Sunday 5 October 2008

The storm before the calm

I'll get this weeks training out of the way, won't take long.

Tuesday, a speed session; 8 x 400M and 4 x 800M. Wednesday; a 10k trail. That's it.

I had to miss Thursdays speed work and Saturdays 12 mile run with pack, due to a calf problem. I had this same issue on the run up to the MDS. The inside-side of my left calf has been getting tighter for a few weeks. The muscle is basically bursting out of it's little sack, it's swelled and misshapen, and painful to the touch. I decided on my own accord to cancel Wednesday training and then spoke to my uncle and managed to get an evening appointment with him on Friday afternoon. I don't think I realised quite how bad a state my calf had got into until he got to work on it. He chastised me for not seeing him sooner, and said I really needed attention on it every single day before I go, which is of course not possible. My one opportunity for treatment was Friday. My uncle did some chiropractic adjustments on my back, which he thought were needed anyway, but it was the calf that was the concern. He worked it very deep, and stripped it out for about 30 minutes. I was in an awful lot of pain that I had to keep quiet, as there was a practice full of patients nearby! He then had to attend to other patients, but put one of his sports masseurs to work for another 30 minutes on my calf, and also my legs in general; paying some extra attention to my left hamstring which has also been playing up for the last 2 weeks.

After all that work my calf was screaming as I got off the table and limped to an adjacent room for 15 minutes on the interferential machine (electric current through the muscle). My uncle gave me a couple of Voltarol tablets which he picks up when he goes to Spain, to take before bed on Friday and Saturday night. He did offer to treat me on Sunday, but he had guest over for dinner, so I declined. He's done enough for me already. He's just called me tonight and offered some more advice. I may try and get a local sports massage on Tuesday morning, and I have to keep icing the calf to reduce the inflammation. I'm sure it is a vast improvement on before I saw him, but the muscle is still tender, bunched, and clearly not right. I took his advice and missed my final run on Saturday which should have been 12 miles with my pack. So, by the time the gun goes off in South Africa I will have had 10 days without training. It's the price I will have to pay in the hope the calf improves.

There's nothing more I can do to improve that situation, so I'll just make the best of it. I'm not viewing this as any kind of show-stopper, but it could cause me a lot of pain if it gets worse during the week of the event. This is annoying, but I'm not letting it get to me, and I'm just going to get on with it.

For the rest of the week, I have been finalising my packing list, and this weekend measuring and weighing all my food, then bagging it into the daily rations.

My packing list is as follows.


There is slightly less kit than the MDS, but overall it is very similar. The items in bold text and the required items, some of which do differ and are additional to the MDS requirements. Items of noteworthy mention are a lighter weight sleeping bag. I'm taking a PHD Ultra down which is 367g including the bag. It's rated to about 8C which should be sufficient for what I hope will be warmer nights than the MDS. The Minim 300 I took to the MDS was too hot in the Sahara, rated at 0C. I will pack both bags and make a decision on the admin day. The minim ultra new bag is a lot lighter and packs a lot smaller than the minim 300. Despite testing a couple of other packs, I'm sticking with the tried and test 30l Raidlight pack I've used for 3 years. It's the most comfortable pack, and I could not get away with any less than 30l as the picture you will see later shows.

What I am wearing

I am wearing full length compression tights for the first time in a multi-day ultra. I'm not fully convinced of the merits in such a hot climate, but I am prepared to try. I used the CW-X tights a few weeks ago in Wales, but Wales on a warm day is somewhat cooler than the 45C Kalahari. I'll be sure to post my thoughts on those when I get back. An insect net is a required item, and I was told will be used for certain. Big gamble on my footwear: My actual MDS shoes have had their day, not enough cushioning left in that pair, and so I am using an actual trail shoe with a moderate amount of cushioning. The New Balance MT800 which has been replaced with the 840 I think now. It has much less cushioning than the 1100MDS, which is what makes this such a gamble. I have used this shoe for the last 6 months with success, but not on mile after mile of hard ground which I am expecting in the Kalahari. My gut tells me I need a road shoe, but I have not had the time to test out a pair for the event. This choice could be my undoing, but lets hope not. I've also had to accept a pair of size UK 11.5, that's a size and a half bigger than I normally wear. I wanted size 11's to allow some room for foot expansion/blister padding, but they had sold out. So, I am using 11.5 and probably 2 pairs of socks. My usuall Kayano's and a pair of Smartwool socks over the top of them, to pad out the shoes and also soak up the sweat that the Kayano's wick. I spent 2 full evenings attaching Velcro to the shoes. I used a hot glue gun to attach the Velcro, and then sewed them on as well. It's not a pretty job, and it is very difficult, for those of you thinking of doing it yourselves, instead of getting a cobbler to sew them on. I had to use a very thick curved needle and a pair of pliers to push and pull every stitch. My advice; pay £20 and get the cobbler to do it, like I did last time! I hope they will hold. In all honesty the hot glue gun job felt pretty secure. I will examine the shoes nightly with interest, and see if the glue gun alone might have sufficed. I wasn't prepared to gamble this time!

