Monday 22 December 2008

MRI results: Knee damage :(

Just get last weeks updates done briefly. I posted already that I did a fast 10 miles on Tuesday. I followed that up with yoga as usual. I rested on Wednesday and then did my 3 mile time trial on Thursday. I improved again, by 16 seconds, doing the 3 miles in 20:40 which is just under 6:54 minute mile pace. I am very happy with these results, and it just shows the benefits of doing this weekly session.

I did my usual gym work on Thursday afterwards.

I noticed when using my inversion bar, and doing reverse squats (squats whilst hanging upside down) that I have started pulling to the right. My left leg is not as strong as the right, so I was getting suspicious that the knee problem was getting worse.

I had the MRI on Thursday, which was a first for me. Trying to remain motionless for 25 minutes is a lot harder than it sounds. It's not just the knee I was told to keep still, it was my whole body. It becomes a mental contest, trying not to twitch your toes!

On Saturday I did a steady 10 mile trail run, taking in about 900ft of ascent.

Today, Monday, I collected the MRI film and consultant report. Normally this would have gone to the referring doctor, but my uncle is on holiday until the New Year, so I will pass it on when he gets back.

Pointless me looking at the film because I have no idea what I am looking at. The consultant reports, again I don't pretend to know the prognosis for that described, but I have some idea why I am getting pain and loss of strength.

A few extracts from the report

"There is some focal swelling and signal abnormality in the proximal end of the infra-patellar tendon at the attachment to the inferior pole of the patella in keeping with tendinosis."

Later it is simply stated as "Focal Patellar Tendinosis", which is commonly referred to as 'Jumpers Knee' I believe. From briefly looking it up on the internet it says there is 50/50 split on whether to tackle it using RICE method or surgery. Surgery does usually produce good results.

The other highlight of the report is:
"The medial meniscus appears normal. A small vertical tear i seen in the extreme posterior horn of the lateral meniscus close to the supporting fascicles but not quite reaching the superior articular surface"

Now, I'm just reading that as a small cartilage tear, and don't know enough to know how serious this is. I realise many tears can only be corrected with surgery.

The good news:
"The tendon (patellar) intact and the patella itself shows no sign of abnormality. The cruciate and collateral ligaments are intact. No signal abnormality is identified in the bone marrow and there is no sign of a Popliteal cyst."

I had hoped I might have a Popliteus problem and not a cartilage tear, so all of this isn't good news. What I do not know is how limiting these injuries can be. At the moment running up to half marathon isn't causing me problems, and my running in general is coming on very well. However, I am getting knee pain just walking around, and especially climbing stairs, pain in the knee when raising myself to a standing position, and also pain when sitting cross-legged (at yoga for example). There is an obvious strength discrepancy between the legs when I am doing the squats, which is getting worse.

I am due to do a 22 mile LDWA, which has quite a lot of ascent, on January 2nd. That is going to be the first test. If I struggle with that, then I am in trouble. I am fully paid up for the Atacama Crossing at the end of March. If I cancelled I would undoubtedly lose some money, but my insurance policy (one tailored for me) could well cover any loss. Until I get expert advice on the findings of the scan, I am in limbo. It will be two weeks before I know any more, so I will just carry on as normal and hope for the best.

Of course, if anyone here can decipher the medical speak any better, please feel free to comment and let me know what the prognosis might be?

Have a good week.

Monday 15 December 2008

2 weeks of updates

I didn't get time to post last week, so I'll update both now.

Snow a week last Tuesday meant that I couldn't do my Tuesday speed session, so I just did a light workout indoors. There was still snow on Wednesday but because I was just running an easy pace workout I managed the 10k session with no problems. On the Thursday I did my 3 mile time trial and did it 12 seconds faster than the previous week, averaging 7:08 minute miles. On the Saturday in a change to my usual 10-5 mile run I did an 11 mile walk in the Peak District near Castleton taking in around 2700ft of ascent over Mam Tor along the Ridge to Lose Hill and down into Castleton.

It was a cold but otherwise lovely clear day and very enjoyable. I stopped for lunch in Castleton itself before finishing the last 4 miles by climbing steadily through Cave Dale.

Tuesday this week I did my 400M and 800M speed session on the treadmill at the gym, and then went straight into Yoga for an hour and a half afterwards. I suspect it will be months before my hamstrings are long enough that I can even touch my toes. I live in hope though!

On Wednesday I did a 10k trail run through apedale. It was below freezing and I ended up on my bum after hitting a glass-like patch of ground. I sat there feeling stupid for a few seconds and checking I was still in once piece before continuing. On Thursday I did my 3 mile time trial again and made quite an improvment. I did it in 6:59 minute miles (20:56 overall). I'm now happy to be back in sub 7 minute mile territory, and although I don't expect to make massive gains now I hope to still shave a few seconds off as the weeks go by. These sessions are definately key to improving my speed and overall fitness. The 400M and 800M work alone, don't seem to trigger enough of a response. On Saturday I was feeling too ill to run, so it was pointless flogging myself. Instead I ran 10 miles today at lunchtime (Monday) to make up for the missed long run. I ran with the intention of running it at average 7:45 minute mile pace, but found myself a little too comfortable at the half way point, so ended up running a negative split and pulling the average minute mile pace back to 7:33, with an overall time of 1:15:30. The route had 900ft of ascent, and I took along my data recorder. Map and results below. I ran this at about 90% effort.

I am booked in for a knee scan on Thursday this week to try and get to the bottom of my knee problems. My running is not being impacted over the distances I am running at the moment, but I am getting knee pain just walking or climbing stairs. I hope the scan will rule out a Meniscus tear, and just indicate some swelling in the Popliteus. I have had the same symtoms for 2 months and it is not getting any better. A scan is the only way to be sure. I'll update you with the results as soon as I get them.

Have a good week!

Monday 1 December 2008

Knee ongoing problems

A friend was visiting on Tuesday which meant I had to miss my training, and the Yoga class. As if to add insult to injury we also had a Chinese take-away, just to pile the guilt on!

On Wednesday I did a pleasant 6.5 mile trail route through the fields and paths of Apedale Country Park. I never time my Wednesday run, but just run at a nice steady pace. I'd estimate around 8:30 to 9 minute miles. The darkness dictates that I can't go a lot faster anyway, as running my the light of head torch you don't always get a good depth of vision on the uneven trail. After my runs at home I always use my inversion bar to stretch out, and decompress my spine, as well as do some sit ups and reverse squats. I also do some pull-ups on it as well, just to get my moneys worth!

On Thursday I reintroduced a tempo run into my schedule. Earlier this year I was running a 3 mile time trial every Thursday. I drive to the gym and then do 10 minutes warm up on the cross trainer, trying to get my HR up to about 150 to ensure I can start the run at a good pace. I then run a 1.5 mile out and then back road run. The out leg is a long steady incline with a few hundred metres of downhill just before the turn for home. Then of course the same in reverse. I aim to run this as quickly as I can. I was very interested to see how I would perform vs a few months ago, when I was doing around 6:58 minute miles on a Thursday. I dropped this session totally and had been opting to do the 8x400m and 4x800m sessions on both a Tuesday and a Thursday. Now I am questioning the wisdom in that as although I probably didn't give this Thursdays temp run 100%, starting off a little cautiously, I averaged 7:11 minute miles, which is around 40 seconds down in total. That's quite a lot of time lost I think. I also noticed that my resting heart rate isn't mid forties like it was, and is a few beats higher currently.

So, the only conclusion I can come to is that a weekly tempo run is hugely beneficial to my overall level of fitness. So, I'll now do this every Thursday.

After the run I then do my usual hour long workout in the gym, and then a little time in the Sauna to wind down.

On Saturday, I pre-planned my route to ensure I didn't come up short. I planned a 13 mile run as seen below, with 1300ft of ascent.

I really enjoyed the run, which was around 11am as soon as my breakfast had settled. There was thick fog which didn't lift all day and it was below freezing. I enjoyed running through the fog, along the familiar route. You get an increased sense of isolation of course, with non of the views over Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire that I get from viewpoints along the way. It's very much me and the run; I felt very centred and focused. Again this is a steady pace run, and I don't time it and there is little value as I cross countless stiles along the way. I got back a little before 1pm, so I know it was under 2 hours. The other amusing touch was that my hair was frozen solid!

My knee was hurting early in the run, but less so when I finished, so I figured it was just the cold aggravating it. However, I am still getting knee pain when standing and bending the knee and it is not getting better. My uncle hasn't got back to me with an scan appointment yet, so I am going to have to arrange my own for next week I think. I've spoken to a local hospital that has a mobile unit every Tuesday. I'll see if I can book in for that. Something is definitely not right in there, I just don't know what?

Have a good week.

Monday 24 November 2008

Atacama info and this weeks training

This week I did my 400M and 800M intervals on Tuesday evening. I am sticking very strictly to 1:36 for 400M and 3:12 for 800M, I can pace it fairly well now, usually arriving under a second within the 400M time. The 800M however is causing me a problem. I am running, in the dark, with a head torch, on a uneven trail. It used to be a railway line, but is now just a dirt track, and gains 50ft of height. So I have to run two of the 800M splits uphill and 2 downhill. It's dark, and not easy to see even with the head torch as I am running around 9.5mph over that distance, and a little treacherous underfoot. Anyway, the net result is that I am missing the uphill 800M split by 5 seconds. I was always hitting it no problem in the summer, so the dark and mud are obviously slowing me down. There isn't a lot I can do about it, just accept it. I know it would comfortable on a track, which is where I should be doing these I guess. I went to the Yoga class at the gym later on in the evening.

On Wednesday I did a 6 mile road run; quite a lumpy one with around 700ft of ascent. I used my road shoes for the first time in a few months. It was actually because both pairs of my identical trail shoes were still soaked through and caked in mud, which made the decision on the road route.

I woke on Thursday with a very slight cold, but an elevated resting heart rate, so I decided not to run the speed session that evening. I did go and do my usual gym work in the evening though.

Friday, I had recovered, but I am currently using as a rest day anyway. I will add in a run after Christmas.

On Saturday I didn't plan a set route, but just took a guess wanting to do around 12 miles. When I got back and measured it, it turned out to be 11 miles but there was 1200ft of ascent; all on trails or across fields. Saturday is just an easy pace steady run; very enjoyable. I tend to run around 9 minute miles or a little less I think, but I don't take a watch as I don't time these runs. As soon as you take a watch, you start racing yourself and my Saturday run isn't about that. The speed comes from the Tuesday and Thursday runs.

The route and hill profile is shown below. Click to enlarge.

Just as something different I took photo's on my training run, to give you an idea of the terrain I run in all the time.

I always head straight uphill from my house on the road for 1 mile to reach the fields. I cross a stile and head up to a local monument; the Wedgwood Monument shown below (about 1.5 miles to this point). I've pinched a link from someone else’s website for this one, because it is a nicer shot, and shows the path I run up.

Once at the needle I continued down the hill over fields, then farm track. I then pick up the road into the village of Audley (at 3 miles) before joining a mile and half long abandoned railway trail as shown below.

A short couple of hundred metres of road leads me into a local nature reserve; actually the site of a former mining colliery (Minnie Pit).

I run through the nature reserve for a further mile, before then heading up this field and through the woods on a narrow path to a small number of houses in the area Scott Hay.

There is then a mile long section on road to take me into Silverdale and into a footpath through the mining colliery that used to be there. There is a steady climb up to black bank.

Then views over the local area and into Apedale.

I head into Apedale (yes you've guessed it, another former mining colliery!), which has now been turned into another nature reserve, with well maintained paths that rollercoaster steadily up and down. I train here a couple of times a week.

I run through there and join yet another abandoned railway line for half a mile before heading down to another small lake.

Then wind steadily upwards on the path I called the 'ankle twister'

I then emerge into fields and have about a mile and half to get home, all steady uphill as shown here.

The last half mile is on the road and I'm home!

Onto Atacama information: I emailed a former competitor and he said that hiking poles were an absolute must. He said that they were invaluable on the razor sharp salt flats where your feet frequently break through into the slushy salt goo underneath, and you can easily lose a shoe! He also said they were really useful for finding your way across the daily and many river crossings. He said there is point wearing waterproof shoes or socks because you can be up to your waist in river water at times.

So, I am definitely going to have to get reacquainted with my Leki poles again. I'd viewed them as a bit of a soft-option to be honest, and didn't need them anymore, but after hearing this advice from a ultra fit (he won the KAEM last year) American Police Sergeant and former Marine, I am taking my poles!

An ultra running acquaintance of mine has also entered and we are heading out to Chile at the same time. You can read about his former races, which pale my few small achievements into insignificance here.

Mark has done 'DOUBLE Badwater'!! Spartathlon (3 times), and the UTMB just to name a few. Check out his running CV and race reports. If I can do half of what he has achieved I'd be happy!

That's it for this week, have a good one.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Six Dales Circuit

I took an extra days rest on Tuesday, hoping to rest my hamstring which I slightly pulled a couple of weeks ago, but haven't given it the opportunity to heal. It's nothing serious at all, just a niggle. I did however go to Yoga, which on reflection probably wasn't very wise as every posture seems to stretch the hamstrings. Did I mention I started Yoga last week? Well, I am doing it to try and lengthen my hamstrings and hopefully learn some breathing and relaxation exercises too. I can probably only devote two sessions a week to it, so I am not sure if I will see much, or any, benefit. However I am going to try and stick with it for 3 months, which is what they recommend to start seeing benefits.

On Wednesday I did a 10k trail route, again running through the local fields and woods in the pitch dark with my head torch on. I really do find these very enjoyable.

On Thursday I did a speed session; usual 8x400M then 4x800M. I forgot my stopwatch, but I know what pace to run at now. It's a little trickier running this session with a head torch on over a slightly uneven trail path, but I am managing ok. After the run I went straight to the gym for my usual strength and stability work. I seem to have retained a taste for the Sauna afterwards, something I had only ever done for my lame attempt at acclimation in the past. Anyway, it makes for a long training session on a Thursday night. I finish work at 5pm, and don't get back home until 9pm usually, and then have to eat as well.

On Friday evening I did my preparation for the Six Dales Circuit; a 26 mile Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) event, held in the Peak District every year. I entered last year, but couldn't go due to injury. I transferred the route from Memory Map onto my PDA, and my backup PDA, and fully charged my two GPS receivers. I always carry a backup just in case one goes down. I looked at the hill profile, memorising where the hills were and how long they went on for. This was he first of the errors I made. I had assumed the course was running in a clockwise direction. Not until I started the course, did I find out this year (as most years apparently) it was running anti-clockwise, so all my preparation was worthless! The only thing I did know was that tit was 26 miles long, went through six dales, and had about 3000ft of ascent. I checked the weather forecast and it said overcast, but no rain any hour all day. It would also feel like 13C even with any wind chill. I still put in a waterproof jacket anyway, and I packed 1.5l of electrolyte and a couple of snack bars.

