Long Term Goal Setting and Planning for Ultra Running

The Long Term Goal

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Recently I have produced several articles that have been created to help runners formulate a plan for a new year of racing and training. The articles have been as follows:

  • Planning a Running and Racing Year HERE
  • To Base Train or not to Base Train HERE
  • Base Training HERE
  • How long should the long run be? HERE
  • In addition, I wrote several articles on walking and how important it is to practice this for:
  • Ultra running HERE
  • Walking with poles HERE
  • Walking efficiency when climbing HERE

Recently I was involved in a series of discussions about the Marathon des Sables. One thing that became very clear is the panic and apprehension many runners feel about a goal that may well be a ‘one-off’ or lifetime goal.

Experienced runners will know how to goal set, they will know how to periodise and plan their training so that they hopefully arrive at a target event in peak form. This was discussed in Planning a Running and Racing Year (HERE). However, goals that go beyond one macrocycle (one year) require a much greater perspective and overview. If you are new to running, well, it can be just terrifying.

A great deal of advice can be extremely counter productive as it makes many runners feel inadequate, inexperienced, lacking confidence and in the worse scenarios even questioning if they should even go ahead with the race.

Let’s be clear. Everyone is an individual, I have yet to find two runners who need the same training plan or structure. However, certain scenarios work for all and it is with this in mind that I am writing this post.

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Why not join our Multi-Day Training Camp in Lanzarote with 2x MDS Champion, Elisabet Barnes? Information HERE

Why set a long term goal?

Long term goals provide incredible motivation to step out of the door and to train. You will have heard the saying, ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it!’

To that end, iconic races such as UTMB and Marathon des Sables, are races that for many are the ultimate race, they are races to be built up to and therefore a macrocycle is not enough time to prepare; hence long term goal setting.

Irrespective of experience, two key words come in to play when setting a long term plan: Structured and Progressive.

In this scenario, I am using goal setting for Marathon des Sables.

STRUCTURE

A macrocycle is one training year and this is broken down into mesocycles. It may sound like a fancy word but a mesocycle is a series of blocks of training that make up one macrocycle. For purposes of explanation, let’s assume that you are running the Marathon des Sables which takes place in April 2020.

I always recommend getting a year planner so that you get a big picture of what lies ahead. Fourteen months may seem like a long way off, it is, no need to panic, but also don’t become complacent. What’s important here is experience. I am therefore going to have two runners.

Please Note – This guide below is geared towards someone who aims to run as much as possible at MDS. Very few run all of MDS and most walk considerably more than they think. For me, walking is a key element to a very successful training plan. The structure below still applies, the sessions would adjust accordingly.

Runner A has run a marathon, runs to keep fit and has set the lifetime goal of Marathon des Sables. Priority is completion.

Runner B has been running for years, eats marathons for breakfast, races ultra races regularly and is going to Marathon des Sables as a challenge, to test him or herself and plans to compete over complete.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that runner A and runner B need completely different training plans and strategies. Keeping in mind that A has less experience, more insecurities and a great deal of anxiety about the big target, I will talk through the possible planning cycle for A.

Let’s break down the macrocycle. As I said, we have twelve months (+/-) to play with, so a schedule may look like this:

Phase 1: Apr, May with C race objective (half-marathon).

Phase 2: June, July, Aug with B race objective (marathon to 50km).

Phase 3: Sep, Oct, Nov with A race objective (multi-day race)

Phase 4: Dec, Jan with B race objective and/ or specific warm weather training camp.

Phase 5: Feb, Mar.

Phase 6: Apr – A race.

Phase 1

Is all about consistent and regular running based on available time, ability and commitments. Set yourself a C race target for the end of this period. It could be a half marathon. It’s always good to have intermediate targets to work to and we often use C and  B races as stepping stones to an A race, in this scenario, Marathon des Sables.

Be realistic here, it’s important. Ask yourself a couple of key questions:

How many days can I train?

How many hours a week can I train?

We are going to assume that running three/four days is possible every week with a fourth/ fifth day for cross training and strength work. A microcycle (week) in phase 1 may well look like:

  • Tuesday – key day
  • Thursday – key day
  • Saturday – Cross training
  • Sunday – key day

In phase 1 we want to just walk, run or walk/ run and build a base of fitness from which to build. No need to rush in and panic. Be sensible and progressive. A safe way to do this is build for three weeks and on the fourth week rest and recover, Yes, rest and recovery is just as important as running.

Use the 10-20% rule and never add more time than this to each run. An example for the first month may look like:

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Over this phase, you would eventually cap the length of time for the Tuesday and Thursday runs at 60 to 90-minutes and the Sunday run would progress to 3-hours 30-minutes as follows:

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Use this system in phase 1 building week on week over four months to lay a great foundation of progressive miles and time on feet. If you have built progressively, your Sunday long run will have progressed to over three hours which puts you in a great place for a C run target.

A marathon would be a good C target at the end of phase 1. You wouldn’t taper for a race like this, it would be a training run that would be added to your plan.

Phase 2

You have phase 1 under your belt and the confidence of completing a C target. Phase 2 now builds and at the end of this phase you will have a B race target as a goal. This race should be challenging but not so challenging that it becomes intimidating or breaks you. If you ran a half marathon as a C race, then your B race could be a marathon. If your C race was a marathon, then your B race may be a marathon or 50km race if you feel that training is going very well?

It’s also important now to think ahead to Phase 3 and an intermediate A race target that will motivate you and boost your confidence for phase 4, 5 and 6.

Also think about planning and booking heat chamber sessions or equivalent for the final build up phase just before the race; this usually takes place in the final 2-3 weeks and sessions go quickly.

In the UK, a race takes place in November called the Druids. It’s a three day race where runners take on a marathon for three consecutive days. It’s a perfect ‘mini’ Marathon des Sables scenario and a great opportunity to test clothing, pack, fitness and build confidence.

Assuming that four days training are still possible and that you have had no injury issues or problems, we can now progress training building on endurance in the long runs and adding some faster/ strength sessions during the week.

A week may look like this:

  • Tuesday – Hills.
  • Thursday – Speed
  • Saturday – Cross training and strength.
  • Sunday – Long run.

As in phase 1, progression is really important and the plan would actually change and evolve over this period with each month looking different.

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The above plan is a guide and this is where a run coach can step in and provide structure and remove the guess work away from how the plan is put together. It’s all about placing the right emphasis at the right place and at the right time.

You will see how month 3 changes from months 1 and 2 so that it is specific to the B target at the end of this mesocycle.

Phase 3

You have just completed your longest run in a B race, be that 50k, 50m or somewhere in-between and your confidence is sky high. You now have an A race on the horizon (November) that involves three back-to back marathons and suddenly your appreciation of what is required is much clearer. You respect the Marathon des Sables target but now it is less intimidating as you have moved your way up through logical and incremental steps.

Another three month phase of training that allows is to fine tune and hone in on the racing skills required.