I am attaching some of Likeys ankle length silk gaiters to my shoes. I've always used the Raidlight, which are great, but they are realistically single-use; they last a week and then you have to bin them. I hope these will be sturdier and see me through a few events. They cost a lot more, so they should be up to the job.

Food; days 1 - 3

Food; days 4 - 7

I'm packing about 500kcals more per day than the MDS, all of which is on-the-go trail food; energy bars etc. It's all real extra food, and not powdered calories either.
Day 4, the long day, I am packing 700Kcal more, again all of that is trail food. I do not want to have problems on day 4 that could be attributable to fuelling. So, with 2000 calories required per day, and I am packing about 3500 per day. I have individually packed Endurolyte electrolyte capsules, 2 per hour, in addition to using some SIS Go electrolyte powder for drinks. There are no salt tablets given out on this event, so it is my responsibility to keep my electrolytes in balance. I feel better about this, as confusion over salt tablet intake was another possible cause of my MDS day 4 meltdown. That still could have been as simple as early stages of heatstroke in the MDS. What brought this to mind was my nightly sessions in the Sauna this week. I spend 20 minutes in the Sauna (top shelf where it is hottest), a 5 minute cool down sitting outside, then 15 minutes back in the Sauna, 5 minutes outside, then 10 minutes in the Sauna, so a total of 45 mins in one hour. The sauna is about 80C and after 20 minutes I've had enough. When I come out I feel ok, but a little lightheaded, and general feeling of 'not being right'. This was the feeling I had on day 4, so maybe I had just overheated and then worked myself into a panic, not knowing the reason. Anyway, it was a useful exercise to put myself through, recognising when your body temperature rises you mind really lets you know it is not happy. It's probably a useful exercise for anyone doing the MDS, or similar to go through, so feel how it feels to be overheating, so you recognise the signs and take action. Now, please, no one go killing yourself in a Sauna on my account. Get used to it gradually, and don't just sit in there for an hour solid until you pass out and die! Warm up a little and when you feel like coming out, do so. Sit outside and you'll likely feel like I did. If so, cool yourself down and see how much better you feel quite quickly.

I vacuum sealed my day’s rations into a 'brick' for each day. I bought a cheap (£18) vacuum sealer, and although it works, I will sell it and but a more powerful one next time. I have seen ones for about £40 which if you put an empty drink can in one of the vacuum bags; it will squash the can flat as it sucks out all the air. The aim of the exercise here, is not just keeping your days rations in a single bag and fresh, but it also reduces the size of the days 'brick' to the minimum and means you have more space in your rucksack.

You can see all my equipment and food below, and then when it is all packed. The food takes up so much space. You can see the 30l pack is almost bursting. God help anyone who thinks they can use a 20l pack. I can only assume these people eat 2000kcals worth of wafers each day.

Remember I have not trained with weight this time, other than one run in Wales with a 5kg pack a few weeks ago. So, putting this full pack on tonight as a test was a rude awakening. It weighs about 8kg and of course when the water bottles are full it will weigh 9.5kg on the start line, maybe a little more if I need to add any last-minute items in. So, this was the other big gamble. I was not going to train with weight until the last minute, but injury has meant that has not been possible. I'm expecting to find the weight tough, but I hope I have some residual strength from the MDS left in my shoulders.

So, I am almost set, just my suitcase to be packed tomorrow night and then a train down to London on Tuesday evening and a 9:30pm flight to Johannesburg. I arrive on Wednesday morning. I will probably sleep all day. On Thursday at 6am we have a 10 hour drive into the Kalahari. Friday is the admin and medical day, and Saturday the race starts. I am not aware of any internet facility, for me to update my blog, or for you to send me messages. I am not even sure that the results are updated nightly, but by all means check on the site. The URL is

Despite a few setbacks, I am feeling positive. I am looking forward to visiting somewhere unknown and making some good friends too.

Have a good couple of weeks!

EDIT: Had another deep tissue massage during Monday lunchtime. Another real agony session; 45 mins solid on the one part of the calf. The muscle was still really bad, and I might even get another tomorrow if the calf is not too tender and I think it might repair before the race starts.


  1. I am interested to hear how the PHD Minim Ultra goes - I have bought the same bag, hoping to use it for the MdS.

    Good luck Rich - I have no doubt yopu will use your MdS experience to your advantage.


  2. Thanks William.

    I'll be sure to review my gear again when I get back. I hope this bag works out better, it looks a lot less warm that the other I have.


  3. hi Rich, just heard you are on another adventure!! interesting reading as ever, you put us all to shame with your preperation but some great tips and suggestions of which i will use!
    cheers and good luck
    Nigel, (newcastle)