Episode 191 – Dr Jodie Moss

Episode 191Marathon des Sables discussion with Steve Diederich who co-hosts and Dr Jodie Moss tells us how to prepare for the heat!
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NEWS
Doyle Carpenter set a new WR for the M80-84 age group running 144.56 miles at Merrill’s Mile, USA.
James Stewart set a new FKT on the John Muir Way 130-miles 21:53:22
Mike Wardian ran the length of Delaware – 26:19:43 for approx 130-miles
Jo Meek set two FKT’s – Dartmoor 600 Challenge in 3:12 and Cornish Skyline in 2:55
Tofol Castanyer ran 54 peaks of 1000m+ in Spain in under 30 hours
Joey Campbell did the Nolans 14 in 41-hours
Damian Carr a Doble Ridgeway
David Riley ran a FKT for a Double and Triple Yorkshire 3 Peaks…
Xavier Thevenard is attempting the GR20, but it looks like he will not beat Francois D’Haene’s 31:06
Sabrina Verjee has started The Wainwrights in the UK. The record by Paul Tierney will take some breaking, tracking here
Erik Clavery will attempt the GR10 (current record 12 days 8 hours)
Rhys Jenkins to attempt Wales coast Path (870 miles)
Josh Pulattie currently on Oregon Coast Trail
To Start:
Jessica Pekari – PCT
Avery Collins – Nolans 14
Logan Williams – Tahoe Rim Trail
Aurelien Sanchez – GR10
Carla Molinaro – JOGLE
Alex Wright – Colorado Trail
Bexky Rogers – PCT
In other news…
Asif Amirat in the UK is creating a stir with his 100-marathons in 100-days. Many have been questioning his runs and becoming very vocal on social media. I have reached out to Asif for an interview.
RACES THAT WILL HAPPEN (tbc)
Montreux Trail Running Festival – Switzerland
Speedgoat 50k – USA
Fjallmaraton – Sweden
Rondane 100 – Norway
Pyrenees Stage Run – Spain
Marathon des Sables – Morocco
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INTERVIEW : DR JODIE MOSS
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One Sees Clearly Only With The Heart

One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Water splashed over the large brimmed hat. Gilles poured and poured on Didier’s head to help reduce his temperature. Droplets floated in the air like stars in space and as they made contact they exploded with dramatic effect.

Dry and crusty salt on cheeks and lips disappeared with the release of the water but moments later re-appeared as the searing 50+ degree temperatures evaporated the water that continued to pour.

It was midday. Gilles and Didier had only dented the 80km distance that needed to be covered before the 34-hour cut off would be imposed on the longest day of the iconic Marathon des Sables.

Moving onward, Didier embraced Gilles arm for stability. A very sore and enflamed right knee could give way at any moment resulting with a fall. Gilles as ever was faithful to the cause and provided the support and self-sacrifice to ensure that Didier’s journey to the line was safe and as trouble free as possible.

Darkness approached and with it some food and rest. With a new lease of life, the two continued into 13 km of relentless dunes that reached two to three meters in height. In the distance a green laser showed the direction to follow. It was a beacon of hope, slowly but surely getting closer. Two become one and as the sunrises and the heat returns, victory and the opportunity to fight another day seems possible.

From the finish line two shadows on the horizon appear. It is 4pm in the afternoon. The warriors have been on the trail for 32 hours. Tired, weary and emotional they approach the line.

I see a tattoo glisten in the scorching light on the arm of Didier; an MDS logo on his arm with nine stars around it, a star for every completed MDS. Next to the 9th star a space, would he obtain that 10th star at this edition of the race?

In the final meters to the line you can hear the shouts from MDS staff, “Bravo Gilles”, a marshal shouts “Allez Didier” and then the clapping and whoop whooping starts. It’s done, they cross the line an incredible 75.7 km’s completed over some of the most demanding conditions possible.

Didier falls into the arms of Gilles in an embrace similar to a small child who has just found a lost mother.