As you may expect, phase 3 starts with recovery from your B race target. You will need to cross train or just run easy for 3-4 days. By the time the weekend comes around, you will feel as though recovery is well on the way, don’t rush. Take your time and the following week run easy Tuesday and Thursday for up to 60-minutes and then do 60 and a 90-minute run on Saturday and build on the Sunday run. An example of phase 3 is below. Please remember, YOU are an individual with specific needs and what I provide below is a possible structure leading to an A race in November.

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The A race at the end of November provides a significant marker in your training. The experience will allow you an opportunity to find out what worked, what didn’t work, how your kit worked, what was good, what was bad and so on.

December is now upon you and Phase 4 is an opportunity to look at weaknesses and work on them so that you are in great shape to take on Phase 5 which is the final period before your key race.

1. If you lacked endurance in your November A race, keep working on consistency and build endurance with time on feet.

2. If you lacked speed and want to run faster, December is a perfect opportunity to cut back on distance and long runs and add some speed work.

3. Due to the demands of running with a pack, running long and all the associated fatigue, make sure that you incorporate a strength and core routine to make you a stronger runner. It’s easy to say here, ‘I don’t have the time!” You do, cut down your run time on a Tuesday and Thursday and free up time for strength and core. Maybe you can even find an extra day in your week (Wednesday) to allow you to work on this. Alternatively, work on strength and core at home maybe while watching television? The time is there, you just need to find it and be creative.

4. Practice walking. Effective and fast walking is a key weapon to a successful race in any long ultra or multi-day race.

With a new year coming, April and the heat of the Sahara looms on the horizon. January provides a perfect opportunity for a warm weather training camp just as the weather is wet, miserable and cold in Europe.

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In conjunction with 2015 ladies Marathon des Sables champion Elisabet BARNES, we run a week long camp in Lanzarote that provides the perfect opportunity to test everything in a real situation. We even provide a bivouac experience. You can ready daily posts and view images from the 2016 camp HERE and you can listen to client feedback below:

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Phase 5 is the last phase and ultimately you have 6 weeks to get prepared and ready for your key race. If you attended a training camp you will now have a full appreciation of everything that you need to do. That may be changing kit, more time on feet, looking at nutrition or even a combination of all elements

Now is the time to make sure you have all your admin sorted – insurance, medical, compulsory kit and so on.

Don’t leave anything to chance now. If in doubt about equipment, contact MyRaceKit, they are able to provide expert advice in regard to everything that you will need.

Think about heat and how you will adapt. With luck, back in phase 2 or 3 you will have thought ahead and booked time in a heat chamber. Ideally this will take place in the final 2-3 weeks before the race. No sessions booked? Train in a gym with additional layers, take a sauna, do Bikram Yoga etc

Again, consistency is key here. You have been training for this long term goal for sometime, don’t do anything silly, don’t do a long run that is really long; you up your chances of injury risk. Remember, training is about ALL the sessions you have done and not just one session

Pack weight is a consideration and get it as close to 6.5kg as possible. On day-1, when you add water it will be 8kg. BE CAREFUL training with too much weight, it is a guaranteed route to injury. For sure, do some sessions with weight, be progressive and slowly build up. Just do one session per week in the final phase and only do 1 or 2 sessions with pack at 8kg and do not go too long.

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Phase 6 is race time.

Be organised, be prepared, think of everything and have the race of your life.

It’s in this final phase when you are so close that little things can go wrong. Be prepared as best as you can. You can’t account for the unexpected but reduce chances of anything going wrong by taking no risks.

The information provided above is designed to provide an outline and a guide on how to plan for a long term goal. Although you may be able to take this plan away and use it, please be sensible and assess your own experience, fitness and goals. Importantly, the scenario provided is with a multi-day race in mind, you would need to tweak and adjust this for a single stage race or a mountain ultra for example.

I can’t emphasise enough that we are all individual, so you need to find out what works for you.

Good luck.

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Ultra Mirage© El Djerid #UMED 2018 Race Package

Join Marathon des Sables champions, Rachid El Morabity, Elisabet Barnes and the Ultra Mirage© El Djerid 2017 champion, Mohamed El Morabity for the ultimate 100km desert experience. Soft sand, rocks, small dunes, dried river beds, oasis and a multitude of soft-sand, Ultra Mirage© El Djerid is a single-stage race to test the minds and legs of runners who are looking for a new adventure.

The Ultra Mirage© El Djerid (UMED) is the first 100km Ultra Trail taking place in the stunning Tunisian Sahara Desert. A 20-hour time limit, five checkpoints, medical and technical help to ensure safety, the UMED is open to all runners. Importantly for the fleet of foot, prize money is available totaling 10.000 euros split equally between the male and female fields.

Rachid running at the 2017 MDS Peru which he won.

Tunisia and in particular the area of the Djerid was the background of famous movies including Star Wars and the English Patient just to name a few. The diversity and the beauty of the Djerid makes it a major attraction for tourists from all around the world. Tozeur is the main city of this area, it is very well known for its stunning surroundings with a mixture of Rocky Mountains, valleys, salt lakes and desert dunes and most of all for the generosity of its people.

Elisabet Barnes at the 2017 Marathon des Sables.

“Ultra Mirage© El Djerid 100K’s first edition was full of emotions! It was one of those moments where total strangers gather in a single event to release the best humanity has to offer: friendship, kindness, camaraderie, sport, courage, endurance, perseverance, love, compassion, respect, just to name a few, and all of that in the most amazing surrounding of the Sahara Desert! For 2018, we are looking to build on that outstanding success, organizing a race which will be bigger on all fronts, from the number of runners which should top 300, to a more diverse path and scenery! Hope to see you at the starting line on the 29th of September 2018!!” Amir Ben Gacem, Race Director.

The race will take place on September 29th 2018, and a special package price has been arranged for 350 euro:

  • Domestic flights from Tunis
  • Ground transport
  • 2 nights’ accommodation in a 4* hotel
  • Race entry
  • Race Shirt, cap, bag, medal and certificate

It’s an incredible package at a stunning price. Runners expected to fly into Tunis Carthage Airport (connected to all major European cities) at their own cost. Departure will be on Friday 28th September from Tunis to Tozeur international airport. Return on Sunday 30th September late afternoon.

Planning schedule:

Friday 28th September

16:00 Meeting at Tunis-Carthage Airport

17:30 Departure to Tozeur

18:40 Arrival at Tozeur-Nefta Airport

18:45 Transfer to Hotel

19:00 Check-in / Dinner / Race Briefing

 

Saturday 29th September

05:00 Breakfast opens

05:45 Departure to start line by bus

06:00 Last bus departs

06:30 Arrival at start line / Ultra Mirage village

07:00 Race starts

 

Shuttle buses will assure runners transfer from Ultra Mirage village to hotel every hour.