Again, I didn't sleep that great on Friday night, knowing I had to be up early to get to the event. I wore some leggings and just a Helly Hansen long sleeve lifa, two pairs of socks and the MT800 shoes I wore in the Kalahari. It took me all of 30 seconds to remove the Velcro I had so lovingly taken a couple of days to stitch on badly.

The event course is shown below. Starting from Biggin, and going anti-clockwise.

I drove to the event, getting there in plenty of time. The weather was damp, cold and drizzly rain. I met a friend Anne who was there running with her dog Daisy. I met Anne and her husband Vaughan on La Trans Aq in 2007, but Vaughan is injured at the moment, so Anne has been doing events alone. She wanted to hear about the Kalahari run so I set off running with her 10 minutes before the main runners start; 8:50am. Now, I knew already that Anne is a much faster runner than me, so I said I may have to drop off at some point. I started off wearing my waterproof jacket, but got so hot so quickly that I had to take it off. The problem was that it was raining a little and my Helly Hansen was getting wet. Still because I was running reasonably quickly, but still more slowly than Anne would normally run at, I was maintaining my body heat. The terrain was very mixed, parts were on good trails, but the fields were of course all very muddy, and some of the dales were rocky and there was rubble underfoot.

Now normally I would be running at around 5.5mph on one of these events, as it is a running pace that I can maintain. Of course there are stiles and gates to negotiate as well as hills and ground that you are forced to walk because it is so uneven. I didn't quite realise just how quickly we were running until I saw the speed profile when I got home.

When we were running we were running at over 7mph, you can see I highlighted a typical section 7.3mph. There are dips where you stop to cross a stile etc, but when running it was always around this pace. Ignore anything over 10mph because when we went into deep dales the GPS loses satellite lock and the signal bounces off the valley walls causing a bad and incorrect signal; ignore all pacing from 10-12 miles totally, and 22 miles onwards.

After 13 miles I could feel myself getting very hungry, I was running out of fuel. We happened to be in Lathkill dale which is very picky rocky footing and had slowed down. As I slowed I cooled rapidly due to my wet shirt and the wind. I told Anne to continue as I was going to slow and eat something as well as try and warm up. I put on my waterproof jacket, but it was too late really. Schoolboy error of getting my clothes wet and slowing my pace meant that I could not warm up. I walked whilst I ate a snack bar, which only made things worse. I was shivering. Fortunately I then arrived at CP2 at the village of Monyash. All the CPs were indoors and this one had hot tea and hot cheesy oatcakes. I apologise for everyone not from the local area who has no ides what oatcakes are, but they are like a savoury pancake and usually filled with cheese or bacon. I spent 5 minutes there warming back up with tea and oatcakes before setting off again.

Once back outside I got cold again very quickly, because my muscles had cooled even more. The constant drizzle rain and wind made it all pretty unpleasant. The next 3 or 4 miles were a long steady uphill across fields to Sparklow. I was struggling at this point, really feeling so cold than I wondered if I would have to quit. I was stupid for not packing a fleece to wear. This is the first event I have done in autumn, and the totally incorrect weather forecast had caught me off-guard as well. I managed to speed back up nearing the top of the incline and then hit a good trail for a couple of miles, before a couple of sharp climbs then a nice descent across the fields into Hartington. From the good trail onwards I picked my pace back up and warmed up again, much to my relief. It's amazing just how demoralised you feel when you are cold. I didn't waste any time at CP3 in Hartington; just grabbing a couple of cup fulls of juice and a couple of snack before leaving on the final 5 mile leg back to Biggin. Both hamstrings were aching at this point. I think this is evidence that I hadn't done an LDWA in such miserable terrain and conditions for a while. Further to that my left knee was causing me some discomfort too.

On the approach into Wolfscotedale there was some knee-high water across the muddy fields, which added to my cheer! Lots of the paths had been flooded anyway, so my feet had been wet from 1 mile into the run. Still my feet were in fine condition, no blisters or anything. After Wolfdscotedale was Biggin dale, which was utterly vile. If I never go through it again, it will be too soon. It was only about 2 miles long, but all gradually uphill and full of mud and rubble underfoot; I was forced to walk most of it. I was cursing it. After what seemed like an eternity I got back onto the road and just a short mile section before getting to the finish. It took me 5 and half hours; around 4.7mph. So, no record breaking performance due to my poor preparation for the most part. My knee was an aggravating factor as well. Still 26 miles in those conditions is faster than some people would do a flat road marathon in I guess. I drove home and had a lengthy soak in the bath!

I saw a physio about my knee, which has been troubling me for about 6 weeks. He was not sure if it is a popliteus problem or a small cartilage tear (I get severe pain when my knee is fully bent, or upon standing after being seated with a bent leg for a while). He suggested an MRI to confirm. I spoke to my uncle who suspects popliteus but also said it could be worth getting an MRI done to be sure. I'm due to pay the balance payment for the Atacama crossing this week, so I could do with knowing if this is just a minor problem or something requiring surgery before I part with a lot of money! My uncle is making a few calls and will let me know later if he can get me an MRI done tomorrow. It's also an opportunity to look at the calf on the same leg, which I have a reoccurring problem with. There looks to be a build up of scar tissue which keeps getting bigger and causing me issues when I start to increase my mileage before an event. So, this will possibly identify what is going on there, as well as hopefully rule out any major knee problem.

I'll keep you posted on the outcome of that. Have a good week!

Monday 10 November 2008

Back to training

I resumed a normal training schedule last week. I did a speed session, with 400 and 800M splits on Tuesday. This didn't go as well as expected, after I missed a few splits by a number of seconds. I didn't get much sleep the night before, and it was my first speed session since before the Kalahari, so I they are the mitigating factors. My speed perhaps has lost a little of it's edge. I'm sure I'll be back to normal soon.

On Wednesday I did a 10k trail route, over the local hills and fields. I'm now getting used to having to wear my headtorch for these runs, as of course it's dark by 5pm. Again this session didn't go to plan. It was supposed to be an easy/steady pace but it felt more difficult that I should. Again a poor nights sleep didn't help.

On Wednesday night I slept like a baby, catching up on some missed hours. It showed on Thursday's interval sesion where I performed really well. So lack of sleep messes up my training sessions just as it does my performance on events. It was a 10k trail route. The first and last 10 minutes were a warm up/down, and then I would alternate between 3 minutes quick (roughtly 7 minute mile pace) and 2 minutes recovery (roughly 9 minute mile pace).

On all of the seesions in the week I had a slight but nagging pain from my hamstring, which I pulled a little during a run about 10 days ago. I decided to rest it and not run at all on the weekend, so I've had a fairly light mileage week; only 18 miles.

Still I hope I will be in good enough condition to enter the LDWA Six Dales Cirtcuit event on Saturday. It is a 26.5 mile course over plenty of hills, and as the name suggests a few dales as well!

My flights are all booked for the Atacama Crossing in March 09, and I will be looking at the compulsory equipment list in some detail over the next few weeks. I believe I need to carry more equipment, and I will need my heavier, warmer sleeping bag, but I am still going to strive for a pack as close to 8kg that I can get. I'll keep you posted on my equipment plans and decisions. One important one is hiking poles. Now, I never use these on training or events anymore, but lots of people are saying that for the Atacama they are important. They really help crossing the razor-sharp Salt flats and the many river crossings. So, I'll consider taking them, but will of course have to work them into my trainig sessions again to get used to them. I'll think that one over. If anyone has done the Atacama Crossing I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, as well as any other tips you can provide?

Have a good week.

Monday 3 November 2008

Kalahari Marathon - Training and Performance review

My race report for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon is here.
My equipment review is here, and my hydration and nutrition review is here.

So, now for the final part, performance and training critique.

Well, I came 6th, out of 20 starters. So my goal to finish in the top half of the field was more than achieved. Still, I lost a great deal of hours in total to time spent at checkpoints. Most damaging was 45 minutes at checkpoint 1 on day 4, and then 2 hours at checkpoint 2. I spent about 40 minutes at checkpoint 3 on day 2, feeling rough. Maybe on a couple of other occasions I spent up to 15 minutes as well. Now, these can't all be counted as 'bad', because at the time I was doing what I needed to do to complete the race. So, describing these as 'lost' time is not strictly accurate. If I would have not rested for those combined hours would I have finished 5th or 4th? Probably not. Because I would have probably fallen to pieces further along the route.

So, I rested when I felt I needed to, to ensure that I finished the whole event. As was said to me during the MDS, you don't get a better medal or T-shirt for finishing first or last.

So having established that I 'needed' to rest when and for how long I did, I need to ask myself why? The heat in the Kalahari was certainly the big factor, coupled with the difficult terrain. The in MDS the heat had not bothered me as much, and the terrain is without doubt far easier. The days that I performed best in the Kalahari I started slowly, quite happily languishing towards the rear of the field, and then speeding up in the second half of the race; running a negative split (much like Paula Radcliff yesterday in the NY marathon. Well done Paula). Well, when I say 'much like', I mean negative split and not 4/5 minute miles!
I think I paced myself better than some other competitors, as I would overtake many in the latter half or closing legs of the stage. However, I remember on day 2 I started more quickly than I should, the competitiveness in me taking over. Initially I did well, getting up to 4th with only 5 or 6 miles remaining. However I got to the CP in such a bad state I had to rest for 40 mins and lost 3 places. I should have taken 5 minutes break in between checkpoints, under a tree and ate something, and just cooled down. 5 minutes then, would have meant nothing overall.

Ok, so cautious pacing and running negative splits seem to suit me. That's one lesson learned, as is taking a break between checkpoints if I am overheating.

The other huge factor in my lack on consistency was the sleep problem. This is my estimation of sleep for the event.

Day before the race (in a bed) - 6/7 hours
Day 1 - 2 hours broken
day 2 - 2 hours broken
day 3 - 1.5 hours broken
day 4 - 5 hours solid (after the 75km stage)
day 5 - 3-4 hours broken
day 6 - 6 hours solid

This also goes hand in hand with my finishing positions each day. I did very well on day 1 (5th), worse on day 2(7th), worse again on day 3 (8th), 7th on day 4 after taking 2:45 rest mid stage, 7th on stage 5 (again mediocre sleep the night before), stage 6 (4th) after my best nights sleep all week.
What is interesting is that my MDS performance was the same. I did well, then got gradually worse, improving after the long day when I started to sleep well.

I always perform well after a goods night sleep. Doesn't sound like rocket science, but it needs pointing out. The difference between getting 3 hours of broken sleep vs 4-6 hours of solid sleep is priceless, for me at least.

So, what can I do to improve it? Well, I'm not into taking sleeping pills for starters, though I would have done in the Kalahari on night 3 if I could have!
As an ongoing strategy I need to understand why I am not sleeping well.
It was very hot until probably 2am, but that alone was not the main problem, as I could roll down or sleep on top of my sleeping bag.

I can't get comfortable - The ground isn't nice and soft! This was made worse by my Thermarest bursting on night 2 I think.

The pillows I make out of rolled up clothes put into the stuff sack is not a nice feather pillow I sleep on at home!

Finally, the big one, knowing that I need to sleep is preventing me from doing so. Trying to force myself to sleep, the inability to switch off and drift off. It's psychosomatic now; I've made it that way. I've made it into a big issue, and that is the major hurdle.

I can solve some of the issues above. I can take a repair kit for the Thermarest, and I can look into a lightweight down pillow (inflatable’s are not comfortable). The inability to switch off I don't know though. I sleep fine at home, except not always well when I have an event the next day, so it's the same issue. People have suggested Yoga and breathing techniques etc. Frankly, I'm open to suggestions on this one? I need to crack this. If I do, my performance will become more consistent and I will do better still.

Ok, moving onto the next part, my training. It was radically different to my MDS training. For the MDS I was running up to 80 miles a week. I would typically run 12 miles on a Tues, Wed and Thursday, then perhaps 15 on a Saturday and 20 on a Sunday. Gym twice a week. At the weekends I would be carrying a full or even overweight backpack; up to 12 kilos towards the end of the training. I had been running with 7-8 kilo's for well over 6 months before the event every weekend. I was not doing much speed training, but I did do some hill reps. I took part in a couple of LDWA events each month.

I think the MDS training fatigued me. I don't think running all those mid week 10/12 milers at a medium pace was beneficial at all. I don't think running with a heavy backpack every weekend, for so many months, was beneficial either; my pace became stale and slowed.

All of those things I recognised myself, and I'd also recognised the need to do speed training as well. I asked AndyW on forum for some help with speed training sessions, and he suggested a couple of speed sessions a week, doing 400m and 800m splits. I resolved not to carry any weight whatsoever, until the last few weeks before the event, and even then only a light pack, perhaps equivalent to the weight of my pack for the long day 4 (say 5kg).

After taking a month off after the MDS, I fairly quickly ramped up to 25-30 miles a week, incorporating a tempo run for speed work initially. I maintained that 25 miles a week for 2-3 months, my tempo run times improving dramatically. Then I changed my tempo run for 2x speed sessions as per Andy's advice. I entered the Kalahari marathon with just 7 weeks to go, and put together the training plan you can see here.
Very roughly, I did speed work on a Tuesday, easy run on a Wednesday, speed work on a Thursday, and Saturday I did a long run. Initially Sunday, Monday and Friday were rest days. I also went to the gym once or twice a week and did strength and stability work. I then started to increase my weekly mileage by 10%, introducing a Friday run, rather than increasing the length of my 'quality' speed work sessions. My mileage was to peak at 50 miles. In fact I think maybe I did 45 in the final big week before taper. I continued to go to LDWA events, which I believe are invaluable.

So, how did I feel? Well, I didn't feel fatigued. The speed work sessions were always hard, but I could feel the benefit and see the improvements. Because I was not carrying a backpack on the long runs I kept my pace very sharp. I did intend to add up to 8kg on my training plan, but I didn't, and I am pleased I didn't. The heaviest I carried was 5kg at the 30 mile Open to Offas LDWA event a few weeks before the Kalahari marathon. When at the event, my pace didn't suffer, and I didn't even notice the backpack (8kg starting weight).

So, in conclusion, I trained less and I am fitter than I was for the MDS! Quality, not quantity. Speed sessions, not stupid mileage. The strength work in the gym instead of carrying a heavy backpack on my long runs at the weekend. I won't be going back to running 80 miles a week, because I don't think there is any value for me.

For everyone else, well I can't advise you. I've told you what worked for me. You can't ignore your backpack totally. You need to see how it fits and learn to live with it, but there just is no need or point training with a heavy weight months and months before the event. Even when you do start adding weight, don't bother with your estimated starting pack weight because you will only be carrying it for day 1. Why not just concentrate on the weight you will have some time later in the week. Give your knee joints a break, and keep your pace sharp!

