First ‘proper’ training run (with kit, on sand) completed on 14th January!
We covered a 64km circuit running west along the beach from Anna Bay towards Stockton, breaking for lunch and then back to Anna Bay. While the temperature was quite comfortable (mid 20’s) the last 10km or so were tough due to the soft sand.
It was organised by Nick Thomson and along with us, we had Owen Jones and Gary Pickering along for the ride. We also had Owen’s good lady, Caroline Crocker, supporting us and driving a 4WD back-up vehicle with supplies and rescue equipment in case of problems.
What was especially valuable for me was learning from the experts. Nick has done a lot of research into equipment and into nutrition (he has a nutritionist in the family); he’s also very organised and a great source of practical tips and advice. Owen has been running for a few years and between the two of them, they offered me advice on taping my feet (which I’ve never done before) as well as how to pack and what to eat. Banana chips worked well as did eDISCS – a portable, easy to use version of e load™ sports drink powder.
In terms of packing and organisation, I’m not the best. Nick had colour-coded dry bags – he was able to locate supplies or any piece of kit in a few seconds. Definitely a good idea! I need to get some; as yet I’m not sure which make, but Ultra-Sil look light, but not sure how tough they’ll be.
On the outbound leg, we all made fairly good time, setting off a little after 7AM and finishing around midday. We took a nice easy pace, interspersing the ‘sand shuffle’ with bouts of walking. Owen tried out walking poles which he found effective. We all struggled a little on the soft sand which made progress very difficult, sapping energy and motivation.
After breaking for lunch (crisps and salami) and refilling the water bottles (about 5L) we set off on the return journey. Owen decided to take it easy and do some sightseeing with Caroline; the rest of us hit the sand.
Gary was in the lead, I dropped in behind him and Nick formed the rear-guard. Once again I found the soft sand difficult but dropped my head, switched on auto-pilot and just kept following Gary. Gary’s the real deal. By far the most experienced ultra-marathoner of us all, he has completed 100mile runs and with his wiry physique takes it in his stride.
After an hour or so, he eased up and with relief I slowed to a walk too. I looked over my shoulder for Nick, but he had disappeared! I squinted back along the beach but couldn’t make him out. I pulled my phone from my pack and saw a message from him – he was taking it easy and would see us at the end. We had all swapped numbers and Nick had suggested at the start that we check in by text every hour or so just to make sure all was OK.
It was a long afternoon. Gary and I eventually completed the return leg together, alternating walking and running, with the running getting slower and slower as the day wore on. His energy amazed me, while I was barely able to keep moving, he was animatedly engaging the fishermen we passed with small talk.
It was a little after 7pm by the time we finished; Caroline and Owen were there to greet us with a cold beer – awesome! All I wanted was a shower (a luxury we’ll be denied in the Sahara) – so I went back to our digs (the appropriately named Sahara Trails) and washed up. It took Nick nearly two hours longer to finish. He had a monstrously heavy pack and really struggled with the weight. Added to that, he was on his own so had no-one to spur him on as Gary and I did. A valuable lesson there too about working as a team. The evening concluded with beers and a Thai takeaway; while I expected to sleep well, my aching joints (especially left hip) meant that I struggled. Nick regularly gets massage and that’s something I should start doing too.
The next morning, Nick and I crept out a little before 7 to visit Des and his wife for a much-needed and well-enjoyed hearty breakfast. Des lived locally and had successfully completed the MDS in 2008. This was no small achievement with ‘dune day’ and temperatures of 50C on day 1!! He generously shared his experience, along with practical advice. He showed me how to attach my front pack to minimise bouncing, which wastes energy and can cause chaffing. Talking to Des and seeing his photos made the prospect of running the MDS much more real. I left with more than a tingle of trepidation… the clock is ticking…
From left: Gary, me, Nick.
Sand as far as you can see.
With Owen, strolling in.