 

Sunday 30th September

03:00 Race finish

06:00 Breakfast opens

11:00 Closing ceremony

14:00 Transfer to Tozeur-Nefta Airport

16:00 Departure to Tunis

17:10 Arrival at Tunis-Carthage Airport

 

WIN A FREE PLACE

In conjunction with Amir Ben Gacem and Ultra Mirage© El Djerid we are offering readers of this website and listeners to Talk Ultra podcast the opportunity to win a 350-euro package place.

The winner will need to cover return costs to Tunis.

QUESTION:

Name the home planet of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movie?

Race Information and entry

Race website HERE

Enter the race HERE

Facebook page HERE

Marathon des Sables PERU 2017 #MDSPeru – RACE DAY 4

Stage 4 of MDS Peru was the eagerly anticipated long-day, it was billed as a stunning stage and it didn’t disappoint, however, with beauty came difficulty and many said how hard it was. The thought of views of the Pacific Ocean pulled the runners through to the 51km mark and then from here, the sea was by their side all the way to the finish line.

Erik Clavery dictated the race early on but by Cp2 he was caught and it was Also Ramirez from Peru who forged a fast pace looking for a top-3 finish. Fellow Peruvian, Remigio Huaman, was never going to let a countryman run away from him and the duo ran at the head of the race before Rachid El Morabity budged the gap. It was interesting to see the dynamics at the front of the race, it would appear, that El Morabity was not having a ‘normal’ dominating day and this was reflected in him crossing the line with Huaman, hand-in-hand, in 7:10:24. Ramirez held on for 3rd just 7-minutes later with Gediminas Grinius and Clavery placing 4th and 5th.

The ladies race once again had a very similar format as all the previous days with Nathalie Mauclair dictating from the front and never looking back. She is, with all due respect to the other ladies, in a race on her own! She crossed the line in 8:08:45 and Melanie Rousset finished 2nd once again over 1-hour later in 9:19:10. Peruvian, Rocio Carrion, was as consistent as ever placing 3rd in 10:01.

The long-day will be remembered for the stunning landscape and the variety. Beautiful white dunes, white stone flats, amazing valleys flanked by mountains and then the stunning sandy drop to the Pacific and bivouac 4 next to the sea.

 

  1. Remigio Huaman 7:10:24
  2. Rachid El Morabity 7:10:25
  3. Aldo Ramirez 7:17:21

 

  1. Nathalie Mauclair 8:08:45
  2. Melanie Rousset 9:19:10
  3. Rocio Carrion 10:01:15

 

GC

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 17:09:53
  2. Remigio Huaman 17:47:54
  3. Aldo Ramirez 18:49:51

 

  1. Nathalie Mauclair 20:23:35
  2. Melanie Rousset 23:15:44
  3. Rocio Carrion 25:46:50

 

Stage 5 of MDS Peru is as the Moroccan brother, the marathon stage. Staring on the beach in Barlovento, the runners will cover 42.2km to Mendieta hugging the coastline of the Pacific. It will be a stunning stage!

Lanzarote Training Camp 2017 – Day 8

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All good things come to an end and today, unfortunately, was the last full day of the 2017 #multidaytrainingcamp.

It started at 0800 with a run to our hill rep volcano (by popular demand) and after a 30-minute easy run, we then played on one of the most amazing natural obstacle courses that provided everyone with a great workout and stunning views.

A short break and then at 1100 we had a 2-hour talk on nutrition looking at the day-to-day needs of a runner at a typical self-sufficient multi-day race. All aspects were covered and of course a few surprises made many of the camp attendees raise an eyebrow and then quickly write a note to make sure they didn’t forget these pearls of wisdom for the future.

Lunch was followed with our last group runs. By popular demand they were easy, really easy. Elisabet ran 8km at ‘long-stage’ pace to provide an insight for the ‘faster’ runners of how to pace an 80+km stage. Niandi and Ian ran nice and easy for 12-15km and Marie-Paule took the walkers out for a long 5-6 hour hike.

That’s it.

I will update more in the coming days on the many highs of the 2017 camp.

As I write this, the bar is open and many camp attendees are practicing re-hydrating… it would be a shame to miss out!

Want to join us in 2018? Go HERE

The Ultimate Equipment Guide to Desert Multi-Day Racing – Hints ‘n’ Tips

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Desert running brings many challenges and running in a desert for multiple days brings a whole new set of challenges. Over 30-years ago (1984), Patrick Bauer, filled up a pack with food and water and trekked off alone into the Algerian Sahara to cover 350km’s on foot in a self-sufficient manner. Little did he know at the time, but this journey was the start of something incredible, the Marathon des Sables.

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Also read

Top Tips To Better Multi-Day Running HERE

Multi-Day Food On The Cheap HERE

How to choose a sleeping bag HERE

MDS as it is affectionately known paved the way not only for multi-day desert racing but ‘all’ multi-day racing, be that in snow, ice, rainforest, jungle or the mountains. If multi-day racing was the mafia, MDS would be the Corleone family and Patrick Bauer would be the Godfather – Don Vito Corleone.

All multi-day races have followed and tried to replicate the MDS format, however, the reality is, I have yet to experience a race that matches the size, the scale, the organisation and awe-inspiring splendor of what Bauer and his team have created in the Sahara. Ask anyone, despite experience, despite achievement, MDS is usually ‘on the bucket list!’ It’s fair to say, that MDS is directly attributable for many new ultra-runners. You see, MDS offers more than just running, it offers a challenge, it offers something quite unique – the Sahara and the MDS strips the runner back to basics and deprives them of all luxuries so that they are stripped raw. Runners find themselves in the desert.

If you have entered MDS or another self-sufficient multi-day race or adventure, you will be asking, “What equipment do I need?”

This question is the same for many other desert races but I need to be clear, not all races are the same. For example, MDS requires the runner to be completely self-sufficient. This harks back to Bauer’s pioneering expedition in 1984. The runner must carry ‘all’ they need for the duration of the event, the only exception being:

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Bivouac – A simple tent cover is provided at the end of each day and this tent must be shared with 7 other runners.

Water – Water is provided in bivouac and out on the course but is rationed.

Anything else the runner needs must be carried – pack, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, food, snacks, luxuries etc.…

The above format is very similar for races such as the Grand to Grand in the USA, Racing the Planet races such as Atacama, Gobi and so on.

So, items discussed in this post directly relate to a ‘self-sufficient’ race in the MDS style. To clarify, races such as Big Red Run in Australia and The Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun in South Africa are ‘semi’ self-sufficient races and therefore runners can carry far less items and often bags are transported each day and therefore the runner can run light and fast. However, please keep in mind that many of the kit items and needs directly relate and are transferable.

The Detail

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Let’s be clear, it is important to note that equipment will not make you complete any race. What it can do is make the process easier and more comfortable. Equipment is something we all must take to any race and finding out what works and doing the research is part of the fun.