I'm happy with this training regime. I'm dropped back down to 25 miles a week now.
This week I did 2 x 5 mile steady runs to easy myself back into training, and did an 11 mile, 2650ft ascent, run over the Peak District at the weekend. Next week I’ll get back to the speed work too. I'll tick-over on 25-30 miles a week, and then ramp it up after Christmas. The Atacama Crossing is on at the same time as the MDS in 2009; the end of March. I'll be doing plenty of LDWA events between now and then too, starting with the Six Dales Circuit on the 15th November.

So for me I have two things to do.

1) Learn to sleep on event
2) Keep thinking quality not quantity.

Have a good week!

Thursday 30 October 2008

Kalahari Marathon - Nutrition & Hydration review

My full race report for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 can be found here.
My equipment review can be found here.

Now for food and hydration.

I'll review all the food and hydration items I used.

Breakfast - Scots Porrage oats 75g, dried milk 60g, 20g Honey Banana chips - 577Kcal
I mix this together myself into a resalable freezer bag, and then simply pour in hot water and eat straight from the bag. I don't see the point of buying expensive dehydrated porrage meals, or using lower calorie instant porrage like Oatso-simple. It's low cost and easy to make breakfast, and importantly, you have control over the content and the calories. Breakfast is very important on multi day events. This breakfast as listed is almost 600 Kcal. It is very filling, and it certainly takes me a while to eat it. Personally, I don't find eating porrage in hot conditions a pleasure, but oats are the best slow burn carb fuel, so I eat it because I must. The banana chips I put in were not going down as well as usual, so next time I think I'll swap for 20g dried cranberries. Apart from that, I feel well fuelled for the day and I don't get hungry quickly. Having a big calorie breakfast has the obvious advantage of keeping you full for longer, so you don't have to eat snacks as quickly. A number of competitors always say that they struggle to eat snacks once they have started running. This is all the more reason to have lots of calories in the morning while you are still able to eat. Nevertheless snacking on the move is more or less vital, as the breakfast won't carry you through a long days effort.

PSP22 - Carbohydrate-loader drink - 185 kcal
I have 50g in litre of water with my breakfast, and sip the rest up to about 20 minutes before the start each day. This tops up my breakfast to almost 800 Kcals, as well as ensuring my hydration level is topped up too. Of course I will have been rehydrated immediately following the previous days effort, all evening, and I will be sipping water all night as well.

Energy bars
Clif bar - 240kcal
- 70g
The chocolate chip bar is one that I usually eat. It's easy to eat, not too chewy. I'll eat a few small bites with some water when running between CP's, or perhaps a little more if seated at a CP. They taste good, are I feel fuelled after eating them

Honey Stringer bars 190kcal - 50g
Unless you like honey there is no point even trying these. They do come in a few flavour, but obviously the base content is honey. They taste good, probably even better than the Clif bars, but they have less calorific value. They also are very very sticky and gooey in a hot climate. They seem to have a top layer with goes sticky, the rest remains solid. I did enjoy eating these, but the low calorie value of them puts me off a little

Mulebars - 359kcal - per 100g (Pack content 71g)
I got a couple of chocolate fig fiesta flavour to use on day 4. I'd never eaten these before. I thought they were quite cake-like. The flavour I had really tasted good; a combination of chocolate and fruit. I was eating these almost in one go, whilst running pretty quickly during the night stage. Washed down with plenty of water, I didn't get any indigestion or discomfort. I felt full and well fuelled for a long time after eating one. think I've found my new favourite on-the-go snack. I'll be packing plenty for the Atacama Crossing in Chile.

Trail Mix - 60g salt & sweet cashews/10g cranberry/10g Macademia/20g Banana chips - 578kcal - 100g
I bought all the individual items and mixed up my own bag of trail mix. In the Sahara I had enjoyed eating this on the go, but I had based it around a purchased fruit and nut mix, which had a higher cereal content that made it easier and more enjoyable to digest. As it was in the Kalahari, I didn't get the desire to eat these while on the go. Sometimes at a CP I would get out the bag and eat a few handfuls, but more often than not I would eat these after the race had ended, which is not their intended use. The only way to get trail mix with nuts to go down, whilst running in the desert, is to take a mouthful of water with every handful of mix. Otherwise it's very hard to swallow in the heat, when your mouth is dry. My advise is don't base your entire on-the-go food on a nut-based trail mix. Make sure you have something else that is easier to eat, just in case you find, like me, that eating it is not always appealing. Make no mistake, if that is the only food I would have had, I can force myself to eat it, but because I had a choice each day, I opted for the easier to digest energy bars.

Pop Tarts (2) - 402kcal - 98g
People laugh when they see these, but don't knock them. Plenty of quick calores for the weight and easy to eat, especially since they'll get broken up in the wrappers. I ate these for an after dinner treat on the rest day, and really enjoyed them. I have previously used them twice to quite literally give me enough energy not to quit a race. They are my little life-savers. I don't use them for breakfast unless I can't force anything else down, in which case they come in handy.

Peperami (2 per day) - 324kcal (for two) - 54g
These salami snacks always go down well. Any time of the day, I can enjoy these. They are salt, fatty snacks with lots of protein, not a lot of carbohydrate. So, they are not going to be your main source of on-the-go fuel, but sometimes when you don't feel like eating anything else I turn to these. Usually after eating one, I'll get my appetite back for eating something else too. Don't leave home without them!

SIS Go - 72kcal - 20g
Obviously you can mix this up to whatever concentrate you wish. I buy the big 1.6l bottles, as a pose to the sachets, and bag 20g up into tiny 2x2 inch sealable bags. Remember that high carbohydrate content in a drink will inhibit fluid uptake through the stomach, so don't make your concentrate too strong. I usually mix to half the manufacturers suggested instructions. If they say 50g per 500ml, I'll mix 25g to 500ml. Not always do these drinks have much salt included. So, if you are not eating any salty snacks, like Peperami, you may wish to add a small amount of salt to the mix too. I was in fact mixing this quite weak. I would only use 20g per 800ml, because I was supplementing with Endurolytes. I would start the day with plain water in each of my 800ml bottles. Then I would typically have a 20g bag of SIS Go to mix into one 800ml bottle at CP1, then each CP onwards. I would always keep my other 800ml bottle for plain water only. At no point during the week would electrolyte ever go near that bottle. Sometimes you just want to drink plain water, untainted by any electrolyte.

I would swallow 2 capsules per hour. The dosage suggested is 1-3 per hour, possibly more in a hot climate. However, because I was also using SIS Go, I felt comfortable with 2 per hour. I would swallow these on the hour every hour. Set your watch for an hourly chime to remind you. This routine also helps break the day up strangely. You can look at your watch and think, ok 20 mins to my next Endurolytes. It takes your mind off the distances. Using the combination of SIS Go and Endurolytes I didn't suffer from any cramps and my feet didn't swell at all. There were a few times I forgot to take the Endurolytes, and I would have an extra one later, but I would always be using the SIS Go at every CP religiously. I would advise packing each days capsules separately. If you put them for the week all in one bag and accidentally spill water into it, they will all gel together and melt into one big capsule-ball, and be ruined.

SIS Rego - 175kcal 50g
As soon as I finish a stage I rehydrate with a Dioralyte straight away. Every athlete ends the day dehydrated, it is unavoidable; some more than others of course. Fast rehydration is important to recovery. I would usually have a Diorolyte in about 400ml of water. Straight after I would mix 50g of SIS Rego into 800ml of water and drink that over the next half hour or so. SIS Rego is a recovery drink. Basically, a protein shake with carbs in there too, as well as host of minerals. Fast carb replacement, after a days effort, is just as important as rehydration. Usually you won't be eating straight away (if you can, great), so drinking this will at least get some carbs in you, and the protein can get to work repairing your muscles.

Evening Meal - Mountain House 800kcal - 200g
I have tried all the main brands of dehydrated meals, and this come out top, by a long long way. I'm not going to sit a criticise every other brand I've tried, as each person has their own taste, so I would advise tasting plenty of different meals as well as these before you get to the desert, and decide what you prefer. If you don't enjoy your food, you won't eat it all. No food = no fuel for the next day.
You want to be eating the 'meals for two', which are around 800kcals. I can recommend the Rice and Chicken and the Chicken a la King. Around 600kcals are Chicken Teriyaki, and chicken noodles, and Spaghetti.
There is a UK supplier of Mountain House, but they carry a pathetically small range, and they are not the 'meals for two'. I've not tried any of their range, but they can be purchased here. I always import a quantity of these at once (20 meals typically). The cheapest place for delivery is here. RTP only charge $10 international delivery, for any quantity of anything from their store!! Their range of meals is better than the UK distributor, and does have the larger meals, but still they carry few compared to REI. REI carry the whole range, are usually the cheapest for the meals themselves, and discount by 10% if you buy 12 packs. They are however very expensive for delivery. So, you need to be ordering in quantity, or with someone else, to make it worthwhile. Always remember that there is a possibility you may have to pay import duty on goods ordered abroad. It's pot luck if you packet gets picked up and hit-up for VAT and Duty.
Mountain House meals not only taste like real food, it looks like real food, something that other manufacturers seem to have missed? I feel nicely full after an 800kcal meal, which is important to me too!

Oxo Cube (beef/chicken stock cube) - 17kcal - 7g
Wonderfully versatile little item. You can use it to make a tasty drink when in between meals at camp, or you can crumble it into your dehydrated food to enhance or change the taste. I tend to take the same stock of 2 or 3 main meals, so adding a different flavour every other day ensures that I don't get bored and always find my food enjoyable.

SIS Rego Nocte - 149kcal - 51g
This is a night time recovery drink, much like the normal Rego. You can it just before bed. It is supposed to aid sleeping (didn't help in my case), but again it is more protein. Some people may think two protein drinks is overkill, but I didn't get any muscle soreness at all, all week and I think these drinks play a major part in that. Personally, I think theses do not taste every good. The chocolate is better than the only other flavour, vanilla, but still I drink them because I must, not for enjoyment. Can be drunk hot or cold.

So in conclusion, I was very happy overall with the food I took. I will probably swap the trail mix for a Mulebar or two. I sometimes had one energy bar left over at the end of the day, but I won't reduce the number taken for the Atacama, because running at altitude I am likely require more calories. 3400kcal per day sounds like a lot vs the 2000 minimum (which people do take). I have a fast metabolism and I burn through a lot of calories. I would not last a few days on 2000kcals. You can always thrown food away, but you can't get anymore if you haven't packed enough. Pack wisely.

Hydration. I've found for me that I use around 800ml per hour, and that's my rule of thumb. Everyone's needs are different, so you may use more or less. In a hot climate I'd be surprised if it was a lot less, even if you are walking. Obviously you don't want to run out of water, but at the same time, it is better that you drink the water when you need it and perhaps survive the last kilometre to a checkpoint with no water, than leave 100ml in the bottle whilst dying of thirst. A speed/Distance watch or GPS is invaluable for knowing how far it is to the next CP. Using one is integral to my hydration strategy from checkpoint to checkpoint.
I really would advise keeping your water and electrolyte bottles separate, and do consider using a chlorine tablet in the electrolyte bottle, every day or two, to kill the bugs that grown in the bottle and straw (from the sugar).

I hope that's been helpful.

Monday 27 October 2008

Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon - Equipment review

So, I’ve conquered my second desert in the South African Augrabies Kalahari Extreme Marathon. You can read my review of this excellent event right here.

Now, I'm going to do an equipment review. I'm going to do review every piece of equipment I took. I know some of you will appreciate it. I'll review my food and hydration strategies, and my training and race performance in later blog posts.

I've hyperlinked many of these items, but please shop around for the best deals. I can't guarantee the link I've used is always the cheapest.

Raidlight Sac Runner 30l + Equil frontpack (now called the R-Light)
This pack I bought in 2006 a few days after registering my intent to do the 2008 Marathon des Sables. It has lasted through all of my training for the last 3 years, including countless one-day events, as well as La Trans Aq 2007, Marathon des Sables 2008, and Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008. I have had to make repairs; lots of stitching holes and tears. The pack is quite lightweight, so the materials are not the strongest. Still, it remains the most comfortable pack I have tried. I tried the smaller Raidlight Evolution 2, but it's too small and not very comfortable to wear. The Racing the Planet backpack is a close second; it is lighter weight, but again not quite as comfortable as the Raidlight. However, I think it's now come to the end of its life. The strapping that the front pack clips onto has developed a deep crease which means the front pack keeps slipping off. It's practically impossible to repair this, so I will have to replace the pack soon. I'd like to take a look at the Aarn Marathon Magic 30l, but chances are I will go with a new Raidlight R-Light 30l. The new version is very slightly updated, extra pockets etc, but mostly the same. I did modify my pack. I added a luggage strap, sewn onto the main backpack. It wrap around and secures around the equil front pack as well. This holds the whole pack tight to the body and prevents 'bounce'. I don't use shoulder mounted drinks holsters as they bounce too much. I use one 800ml bottle in one of the equil front-packs side webbing pockets, and one 800ml bottle across the top of the frontpack, through the elastic slot for that purpose.

Helly Hansen long sleeve Lifa - 140g
A thermal base layer top that is in most runners wardrobe. Lightweight and warm, this is an ideal top to use on multi-day events. It's useful in the morning in the cold desert air as you are getting your breakfast. It's useful on the night stages if you get a little cold, and it can also come in handy as top to wear when you get back to camp after the days run. It is a little warm for direct sunlight use in the desert, but the other uses make this an invaluable addition.

Marmot 'Motion' jacket - 145g
Windproof jacket, which gives added warmth in the morning (you really appreciate it, as well as the Helly Hansen). Folds up to a tiny package, and is of course lightweight. Useful for night running as well.

Petzl E-Light - 30g
Mandatory item. The smallest head torch that Petzl make. The amount of light it throws out is reasonable; certainly enough to find your way in the dark. It throws out a very wide spread beam, and has no focus beam. It's enough to see where you are going, but there are more powerful head torches available if you are prepared to sacrifice another 50g of weight. This torch has a major design fault, when used in the desert. It has a rotary switch, to change from high-low-flashing-red beams. If just one grain of sand gets in the mechanism, you will have a hell of a job moving it from/to the position the place the sand is stuck in. I had this trouble in the Kalahari. I couldn't switch it on! I was scared to force it too hard in case I snapped the on switch. I eventually got it to work, by moving it very fast and trying to blow out the sand afterwards. This happened a few times. If you really want to take this torch to the desert then keep it in a plastic bag until you use it. Personally, I'd think seriously about using the Petzl Plus instead.

