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My training for MdS: #6 'Sweaty Betty'

by Editor
Thursday 2nd April 2015

Simon Ward shares his training for the 30th Sultan Marathon des Sables (MDS) - Southern Maroccan Sahara, April 3-13, 2015

Less than four days to go now until we step out into the desert and I’m done for fitness training.

In fact I think I reached my peak fitness a couple of weeks ago and since then I’ve been trying to balance fitness maintenance with recovery.

There was one aspect that needed to be done in the final 14 days - heat acclimatisation

If you’ve read previous posts you might remember that I have been to the Sahara to do this event before. Temperatures were over 40c every single day and the hottest was 62C, ironically on the longest day.

So, I’m expecting the same this time only in 2015 I’ll be better prepared.

We have been lucky enough to arrange some sessions in the heat chamber at Leeds University. As far as getting ready is concerned, this is the Pups Nuts.

We completed five sessions in total, each 90 minutes long. The idea was not to improve fitness, but to get our bodies used to the heat.

The conditions inside “the oven” were a toasty 41C with 25% humidity. I must admit that when we first stepped inside for our first session it did make my nostrils smart a little but actually after about 10 minutes it was quite bearable…as long as we were stood still.

Of course that was not the objective. We are actually going to be running across the sand rather than lounging on it so some exercise was necessary.

Our “controller”, an experienced hand called Mark Hetherington, has worked with elite athletes from many sports, assisting them with their heat training, so we were in good hands. Even the Brownlees have used this chamber although I doubt that we absorbed any lingering DNA.

To keep on top of our vital stats we had a small thermometer placed in our earlobe and held in place by a plaster, some cotton wool and a 1980’s style headband. With my hair going a bit fluffy in the heat I look like a refugee from a Jane Fonda fitness video. Core temperature is about 0.5C above ear temperature so if we reached 38.5C that would mean a core temp of 39 and thats not healthy. If we reached that we would have to stop or more probably just slow down. Our record was 38.3C. This was displayed on a small monitor in front of the treadmill so it was a focal point for much of our session

Attached to the other ear we had a pulse meter, giving a good indication of heart rate. Our limit is 220-age -10 which for us is 160. If we reach this limit then the same rule applies as for the core temp - slow down or stop

Before starting there was meticulous weigh in. A double measurement of our bodyweight with everything we would wear in the “oven” - if we wore a pack then this had to be weighed, and water bottles were weighed as well.

This process took place before and after so that Mark could calculate the exact amount of fluid lost, having taken into consideration what was consumed.

We had a scare on one day as Mark declared that I had lost far more than on the previous session, before I reminded him that I had peed 450ml (450g) into the PeePot. Oh, did I not mention that. If you have a pee, that has to be measured as well. I got to pee into a plastic jug and Mark got to weigh it. That day it smelt of coffee

The five sessions were progressive. So the first was relatively gentle exercise. I say gentle because running at 9kmh and walking at 6kmh is not really strenuous… except if you are in a 41C oven.

Fiona and I used a protocol that we are going to use in the desert on flat sections - two minutes of walking at 5kmh and two minutes of running at 9kmh and sipping water before and after each run effort (so also every two minutes).

The hardest part was actually being on a treadmill for 90 minutes. That is a new record for me beating my old PB by about 30 minutes (its always good to have a PB before the proper event starts!). All in all, the first effort was OK.

On the second we tried something different, attempting to simulate walking up a steep incline and then jogging down the other side. There was a bit of run/walk before and after but we spent 40 minutes in total “climbing”. It was harder than day one but not much. Fiona struggled a bit so backed off the pace but by the time we had completed 90 minutes she was fine and that was day two done.

Simon Ward shares his training for the 30th Sultan Marathon des Sables (MDS) - Southern Maroccan Sahara, April 3-13, 2015

On day three we used the day one protocol with a 6k pack and on day four we used the day two protocol with a 6k pack. Finally on Day five we returned to exactly what we did on day one. This time to see what changes there had been.

What did we learn?

  1. Our 750ml water bottles will last for over an hour if we sip one mouthful every two minutes. As we receive 1.5L of water at each checkpoint this should be enough to get us to the next water point without running out. That is definitely a good thing when water is in short supply!
  2. In both sessions Fiona and I have both lost about 1kg of fluid per hour in sweat so we need to try and drink more frequently and in greater volume. This is a problem as we have a limited supply of water in the Sahara
  3. Our pace is fine for the heat but might be too fast for the sweating. Slower means cooler core temps and less fluid loss.
  4. Somewhere within this triangle of fluid consumption, pace and sweating will be our sweet spot for run/walk speed and optimum hydration (By optimum I mean keeping enough fluid in the body so we stay alive)
  5. Between day one and day five my core temperature dropped by 0.5C and my working heart rate dropped by 8bpm.

Overall the heat chamber work had the desired effect. Our bodies have adapted to the temperature  and it definitely felt much more comfortable by session five.

Of course its nothing at all like being in this environment 24/7 but every little helps. The confidence of knowing exactly how much fluid we lose and what volume we need to be consuming per hour (everything we have) could be critical to our progress.

The real test will come on Sunday April 5, when the race starts but being able to stand on the start line knowing that we have done everything we possibly could is a massive boost.

Bring it on

More information on the 30th Sultan MDS for UK competitors can be found at: www.marathondessables.co.uk

For general information about the event visit: www.darbaroud.com/en/the-mds/


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