If you want to increase your chances of completing your chosen race, commit to the training required, get your head in the correct place and then finish off with the appropriate equipment for the job. Far too many stress about what equipment they need and neglect the appropriate training.

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Multi-day racing in its purest form should be very simple. However, over the year’s deciding what equipment to take has become increasingly more complicated.

It shouldn’t be complicated and in all honesty, it isn’t!

Here is just a simple list of absolute essentials, one could say that this list is mandatory:

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Buff
  • Jacket
  • T-Shirt
  • Shorts/ Skort
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Gaiters
  • Rucksack
  • Sleeping Mat (optional)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Head Torch
  • Flip-flops or similar
  • Toilet paper
  • Personal medical kit (feet etc.)
  • Spot Tracker (supplied at MDS, optional at other races)
  • Road Book (supplied)
  • Salt Tablets (supplied)
  • *Food for the required days
  • **Mandatory kit
  • ***Water

Optional items:

  • Warm jacket (usually down that packs small and light) – I consider this essential and not optional
  • Stove and Esbit fuel blocks
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Spare socks
  • Walking Poles
  • Goggles
  • Spare clothes (?)

Luxuries:

  • Mp3 player
  • Phone
  • Solar charger
  • Kitchen sink…

Perspective:

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Any multi-day race has (arguably) five types of participant:

  1. The elite races who will contest the high-ranking positions.
  2. Top age groupers who will look to race for a high place and test themselves overall.
  3. Competitive runners looking for a challenge.
  4. Those who wish to complete and not compete.
  5. Newbies who are out of their comfort zone.

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When one looks at kit and requirements, it’s easy to think that the needs of the top elites in group 1 will vary from those in group 5. I would arguably say no! All the runners need the same things; they all must carry the same mandatory kit and they all must carry the same minimum food requirement.

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I think the differences come with experience. Novices and newbies will more than likely prepare for the unknown, the ‘just in case’ scenario. Whereas top runners will be on a minimum, the absolute minimum. Groups 2- 4 are a mix of groups 1 and 5 and they fall somewhere between.

So, for me, groups 2, 3, 4 and 5 should (where possible) aim to be like group 1. The only key difference comes with shoe choice. Runners who will spend much longer on their feet and out on the course will most definitely need a shoe that can withstand that pressure and the shoe must also be good for walking. Groups 2-5 never fully appreciate (often until it’s too late) how much they will walk in a desert race.

EQUIPMENT IN DETAIL

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When looking at equipment, I am going to provide a brief synopsis and then some recommendations. I will then supply ‘my’ equipment list.

Hat – A hat is essential to keep the sun off your head; options exist that have a neck cover built in to avoid that delicate area that will almost certainly be in the sun all day.

Sunglasses – So many choice, but you need a good pair that has ideally a large lens to protect the eye. Some desert specific sunglasses include a brow pad that helps stop sweat dripping in your eye. Do you need prescription? If so, I use prescription Oakley and they are excellent. Do you need goggles? Yes and no. If you have good sunglasses with good coverage, then no. However, should a sand storm hit, it can be uncomfortable. Goggles guarantee no sand in the eyes.

Buff – A buff or even two are essential. One around the neck helps keep the sun off and you can also wet it to help reduce core temperature. In wind and sand storms, the Buff is lifted and protects mouth, nose and sometimes eyes. A spare Buff is a luxury but worth considering.

Jacket – Jacket choice will depend on sleeping bag choice. If you are using a light bag, a lightweight down jacket is an essential item. Look at Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, Yeti Companyon Strato, Mont-Bell Plasma 1000 Down, Berghaus VapourLight (not down) and/ or PHD custom made.

T-Shirt – It’s not rocket science, you will have been running in a shirt already, if it works, why change it? I read countless arguments about should it be black or white – you know what, it doesn’t matter. Look at the elite runners, they are often sponsored and have little or no choice on colour. Comfort however is key.

Shorts/ Skort – Same answer as T-Shirt.

Socks – Getting the correct socks are key for any race and like I have said for shirt and shorts, if you have socks that work, why change? So many options exist but for me I am a firm believer in Injinji toe socks.

Shoes – Shoes are personal and must be suited to you, the individual. Consider your gait (neutral, supinate or pronate), consider time on feet, consider your weight, consider how much you will walk (and then double it) also consider shoe drop and how much cushioning you need. It’s impossible to recommend any one shoe because of these variables. You will see top runners using a lighter shoe, remember, these shoes only need to last 20-30 hours. However, you may well need a shoe for 40, 50 or 60-hours. Do you need a trail shoe? No, you don’t need a trail shoe but I would say that many trail shoes are more durable as they are designed for the rough and tumble of variable terrain. Do you need an aggressive outsole? No, you don’t, but I do think some grip is better than none and therefore I would use a trail shoe over road. Protection? Toe box protection is a good idea as deserts include lots or rocks, far more than you may think. Do I need a size bigger? Shoe sizing does depend on what is ‘normal’ for you. I always recommend a thumb nail of space above the big toe, you don’t need any more than this. Recommendations of going a size is bigger is bad advice in my opinion. A shoe that is too large allows your foot to move, a moving foot causes friction, friction causes blisters and the rest is the same old story that I see at desert races all over the world. However, I would recommend a shoe with a little more width in the toe box, this will allow for some comfort as the days progress. If you are prone to feet swelling, discomfort, blisters and so on, get a strategy sorted before you head out to your chosen race.

Gaiters – Are essential and they should be sewn and glued on to the shoe to guarantee that no sand can enter. Raidlight, MyRaceKit, WAA and Sandbaggers make versions of gaiters.

Rucksack – A rucksack is one of the most essential items for the race as it will hold on your kit for the duration of the event. Many versions exist and the type of pack you choose depends on many things: Male/ Female, Small/ Large, Tall/ Short and so on. Some packs just don’t work for some people. You also need to consider if you need a front pack to hold essential items. How will you drink on the go? How much do you plan to run in comparison to walk? I have some simple advice:

  • Keep the pack as small as possible, if you have a bigger pack you will just fill it.
  • Keep the pack simple – far too many packs are over complicated and messy
  • Keep the pack light
  • Make sure that drinks are accessible, easy to use and don’t bounce
  • See how the pack feels full with all food and then see how the pack feels with 5-days food missing.

Raidlight used to be ‘the’ pack for a multi-day race but that has changed in recent years. For sure, Raidlight are still one of the main options, however, the WAA pack is a ‘go-to’ at many races and the Ultimate Direction Fastpack is slowly but surely becoming a favourite. New entries to the market are coming from Salomon and OMM have been making packs for multi-day adventures for years.

Sleeping Mat (optional) – Inflatable, Foam or no mat. I’m a firm believer in taking a mat, the weight v comfort is a no brainer. I would also choose an inflatable mat even though it does run a risk of puncture. However, with good admin, good care, in years of using inflatable I have never had an issue. A foam mat is guaranteed to last the race but for me a large and cumbersome. OMM make a very thin foam mat that they use as the back padding for their packs – this may be a god option for the real minimalist runner. Look at products from Thermarest, Sea to Summit, Klymvit and OMM.