800ml Raidlight drinks bottles - 236g
I used one bottle for electrolyte, with the straw attached. You can keep the bottle in the front pack, and as long as you have it hoisted up to the highest position on your chest you can just suck on the straw. You may have to lift the front pack slightly to reach the straw, but it beats the bottles flapping around on those useless shoulder holsters. Oh, I also pulled off the rubber tip and binned it. You can actually suck liquid out of it then (some people have added a valve to the lid to sort this problem out)! The other 800ml bottle I have the version with the standard pop up/down sucker (no straw). This I only use for water for the whole event. Sometimes you just want water and not electrolyte. This bottle sits horizontally across the front pack. I think 1600ml of water is adequate for me to make it between checkpoints (800ml an hour is about right for me). Some of you may prefer to use a 1.5l mineral water bottle horizontally instead, but remember that's another 0.7kg of weight. It's water vs weight, do what is right for you.

Space blanket - 56g
Mandatory on most of these events. I have had to use one in anger on the MDS, during the night stage. Coming down from a big climb my body temp dropped to 35C (doctor measured it) so I needed this to warm back up!

Toilet Paper - 15g
Mandatory item. I'm pretty frugal on the amount I take. I used wet wipes to supplement use. Make sure put this in a freezer bag unless you want sand-burns!

Wet Wipes (14) - 65g
I pack 2 per day, 14 in total. I put 2, folded, into tiny 2x2 inch plastic resealable bags. These I normally use for cleaning out salt from my pores, especially on my face, neck and arms. A little water on them after the initial use, makes them reusable. If I have spare they can be used for toilet use. Don't be fooled as to how heavy these things are. So, don't go taking a whole packet per day.

First aid bag - 133g
Mandatory item.
Toothbrush (shortened) and Toothpaste - you will want to un-fur your teeth after a day drinking electrolyte. Trust me!
Ibuprofen - Anti-inflammatory. Most doctors would not recommend these for use during a race, as there are cases of anti-inflammatory drugs causing renal failure in dehydrated competitors. Perhaps useful overnight if properly hydrated. As with any drugs take medical advice before using.
Paracetamol - A useful and safer painkiller than ibuprofen.
Small roll of bandage - multi purpose. Useful as gauze to cover a drained blister before applying zinc oxide tape (Leukotape).
Antiseptic wipes - I usually pack a couple just to clean out cuts.
Friars Balsam (available at most chemists)- I decant perhaps 30ml into a small lighter weight plastic bottle. This really is multi purpose. It makes your feet sticky, useful to apply to help zinc oxide tape adherence. It toughens the feet. I usually apply it every night during an event to harden them back up for the following day. It's an antiseptic to clean out cuts. It can also be injected into a drained blister, then pressure applied to seal the blister back to the skin - this is not for the faint hearted, it is very painful (you have been warned!). It is very effective though.
Needle and cotton - useful for running repairs to kit. Also useful to attach a thread and pass into and out of a blister. Cut the thread and leave it in place to wick out the juice. Personally I leave this in place for the whole event, and usually the blister never fills back up again. It can then be removed, or will drop out as your skin renews itself over time.
Imodium - Stops diarrhoea fast! Enough said.
Rehydration Sachets (6)(e.g. Diorolyte) - I have one of these after every stage, regardless of how I feel.

P20 once a day sun cream - 100g
Mandatory item. Now the new formula works in 15 minutes (it used to be 90!). This is superb stuff. I came back from the Sahara still white as the snow. It bonds to the skin and prevents sunburn. One small bottle should be more than enough to last a week, even less if you are covering up your arms and legs of course.

Sleeping Bag - PHD Minim Ultra - 378g (including stuff sack)
Mandatory item. Can't fault this bag. Lightest weight down bag I've come across, rated to 8C which is more than adequate for the Sahara (usually, but the temps can vary). It was still too warm for the Kalahari. Most people slept on top of their bags until the early hours. Still, this is my bag of choice for desert racing. I also have to 0C Minim 300 which is baking hot and too warm. It will however be perfect for the Atacama desert, which is much colder at night. PHD did deliver it on time, this time around. Make sure you specify a date to them, and chase it up the week before if you order from them. The bags packs up very small indeed, incredibly light.

Signalling Mirror - 12g
Mandatory item. Get something small and plastic.

Knife - Swisscard - 26g
Mandatory item. The actual knife is tiny, but it is sharp enough to cut down a mineral water bottle to make a bowl or cup. To be honest that's about the only use you'll ever need to put it to on one of these races. The scissors will come in handy to cut zinc oxide tape, bandages. The pen and tweezers may come in useful too. Don't waste weight on a heavy Swiss army knife.

Strapping - Leukotape - 51g
Mandatory item. I take one roll of finger-width-wide Leukotape. I don't pre-tape anymore. My feet are pretty tough (more of that later). If I feel a hotspot coming I will stop and tape, and then usually pre-tape the area for the rest of the week as well. Leukotape is strong, sticky (even better applied after friars balsam). If you remove it at the end of the stage, be sure to clean your feet properly as it does leave a sticky residue. I can get away with just one roll usually. Depending on how tough your feet are you may need more.

Safety pins (10) - 4g
Mandatory item. For attaching your race number usually. Spares for a bandage maybe?

Insect repellent - 61g (small glass pot of Tiger Balm)
Not needed on the MDS, but very useful in the Kalahari. It acts as repellent as well as a bite-soother, and muscle rub. I love the smell as well.

Asics Kayano socks (4) - 30g each (120g)
This years Kayano's (white, gold and black colour) are slightly thicker than the old red, black and yellow ones. I was really dubious about using them, but I am converted. They advertise anti-friction thread. Probably an ad gimmick, but they do feel quite silky. I use these as my base layer socks.

Smartwool socks (2) - 48g each (96g)
The hyperlink is just an example of the type.
I was REALLY dubious about using wool socks in the desert, and even more dubious about wearing two pairs of socks at once (scared of heat build up). I wore these over the top of the Kayano's, initially as a way to pad out my shoes (which were 2 sized too big). However, the two pairs of socks seem to reduce the amount of friction on your skin, perhaps the socks rubbing against each other instead. I would usually use the same pair of Smartwool socks all day, but change the Kayano's underneath, at checkpoint 2 or 3 (and all CP's after that if I thought necessary). My feet ended up in pristine condition (one small blister that would have been avoided had I put on both pairs of socks from the start line). Everyone was asking me how I managed to keep them so good.

In addition to those 6 pairs of socks listed above (4 Kayano and 2 Smartwool), I started the race with an extra pair of each, wearing them.

Foot emery board - 10g
I use this to file off any skin that has built up during the days effort. Perhaps on the side of my big toes, the balls of my feet, or heels. Then I apply Friars Balsam.

A word on foot care at this point. I use Tuff Foot, an American product, to condition my feet. It has one of the same active ingredients as Friars Balsam - Benzine, amongst a whole load of others. This product does not dry out your feet like white spirit does. It just toughens the skin and connective tissues. You notice the difference after just a couple of applications. You typically use it before bedtime for a few weeks, then just once a week to maintain. I always use it every night for two weeks before an event now. It doesn’t make your feet sticky or make them as yellow as they go if you use Friars Balsam in the same way.

This routine, plus the two pairs of socks, is I am sure the reason that my feet survived in great shape. There is only one importer of this product that I am aware of (in the UK). I don't have any affiliation with them before you ask! Make sure you select the Human formula, and not the Dog formula incidentally. It's £15 a bottle, but will last a long time! Used before events, I have had just got through my first bottle - since January! You can order the product here

Friars Balsam costs pennies, but I think Tuff Foot is more effective.

MSR Titanium Kettle - 129g
It holds about 750ml of water which is enough for a dehydrated meal and enough left over for a hot drink. It has a lid so water boils faster.

Brunton My-Ti Folding Titanium Spork - 19g
The eating utensil of choice. Very light, strong and folds in half.

Spare Batteries AA (3) - 73g
I use these for my Timex GPS. I usually find I need 3 batteries, maybe 4 maximum.

Thermarest Prolite 3 - short version - 382g
Inflatable mattress that is worth it's weight in gold for comfort. Sadly in the Kalahari every inch of ground had spikes and mine (and everyone else’s!) got a puncture. No such problem in the Sahara. Might be worth packing the repair kit that you can buy for them? Apart from that, they provide comfort and insulation from the cold ground. I opted for the short version that covers about shoulders to knees. I imported one of these, along with the MSR kettle and Spork from the USA at a cheaper price than the UK. Might be worth checking if that is still the case with the weakening Pound value? There is an even lighter version '4' out now I believe.

Endurolytes (90) - 111g
I took 2 of these per hour, along with 20g of SIS Go to use at each checkpoint when I refilled my 800ml electrolyte. I didn't suffer from cramps during the week at all. I like the convenience of just popping a couple of capsules. If used alone you may need to change the dosage. Everyone’s needs are different, so see what works for you.

Coffee Granules - 14g
Enough to last me a week. A cup of coffee every morning gives you that spark for racing, and apparently eases sore muscles too!

Bodyglide - small stick - 35g
I find this useful to put over the top of Leukotape once applied to ensure the tape doesn't stick to my socks. It can be used as a general lubricant between toes, or anywhere to prevent chafing.

Chlorine tablets - 10g
I drop one of these in my electrolyte bottle in the morning and let it dissolve, and shake it up to kill any bugs. Personally I don't mind just drinking it afterwards to kill any bugs in my tummy (not entirely sure it works that way, but what the hell!). I also put one into my MSR kettle and drop my Spork in and leave for 10 mins at the end of the day. Just with a 100ml of water. Swish around and rinse. I am very hot on cleanliness when on events. I do not want to be taken out due to a stomach upset. For 10g you can't go wrong.

Camera - Casio Exlim S3 - 95g
This is an old credit card size 3 mega pixel camera. All the pics you see on here were taken by it. It's not great, but it's tiny and lightweight, and easy to use. You can still pick them up on eBay for much cheapness sometimes.

Alcohol hand cleansing gel - 37g
The smallest bottle you can find. The other part of my hygiene routine. I used this a couple of times a day in camp, before and after eating, and toilet etc. It's kept me healthy so far!

Bin bag - 19g
I carry one of these as an emergency item, akin to the space blanket. It is another layer of warmth, that weighs nothing, and can be used to great effect to retain warmth.

Eye protection
In the Sahara I used Wiley-X goggles. They have a removable bevel so they can be just sunglasses too. Realistically you have got to consider the possibility of sand storms in most deserts, so goggles are required. In the Kalahari this wasn't a danger, so I just used my Oakley’s.

Head Cover - Sahara Cap.
Had this for 3 years and it has served me well. Covers next and face with a drawstring tie under the chin. Can just be a cap as the whole neck flap part is removable. I've not yet found a cap that didn't warm up your head (I don't think such as thing exists!). I have however found that just placing it loosely on the head (as long as the wind is not too strong) is ideal.

Raidriders Ecomesh shirt - long sleeve.
Again, I bought from (as with the hat above) but their webiste does not look to have been updated for a very long time. If the company is still going they need to pay it some attention.
Had for 3 years as well. Keeps me protected from the sun and always cool. Has vents under the arm and across the back. Has a tendency to go very cardboardy as the week wears on, but 30 mins into the days effort when you are sweating again it soon softens up.

Under Armour Vent shorts underwear - white
Never had any chafing downstairs wearing these. Used in the Sahara and Kalahari. Slightly see-through, especially when wet!

CW-X Pro compression tights - black.
Highly rated, but I just found these too hot. Just standing still in the Kalahari my legs were cooking. Maybe I'll use them in the Atacama where they thicker material may be more appropriate to the cool night temperatures.

Under Armour Heatgear tights - white colour
As soon as I changed out of the CW-X and into these I felt much cooler. They are thinner and being white they reflect the heat from the sun. You do look a little stupid wearing them, but that is a price I was happy to pay. All week my legs felt comfortable and were protected from the sun. At no point during the week did I suffer from any muscle soreness (even after 250km!!), so maybe the compression properties had a hand in this? I don't know, but I can recommend them.

New Balance MT800 Trail Shoes.
These are no longer made. They have been replaced with the MT840's? They were the perfect choice for the Kalahari, which had a lot on uneven picky trails, and very little flat terrain. They had enough cushioning too. I think they were the best choice as road shoes would have left me suffering from stone bruising. For the MDS (Sahara) I'd say road shoes or adventure racing shoes with a lot of cushioning are the best choice, as there are usually a lot of flat stony plains - very runnable. Trail shoes with little cushioning will cripple you on that terrain.

Sandbaggers Silk Dune Gaiters (shorter Length)
I opted for these this time, instead of the Raidlight version, in the hope they would last me more than one event. I'm pleased to say that they will. After a rinse in the washing machine they look good as new. Make sure you get a cobbler to stitch the Velcro onto your shoes, and don't do it (or glue it) yourself, unless you really know what you are doing (and know 100% the glue will survive 120F). If you get the Velcro professional attached then you are unlikely to get any sand in your shoes at all. Gaiters were not needed as much in the Kalahari, but did prove their use at times. You'll likely need them most days in the Sahara though. One drawback - the ghastly colour. They raised plenty of laughs (though that could be with the white tights accompaniment).

Buff or insect net
Really need one or the other in the Kalahari as there are times of the day when lots of small flies are about. I used a Buff. Multi-purpose to cover your mouth, head, or wear around the neck (damp) to cool.

Neck Cobber
Worth it’s weight in gold. When it arrives it is light as feather. Soak in water for 20 mins and the crystals expand many times. Worn around the neck (covers the carotid artery) promotes cooling, the feeling of cool. Just keep turning it around periodically to get the 'cool side'. The evaporative wind process keeps the cobber cool, and so keeps you feeling cool too. It will last for days apparently (it lasts a week at home!). In the desert I'd soak it for a few mins each morning, and wet it at CP's too.

I hope that was useful to some of you. Please comment or email me ay questions. I’ll be happy to help.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 - The Full Story


Let me just start by saying what a fantastic event this was, and what good value for money. Included in the entry fee (see their website for for the latest pricing) you get:

2 night’s accommodation(RO) in a nice hotel Johannesburg(before and after)
Travel to and from Johannesburg to Augrabies, Kalahari (packed lunches inc)
2 night’s accommodation in a large chalet in the Augrabies Falls National Park
2 night’s accommodation in luxury tents at Khimkirri after the event
All food included at Augrabies and Khimkirri before and after the event
Gala Dinner after the event
Welcome pack - Including a Buff, Falke trail socks, Gaiters, lip balms, T-Shirt and various other useful things
A week long safari on foot (Ok, so there might be some running involved for this bit!)

You can find ultramarathon stats for this race and others here.
So, without even running there is a weeks worth of accommodation in the price! The Rand isn't a very strong currency vs the Pound, so everything cost very little when there too. A round of beers/soft drinks for 6 people costs about £3! So 50p for a bottle of beer roughly! Add to that the warmth and friendliness of the organisers; Estienne and Nadia, and Simon I believe is the other partner, plus the support crew, makes this event very special. This event is far too well a kept secret I think. When you can fly to South Africa and experience all of this for less than half of the price of the Marathon Des Sables, I'm expecting this event to get very popular indeed. 2009 in the anniversary 10th year, so I imagine it will be even more special. Lots of previous competitors are expected back, so make sure you don't miss out!

