Adventure, Change and a new Challenge – The Marathon Des Sables (30th Edition)

22/04/2015

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Adventure.

Change.

Possibilities.

Experiencing.

Adventure can be so addictive. Once we learn to open our minds, our eyes, our thoughts and our self to new beliefs, cultures, experiences… we will never be the same again. Should we be? After all, aren’t we, as humans meant to change? If we weren’t, we would never develop beyond the mindset of a baby and our species would not have survived as it has. We are surely not meant to stay stuck at the ages of (for example) 1, 7, 15, 21, 30, 42, 55, 60 and beyond: either physically, mentally or emotionally… and what about the the human motivation to achieve self-actualisation, as described by Abraham Maslow… he who has been quoted as saying: “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” where to grow means to experience…

Everything we experience has the capacity to change us. IF we let it. There can be so many reasons why people don’t change, and I encounter a lot of these within my counselling practice, but if we allow it, if we embrace it, if we look to use what we find as a tool for opening our self, our minds, bodies and hearts, then how can that not be an overall positive way to look at, and live, LIFE?

“It” being CHANGE.

Change can be scary, it can be exciting, exhilarating even… especially for the adrenaline junkies out there who do crazy things like jump out of aeroplanes… ultrarunners at least have their feet on the floor 😉 … and change can come in many forms, not just travel (although isn’t that a great way to find new things!).  It can be from confronting fears, from changing how you dress, trying new things… from the repercussions of others’ behaviours… by choosing to do things differently, we lift ourselves out of our comfort zone… we “challenge” ourselves. Our reactions and responses to such challenges can teach us so much… not just about others although you can tell a lot about someone by how they treat you… but about who we are, who we want to be and what we want our lives to be like!

Last year I finished my back-to-back stage runs and completed the challenge I had set out to achieve, but all the while I was training for that challenge, the words muttered at the beginning of my journey in Sierra Leone, kept repeating. The suggestion of the Marathon des Sables.

I’d gone to the website, looked it up and felt fear. It’s an iconic race. It has a fierce reputation. It has its’ detractors too… those who call it a “fun run in the sun” as has apparently been said to people I’ve met… and for some I’m sure it is. For those with years of experience and adventure and endurance. But 155 miles across the Western Sahara of Morocco, self supported and in temperatures of up to 50 degrees celsius or more… the race that inspired all of the others you now see across the world… “how hard can it be” echoed once more. As I’ve already blogged, entries for 2015 were not open and I had to wait. I figured, get the others done, see what you’re dealing with and whether you even like it.

Only… entries became available before that happened. What to do?

With the advance notification process engaged, the day of applying dawned… time for a decision and no more sitting on the fence talking about “what if’s”… I had to make a choice.

If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way.
If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.
~~ Jim Rohn ~~

So 4 tabs open on the computer 10 minutes before entry… refreshing, constantly. The form came up. It got completed… 2 minutes later email confirmation came through. I had my spot. All UK entries were gone within 12 minutes. I prayed I’d enjoy the other stage runs, otherwise this could be a very expensive lesson I’d have to learn from. I then concentrated on the challenge at hand, which I’ve already blogged about.

For anyone interested in reading about that, posts can be found here.

Coming home from America, with the amount of mileage and training I’d put in over that 18 month period to date meant there was a price to pay. Achilles tendinopathy and in my case, lovely thickening… probably permanent. Weeks and probably months of rest was what I needed to fully heal but with an Ultra already booked in some weeks ahead, I took 2 weeks then returned to the gym. Cue excruciating pain and 4 weeks of no running… cross training became the way to go so as not to lose all fitness, followed by two weeks of easy running before hitting the planned Ultra (you really do have to feel sorry for my coach – this was against his advice, as well as my sports therapist). A 50K I vastly underestimated even though it’s billed as a double your marathon time and add a bit more on… I’d also encouraged a friend to do this even though their longest race was 15 miles to that point. We “got it done”, and within the cut off… but this was not a wise move and indeed a very valuable lesson learned – listen to the Coach and Sports Therapist in future – they’re there to help you!

So how do you train for an event that’s on another continent, that’s going to be so much hotter than the ones you’ve already done, and over long distances again… all while you’re in the UK in the midst of winter and have a job (or two) to fit in?

You get a schedule, you stick to it as best as possible. You get a coach if possible, and have regular sports / leg massages. You run… a lot. You run long easy runs on both days of the weekends, and for this event, I also walked. Given the terrain of sand, sand and more sand… with my lack of experience, and the blistering from Madagascar that was still healing, expecting to walk parts was vital. Expecting for and training with that in mind would help the mental strength too. You also run with a weighted pack… starting small and building the weight. Given my pack had been 10.9kg without water in America, I went up to 11.2kg in training this time using a tip from a Hong Kong runner… packs of rice! I tried firewood to start with but that added to the chafing… you might want to avoid that one!