Sleeping bag – Like the pack, a sleeping bag is a key item is it is likely to be the largest and heaviest item (except food and water) that you will carry. A sleeping bag is important as a good night’s rest is key for day-to-day running. If you are on a budget, Raidlight offer a ‘Combi’ that is a sleeping bag that converts into a jacket. You kill two birds with one stone and the price is a bargain. However, for me it has downsides – it’s large, heavy and offers limited flexibility with temperature regulation. I will always go with a sleeping bag and down jacket scenario is this for me provides less weight, less packed size, more flexibility and the option to get warmer at night by wearing the jacket inside the bag. Problem is, this comes at a price. A lightweight down bag and jacket will be more than likely three to four times the price of the Raidlight Combi. Also, consider your size, shoulder width, height and so on. Some bags are very small whereas bags such as PHD and Yeti can be purchased in small, medium or large. Recommended bags are PHD (custom or off-the peg), Yeti, Western Mountaineering, Haglofs, OMM (not down) and Raidlight. Read HERE

Head Torch – Don’t compromise, you need a good head-torch that provides enough light for running in a black desert at night. Don’t use rechargeable or a torch with gizmos. You just ideally need variable power, a red-light option so you don’t disturb others at night and it will either take AA or AAA batteries. Recommendations are Black Diamond, Petzl, Silva or LED Lenser.

Flip-flops – Free slippers that hotels give away are popular as they are small, fold and are lightweight. However, they don’t stay on and they don’t protect from thorns or stones. Cheap, lightweight plastic or rubber flip flops work for me. I have seen some improvised flip-flops made from run shoe insoles and some string. It’s that group 1 to group 5 scenario again!

Personal medical kit (feet etc.) – Foot care is essential and although many races have a medical team on hand to look after you and your feet, understanding how to do this yourself is key. learn foot care and treatment and understand how to tape your feet. Ready-made foot care kits are available such as this at MyRaceKit here

Spot Tracker (supplied at MDS, optional at other races)

Road Book (supplied)

*Food for the required days – (see clarification below). Food is very personal and it’s imperative you find out what works for you based on your size, gender, calorie burn and speed of running. The front runners will use carbohydrate and fat as fuel as they will run at a faster pace and therefore they will potentially fuel ‘during’ each stage with carbs. However, as you move through the pack going into groups 2-5 the need for fat as a fuel is more important and therefore ALL runners before heading out to any multi-stage race should ideally have taught their bodies to use fat – we have an unlimited supply of this fuel! Post run it’s important to repair, we need protein for this and re-stock energy supplies, we need carbs for this. Dehydrated meals for many runners form the basis of a morning meal and evening meal. Many options are available, some people can eat anything, others are very particular. Keep in mind allergies such as gluten intolerance and decide in advance will you go hot or cold food. For me, the additional weight of a Titanium stove and fuel is worth it for hot food and a drink. We sampled some dehydrated food in 2015 HERE. In 2015, my partner Niandi Carmont ran Marathon des Sables and we worked hard to reduce pack weight to the minimum and we made sure we dialed food choices in to provide her with her desired calorie needs but also keep weight low.

As an example:

  • Dehydrated Meals x6 672g
  • Dried Mango 93g x 4 372g
  • Porridge 59g x 7 413g
  • Coffee 1g x 10 10g
  • Peanut Butter 33g x 5 165g
  • Honey 21g x 8 168g
  • Mini Salami 10g x 10 100g
  • Tropical Mix Bag 194g
  • Sesame Bites 27g x 6 162g
  • Dried Banana Block 270g
  • Mixed Nuts 200g x 2 400g
  • Macademia Nuts Bag 153g
  • Cranberries Bag 175g
  • Pitta Wraps 296g

Total Weight 3550g

**Mandatory kit – see clarification

***Water – see clarification

EQUIPMENT LIST as an example

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It’s important to note that equipment must be specific to the race you are doing and race conditions. The list below is an example of equipment for Marathon des Sables. However, if I was going to Atacama or the Grand to Grand (both self-sufficient) I would be looking at a heavier and warmer sleeping bag and a warmer jacket. Temperatures at night get much colder than the Sahara. The Grand to Grand can also have rain. If a rain jacket is on your list, the inov-8 AT/C Stormshell at 150g is hard to beat.

It’s important to note that equipment will not make you complete any race. What it can do is make the process easier and more comfortable. If you were looking for a one-stop solution, I would say that if you went away and purchased the equipment list below, you would have a comfortable and successful race. The exceptions come with shoes, that is personal and food. Food choices below are personal but a good example, you must find what works for you.

Also, note that minimum pack weight (on day one) at MDS is 6.5kg. So, you can keep purchasing lighter and lighter and then find that you are too light. I have done this. The plus side of this, is that lighter equipment allows you to take more food and/ or more options – again a good thing. For example, in my equipment list, I could go with a slightly lighter jacket, I could not take poles and I could leave the iPods at home and that would allow me 2 or 3 more dehydrated meals. However, I would prefer the equipment I want and am happy with and add 2,3,4 or 500g for the first day. Remember, the pack gets lighter as the day’s pass.

WEARING:

Hat: inov-8 or The North Face

inov-8-hat

Shirt: inov-8 AT/C Base with zip or The North Face ‘Flight’ Series – Both light and functional and allow air flow. I don’t like tight or compression as they are too hot.

inov-8-atc-t-shirt

Shorts: inov-8 AT/C 8” Short or The North Face ‘Flight’ Series – Both light and functional and allow air flow. I don’t like tight or compression as they are too hot.

inov-8-atc-trail-short

Socks: Injinji Trail Midweight or Injinji Outdoor 2.0 (which is Merino wool)

injinji-midweight

Shoes: The North Face Ultra Endurance, Scott Kinabalu Supertrac or inov-8 Trail Talon – Please note, I am a ‘neutral’ runner who prefers a moderately cushioned shoe with an 8mm drop. I would happily use any of these shoes in any multi-day race. They are comfortable, take a gaiter well, have good protection and they work excellently when walking. Remember what I said, shoes are very personal. My favourite shoe is the Nike Wildhorse for this type of adventure.

inov-8-trail-talon-275

Watch: Suunto Ambit  – Has enough battery life for a whole race. If I was worried about weight I would just go with a cheap digital.

Buff: Any

Glasses: Oakley Prescription – Prizm Trail Flak 2.0 has interchangeable lenses so I can switch from clear and smoke

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IN THE PACK:

*Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L 520g – It’s a simple pack that is light, fits to the torso well, comes in S/M or M/L, holds two large bottles comfortably against the torso and importantly they don’t bounce and it has 3 external stretch pockets. The main compartment has a roll-top closure, so, as pack contents get less, you can roll the pack smaller to reduce any problems with contents moving around. *This pack has had some upgrades and changes.

