  • I am making an appointment with a laboratory to get a full blood work, VO2 and lactate threshold testing done. As I am great shape from training for races that have been postponed, feels like a great opportunity to take a snapshot and see where I am.
  • Go live with Ian’s training plan at the beginning of April
  • Spend every lunch hour watching MDS videos on Youtube
  • Resist buying any kit

You can follow my training progress on Strava in the link below

My Amazon reading list

If you’re interested in what I’m reading to prepare for my races, here’s a selection of the best books I recommend:


Brutal Force SARMS

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