You comb the kit list and try and test everything. Luckily I had already gone through this with the other events so had a very good idea of what worked for me. Anything I wasn’t sure about, I rang my tentmate. Call it luck if you will, but another member of my running club was also doing this event and not only that, she was an experienced ultra runner, had completed MdS three years previously with her husband and is a very kind person who always stops to help others if she can. It just happens that they also own the shop I had gotten my previous stage racing kit from, and they are only round the corner (check out their shop here)!

One thing I hadn’t thought about until it was too late was heat training. Kingston University was not only fully booked up but the cost of full sessions would be another added expense. They don’t charge huge amounts but costs do start to stack up with training, coaching, massage, kit and then this! Once again my soon-to-be tentmate stepped into the breach.  As it had a treadmill and bike, she offered to share sessions with me.  Due to time constraints I couldn’t accept all, but managed to fit in 2 x 2 hour sessions: very helpful and informative and I really recommend these for anyone who is planning on desert races.

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Another thing that can bring reassurance pre-event is sorting out tentmates.  Tents are grabbed on a first come, first served basis.  If you organise through friends of friends, then you can meet up beforehand and/or connect through social media. As my tentmate already knew me, she invited me to share with a group that was forming, and I’m so very glad I said Yes! I had the opportuity to meet one person at the shop, and then two others at a race in January – for those in the UK, the Country to Capital 45 is a great race that a lot of people use as a training run for MdS.

You will then go through the nightmare that is known as Hell aka getting your medical certificate signed and an ECG print out!  Unfortunately GPs are not often well versed in sports medicine. An ECG can show little anomalies which will mean your GP refusing to sign your medical certificate and you having to rush off for an urgent appointment to get a heart ultrasound. Naturally I was one such lucky person :/ You can only get your medical certificate signed after a set date. This will allow around 3 weeks of torture. It states in the UK rules that you need both ECG and medical certificate signed, dated and stamped. I was very lucky that the cardiologist I saw didn’t mind my frantic phone calls, leaving signed documents to be stamped at the last minute and didn’t charge extra. There is obviously the need for safety – no GP will want to send you off to the middle of the desert if you have a potential problem but when you run ultramarathons and have a very low pulse rate which can show as incomplete ECGs, not all GPs will understand this. So for those runners that read this with a future event in mind, if you can get a free ECG done well in advance to set your mind at ease that you are ok at present (it obviously doesn’t eliminate future problems), I would advise doing it if possible. I would also advise checking GP prices. Some lucky people (aka not me) get theirs free.  Some not so lucky people (again, not me) get charged a fee… some very lucky people (yes, this would be me) get charged a high fee! For every single certificate! I could have had a basic holiday for the price of 3 certificates, I jest not.

You will then come to the final few weeks and hopefully tapering on your running… this should be an enjoyable phase, after all what could go wrong? Unfortunately due to all the aforementioned plus the unknown, or even known for returnees… you will start to wonder if you need to adjust your nutrition, try something new (don’t do it!!)… change pack, change trainers… hopefully you will already have had the velcro stitched for your gaiters… you will re-weigh… everything! Especially food. You may need to go buy more if you snack on any treats you pack (this was me, several times)…

But this is part of the path… part of the journey that is known as the Marathon des Sables… surely the race would be the reward… after all, how hard could it be?

© April 2015 Michelle Payne

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Charity & Challenge 1 of the 3 (Triple Continent Challenge)

26/08/2014

Domestic abuse / violence is a topic that is not talked about easily.  It is easily hidden away because most people do not want to acknowledge the existence of it, don’t want the subject to touch their lives and also because once you know about something, there is then a choice about whether to do something about that new knowledge.  Such choice automatically then leads to responsibility.  Who wants to take responsibility for reporting domestic abuse? Who wants to get involved in that? The answer is generally a big fat no, with such inaction then lending more power to the abuser, because they get away with so much more, feel safe in the knowledge that they won’t be stopped and actually, if no-one ever does anything, it sends the implicit message that it is allowed.  Yes, you read that right… by not doing anything about it (or sitting on the fence as it were) if you know about it, do nothing about it, then you’re saying it’s ok.

The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil,
but because of those who look on and do nothing

~~ Albert Einstein ~~

But if you know abuse is happening and want to help someone, what do you do? Who do you turn to? What help is available? If you don’t know the answers to such questions, that too can stop victims getting help.  So the aim of running these challenges is not only to raise funds (which are desperately needed) but also to raise awareness of this topic.

Therefore, the charity that I chose was Refuge.