Worth considering now new packs from Montane such as the Trailblazer 30 and the OMM Phantom 25

ultimate-direction-fastpack-20

 

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Jacket 180g – is super light, has a full zip and pockets, it’s a jacket I can use anywhere. I could go lighter, a little lighter, for example, the Mont-Bell is 50g lighter!

mountain-hardwear-ghost-whisperer

PHD Minimus K Sleeping Bag 380g – PHD work for me, you can have them custom made with or without zips and they are excellent. Yeti make a bag that is more than 100g lighter but I prefer the warmth and comfort of the PHD.

phd-minim-ultra-k

Thermarest Prolite Small 310g – Small, comfortable and you can double up and use it as padding in your pack.

 thermarest-prolite-small

Black Diamond Carbon Z Poles 290g – Lightweight and folding that provide 4-wheel drive when walking.

black-diamond-carbon-z-pole

Black Diamond Spot Headtorch w/ batteries and spares 120g – Powerful (200 lumens), lightweight with many varied settings.

 black-diamond-spot

Esbit Stove 11g – Small, lightweight and simple.

esbit-stove

Esbit Titanium Pot 106g – Small, lightweight and durable.

esbit-pot 

Esbit Fuel 168g

esbit-fuel

iPod Shuffle x2 64g – Life saver

Buff 16g – Essential

Spare Socks 91g – Injinji Trail Midweight or Injinji Outdoor 2.0 (which is Merino wool) 

Flip-Flops 150g – But Xero True Feel are good.

 sandals

Total Weight 2406g If I was looking to be very minimalist and as light as possible, I would not take the stove, pot and fuel and the poles, total 1831g. But, I would probably prefer the option for hot food/ drinks and work around no poles, so total weight would be 2116g.

EXTRAS:

  • Compeed 22g
  • Sportshield 8g
  • Corn Wraps 8g
  • Spork 10g
  • Pen Knife 22g
  • Compass 32g
  • Matches 20g
  • Savlon Antiseptic 18g
  • Toothpaste 36g
  • Tooth Brush 15g
  • Superglue 3g
  • Space Blanket 60g
  • Hand Gel 59g
  • Wipes 85g
  • Toilet Paper 36g
  • Safety Pins 5g
  • Ear Plugs 2g
  • Venom Pump 28g
  • Blindfold 15g
  • Sun Cream 80g
  • Whistle 15g
  • Signal Mirror 12g
  • SPOT Tracker 113g

Total Weight 806g

TOTALS:

Pack and Main Kit Contents: 2406g

Extras: 806g

Food: 3550g

Total 6762g

This pack weight includes poles and cooking utensils plus luxuries like Mp3

 (water would be added to this weight)

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IN SUMMARY

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I enjoy the process of looking at kit, looking at the options available and working out what is best for me and my situation. In some respects, I am lucky as I can test many items out in the market place and decide what I do and what I don’t like. However, trust me, products these days are so good that you can’t go wrong with almost any of the choices. Yeti, PHD, Haglofs etc. all make great sleeping bags, they will all work. Mountain Hardwear, Yeti, Mont-Bell etc. down jackets are all excellent, they all work. I could go on, but you get the picture. Like I said at the beginning, multi-day and desert racing is not complicated, don’t make it so. The only item you need to be sure on is shoes, make sure you get that right. But then again, I am sure you were running before you entered your multi-day race? You were using run shoes, be them road or trail and one must assume that they gave you no problems? If the answer is yes – why change them!

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Finally, we all love equipment and gadgets, it’s fun to go shopping and get new items. However, being physically fit and mentally strong is what will get you to the finish line – equipment is just part of the process, remember that.

Good luck!

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Clarification:

*Food (As required at Marathon des Sables)

He/she must select the type of food best suited to his/her personal needs, health, weather conditions, weight and backpack conditions. We remind you that airlines strictly forbid the carrying of gas (for cooking) on board either as hand luggage or otherwise. Each competitor must have 14 000 k/calories, that is to say a minimum of 2,000 k/calories per day, otherwise he/she will be penalized (see ART. 27 and 28). Any food out of its original packaging must be equipped, legibly, of the nutrition label shown on the product concerned. Any food out its original packaging must be equipped, legibly, of the nutrition label shown on the product concerned. 

**Mandatory Kit (as specified at Marathon des Sables)

  • 10 safety pins
  • Compass 1deg precision
  • Whistle
  • Knife
  • Disinfectant
  • Venom pump
  • Signal mirror
  • Survival blanket
  • Sun cream
  • 200-euro note
  • Passport
  • Medical certificate

***Water (as specified for Marathon des Sables)

Liaison stage: 10.5 liters per person per day

  • 1.5 liters before the start each morning,
  • 2 or 3 x 1.5 liters during the race, at check points,
  • 4.5 liters at arrival post.

Marathon stage: 12 liters per person per day:

  • 1.5 litre before the start in the morning,
  • 1.5 liters at check-points 1 and 3,
  • 3 liters at check-point 2,
  • 4.5 liters at arrival post. 

Non-stop stage: 22.5 liters per person over 2 days:

  • 1.5 liters before the start of the race in the morning,
  • 1.5 liters at check-points 1, 3, 6,
  • 1.5 or 3 liters at check-points 2, 4 and 5,
  • 4.5 liters at arrival post,
  • 4.5 liters at the bivouac.

Why not join our Multi-Day Training Camp in Lanzarote with 2015 Marathon des Sables ladies champion, Elisabet Barnes. The camp takes place in January each year.

Information HERE

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Support on PATREON HERE

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Big Red Run 2016 Race Summary on RUNULTRA

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“A down jacket protected me from the cold wind and the low temperatures, amongst the dunes of the Simpson Desert, the sky was not dark, it was black. A lack of light pollution, a lack of people, I was remote and alone in the outback of Australia. Above me the sky glowed with a series of glitter balls. It was like a child’s artwork creation, you know the ones I mean – black card, some glue and then throwing glitter at the card until it sticks. To say the sky was amazing would be a complete understatement. I could see all the constellations, I could clearly pinpoint stars and for a moment I was lost, overwhelmed by the enormity of my location and my insignificance within the world in which we live.”

Read the full article on RUNULTRA HERE

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Read daily race reports form Big Red Run HERE

View the Big Red Run IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

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Big Red Run 2016 – Stage 5 Marathon 1 “Mohan Marathon” Marathon 2 “Roseberth Marathon” – 84.39km

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Elisabet Barnes nailed it today, no question, no doubts, she showed the boys how to run a multi-stage race and she also showed them how to pace and judge an 84km stage. Elisabet is the Queen of the Simpson Desert.

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An 0430 wake up call really did have everyone walking around a little goggle eyed this morning, particular with the very low temperatures and biting wind. It was 2 degrees but it felt below freezing standing around waiting for the 0600 start.