Once you've read this report you might be interested in my critique of the equipment I took with me, and a critique of training programme. You'll find the equipment review useful if you are considering taking part in the event.

Look on the sidebar to the right of the screen, and browse to the 'archive' for October 2008 and you'll find those posts there. I hope they help.

You'll probably already know I completed the Marathon Des Sables earlier this year (2008), after training for it since 2006. If not, you can find the details on my old MDS blog. I completed it, but had not done as well as I had expected, leaving me with a sense of failure. I realise most people just think to complete it is hard enough, but I wanted to finish in the top half of the field and failed to do that finishing 556th out of 800. This was down to a disastrous day 4 (47 mile stage) where I had to take 7 hours rest at the half way stage. Lack of sleep, food and other factors possibly all played a part. If I would have not had to rest I would have finished in the top half overall. So, I felt I had let myself down and had something to prove still. I booked the Atacama Crossing in Chile, next March (it runs at the same time as the MDS 2009). However, that seemed like such a long time away. One Friday evening an advert was posted for a race on the MDS forum I use. The advert was for the KAEM (Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon). I'd never heard of it if I was being honest. I checked out their website and liked the sound of it. It sounded like a tougher version of the MDS with a Safari built in! I checked flights availability and just booked them, on the spur of the moment, just seven weeks before the event started.

I emailed around and got some replies from previous competitors. All said it was indeed tougher than the MDS, but were a little vague as to why. I read the stories from the previous years' race on their website, and looked at the results. The dropout rate was higher than the MDS (which is around 5-10%), the KAEM being consistently 30% every year since it began. The event is now in it 9th running, only the MDS being running longer, for a race of this type. The format is identical. 6 stages over 7 days, with day 4 being a long day (47 miles this year). It is self sufficiency also, so you must carry your own food and equipment. Only water is supplied at checkpoints. The water allowance is more strict than the MDS, with 5l being given on the finish line each day (MDS is 4.5L on the finish line, and 1.5l the next morning before the start). That must last you until checkpoint 1 the following day! So all of your rehydration, and cooking etc, plus refilling your water bottles for the first 10k of the next day/stage. There was a little (not much) extra water in drums in the camp that people used for washing etc. We did not have to bring a stove or fuel tablets, as one camp fire was lit for us to put our cooking pots on. No compass was required (magnetic interference in the rocks render them useless). No anti venom pump, despite the presence of equally dangerous snakes as in the Sahara (it's debatable as to how effective these are anyway. They've had no problems with snakes in 9 years anyway). So, there is overall slightly less kit required, but the weight difference is fairly minor. You'll see from previous blog posts what equipment I packed for the race. On the start line I had about 8kg in my pack, plus 1.5kg of water in two bottles. This was less than my pack weight for the MDS. I had been stricter and brought some lighter kit too. I think I had the lightest pack of all of the competitors, by a couple of kg's. That said, I probably weigh less than most of the others too (I'm about 64kg), so it is all relative.


I got the train down to Heathrow and a direct flight with BA to Johannesburg. The return flight cost me £500. Another UK competitor got a flight for about £470 but had to change at Paris. The flight was around 10.5 hours, but mercifully all of the flights to Johannesburg leave around 8-9pm, so they are overnight flights, arriving about 8-9am local time (+1 hour GMT). This means you sleep and arrive feeling ready for a days shopping in Johannesburg, which is exactly what I did! I was greeted at the airport by Nadia, and introduced to Lena the Russian competitor (you'll hear more about her later!). A short drive to the Airport City Lodge hotel and I met several others. I met Paul, Edward and Patrick from the UK. Edward and Patrick are KAEM veterans, and Paul was a first time ultra runner. I also met Ronan and Alex; Australian Navy, Helmut from Austria, and Gareth and Jon also from Australia but originally from South Africa and Zimbabwe respectively. Finally Phil from South Africa, Flora from China and Kerry from Taiwan. Virtually all of the South African's were Comrades (56 mile road race) vets. The other competitors we were to meet in the Kalahari, as they were making their own way there. There were 20 competitors this year, much less than previous years. I suspect the credit crunch/global economic crisis being the reason.

A few of us shopped in Johannesburg's Nelson Mandela shopping centre during the afternoon and had a meal at a local steak house in the evening. The following morning we left at 6am for the long (10 hour; a few hours longer than the MDS bus journey) trek across the country into the Kalahari. I didn't know at the time, but some people had opted to fly from Jo'burg to Uppington (a 1.5hr flight) instead, and then travel the last hour by bus/car. The flight cost is around £150 I believe. Still, the bus journey was a bonding experience, a chance to get to know the other competitors and also for me to play 'spot the wildlife' out of the bus window. I was so excited to see Ostrich just wandering around the plains, I was like a child! Breakfast and lunch packed meals were provided, but a few of us decided we would get some proper ultra-runner food at a rest stop - KFC. Haven't had one for years but it tasted good. I figured I'd run the calories off that week anyway! We arrived at the Augrabies Falls Lodge where we met the rest of the crew, before being transferred the 3 or 4k to the Augrabies Falls National Park itself where we were paired up and accommodated in chalets as seen below. Click on all these pictures for a much bigger, more detailed view.

In the shop, near reception, I met Kim, a very nice (and well spoken) South African competitor. She was doing her first KAEM. Her husband won a paired rowing race from The Canary Islands to Antigua in December/January (2 month-long race), so they are obviously a very fit family! After a short rest we went back to the Lodge for the evening meal.

After the meal we went back to the chalets to sleep. I was sharing a chalet with Paul from the UK, and we woke early to banging on the roof, and someone trying to open our (locked) chalet door?!?!!?!? We looked outside to see a huge baboon. It was jumping down from the roof of the chalets, trying the doors to see if it found one unlocked. If so, it ran inside and stole fruit before making its escape. Us and the young Aussies, Alex and Ronan, found this very amusing, but other people staying at the park were not so impressed! We had breakfast at the Augrabies Lodge, pictured below.

I was trying out a few outfits for the race, in case you wonder why I am in those CW-X Pro compression tights the day before the race! We then got on the bus for a 2 hour tour of the national park, the pictures of which you can see below.

We drove around, getting off for the odd stop, as pictured. Then we stopped as we spotted Giraffe! Very excited we all dashed off the bus and made our way into the bush for better pictures. Sorry I only had a basic compact camera, but you can spot them!

Lena, the Russian, ran faster than anyone saw her move all week, chasing the Giraffe to "Make Photo" (her English was better than my Russian to be fair), which she spooked, and they moved off. We boarded the bus and spotted a couple of small monkeys too.

The rest of the day I spent trying out my potential race outfits and visiting the actual Augrabies falls, which were huge and powerful. There is a well constructed walkway and viewing platforms all around the area.

A view back to the chalets.

You can't see them in the photo, but by that point I had changed out of the black CW-X Pro compression tights and put on a pair on white under armour tights. They were much much cooler (in the heat sense, not the style sense! My legs were cooking standing still in the black CW-X tights) to wear, and so I decided upon them, along with my tried and trusted Railriders Ecomesh shirt, as my racing outfit. That afternoon there was the pre-race briefing and kit check. We met the other competitors. Roy, an Olympic silver medallist for swimming in the 1970's (UK ex-pat), and his wife Malene. Tim, Lucas and Danie; all South Africans. Tim (now living in Canada) had failed on two previous attempts to complete this event and was hoping 3rd time lucky (he completed it too, well done Tim!). Danie, I think someone told me he was ex-army. He didn't have a traditional runner’s physique, but wow could he move and he said the heat never affected him! Don't know a great deal about Lukas (except he is fast!), but both he and Danie were very friendly. They spoke mainly Afrikaans, but some English if it was needed!

We got to view the route in detail for the first time. We were given the road books on the bus. They were helpfully on seperate sheets, so we could tear off each day as we needed them, and not have to use a full book each day (like the MDS).

The 240km route.

We went back to the National park and I saw some signs showing the local wildlife. It showed the Puff Adder, Cape Cobra, and Spitting Cobra (the camera crew filmed one at Khimkirri apparently). I hoped I didn't run into one of these frighteners (I almost did though, literally, eek!!). We went back to our chalets and packed our kit for the next day. Paul went and brought a few eggs, and some bread from the shop for a luxury breakfast for us, before the start! I slept quite well, and spotted this little fella outside the chalet in the morning.

Paul served up breakfast, which I ate as well as my porridge race breakfast. I probably ate a little too much in fact. Then we dragged our suitcases up, handed them in, and moved up to the start line.

Day 1 - Stage 1 - 25km.

• Start: Augrabies Falls National Park Camp.
• Follow the markers to the main game viewing dirt road.
• Stay on this road until you get a marker board which will take you on a small loop right, to avoid the wide stream crossing.
• Continue back on the main game viewing road to an intersection, take the left turn and continue to check point 1.
• 600m after check point 1 take the left split.
• 600m further on turn off the game viewing road to the right. It will be clearly marked.
• Continue on the route into a sandy river bed and then turn right down a dry river gorge to the Orange River.
• Then turn left at the river. Staying on the river bank, cross through the National Park fence and follow the river downstream to check point 2. (This stretch along the river is about 3km)
• About 200m before you reach check point 2, follow the markers very carefully as they will lead you away from the water’s edge towards the cliffs. (This is a sandy section)
• From check point 2 follow the markers carefully through vineyards to a wide gravel road.
• Continue up this winding road and at the top of the hill turn off to the left into the Park through the gate. You will see the Vodacom tower on the hill. (There should be crew members at this gate)
• After the gate continue with the 4x4 track past the tower to the finish at Camp 1.

I saw the distance of this stage before I arrived in SA, and I figured it was a gently introduction to the Kalahari. An epic FAIL on my part - it just wasn't an easy introduction at all I subsequently found! We lined up on the start line, here is the outfit I was sporting.

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer
I was running from the fashion police all week. You can blame Likeys for those ridiculous coloured gaiters! However, it gave everyone something to laugh at, and I was declared to be "somewhat flamboyant" by Kim. Let's just say that a few minds were changed over the week, and a few others will be sporting white tights in the future!

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer

There are stacks of official photos from the start here too. After a brief overview of the route, from Estienne, we were off. I settled into a comfortable 8kph/5mph pace and held that as we travelled on the dirt track that wound through the national park. We would stay on that track for the first 10k, the easiest running we would have all week! It was forecast to be hot - 40C+ for the whole week (it got hotter!).

Fairly soon my camera was out as we spotted a family of Giraffe just a few k into the race. I also saw Gemsbok in the distance, but they would not have shown on the picture.

This is Jon, who I had the closest tussle with, on finish times with as the week progressed.

After about 5k I felt a little sick. I slowed up and thankfully the feeling passed - too much breakfast I assumed. Paul had decided to keep pace with me and a few others. Alex, Danie, Lucas and Ronan had dashed off quickly and so it would be for much of the week. Acclimatised to heat and great athletes, they would usually (but not always!) finish well ahead of me! We got to checkpoint 1 after the long slow 10climb from the start line. I was already feeling the heat and took a few minutes to cool down, refill my water bottles (Adding electrolyte into one), and get my Buff soaked in water before continuing. A nice downhill came after CP1, but then a route marker (red and white tape) indicated a right turn into a track (shown below) and then into dry river bed (Wadi - if you want Sahara speak).

Dry river beds are unpleasant, full of soft sand. They get very hot from the radiated heat of the sand, and they are hard to run in, and even worse to walk in. Paul decided to take it easy and drop back and I pushed ahead to catch up and pass most of the others, except the first 4 (this overtaking happened over the whole course of CP1 to CP2). I ran the river bed, whereas most walked it. It's actually easier to run in soft sand sometimes I think; If you toe-in and lean forward.

To make matters worse there was not a breath of wind. In the Sahara, during the MDS, there was almost always a breeze. You could take off your hat anytime and catch the breeze to cool down. Not so in the Kalahari, at least not for the first few days. It was baking hot and more humid too; the proximity to the Orange River probably the reason for this. Here was Lena heading into that Gorge.

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer
I had passed a couple of others when the route exited the sandy river bed and we had to climb up a very steep and silty hill, up and out into a gorge. It was a case of 1 step up and 3/4 of a step back as we slipped and slided up the steep bank. The spot shown below.

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photohrapher
I emerged into the gorge which was very hot, and a mixture of rock and sand underfoot, initially at least. The rock blasted heat back at you as well as the sand.

I got someone to take my photo soon after.

After a K or so, the route joined the river and the terrain became more difficult.

Route finding was tough at times, as the markers were tricky to spot. Having a few pairs of eyes in close proximity at that time, helped us through the trickiest section. We would have to climb up and around boulders, lots of leaping involved. The banks of the river were sandy, and the sides of the gorge very steep rock. We were told to keep to the cliff side which meant running on an angle.

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer
Here is Helmut negotiating the tricky terrain, just ahead of me at this stage.

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer
Frequently we came across 'washouts' which were small 4 or 6ft deep canyons, and from 3 to 10ft wide (waters had flowed down and created these in recent weeks). The sides were made of soft silt-sand which frequently gave way underfoot. I tried leaping a few and ended up slipping and falling in, as the sand gave way. The wider ones we had to climb down into and then out of. There were a lot of these in this section; making progress tiring. Now, in the heat of the day everyone was suffering. I went to the banks of the river to dampen my buff, which I wore around my neck to promote cooling (cooling the carotid artery in the neck). Others behind me were so cooked they actually stripped off and went into the river, in an attempt to cool down. The reflected heat still air, and humidity, made the temperature far exceed anything I felt in Morocco (It felt over the 48C I had experienced in Morocco). This was a rude awakening for me. I caught up Gareth and we continued together, occasionally stopping for a few seconds in the shade of a tree. I had never consciously sought shade in the Sahara (when it was available). Here, it was a survival technique! Soon after, we found Helmut slumped under a bush, clearly suffering in the heat. Imagine a strong Austrian accent; he said "Ze Marathon Des Sables is for Ze Children". He along with several others had done the MDS too. I knew exactly how he felt at that moment. Taking nothing away from the MDS, which is a difficult race, I was feeling the strain of this event on day 1! The terrain was very hard and varied, and the temperatures unbelievable. What had I let myself in for? I was down to the last 100ml of my water as me and Gareth prayed for the checkpoint to appear. The route swung away from the river and then a final slog up a short but fairly steep hill where we spotted CP2.

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer
Tim was already there, but left soon after we arrived. Here is Gareth (left) and Tim (right).