Tears stream down his face as he sobs uncontrollably. Gilles, all smiles, pulls away and kisses him on each cheek with a passion seldom seen. It’s a moment to savour! They are the last two runners on the course and the moment epitomizes all that the Marathon des Sables represents. It shows a bond between two people and confirms all that is good and pure in human nature and ultra-running.

You see this is no ordinary achievement.

Gilles is a guide and Didier is blind.

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     Article was first published in 2013 and later for Runultra

Lanzarote Training Camp 2020 – Day 7

It was a cloudy day but the anticipated rain never came, thank goodness! In some respect, today was an easier day with just two run sessions and no talks.

But… the day did include the in-famous Volcano Hill Reps.

This kicks off with an easy 5km along the coast and then ideally, 6 repetitions of a loop up and down a volcano. It’s a perfect session that requires strength, running skill, an ability to handle technical terrain, good lungs and at time, nerves of steel.

The climb is approximately 100m up a narrow path of stoney sand. It requires commitment and depending on ability, some strong will and nerve.

The descent is very stoney with lots of loose rock, sand and gravel. As Elisabet Barnes said post the session:

“🌋 Volcano hill reps in a moody landscape was on the menu today. I’ve been nursing a cold so if I’m honest this shot was more a case of posing for the camera 😂🙈, but the others did work hard! 💪💪 I love this session. Some people just fearlessly bang out the reps and thrive on the technical terrain, but for others it’s a huge challenge and they may need to overcome fear of heights, fear of slipping or falling on the technical trail, step outside their comfort zone, and hopefully they leave a little more confident as a result.”

Elisabet nailed it in her words. It was great to see confidence increase along with speed on loops, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Several even did a 7th and even an 8th loop.

Back at Club La Santa, Shane Benzie was doing some one-to-one coaching sessions using his skills to improve running technique.

An extended break for lunch was followed with an ‘easy’ run for all groups to shake out the legs after what has been an intensive block of running.

2021 Training Camp dates and information will be available HERE soon.

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Lanzarote Training Camp 2020 – Day 5 and 6

The sun quite literally has been shining on the camp providing us with perfect training days to replicate scenarios that one would find in the Sahara at MDS or technical situations that one would find in races like The Coastal Challenge or Everest Trail Race.

We did a long Coastal Run of 24km on Thursday morning in a self-sufficient manner, the camp attendees broken down in to 4-groups, Gemma Game, Sondre Amdahl, Elisabet Barnes and Ian Corless each leading 4-8 participants at a pace relevant to the group ability.

The coastline here is stunning offering a wonderful views with the smell of the sea in the nose and a wind blowing in from Africa.

There was plenty of climbing too and tough, technical and hard terrain. Of course what goes up, must come down.

In the afternoon, after a relaxing lunch, Jodie Moss who placed 8th at the 2019 MDS did a talk on heat acclimation and how one should prepare for specifically MDS and the differences one needs to consider if going to a humid race like TCC.

The day concluded with a night-skills session with Sondre and Elisabet leading. All about the skills needed and required to run at night and they then did a short 5km run.

Friday was all about the ‘Long Day!’ For the first time on our camp, we did a point-to-point route of almost marathon distance that crossed the island from Uga and back to Club La Santa.

Ironically, the day started with a little light rain as we were transferred to Uga. It soon left us though leaving us with a perfect, if not windy day.

The terrain is constantly mixed in Lanzarote and the volcanic landscape at all times exciting. We managed 1800m vertical in constantly challenging terrain that replicated a day at MDS perfectly.

Many got an opportunity to use poles and test them, vital if they plan to use them in a race. There is a real technique and once mastered, a real benefit can be gained especially if walking will make a up a bulk of your multi-day pace.

We had just one aid station at 22km (Thanks John and Carmen), so, for much of the day, everyone was carrying a pack of 4-5kg, ideal preparation for self-sufficient multi-day.

The ‘Long Day’ proved to be stunning with the fastest group completing in around 4h 15m and the walkers in 6h 40m. They all now have a real confidence boost knowing that a day at MDS, TCC or ETR is completely doable.