A roaring fire is a key element of the Big Red Run, irrespective of the time of the day, this morning was no different. A huddle of runners crowded the fire, arms outstretched, I am sure they think, if I can get my hands warm, the rest of my body will follow.

Trackers were attached to packs, compulsory reflective vests were handed out (for the dark hours) and just after 0600, the runners departed for an 84km double marathon over the Simpson Desert.

A hour of darkness soon had holes of sunlight punched through it as sunrise came, it was an incredible start to the day and it was a wonderful sign that a full day of clear skies was ahead. The chilly wind continued to blow, some would say, they were perfect running conditions.

Andy Dubois lying in 3rd overall gave it everything today, it was an all or nothing scenario and one that I love to see and applaud. He could have rested and be satisfied with his podium place but no, he tried his best to take 2nd from Jamie Hildage and lets face it, had he had a good day and Elisabet Barnes a bad day, overall victory may well have been a possibility?

Andy pushed and lead over the first marathon but Elisabet kept him in sight, gaining no more than a few minutes, he tested those behind and Elisabet summed it up on the line, ‘The pace early on today was fast, right from the gun Andy went hard and he wanted to test himself and us. I held on not wanting to ket him out of sight, you may think my time margin is a good buffer going into a long day but it can soon go!’

Jamie Hildage echoed Elisabet’s comments, ‘I had a 20min margin over Andy and he wanted to take it back. I had to keep an eye on him but in all honesty, the early pace was far faster than I would have preferred to go for an 84km day.’

Andy pushed but the wheels started to come off and he paid for the early pace, Elisabet and Jamie passed him just as the first marathon concluded and then Elisabet made a move and slowly pulled away from Jamie. Once Elisabet had the lead, she does what she does best, put her head down and knock out a metronomic pace to take not only her 3rd stage victory out of 4 but the overall 2016 Big Red Run victory.

This terrain, the desert, multi-stage days and relatively flat terrain are Elisabet’s domain and she really did dominate this event, ‘So it’s been a good week in the office! Today was the final competitive stage of the Big Red Run, the long stage of approx 84km and it was TOUGH! Some of the boys decided to race very hard from the start and despite my lead going into the stage it was a case of holding on and hoping for the best. Luckily their wheels fell off and not mine so all ended well. I am really chuffed to have won the race outright!’

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Jamie held on for 2nd place arriving 30 minutes after Elisabet. A previous Big Red Run competitor, Jamie had improved his time considerably after his last effort and he was very happy. Andy crossed the line 3rd and looked equally ecstatic, he raised his arms, cheered and well truly embraced the tape. ‘I had to risk all today and hope that I could possibly break Jamie and take back his time advantage. In reality, I had nothing to loose as 4th place was well behind me and I would have had to well and truly explode to loose my 3rd place. My strategy was to go hard over the first marathon and see what happened. I did what I could and I am happy with 3rd place.’

Braddon DB Johnson has run well all week, always around the top 4 and today was no different, he finished the day with a huge smile content with his Simpson Desert experience. Equally, Helen Durand has been an extremely consistent 2nd lady, she too crossed the line looking incredibly happy and surprisingly fresh with her days running.

At the time of writing this, the runners have been out on course for just under 13 hours (1900 hours) and they have till 0400 on Saturday to complete the distance. With darkness, the temperatures are dropping and the pitch black sky is coming to life with an amazing display of stars.

It’s going to be a long night, wish everyone well and we will post results and times tomorrow. Now let the slide shows begin, let the fire roar and lets cheer the runners in!

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Big Red Run 2016 – The Interviews, Part One

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Niandi Carmont has joined me at Big Red Run (pictured above), she was originally going to run the main event but a foot fracture after The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica relegated her to the sidelines and recovery. However, injury progressed well and although not up to full speed or endurance, Niandi decided to run the Little Red Run (150km) which is the sister event to the the bigger, 250km main event.

It was always planned that Niandi would accompany my photography with a selection of interviews for web and Talk Ultra podcast. Here are the first two.

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The Turner Threesome: Dennis Turner, Megan Turner and Vicki Turner

Now what a nice day to spend a family holiday! Running 250km in the Australian outback is what I would call an off-the-beaten track holiday if ever there was one. I look at the three tired, dusty, smiling faces in front of me and I think it’s probably not such a bad idea. A father and 2 daughters taking time out to do something different, something that probably tightens and strengthens family bonds in the name of a common cause: type 1 diabetes.

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Vicki’s 9-year old daughter Ella has type 1 diabetes.

Dennis explains: Vicki was the instigator behind all this. She asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I said yes and here we are. I also spent a lot of time out in the desert in the 70’s with the oil exploration crew and I’ve travelled across the desert 4 or 5 times since then. It’s a beautiful country. It’s very green at the moment and a bit wet compared with what it normally is. Usually it is very  dry and desolate with not much covering the dunes.

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Vicki: Dad loves walking. He walked from one side of England to the other last year. As for myself I’ve never experienced the outback like this.We’re from South Australia.

Younger sister Megan chips in excitedly: I’m here for the fun of it. It’s all an adventure really. Once my father was convinced, he got me into doing this. He phoned me up, told me we were going to go on a trip across the desert but he failed to mention it involved walking 150km. We’ve stuck together so far as he likes to keep an eye on me (giggles).

But then her father goes on to explain that they’ve not taken the event light-heartedly and spend most weekends getting in mileage on the beaches and in the dunes as well as training a couple of times during the week. We get on pretty well. The desert brings out who you are, your character and your stamina. We love the outback all 3 of us, we’ve done a lot of travelling in it over the years.  But it is a real challenge mentally and physically to do it at my age.

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I ask him if he’s proud of his daughters and there’s no hesitation in his reply: Absolutely. I’m very proud of them. 

I can see on their faces that they are touched by the compliments and as I leave then I cannot help but think that the three of them will look back on this privileged time spent together in a remote part of their beautiful country with the conviction that they had chosen the right time in their lives to take up the challenge together.

***END***

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Sabrina Paxton: Thelma & Louise Oz-style.

A long-legged blonde with blue eyes and a self-mocking, bubbly style, Sabrina is a gutsy lady. You can see she’s an outdoorsy girl. Mother of 2 young boys and a passionate yoga teacher, she loves to share her experiences (and food) with others. Here, have some of these pine nuts in your freeze-dried Mexican rice. Good fats. And here’s a bit of mint dark chocolate too.

I warm to this runner who almost didn’t make it to the start. In fact she DIDN’T make it to the start.

I missed my interconnecting flight. My first flight from Sydney into Brisbane was a bit late. I missed check-in cut-off time. The hostess wouldn’t let me on. I sat in the airport for a while panicking. My friends on social media and Quantas pointed me in the direction of Isa, to hire a vehicle to come down here. So I hired a commercial vehicle with big headlights and I drove across the outback through the night. There wasn’t ever really a moment where I thought I was going to give up, I had so much community support. So many people have gotten behind me to enter this race. I knew when things didn’t go according to plan that I had to explore every possible avenue to get here. Admittedly I was a bit scared, I’d never driven through the outback before, never mind 700km alone at night just before a 250km multi-stage.