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer
My gaiters had held so far, and the CP staff were impressed to see not a grain of sand appear when I upturned my shoes. A river of sand came from some people's shoes. My gaiters were obviously working so far (Thank you Likeys). However, my left heal had rubbed slightly, and there was a hotspot. I was in shoes 2 sizes too big, that being the problem. I put a pair of Smartwool socks over the top of the Asics Kayano's I was wearing. This padded out the shoes perfectly. I should have done that from the start of the stage. That decision proved to be absolutely critical to my success that week (my feet remained in superb condition); two pairs of socks; a thick pair over a thinner pair. My bottles were refilled by the always excellent and supportive CP staff, my bone-dry buff was re-wet, and I set off ahead of Gareth to chase Tim. We went past a vineyard and then joined a dirt road, where a winding draining climb began up a hill to a Vodacom (mobile phone) tower on a viewpoint.

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer
I took this shot looking back from half way up. What a contrast to the visible vineyard.

The route turned off the dirt road and then went steeply up an uneven track past the tower.

I'd overtaken Tim already and now began the last slog to the finish. It was uphill all the way for the last few k. The terrain was all rough rock tracks, very uneven and very hot. I was relived to see the finish line ahead and crossed to finish in 5th, in a time of 4:29. The joint stage winners Alex, Danie and Lukas, had come in 40 minutes ahead of me. Ronan had come in 10 minutes ahead of me. The next competitor came in half an hour after me. I was happy with my performance that day. The heat had hit me hard, but the terrain suited me. I'm well used to hill climbing and rough tracks, but not so good on soft sand. Genevieve, the physio was offering sports massage at 50 Rand for 20 minutes (about £3!!!!). Needless to say, everyone including me took her up on the offer every day. She's an excellent sports masseur. Go see her for treatment if you live in Jo'burg!

Everyone else came in over the next few hours. Paul had suffered in the heat, having opted for a sleeveless shirt (very brave!). He'd taken a dip in the river, picked up a few blisters but was still smiling when he crossed to the line.

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer
Roy and Malene came in just after, in 6:46, and then came the long wait. Lena had not arrived with any of the mandatory equipment at all, and had to be given kit to use. She was walking (not running) in hiking boots. She seemed more interested in taking photo's. She apparently got to the first CP (only 10k, or 6 miles, into day 1), took off her shoes and said her feet were sore! She finished the stage in 9:21, technically after the cutoff time, as it was already sundown, but was allowed to progress to day 2. Flora had retired at CP2, after suffering in the heat and terrain I understood. So, day 1 was over and 1 retirement already. I'd eaten my salty salami snacks (Peperami) and my energy bars (Clif and Honey Stinger bars), but not eaten the trail mix of nuts, banana chip and dried cranberries. I ate that after my main meal, a trend that I repeated throughout the week as they just didn't appeal to me to eat in the day, as they had done in the Sahara? I got my first bad nights sleep; maybe 2.5 hours, and that sleep was broken. It was so hot until the early hours, then it finally cooled down. My new sleeping bag was a better fit for desert use, but the night time temperatures exceeded the Sahara and so sleeping (or trying to) on top of the bag was a better option until just before dawn.

More day 1 photo's here

Day 1 official video

Day 2 - 36k

• Continue on the 4x4 track for about 3km and then turn right onto the main game viewing road.
• Continue running on this road until you will go under a subway, crossing below the main tar road. Immediately after the subway turn right off the game viewing road onto a track.
• Follow the markers carefully along this 4x4 track down the hill into a dry river bed and you will get to check point 1.
• After check point 1 follow the route markers and vehicle tracks through another two dry river beds to check point 2.
• After check point 2 follow the markers (be careful as the tracks are not very clear here) straight up to an old fence line which is marked by a row of stones. Turn left here and follow the markers and track. When you get to a windmill split to the right and carry on to a gravel road.
• When you get to the road turn right onto it and continue on it to check point 3.
• After check point 3 stay on the road for about 6.5km where you will turn right off this road onto a track and continue down with this track to the finish at Camp 2.

The start time were staggered, depending on the previous days performance. Lena started at 06:30, Paul, Marlene and Roy at 7am, and everyone else at 8am. I ate my porridge which to be honest is a chore and not a pleasure. I force it down because it is the best race fuel. I don't eat oatso-simple or any other vacuous instant mix porridge. I bring the real deal, oats, with powdered milk and some banana chips in a bag, measured and mixed up myself. It's pointless buying an expensive vaccum packed porridge breakfast, when you can buy a whole box of porridge oats and powdered milk, then mix it into a zip-lock freezer bag. Then just pout hot water straight into the bag, stir and eat it. My breakfast is almost 600kcal, and then I have a carbohydrate-loader drink (PSP22) to bring myself up towards 800kcal for breakfast. It takes me probably half an hour or more to eat this, but I don't fall hungry until well into the days' effort. I set off at a similar pace to the previous day, but was careful to slow to a march for the uphill’s knowing that 11k on top of yesterday meant that today would be tough. It was already hot at 8am, and again not a breath of wind. The route began with a long slow climb up a well defined 4x4 dirt track towards a road.

There were good views over the 'green' Kalahari. It is so called because of the vegetation. It is not as arid as the Sahara, but the sun has almost bleached white the greenery that persists.

I learned early in the week that everything in the Kalahari has spikes or thorns, even the grass hurts as you brush against it. My theory is that everything is designed to spike passing animals (and runners!) to extract blood, and thus moisture to survive. It's probably wrong, but that's how it felt running through the hostile spiky environment!

After about 6k we passed into a small subway under the only tarmac road we saw all week. We then turned sharp right and into dustier/sandier terrain.

We soon dropped down into a sandy river bed before CP1. I passed Lena just before CP1. She had an hour and a half headstart on me, and I had passed her in just an hour and 25 minutes. She was moving very slowly indeed, like a leisure trip. In fact that is what most of us theorised she thought she had signed up for. I moved on quickly from CP1, just a water refill at that CP. The terrain changed from deep sand tracks to uneven rocky-rubble paths. I was moving well and soon caught up with Ronan, we were in 4th and 5th place again. Ronan was taking this section quite slowly because of the heat of the day. I slowed up too, a little anxious that I had gone too fast too early. We stayed together all the way to CP2. Here's Ronan pointing out "one tree hill".

Ronan is Aussie Navy as well, and trained with a 25kg pack. It shows from the way he runs, it looks like he is always carrying a Burgen. He runs with his arms bent out wide as if carrying a much bigger load (watch the video's, you'll see what I mean!) The terrain remained mostly stone and rubble all the way into CP2. At CP2 I changed my Asics Kayano socks for a dry pair, but put the same Smartwool socks back over the top. I performed this same procedure at CP2 (and each subsequent CP) most days.
From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer

We set off from CP2. Alex, the race leader, had gone the wrong way we were told. He subsequently added about 3k onto the days total before being found and put back on track with a time penalty. The day was really heating up and Ronan decided to stop for a rest under a tree. I was feeling good at this point and decided to press on.

The good stony path gave way to a meandering route through a deep sandy river bed, before climbing up and onto a winding dirt track. I began to suffer with the intense midday heat at this point, my pace slowing. I began to scour the horizon for shade. There were frequently low spiky bushes but they had inadequate shade, even if you crawled right under them, which competitors frequently did, despite the spikes. Now and again you would come across a Quiver tree which gave a slither of shade if you crouched low with the sun high in the sky overhead. I was evidedntly forced under a bush for this piece of video.

I probably didn't rest long enough in retrospect. I saw CP3 in the distance, but the route instructions did not seem to tally with the visual location of the CP. I got as close to it as I could on the track, then cut cross country for the last 1/2K, as did everyone else I think.

I got to CP3 suffering. They photographed me on final approach there.
From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer

I still had a little water, but I was not feeling well. It was the heat of course. I knew my core body temperature was a little too hot and I needed to totally cool down before continuing. I'd pushed a little too hard in the heat. I stripped off my pack and sat on a chair at the CP, but the air temperature was just as hot in the shade. Then a blazing hot wind (the first wind I'd felt since the race started), like an oven door opening, ripped across the plain just draining me further. I knew I would be taking an extended rest. I spent 45 mins there, watching a few people I had passed come and go until I felt well enough to continue. The last leg (8k) was mostly winding dirt road with the last 2k in sand. I set off from the CP which was at the top of a hill, so a nice downhill on a good dirt road kick off the last leg.

It was still very hot, and the bit of wind was blazing, but at least if I wet my face the wind cooled it down. I ran as much of the leg as I could manage, but still slowed for even the slightest uphill. I caught up and passed a couple of the others and eventually turned off into the sand and caught up and finished with Edward. I finished in 6th in 6:54, only just behind Ronan (6:52)despite my 45 min stop. Lukas and Danie had won the stage after Alex got lost, and so that meant Alex would have to work hard to get the lead back. Paul had continued to pick up really bad blisters at got home in 10 hours, again just ahead of Roy and Malene. His feet were in a pretty grim state already, after just day 2. Kerry from Taiwan withdrew from the race, and Lena also withdrew, much to the relief of the checkpoint staff and course sweepers, who had been working long hours to wait for her to arrive. She was put on a bus to Cape Town the next day (I don't think they wanted her to stay behind and help staff the event, as most withdrawees do). Still the mystery remains of what she thought she had signed up for in the first place?
I waited my turn for Genevieve's magic hands.
From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer

In the evening of day 2 we had a African bee invasion in the camp. A few people got stung, as the bees came attracted to our water. They hung around until sundown, meaning no one could relax. They also returned at first light to make the morning uncomfortable too. I slept worse than the previous night; it was even hotter than the night before. I got less than 2 hours, again broken useless sleep.

More day 2 photo's here
Day 2 Official video (plus some pre-race interviews)

Day 3 - 33k

• Follow the markers carefully on the winding track to check point 1.
• After check point 1 follow the markers through a short section with no track. When you reach the new track follow this track to an old farm house, near Daberas.
• 100m before the farmhouse turn right and run along the fence line until you get to the gate.
• Go through the gate and follow the markers down the very sandy wide river bed. (Follow the markers carefully as there are a lot of criss-crossing tracks)
• Continue down the river bed to check point 2.
• After check point 2 continue on down the sandy river bed for about 2.5km and then turn left out of the river bed. (Please keep a look out for this turn as the tyre tracks carry on straight down the river bed)
• Follow the 4x4 tracks and markers to check point 3. (This is a very hilly and rocky stretch with intersections; please follow the boards carefully at the intersections)
• After check point 3 carry on the track over a hill and down into a small river bed. Turn left up the river bed for about 1km and then turn right and follow the track through a gate until you reach a main gravel road. Turn left up the gravel road for about 700m to check point 4.
• From check point 4 follow the track down in the river bed onto a small road; turn right here. After 500m turn sharply left onto a track that will take you down to the finish at Camp 3 on the river bank.

We were warned the short distance that the previous day was not to spare us for the following day long stage. Today would be our toughest day yet, with a huge climb half way through, and 4 CP's, indicative of the difficulty. The start times were staggered with Paul, Roy and Marlene, Phil, Tim and Patrick getting a 7am start, everyone else at 8am. Paul's feet were in a really bad way, and it didn't look good for him I thought. I set off with Ronan at a fast march, as we both felt rough that morning. It's better to start slow and speed up once you get acclimitised to the heat each day. Even though it was 8am, it was still hot, and it takes some time for the body to start cooling properly I think. The terrain was a fairly good rocky track.

I felt really tired and sick all the way to CP1, even wondering how I would make the day after so little sleep. The sight of Paul, who we caught up just before CP1, brought me around. I was feeling sorry for myself but Paul was in agony. He was moving at a snails pace. Shuffling along, every footstep clearly very painful. I felt better all of a sudden, at seeing someone who was genuinely in a bad way. I suggested he needed some strong pain relief from the excellent doctor, Charl, at the nearby CP1. I spoke to Charl who was already aware that Paul was in bad shape. Paul did get some very strong pain killers from Charl and continued, but not far out of CP1 could make it no further and retired from the event. It was sad to see him come past in the doctors 4x4. Even if he had struggled through the day, there was no way he was going to make the week on those ruined feet. It was such a shame because physically he was very strong and he was still smiling! Paul is signing up for next year, and I've no doubt he'll be back, even better prepared, and will complete it. He did stay on for the rest of the week to help at checkpoints. It was great to see a friendly face of someone who knew what we were going through. Me and Ronan continued from CP2 with great views over the plains. We picked up the pace after CP1.

Here's a phot of us running together
From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer

The sand came though, soon enough

We then headed into a river bed gorge and into CP2.

From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008
I changed my socks and refilled bottles before continuing. I knew the next leg was tough. First, a few K's in the deep river bed sand, and then a big climb up a mountain pass to a viewpoint. Ronan had been slowing and suffering with foot pain. A doctor had strapped up the foot at CP2. Almost straight out of CP2 he sat down unable to continue. He loosened the strapping, but it was not feeling any better and he questioning if he could even make the next 20k.

I suggested he got back to the CP and get some pain relief before making any decision on continuing. I'm pleased to say he did that, and was able to continue, it looked like a severe case of tendonitis (I myself ended up with a touch of that as the week wore on). So, I struck out alone along horribly sandy river bed.

Following the markers that you see in the picture below.

I caught up Phil soon before we turned off the river bed and into the hills.

I thought the climb ahead was the worst of it. I was wrong, much steeper terrain was to come.

Half way up that first climb I saw Kim who was being attended to by Charl. She had been throwing up the previous night, unable to keep food or water down, and she was now badly dehydrated, and lying down in some shade. She was administered an IV drip and a couple of bags of saline. That revived her sufficiently to make it to CP3 with Charl, where her husband and daughter were crewing. She was however was unable to continue, retiring there. It's a shame, I liked Kim, but it is almost impossible to recover from severe dehydration once it starts.

Once over the first hill, the route undulated over several short steep ones. Here you can see Dave the cameraman on his Quad bike.

Sadly you can't appreciate the scale here, but we had to wind around and climb that huge hill ahead.
It got so steep that Dave's quad bike could not get up it! He got a little frustrated with it, and was forced to retreat.

Also, we could see CP3 just 1/2 k as the crow flies, but knew we had another hour of climbing and winding around the track for 4k before we would reach it. Torture! I took a few pictures from the top.

You'll notice I've swapped the Buff for my Cobber. This is a fantastic device. You soak it in water for 20 minutes and put it around your neck, turning it now and again. It makes an amazing difference, believe me! It lasts all day, though I wet it with water at most CP's to keep it fresh. I'll take this with me to any similar event for sure. I appreciated it on the MDS, but even more so here. The days climbing was only made slightly more bearable by the occasional breath of wind. Whenever that happened I would tear off my hat and turn full face into the wind to get the cooling benefit.

This is what passes for a trig point in the Kalahari!

This picture shows good example of the track we were running on for about 15k that day (and many paths on other days). Broken boulders, sure footing needed.