The day concluded with Elisabet Barnes leading a talk and practical session on foot care.

It has been a great couple of days!

Info the 2021 Training Camp will be updated soon HERE

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AZORES and JORDAN 2020 with ULTRA X and MYRACEKIT

With a New Year looming it’s finally great to announce that in May 2019 I agreed to join forces with ULTRA X and myRaceKit to work with them in promotion of two events on the 2020 calendar:

Azores April 23rd to 26th

Jordan October 3rd to 11th

ULTRA X have had a great 2019 with events in Sri Lanka, Jordan, Mexico and the Azores, in 2020 they move forward:

  • Sri Lanka – March
  • Azores – April
  • Jordan – October
  • Mexico – November

 

  • Bolivia – tbc
  • China – tbc

ULTRA X have brought a new experience to the multi-day world offering race entry at accessible prices, easy registration, a global series, a community and club for all and uniquely, they a proposing a ULTRA X World Championship that will take place every 2-years, starting in 2021.

Although new to the multi-day world, ULTRA X had significant growth in 2019 and now with the help of myRaceKit, specialist equipment supplier for multi-day races, 2020 looks set to be a great year.

Rebeca from myRaceKit is an accomplished ultra-runner, here at the 2019 Marathon des Sables.

Many will know myRaceKit through two-times Marathon des Sables and multi-day specialist, Elisabet Barnes. Elisabet was the owner of myRaceKit until she sold to the new owner, Rebeca Ehrnrooth, Elisabet remaining as a shareholder.

Moving in to 2020, myRaceKit are the exclusive equipment partners for ULTRA X events including pre-race weekends. At the Azores and Jordan races, Elisabet Barnes and Sondre Amdahl will fly the myRaceKit flag amongst two hotly contested races with runners from all over the world attending.

Elisabet and Sondre training in Lanzarote in 2019. They will return again, January 2020.

AZORES

The ULTRA X Azores 125 is 2-day event  in April and is designed as introduction to the multi-day format. It is the first half-distance race Ultra X have offered. The Azores are truly spectacular situated 1000-miles in the Atlantic Ocean. Close to Portugal, this tiny archipelago of islands offers incredible trails along volcanoes, through amazing green valleys and past stunning lagoons.

Taking place on the island of Sao Miguel, nicknamed “the Green Island”. It is one of the nine volcanic islands based out in the Mid Atlantic. Governed by Portugal, this wild and remote archipelago is characterised by dramatic landscapes, fishing villages and green pastures. The climate of the Azores is very mild for such a northerly location, due to the marine influence, temperatures remain around 20c all year-round.

Racing takes place over 2-days, with 83km to cover on day-1 and 42km to cover on day-2. It’s not an easy challenge! Included in entry is accommodation during the race, race entry, rationed water, medical team, ground assistance and a medal at the finish. The race is self-sufficient, so runners must come prepared to survive for the duration of the race.

Enter here https://tickets.trumin.com/ultra-x-azores-2020 £295.00

JORDAN

Ultra X Jordan (previously the Wadi Rum Ultra) takes participants through the land of Lawrence of Arabia. The mystical course takes competitors through historic sites, into dramatic Wadis and over magnificent sand dunes.

Wadi Rum’s nickname is ‘the valley of the moon’ and you will see why.

Its landscape, characterised by unique towering rock formations will truly blow you away, as will the challenge. As locations go, this place is unrivalled in its beauty.

A 5-day race, the race will cover daily distances of 46km, 50km, 70km, 46km and finally, 38km. As will all ULTRA X races, the event is self-sufficient, so, runners need to carry food, clothes, sleeping bag and all they need for the event. Rationed water and a tent is provided.

Enter here: https://tickets.trumin.com/ultra-x-jordan-2020-deposit Deposit is £300.00

Speaking to Sam Heward from ULTRA X in October, I expressed how happy I was to be joining in 2020:

“It is great to see that Ultra X are creating new races, in new locations around the world. Ultra X 125 Azores is something a little different with it being just a two day race, this will appeal to many as a mini adventure and an opportunity to test themselves before stepping up to a 5-day format. I have heard much about the Azores and it’s a place I am keen to visit and explore.”