I ask her what gave her the adrenaline to think straight and react so quickly.

I guess I was in the frame of mind I had put in so much preparation and there was so much expectation. You just need to draw strength and reserves to pull it together. I was so focussed on getting here. I was pretty wired actually. There was only one point where I was quite fatigued so I stopped and got about 40 minutes rest, I set my alarm for 40min. I drove at about 70 to 80km an hour. It was at least 10 hours solid driving. I had the whole day in Brisbane to plan this carefully and did some research on the internet on distances and fuel stops so I took 2 jerrycans of fuel with me. I flew into Brisbane at 6.30, picked up the car, filled up the 2 jerrycans and even then I only just made it with the fuel gauge needle in red the last 80km to go. 

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This lady is not only gutsy but she can think on her feet. A little perplexed I ask her why she hadn’t planned her connecting flights any better.

I am a sole parent to 2 boys who have never spent a day away from me really so I couldn’t orchestrate any different times where my kids could be looked after by a person they trusted. It was my only option to get that flight. There was a 2-hour buffer time. It is just unfortunate hat that flight landed so late.

Sabrina has other qualities too, which are no doubt very important in long-distance endurance events. She turns negatives into positives and manages her expectations.

Looking back, I really enjoyed that ride into Birdsville, with sun up and all the beautiful landscapes. I felt very privileged. I had missed the start but it was no big deal as the organisers dropped me off at check-point one. Once I got out the car I pretty much put my race-kit on and started running. At the finish they had added a 13km section for me to make up for missing the first part. 

So all is well that  ends well. I believe that you can still do what you want to do even if it feels like life has thrown you a bit of a hard situation.

***END***

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BIG RED RUN Australia June 2016 – Entries Open

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Marathon des Sables celebrated 30-years in 2015. An amazing achievement. Just think about it, multi-day racing has been in existence for so many years. It’s a sign of how ultra running and the challenge of testing oneself over long distances and over multiple days is so appealing.

Racing is a word I like to use in a very casual way when I talk about ultra running. After all, only a very few runners can really race an ultra. The real story often is those who test and push themselves to see what is possible, to push a boundary, to achieve something that they thought impossible is what captivates me. Don’t get me wrong, I marvel at the front of the race but I can often feel a little removed from the supreme efforts.

Over recent years, multi-day racing has boomed due to several key factors:

  • It’s an opportunity to travel
  • It’s an opportunity to push boundaries
  • It may well be a once in a lifetime experience
  • It allows you to escape back to our primitive roots of survival and escape a material world
  • It affords an incredible opportunity to socialize with like minded people and create special bonds
  • You get memories that will last a lifetime

Imagine finding all of the above in Australia?

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The Big Red Run is the brainchild of Greg Donovan, a runner who ran the 4 Deserts and then decided he needed a 5th, back home, in Oz.

Taking on the classic multi-day racing format created by Marathon des Sables, runners at the Big Red Run will travel through the Simpson Desert on mainly untracked paths but gear is transported to each night’s camp allowing you travel each day without the burden of a heavy pack.

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Sleeping in tented accommodation for the entire race, the week is topped and tailed with accommodation at the Birsdville Caravan Park or Sports Hall.

Mixing sand dunes, gibber plains, salt lakes, clay flats and several station tracks, the Big Red Run is a true adventure. Camp will be near Big Red for the first 2 nights and on a gibber plain in a dune amphitheater for the next 2 nights. The final camp after the long day is on the Diamantina River just outside of Birdsville.

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Covering the classic distance of 250km in 6-stages the race is a great adventure into the Australian outback. 5 marathons and a long day of 84.39km make up the total distance for the race and if that is too much, a shorter race of 150km is available; The Little Red Run.

As with any race, the after party is a key element. Here in Oz they celebrate properly with a concert. Yes, runners gain entry into the ‘Birdsville Big Red Bash Music Festival’ that coincides with the end of the race.

Attracting a global audience, the Big Red Run in 2016 is inviting past winners to rejoin the race and to increase the competition, 2015 Marathon des Sables ladies champion, Elisabet Barnes will toe the line.

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Entries for this unique experience opened on the 16th September 2015 and places are limited.

I caught up with Greg Donovan, the Big Red Run race organizer in a one-to-one interview to find out about him, his history and of course the Big Red Run – Listen HERE

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Elisabet Barnes needs no introduction to a worldwide or UK audience, her rise in the sport in the past 12-months has been quite incredible. Speaking about the Big Red Run she said:

“I am really excited to be taking part in the Big Red Run. It will be my first time in Australia and getting the opportunity to experience it through a multi-stage desert race is just fantastic. Greg Donovan, the race director, has extensive experience from other multi-stage races around the world and he has created a truly unique event, aiming to offer the best possible experience to the participants. Having heard the feedback from previous entrants I can’t wait to head out to the Simpson Desert!”

Elisabet Barnes at the 2015 Marathon des Sables

Elisabet Barnes at the 2015 Marathon des Sables

In conjunction with Elisabet, iancorless.com is running a multi-day desert training camp in late January that will provide a perfect opportunity to gain information and train specifically for a desert race such as Marathon des Sables or Big Red Run – Details HERE

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Entries close on May 5th for the Big Red Run and all entrants who enter before January 16th will obtain an early bird discount.

Entry details are as follows:

Be sure to get in early and take advantage of the early bird specials outlined below which apply to both Australian and overseas participants!

All competitors and volunteers receive free tickets to the Birdsville Big Red Bash music festival on 5th and 6th July valued at over $300! Festival details to follow in late 2015.

Payment Installments

Register by 31st October 2015 Deposit $500 Balance8th April
Register 1st November 2015 to 16th January 2016 Deposit $1000 Balance 8th April*
Register 17th January 2016 onwards Full entry fee payable  on registration
ENTRIES CLOSE 15TH MAY 2016

* Balance of entry fees will be invoiced and payable by 8th April 2016. Entry fees can be paid by direct transfer or credit card. Credit card payment will incur a 2.5% surcharge.

Early Bird Offers

For all entrants who register BEFORE 16th January 2016

Early Bird extras include

  • $100 entry fee discount
  • Helicopter flight voucher valued at $60
  • Big Red Run fleece valued at $60
  • Big Red Run casual T Shirt valued at $40

Total Early bird extras valued at $260. Early bird packs will be sent by 29th February 2016.

UK and European entrants can find out key information HERE. Pricing is as follows:

Overseas Fundraiser: AUD $2,850
Overseas Non Fundraiser: AUD $3,200

Please use the contact form below to express an interest in the race or book a place.

All images ©alisonstepens / ©bigredrun