Steps In The Sand: My Marathon des Sables Journey - Nov-Jan
29 January 2024
Welcome to months five through seven (!!!) of my MDS training blog. For those of you new here; I'm on a daring quest. I’ve set myself the goal of competing in the Marathon des Sables in 2024, "the toughest footrace on earth", and I’m inviting you to join me on my journey. As I navigate my training and preparation for this daunting task, I aim to raise funds for three incredible local charities; Autism Guernsey, Jersey Hospice Care and Guernsey Society for Cancer Relief.
How can you help?
Primarily, by donating to the three charities, I'm raising funds for, here. At the time of writing, we're at £2,190 of £10,000 raised.
Or helping me knock something off my Amazon wishlist, I've got a lot of kit to buy for the big week.
Sponsor a long run, I love my little island home, but racking up double marathons at the weekend in Guernsey is not fun, ship me off to England or France and I'll give you a big hug and a shout-out on my socials 🙂 Please reach out to via the contact us page on our website or message me on Instagram
Give me a follow on Instagram with some words of encouragement (or heckle me, whatever floats your boat).
So, the last few months by the numbers:
November: 158km, 17h on my feet and 2,519m of elevation.
December: 145km, 21h on my feet and 2,472m of elevation.
January: 127km, 36h on my feet and 3,494m of elevation
So... let's start with the excuses shall we! November was the half way mark and all roads (trails) led to the inimitable GUN31, an out and back 31-mile run of Guernsey's cliffs in the middle of the night. I'd done it once before (and finished last haha!) so I knew what was in store for me. I was making good time (or I thought I was) and something went wrong with my pacing plan on my watch - I'd expected to hit the half-way mark about 45 minutes before the cut-off, so I was breezing along thinking to myself, well, this is a hell of a lot easier than last year, wondering why people kept overtaking me, "nutters" I thought to myself. Long story short, I'd missed off about 2-3 miles on my pre-planned timer somehow and I ended up at the half way mark with THREE MINUTES to spare. Knowing I'd be running the second half slower due to fatigue, I gave it my all and went flat out.
My Garmin had an estimated finish time of 00:04 as I started the second half, 00:00 was the medal cut-off. I kept pushing, chipping away and I managed to get down to 23:51. I was pretty burnt out (with 3h of running to go) but I was making good time. A couple of wrong turns in the mad rush saw me creep back up to 23:58, so I pushed a bit harder again. Honestly, I was starting to lose confidence fast, I'd been coasting for the last few hours thinking I had 45 minutes in the tank, to having to push to my absolute limit, just to get in with 1-2 minutes to spare, it sucked. It went from bad to worse as I made it as far as Les Tielles, 33K in, with 18K to go and I went head first down a flight of steps and rolled my ankle. My estimated time to finish was now 00:10 and I could barely walk, there was no saving this mess now and I threw in the towel.
So, other than my route planning, what lessons did I learn? Don't go out in a fresh pair of shoes. My new trail shoes for MDS can't handle wet terrain, I learnt that the hard way. And I need to do strength training, I've been so stubborn about this and neglected to do any, so I'm back on this twice a week.
I took a bit of time off after the GUN before going head first again, which took me on to December.
December saw the second phase of my training, reducing mileage and incorporating running with a weighted bag to build up core strength and simulate the MDS run and WOW what a difference it makes. Starting with 2.5KG (expecting to be carrying around 7kg on the main event), it slows you down so much, it's... humbling, to say the least. 22nd December brought around my trip to South America and some high altitude training and well, well, well, it was the consequences of my own actions - trying to knock out a 15-miler at 1,500m altitude in Medellin after 20-hours of travelling. That turned into a walk 😂
I stuck to hiking and walking in Medellin, including climbing El Peñón de Guatapé on Christmas Day (very festive!). It was safe to say I couldn't hack the altitude, so I was thrilled to hit sea-level the following week in Cartagena. Where it's 32C by 7am and the humidity makes Guernsey look like the Atacama Desert. I managed a very paltry 5K at 8pm, looking like something out of Aquaman minus the six-pack and everything else Jason Momoa has to threaten my fragile masculinity.
Fear not distinguished reader, January came along, new year, new me and new country. I made my way south to Lima in Peru for some lovely sea-level running in the high 20s. We were back in business, a cruisy 10K to start the New Year before heading to Puno which is over 4,000m above sea level. Lifting an ice cold Aperol Spritz had me gasping for breath, so that 22-miler I had planned went in the bin.
After a couple of days off, the real work started. The classic Inca Trail, 45KM of high altitude hiking over four days, I was back in business.
I knew I was miles off target, so I had to really up the ante and decided to carry a large proportion of my belongings instead of pieing it all off to the hard-working porters, averaging a 10-12kg pack weight each day was some tough grafting, but it got me back on the right path. Friday 12th January, we made it to the infamous Sun Gate, overlooking Machu Picchu and wow what an experience (photos below). I added an extra hike, Huayna Picchu (that's the big mountain you see in the background of all the Machu Picchu pictures), repeatedly ranked among some of the most dangerous hikes in the world, and they're not wrong. The Machu Picchu "Stairs of Death" is a 2km hike with 1,000ft of elevation gain and sheer drops to certain death to keep you entertained. The climb takes anywhere between 30-60 minutes to conquer. I finished it in an uncomfortable and sweaty 22 minutes. According to our guide, the record is reportedly 13 minutes, so I was very happy with that!
Oh we're not finished yet! After Machu Picchu I headed south to Argentina for an afternoon of hiking at Iguacu Falls (after 20 hours of travelling and four flights - yes I'm practically dying at this point) before heading south again to Buenos Aires.
Finally, I'd reached a city with a gentle breeze, mild temperatures and ample space to run, I squeezed in a gentle 5K and spent the rest of the time drinking Malbec, oops.
31 days, over 100K of hiking, 21 flights and one flight delay later (no prizes for guessing which one...), I was back in Guernsey. Straight back into it and a 40K week on week one, we are back in business.
So, what's in store for February? More moaning and less Aperols, for a start. Over 350K of running is on the agenda for February (and 400K in March), so I'll be spending a bit of time in Jersey to change up the scenery!
Thanks for reading and the continued support, see you next month! 👋
I’m here to share my journey and learn from others. If you have any questions, suggestions or even some firsthand experience with the MDS, please don't hesitate to reach out on Instagram @fromtidestotrails. Every bit of advice and encouragement is invaluable to me!