Despite my slow start, I had began to feel better after that big climb was over. I kicked off the picky descent at a very fast pace. I'm very good at descending on rough ground. I remembered the line from "Feet in the Clouds" - 'brakes off, brain off'. Don't think, just run, and let your feet sort themselves out. I ran into CP3 at pace, the checkpoint staff commenting on what a speed I had come down the hill in.
From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer

I told them, they should have seen me staggering up the hill the other side to begin with! They would have been decidedly less impressed! Still, at least I'd ventured where a quad bike had not! I spent 20 minutes at CP3, changing socks and taking on a lot of food after my efforts so far, and fuelling for the final legs. As I left I saw Ronan and Kim atop the hill I had been on half an hour or so before. I was pleased to see Ronan still in the running. Estienne was at CP3 and told me there were 'no more monsters' for the rest of the day, apart from a couple of short sharp hills. I set off and soon got past them. Steep, but mercifully short.

The route then undulated for the next few k.

Then the route went through a gate onto a short track, and then left onto a well made dirt road. I had run all the way from CP3 to CP4 trying to make up lost time, and I was doing well. I barely stopped at CP4 before heading off down the track on the last leg. I came to a fork in the track. The sign clearly said "Turn right" with an arrow pointing right. I however went left, for reasons known only to my brain at that moment. I went uphill on a sandy track for 1.4km, to make matters worse I ran it all quite quickly! I was following a faint 4x4 track but eventually it dawned on me there had been no markers for a long time and no footprints. Gutted, I turned on my heels and ran back down, now tiring, back 1.4km to the split. How could I have been so stupid. I had thrown away all the time I had got back from running from CP3 to CP4. That detour had cost me about half an hour I figured. A quad bike had been sent looking for me as they had realised I was lost after I had passed Lynne and then gone awol. However, I was already back on track now. I went right, and passed Lynne again. It was downhill and I was still running, but getting tired now. I got to a dirt road, turned right for 500M then left as per the instructions and into a(nother) sandy river bed for 2k and down to the finish line.

I finished in 6:10, 8th position. I would have comfortably finished in 5th (at least) had I not made the navigation error; still, not too much damage done. Only Kim retired, so that was 5 competitors down after day 3. I was happy to complete that stage, which though touted as the hardest yet, I'd found not too bad overall. The little bit of wind had helped, and I had run a lot of the stage. I felt positive about the long 75km day, if I could just get some sleep.

Here's a typical tent scene that evening. Everyone taking it easy, tending to their wounds. Left to right is Ronan, Jon, Alex, Gareth and Tim

Here's Roy and Malene standing under the finish line during the late afternoon.

A picture of my shoes after day 3.

Let me say at this point, the hot glue-gun glue I used to hold the Velcro in place whilst I stitched it, lasted about an hour into day 1. It just melted away. Be warned everyone. Get a cobbler to stitch your gaiters/Velcro on, forget glue only and I strongly advise you don't try stitching yourself. Some of the stitching also came away on day 5, but not enough to cause me major problems. I also made the right decision by picking trail shoes and not road shoes.

Here's a few people getting ready to cook. Left to right: Roy, Gareth, Alex and the camp commander 'LD' - He did the superb job of assembling and disassembling the camp every day, as well as sorting out the fire etc. Top bloke.

The tents we stayed in.

Waiting for the water to boil to get their gourmet dehydrated meals prepared, are Alex, Gareth, Helmut and Ronan.

Moon rise above the start/finish line.

Jon took an awesome photo with his camera. If I get a copy, I'll post it up.

More day 3 photo's here

I was waiting for the doctor to come to camp that evening with a sleeping pill he'd promised me one at an earlier checkpoint, after hearing of my plight to turn this into the Augrabies Extreme Insomniac Marathon. However, because Kim was pretty sick, she had quite rightly got his attention and so he didn't make it to camp. I went to bed anxious not to repeat history and experience a meltdown on the long day 4. I had to sleep that night. Sleep had other ideas. So worked up with the desire to sleep, I just couldn't. I'm not sure I even got an hour and a half sleep. I just clock watched all night and got up early feeling dreadful.

Day 4 - 75km (Deja Vu the MDS long day)

(Please note: the first leg is 11km and mostly uphill, please make sure you start with enough water)

• Head off down the river bank for approximately 1.2km, turn left up the cliff. (Please do not miss this turn; it will be well marked)
• Climb up this cliff for about 1km, there is no track, only markers up the cliff. At the top you will get to a 4x4 track; follow it and the markers carefully to check point 1.
• From check point 1 follow the road for 300m, then turn left off the road onto a track.
• Follow this track all the way up a small river bed to the fence. Climb under the fence and follow the markers up to a windmill and small paddock.
• Turn left at the windmill and go through two gates at the paddock and follow the track to the right around a small hill on your right.
• Continue with the track through one more gate to check point 2 at another paddock.
• After check point 2 carry on through another two gates to a main gravel road.
• Cross straight over this road (watch out for rush hour traffic☺)
• There is an old silver motorbike frame mounted next to the road.
• Go through the gates on the other side of the road, go past a farmhouse through another gate. Continue on to check point 3.
• From check point 3 follow the markers. At the first intersection turn right and follow this track until you get to a very sandy river bed.
• Turn right and follow the markers up the sandy river bed for about 1km. Daberas farm house will be on your left; you must turn right out of the river bed onto a road, go through a gate with a farm house on your right.
• 200m up the road turn left to another farmhouse on your left and check point 4.
• After check point 4 follow the markers past yet another farmhouse and up to a fence line.
• Turn left here and follow the fence to check point 5.
• After check point 5 follow the track down and across a sandy river bed, up the other side to the main gravel road.
• Turn right onto the road and carry on with it to check point 6.
• After check point 6 continue on the road to check point 7.
• From check point 7 go straight down a road. At the cross roads, go straight across.
• Continue on this road straight on past Blouputs farm houses to check point 8.
• After check point 8 continue down the road through the park gate and onto the main Blouputs road.
• Turn right onto this road and continue for about 3.7km.
• Turn left here to the finish at Camp 4. (PLEASE LOOK OUT FOR THIS TURN AS IT WILL BE DARK)
• If you reach a tar road (paved road) you have missed the turn so go back.

I tried to put myself in a positive frame of mind that morning. I'd packed a tiny little Q-Be MP3 player with a few favourite songs on. I used them to cheer myself up, and try and forgot I was so tired. The start times were all staggered from 8am to 1pm. I was to start with Helmut at 10pm - just as the heat of the day starts to burn. I took some photo's at sunrise.

We had been camped on the banks of the Orange River, and I'd been for a swim the previous evening, as had everyone.

I was told later that the other side of the river was Namibia. If I'd have known, I'd have swam over just to say I'd been there!

We saw Fish Eagles in the morning which was very cool too.

The camp awakes.

We waved off the earlier starters and me and Helmut began at 10am. It was 11k to the first CP, but there was a water drop after 4k because the terrain was so tough. The first 8k was river bed and very soft sand - very slow going indeed. We could barely average 5.3k's per hour at best marching pace.

After 4k we reached the cooler box and water drop point.

But we had to negotiate this 9-10ft high fence to reach it! No joke when you have a backpack on, I can tell you.

I started to deteriorate soon after that point. I was so tired I could not focus. I wasn't moving quickly, even when the ground improved slightly just before CP1. I felt like I could just fall on the floor and sleep. I decided in my mind I must try and sleep at CP1 when I got there with Helmut. It was at a farmhouse and amazingly they had a mattress on the floor inside - perfect. I shocked everyone when I said I must sleep - after all I had only gone 11k. I explained I was mentally shattered. Helmut left with Lynne who was already there, having started a little earlier than us. I lay on the mattress thinking it was heaven and I would go out like a light, but I didn't. I lay there thinking about what happened on day 4 of the MDS, how I had fought sleep for 7 hours before continuing alone at the back of the pack in the dead of the night. I couldn't let thathappen again. 45 minutes later I got up, put my pack on and set off alone, straight into the dry river bed from hell. It was very soft sand, punctuated with fences to climb over, under, or through. I struggled to focus. I started seeing 'fairy route markers' in the trees that weren't there, and following them, until I realised they were really not there. I backtracked, following the quad bike trail instead of the red and white route markers. I had to stay in the quad bike trail, in the soft sand to avoid getting lost. Normally I would have strayed to the loeft or right in search of firmer ground but I could not trust myself to stay on course. I tried to work out my speed and distance, but I couldn't. I tried to do some basic Math but was just unable to. I was in really bad mental shape. I was having to stop frequently under trees to cool down and sort my head out. It was taking me an age to cover the 12k to the next CP.

I ran out of water.

I had really worked myself up now. Tired, confused and waterless I was scared I would wander off the route and just collapse. I had silly visions of not making it back alive or seeing my son again, even though I was only 2k from the next CP. This was all aggravated because I had not seen a support vehicle in the 5 hours I had been going so far. Normally you see the doctor’s jeep, or at least the cameramen Daver or Frankie on their quad, but the frequent fence climbing meant that most of the first 23k was out of bounds to the vehicles. I felt vulnerable and dazed, and scared. I more or less decided that if I made it to CP2 I would quit. I was angry and my perceived lack of support in my mental confused state. I didn't trust myself to find the ongoing route. I was unable to unfold the route instructions. I just couldn't figure out how. I just ended up tearing them up by accident. What a mess I was in. I continued on, my mouth dry, wanting to break into a run to get to the CP as fast as possible, but stopping myself from doing so, because I would use up more energy and dehydrate even faster. CP2 loomed into view.

Immediately there was relief, but still I was very cross and obviously tired and agitated. I walked slowly into CP2, feeling defeated. (capured below)
From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008

I threw down my pack and sunglasses and gave the poor checkpoint staff and doctor a piece of my mind. It partially features in this youtube video (worth watching)

However, lets just say it's been well edited. I appear in a much less angry light and much of my rant has been cut out. You need to watch that video to understand my state of mind.

I was ready to quit, saying I thought I was finished, but stopped short of declaring myself out for definate. I did say I wasn't taking another step until I had slept though. The doctor patiently waited for me to stop ranting, got me to lie down in the shade and take some kind of anti-anxiety (chill out pill) to try and get me to sleep. He couldn't give me a sleeping pill mid-stage for obvious reasons. I said I would stay at the CP until the last person arrived and left, which could give me a couple of hours probably. I lay down and gradually calmed down. The doctor told me off for taking my pulse. It was around 70, and I knew I would never sleep with a heart rate that high. Still, I rested and calmed as the others came in and left. Finally Tim came in and I thought I had to continue. I'd been there almost 2 hours but not slept. It was still hot, but the worst of the heat was passing.

I decided to continue, perhaps only walking until the sun went down, and then see how I felt. I had still got 52k to go; more than 30 miles.

I left the CP, shown below, just in front of Gareth and behind Tim.

The track was slightly sandy for a few K.

I was marching quickly and passed Tim. Gareth (who had started 3 hours after me) soon caught up and started running. I decided to try and hang onto his coat tails. To give me an objective and take my mind off being so tired. So, I ran and walked when he did all the way to CP3. Just before it we passed small farm and the most bizarre thing I'd seen all day. A professional advertising board with a sign saying "Advertise Here" on it, with a phone number to call! Right in the middle of the Kalahari! Wish I’d have taken a photo.

At CP3 I changed my socks quickly and dashed off to catch him back up and again tailed him to CP4. I made it into a bit of a game to occupy my mind. I'd run when he did, and walk when he did too, but I would be running 100M off the side of the main track and out of his sight. I gradually got closer to him, running for a little longer than he did sometimes. I was quite enjoying myself, playing tail the target!The sun gradually sank in the sky and it began to cool a little.

Here's my almost traditional 30ft shadow picture

Me and Gareth pictured; I look a wreck on this one!
From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photohtapher

I got to CP4 and changed my socks, as Gareth once more moved straight through the CP and onwards. Patrick was there and said he'd had enough, having quit just a few K back. He'd completed the event previously and I'm not sure what made him quit this time. Maybe the thought of facing the next 20 miles in the dark?
The sun set just before CP4, and the full moon appeared (the event is built around a full moon for the long day, each year.

It was dark now, but there was enough light from the moon for me not to use my head torch as I ran off from CP4 to chase down Gareth. Estienne and Nadia came past on a quad bike asking if I was ok. I said I was and hurried on, eventually catching Gareth. He asked if they had warned me about the Puff Adder. I said 'what Puff Adder' looking around nervously. He took out his camera and showed me a photo's of a big Puff Adder than had been lying next to the path in ambush. I have since been sent the photo's that Gareth took. Here they are.

They don't move to avoid humans, but will bite if trodden on. I must have ran right passed it, or over it, and never knew. Needless to say, I reached up and turned on my head torch, and left it on! Gulp! For those that don't know, Puff Adders are deadly and responsible for more deaths in South Africa than any other snake.

We ran on together. Gareth had a sharp eye for the wildlife pointing out a smaller blind snake, a lizard (pictured), and a whip scorpion.

We got to CP5 quite quickly, barely stopped and set off marching on the short dirt track before we got to the main dirt road that would be the route until almost CP8. Gareth ran on ahead before we got to the road. I announced I was going to run again as soon as I hit the road. I took on more water and ate another energy bar, fuelling myself. The temperature had now dropped, and it felt like life returning my body. I suddenly didn't feel tired anymore. I stepped onto the dirt road, and I took out my MP3 player. I dialled up Delirium - Silence, and then had Danny Howells - Live in Miami for the rest of the night. I started to run. This wasn't a long distance shuffle, I was running. Gareth was about half a K ahead. I passed him about 10 minutes later, now in darkness. I turned off my head torch and ran in the moonlight. I then passed Edward and Jon who were walking. I ran on, and my Maths ability returned. I knew that Edward and Jon were both very close to me in the overall ranking, but I had given 2hrs 45 mins away by resting at CP1 and CP2, and they had come past me hours ago. However, it looked like with all my running since then, I had managed to reel them back in again. However, Gareth and Edward had started 1 hour after me that day, so technically If we were to finish at the same time, I would be an hour behind them. Hmmm....lets see if I can do something about that I thought. I refilled my bottles at CP6 and dashed straight off at pace. I had the feeling of boundless energy for some reason. I wolfed down a Mule Bar (which are awesome by the way), and drank water more frequently as my pace demanded it.