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Although I have a full time job in the City, I am also a qualified Counsellor.  I work in private practice with clients, with whatever issues they bring (from self-esteem, relationships, body image, negative thought patterns, generational patterns and more) and additionally as a volunteer with a local domestic abuse charity.  Please note that this is not Refuge.

Refuge opened the world’s first safe house for women and children escaping domestic violence in Chiswick, West London, in 1971 and have been providing help to those who need help to escape. As Government funding is not enough to sustain the demands that Refuge faces… and let’s face it, demands that shouldn’t be necessary in any day and age!… it relies on help from volunteers and donations to meet those demands… demands that ultimately means lives are saved!  Ways that they get such help is through challenges and events, such as running… which helps to raise much needed funds and helps to get the message out about what domestic violence / abuse means and can entail, and it was one such event that brought me into contact with them.

That event was the Virgin London Marathon and the first of the Triple Continent Challenge.  Now some friends (who aren’t runners) thought that because I’d already completed a long race by this point, figured it would be easy. That was, until I pointed out I wanted to run the whole way… and in a much quicker time. Specifically to shave at least half an hour off my time, or more if it was possible. But predominantly to do this without stopping, with all the niggles that I had had to date and the fact I hadn’t run more than 13.1 miles non-stop. I hadn’t figured on the amount of people running it either until someone pointed that out.

And it was at this point that I knew I needed help. Professional help (yeah yeah I can hear some of those friends’ voices laughing at that…) because it’s one thing to actually go and totter off down a trail marathon (or ultra) with a lot of walking (and pain, which kinda goes without saying) as a one-off, it’s quite another to specifically train for and run a road marathon… one of the world majors… with virtually no proper training experience, especially if you’ve had quite extensive hip surgery some years previously which meant spending about 3 months on crutches.

Life is somewhat synchronistic because I eventually, through a recent running connection, found myself making a visit to that person’s coach to see if they could help me. That initial session was more like an interview… and it wasn’t me in the driving seat! What did I want to achieve, what training and experience did I already have… and what time did I have to put into training going forwards. Looking back, it still makes me chuckle a bit to remember Rich’s face when I told him what I’d already signed up for, what little experience I had and how I had no readily available time to devote to training. He told me he didn’t think he could train me. He’s blunt like that 🙂

However, when you really want something… ultimately, you will do what you have to do to get it… and when he told me that, apart from feeling pretty gutted for a little while… my answer was: tell me what you want from me and I will tell you if I can do it!  A day later I got an email. And nearly died in horror, wondering how on earth I’d fit one run in, let alone five… plus a coaching session, plus two conditioning sessions… all in one week, every week, plus daily stretching… plus work, college, commuting, second job, building my own business… well, you can imagine…

and so the training began, choices and sacrifices made…

until 6 months later I ended up on the start line of the London Marathon… well actually, I was in a pen… near the back which took about 10 minutes to reach the start line once the race began… but off I trotted, with one of my friends from Sierra Leone beside me…

I didn’t finish in the time I envisaged the previous year…

I had “injuries”… a niggly ITB meant pain… but worse was I had developed some painful plantar fasciitis which meant I basically limped most of the way round…

and yes it hurt, especially the last few miles (not as much as when I stopped after I crossed the finish line though… little tip… do not sit down on the grass, you will end up being helped up by the Red Cross if you are not able to pull yourself up by holding onto a nearby tree!)…

but I did it non-stop… the whole way… so damn proud…

and I did it quicker! Not too shabby a time if I do say so myself 🙂

4 hours 17 minutes 15 seconds

It’s amazing what you can achieve when you set your mind to it… but the thing is, you have to be open to the possibility… to know and be able to reach out to those that can help you. My coach Rich was amazing in helping me get to that point, he’s even more amazing for putting up with me since, or maybe that’s the wrong way round 😀 … of course, we had to get over the little thing first about how he thinks I’m absolutely nuts to even consider doing one stage run, let alone two… and let alone so close together… and that’s not normally how he works… what’s that saying Rich, it takes one to know one 😉 … anyway…

I’m still fundraising for Refuge with these runs, so if you would (hopefully) like to sponsor me for being crazy enough to attempt this challenge… to help Refuge help others, please click on my justgiving link where you can donate online:

www.justgiving.com/michelle-payne4

and if you would like to find out more about Refuge and the work it does, please click here.

And of course if you have ever fancied running or jogging/walking a marathon to help a fantastic charity, then please get in touch with Refuge to see about getting one of their bond places!

I’m flying out very shortly to start the second challenge in Madagascar, so will blog the next post when I can.

Many thanks for taking the time to read this, and please do spread awareness of what domestic violence / abuse constitutes and how people can reach out and get help.

Don’t fence sit (you’ll get splinters eventually ;)… say No to DV!

Have a great day 🙂
Michelle

August 2014 Michelle Payne


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