The camera team came up behind me in their 4x4, and asked me if someone was chasing me (due to my speed). I laughed and said the doctor was supposed to give me a chill out pill, but maybe he gave me something else because I can't stop running! They laughed and I ran on, and into CP7. Paul was there, crewing. It was great to see a friendly face. He said I was looking good (I suspect he lies well!). He refilled my bottles and I set off running again. The route turned downhill for a few K's, down a rougher track. I passed Roy and Malene when I was being interviewed again by the camera crew, as I passed through some soft sand and was taking some more water on board (that clip is shown in the film above). I then kicked off running again but progress slowed in a sandy river bed before CP8. Still I was managing to run the river bed somehow. I refilled quickly at CP8 and headed out for the last, allegedly, 8k leg. The route went from soft sand, to rough track for about 6k and then turned onto a main dirt road for 4k (you can see it was 10k and not 8k!!). The final road was undulating. I ran as much as I could, but I had to walk the hills now. Knowing the finish line was near my body started to relax and tire badly. Estienne came past on his quad giving me micro-instructions to find the turn off into the last 400M stretch of river bed and into the finish. I ran, walked and staggered on, finding the turn off and straight into deep soft sand. The last 400M felt like a kilometre as I staggered towards the line. The camera crew said well done, how do you feel? All I could say was "must sleep" "must sleep".

I've looked better.

I finished in 14:49 (8th place), despite the 2hrs 45 of rest I took at CP1 and CP2. Edward and Jon finished 1 hour and 2 minutes later. I'd done it, made up whole hour on them since passing them by CP6. Jon however would still lie 15 minutes ahead of me overall at that point. If I had not have needed to rest I would have done the stage in 11 hours, only behind Danie and Alex. Still, that was never an option that day. I was a wreck earlier, and had I not rested I would not have even made CP3. The day long day demon from the MDS had almost taken me again. This time I'd fought back and won, or at least kept the battle damage to a minimum. Today had been a mental battle, not a physical one. When they say doing these events is more about mental strength than physical, believe it. I got into the tent and fell into a deep sleep for 5 hours, without stirring at all.

Day 5 - the rest day.

I got up around 7am, as did everyone. I felt quite refreshed after getting some much needed sleep. We ate and tended to our wounds again. My hotspot on the heel had finally turned into a small blister. I threaded my needle and put a length of cotton through it, leaving it to drain. I left it like that (it's still like that now in fact - thread in place. It'll drop out as the skin renews). That was the only blister I got all week, and if I would have worn two pairs of socks from the start line I would not have even got that one. For the last two stages I pre-tapesd the area with Leukotape and the heel never bothered me again.

Here is Jon, Lynne, Tim (I think), and Danie

I went for a dip in the Orange River (we were camped the river bank again that day), as did Alex.

Views up to the bridge we would cross the next day.

Alex had a blister and we coaxed him into the Friars Balsam method. You inject Friar's Balsam into a drained blister. He'd never done it before. It burns - like a white hot poker in your foot. It is agony - trust me.

I did take a couple of video's. In between the two video's, he'd said "it doesn't hurt, I can't feel anything". Shame I missed that bit. Ronan filmed it too. I'll post up his copy if he sends it to me.

We all took it easy that day, eating and recovering. A took a few nice photo's of the sunset.

I did sleep that night. Not brilliantly, but I got about 3-4 hours, which I deem to be enough to live on for these events.

Day 6 - 39k

• Run up to the main road, turn left, as soon as you reach the tar (paved) road turn left and run over the bridge across the Orange River.
• At the T-junction turn right; run straight through the village and continue out the other side.
• About 1km past the village take the right hand split and head for the Molopo River bed. (wide and sandy)
• Go into the river bed and carry on to check point 1. (This is only a water top-up check point)
• From here follow the markers carefully. (Look carefully for the markers as this is a small dune section and the tracks are not that visible)
• Continue over a small hill and down the other side to a flat section. (Follow the markers carefully through this section as there are many different tracks – you should keep mainly to the left)
• The track will then take you up a very steep, rocky mountain pass to check point 2.
• Continue along the 4x4 track to check point 3.
• After check point 3 carry on with this track for approximately 5.5km. Turn right onto the main Riemvasmaak road.
• Continue on the road and go out through the main gate. 600m past the gate is check point 4.
• From check point 4 go into the park and follow the track all the way down through the mountains for about 6km where you turn left off this track onto another one. (please look out for this turn; it can be easily missed)
• Continue along this track to check point 5 at an old farm house.
• Just after check point 5 take the right split and follow the track to a T-junction.
• At the T-junction turn left into the finish at Camp 5.

Camp in the morning light.

I'd joked with Jon that I wanted my 15 minutes back (the lead he had over me). I was however bloody well determined to get it back! We all set off staggered starts again; I started the main group at 8am. I started slowly, just planning on keeping Jon in sight in the early stages. I tend to start slow and finish strong each day, gaining in strength as others tire. I fell fairly quickly to the back of the pack, still not feeling fully rested as it turned out. We crossed the bridge and continued on a good track.

The track then turned into sand (We eventually nicknamed Estienne "Sandy" or "Mr Sandman" for his route choice)

...and then an inevitable river bed before CP1.

That's Edward above. I passed him just before CP1, where I quickly refilled and kicked off faster, pulling Jon and Helmut back into sight as we entered sandier terrain before the mountain pass.

There was a stiff but not too long climb into CP2. That's Jon and Helmut ahead.

I was feeling a little rough and took 5 minutes to rest at CP1 whilst I drank more water and ate something. I set off with Helmut for a while (top bloke by the way!) before moving ahead and chasing Jon back down, as I ran up and down the undulating broken terrain.

You can just about make out Jon on the hill ahead in the picture above.

Between CP1 and CP2 I got quite bad foot pain, almost out of nowhere (I think the cause was all the running on the long day, on the harder dirt road in the closing last 20 miles). I managed to catch Jon up and slowed down to march at his pace but I was feeling nauseous. I was also getting secondary pain higher up in my thigh. At CP2 the doctor was attending to Lynne. Still feeling tired I worked myself up over nothing again and took a lie down while I waited for the doctor to see to Lynne. He gave me one of his magic chill out pills and then decided I had got tendonitis like Ronan had earlier in the week. He dished out some Paracetamol, and I promised to stop getting sports injury hypochondria, before I got going again! So, now I was initial 15 minutes plus a further 20 minutes behind Jon! The Paracetomol kicked in and I increased my pace, passing Lynne and Helmut before CP3. Jon had got into CP3 about 10 minutes before me, so I had made up time already. I dashed straight back out and into the rougher hilly terrain again.

Again, this was terrain which I loved. I would run both up and down this loose rock at pace, and quickly caught site of Jon and chased him down a few K's after CP3.
I only paused briefly to say hi and kicked off again, deliberately running fast up the next hill of loose stone.

I passed Phil who had started the stage earlier, and soon after and then hit quite a good track that would lead to CP4. CP3 to CP4 was marked as 8.5k. I thundered through my water at a pace that would leave me dry after 8.5k, looking at my speed and distance GPS watch. There was no CP at 8.5k. Had I taken another wrong turn? Surely not? There were 4x4 tracks still, and still route markers. Maybe I had strayed onto the route for the final stage by accident? I continued on, but I was walking now deliberately, worried I was going the wrong way and had no water. Still, I trusted in the markers, and eventually CP4 came into view, at 10k!!!! Way out of the route indication in the road book!! Paul was at CP4. Again it was good to see him. I refilled quickly and kicked straight out for home, trying to eat into the 15 minutes lead that Jon had from the previous stages. The last leg turned out to be only 2k, much shorter than advertised, and I'd ran that last leg averaging 10kph. I finished in 6:02, 7th place. Jon came home in 6:35. So, now I had 18 mins lead going into the final day! Yay! Happy!

Around the campfire.

A view of the camp

I love my sunsets

I got this one perfectly.

Day 7 - 32k

• Follow track and go straight at the first intersection.
• After about 4km you will come to a fence, follow the fence on your left down to the river.
• Climb over the fence at the marker and follow the track onto a main gravel road.
• Follow this gravel road al the way to check point 1.
• From check point 1 go down into a sandy river bed for about 600m.
• Turn left out of the river bed onto a track and through a silver gate.
• Soon after the gate turn right and go around a big hill on your left. Follow the track carefully here through a few intersections which will take you into a rocky river gorge. (There is no track through the gorge)
• On the other side of the gorge turn right onto a track.
• Continue on this track until you reach the fence at the main Riemvasmark road.
• Turn right here and follow the fence for 1km to the gate, go through the gate and turn left onto the road and go back up to check point 2.
• From check point 2 go into Khamkirri. Go over a small red, sandy hill.
• On the other side turn right onto another track.
• Follow this track down and across the river bed, turn left immediately after the river bed.
• 300m further on turn right onto a track and follow this all the way to the top of the hill.
• Continue straight past the red dunes on your right and down to the bottom of the hill.
• Turn left at the intersection at the bottom of the hill and follow the track to check point 3 at the top of the hill.
• After check point 3 go down for approximately 1 km and turn right onto a track.
• Go through a gate and follow the markers to the next gate. (Main Khamkirri gate)
• Go through the gate and follow the fence line for 400m and turn left, then straight down to another gate.
• Immediately after the gate turn right and go 200m, with the vineyards on your left, turn left at the bottom corner of the vineyards.
• Keeping the vineyards on your left again for another 200m turn right out of the vineyards and onto a road.
• Carry on straight past as large pack house on your right to a farm house with a garden in front of it.
• Turn right at the farm house and go up the hill, keeping the small dam on your left. Go over the hill and down the other side all the way to the main Kakamas road.
• Turn right onto the road for 600m and then turn left into the Khamkirri main entrance.
• Follow the road down to the FINISH LINE.

I ate well and I slept well.
I like my sunrises as well as sunsets. I was a happy bear that morning after the sleep.

Apparently I was snoring! The best sleep I had got all week - 6 hours or more. Jon hadn't slept well though. The final stage was a staggered start for everyone, to try and ensure we all finished in a 2 hour window. I was drawn with Jon for a 7:20am start. Roy and Malene had started at 5:30am...eek!
Danie and Alex were to start at 9am. Alex now had a commanding lead of his own that would be hard for Danie to reverse. The camp had talked up the rivalry between me and Jon the previous evening. I'd played it down a little saying I was not racing Jon, but racing the clock. I wanted to complete the stage in less than 4 hours. I was now sporting a pack not much heavier than 3kg. I had packed the Raidlight front pack away, into the main backpack. I put my snacks in the side webbing of the backpack and I was carrying just one full 800ml bottle in my hand, the other 800ml bottle was packed inside my backpack, empty. I was gambling I could speed between checkpoints in about an hour; 800ml being about the amount of water you need to consume each hour to stay hydrated. I was dressed for speed basically.

We started at around 9-10kph. Jon eased off for the first incline, but I continued at the same pace, along mosty flat track and then dirt road, starting to come back to civilization you can see.

I maintained the pace, getting to the first checkpoint in 58 minutes (about 10k).

Immediately after CP1 the route went into a very sandy river bed

Edward was just ahead of me, after starting about 20 minutes ahead, but I couldn't move as fast as he did in the sand. I only managed to overtake him when the route exited the soft sand after a couple of K, and headed into rocky terrain and then a 4x4 track.

Not long after I caught up Helmut who posed for this one.

I even took time out to pose for one myself.

Great views accross the seemingly endless plains.

I got to CP2 in good time, sitting for about 30 seconds as my bottles were refilled. I was well ahead of Jon at this stage (15 mins), so I was only racing the clock now.

After CP2 there was a short downhill section, then a very very long slow incline up a light sandy track and into rocky hilly terrain.

I had to walk a little of this section, fearful I was going to burn myself out. The stage was no final day 'run in' like the MDS is. It was a full stage, with sand and hills. The long slow incline continued through the orange sand of the Kalahari, and then there was a short sharp climb up a rocky pass to the welcome site of CP3. I refilled quickly and headed down the picky boulder-strewn path at pace; my favourite terrain again. I knew there was less than 7k to the finish. In the distance I caught site of Tim and chased him down as we entered a vineyard. I said a quick hello and pressed on, glancing at my watch. I passed through the vineyard to waves from the workers and emerged onto a road. About 1k down was a left turn into Khimkirri park. I turned up the speed and raced down the drive. A small spark of emotion and relief crept up knowing the finish line was around the corner and I had done it.

I rounded the corner to claps and cheers from the crew, and I jumped up in the air as I crossed the finish line, really happy!

I was congratulated by Estienne, Nadia and everyone else and given an ice cold can of Coke; Nectar!

I finished the stage in 3:41, in 5th place. I finished 6th overall, in a total time of 42:08. This surpassed my expectations of my performance. I stayed at the finish line to welcome in and congratulate each and everyone of the competitors. Alex stormed home in 3 hours to win the stage and the event overall, a great performance. He has only ever done one road marathon, in 2:51. Imagine what he could do if he actually trained for one properly?? Well done Alex. Lynne won the womens race, well done Lynne.

Afterwards the crew lined up for a photo.

A big thank you to each and every one of them for helping me through the week.

Post Race

I got a shower, shave and cleaned my teeth properly for the first time in a week. It felt good. I had forgotten to take a towel over to the shower block, so when I stepped out of the shower to the sinks and mirror opposite,to shave, I was drip drying butt-naked in open view of the wide open bathroom door. I figured it wouldn't matter too much as guys had seen it all before. I stood there naked for 20 minutes shaving, then suitably dry, got dressed and walking out, only noticing the 'Ladies' sign on the door on the way out!!!!
They served up some sandwiches and boiled eggs. Helmut decided to play Cool Hand Luke and start eating boiled eggs. He ate 12! Afterwards, we had a free afternoon and then an evening meal around the Braai pit.

The following day I joined a few others and we went 25km on the bus into a local town. There wasn't much to see or buy though. Later, I wandered around Khimkirri taking photos of the wildlife. The Ostrich were too quick for me to picture, but I did get pics of Springbok, and Chris the giant tortoise who roams around free as well.

Another great sunset that evening. I love these photo's.

In the evening we had the gala dinner for runners, crew and invited guests.

Lynne (ladies winner), Charl (Doctor), and Paul (UK competitor) below:

We were then presented with our award, a Kalahari Glass lepoard trophy, engraved with the name of the event and our own name.

Much cooler than a medal I'm sure you will agree.

Kevin, one of the crew also has a tradition of handing out 'penalties', basically joke-gifts to various people. He called me up and said on day 4 the crew couldn't decide if you had lost your sense of humour or your mind, so they presented me with a joke book and a bag of marbles! I laughed as did everyone, and graciously accepted my penalty!

The following morning we set off for Jo'Burg and said goodbyes to the crew. We had another Steak meal on arrival, which tasted fantastic, and said our goodbyes to the runners following day. I had a 9:10pm flight home. I slept on the plane and got the train home safe and sound.

So, that's the story, but I'll add to it with more pictures and videos as they get posted. Also, I will make a separate post soon, reviewing my equipment, training and overall performance, highlighting lessons learned.

The KAEM was a fantastic event for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it (I can say that in hindsight. It's amazing how quickly you forget the pain!). Seriously I'd urge anyone to take part and join the toughest week-long foot-safari on Earth!