 

Roll on 2020, some new trails and experiences.

Contact ULTRA X https://ultra-x.co/

Contact myRaceKit https://www.myracekit.com/

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The 2019 Ultra Mirage El Djerid 100k #UMED – Race Summary

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The 2019 Ultra Mirage El Djerid 100k #UMED is over and what an epic 3rd edition of the race! Pre-race favourites, Rachid El Morabity and Bouchra Lundgren Eriksen were crowned the champions.

Three editions and three courses, the 2018 and 2019 courses similar but as race director, Amir Ben Gacem said pre-race, the 2019 route would be harder due to more soft-sand in key sections. The route was harder and this was confirmed by all alumni.

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100km desert based in Tozeur, Tunisia, North Africa brought runners from all over the world to experience something very special in a unique environment. The start and finish at the Star Wars film set made famous as Luke Skywalker’s home – Mos Espa.

The 1st edition had just 60 runners from 12 countries, for 2018, these numbers escalated to over 100 and a remarkable 20+ countries for 2018 and now 168 toed the line in 2019.

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The Ultra Mirage© El Djerid (UMED) is the first 100km Ultra Trail taking place in the stunning Tunisian Sahara desert. Tozeur is the main city of the Djerid, known for its stunning surroundings.

Soft-sand, small dunes, rocks, dried river beds and multiple oasis, participants had 20-hours to finish the race with very specific deadlines to reach each of the checkpoints which will be between 15-20km apart. Starting at 0700, the race concluded at 0300 with a drop-out rate of 30%.

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On paper, the 2019 editions of the race, despite a harder route, looked like it may have the bonus of cooler temperatures… Not so, race day proved to be a scorcher with temperatures hitting 40+ degrees causing problems for runners who baked in the intense heat – the checkpoints were too far away for such intense heat!

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The early stages of the race were dictated by Evgenii Glyva who set a ridiculous pace considering the distance ahead.

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Tunisian runner, Mosbah Lagha pursued at a distance and quite sensibly, any runner who was hoping to be around at the finish line decided to stay around Rachid El Morabity, the 2018 champion.

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Chefia Hendaoui who placed 3rd last year, from the gun, left the top women trailing behind. For over 10km, she actually ran ahead of Rachid finally succumbing and joining the top contenders of Elisabet Barnes, Bouchra Lundgren Eriksen, Oksana Riabova and more.

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After Cp1, Rachid trailed the duo upfront by over 10-minutes. It was enough for him to decide to react and what a reaction. The desert king closed the distance in no time and with another change of gear pulled away at a ridiculous pace. It took less than 10km for the gap to extend to almost 30-minutes.

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The question would be, could Rachid hold this pace? In 2018 he crumbled with 20km to go and fought fatigue and dehydration to take victory, but in the process he collapsed in the arms of RD Amir and ended up on IV drips.

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This year he was prepared. I have seen Rachid run all over the world and here he impressed me like no other time – cool, calm, controlled and metronomic. Somehow, on a more difficult course he ran a new CR crossing the line 8:21:39.

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Behind the Moroccan, it was carnage as the heat and course took its toll. But early protagonist Mosbah Lagha from Tunisia flew the home flag and battled hard to hold on for 2nd in 10:17:02 ahead of another Moroccan, Rachid Aamimi El Armani who crossed the line in 11:18:21.

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For the women, 2018 champion Elisabet Barnes was feeling strong and after cp1 and pushed the pace.

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Bouchra Lundgren Eriksen was having none of it though and marked the move eventually taking the lead. Bouchra pulled away, an error going off course gave Elisabet the lead once again but Bouchra quickly hunted her down and regained control.

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After cp2, the heat and soft-sand took its toll with many drop-outs including the 2018 1st and 2nd place runners, Elisabet and Sondre Amdahl.

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Bouchra was now taking control of the front of the race and last year’s 2nd place, Oriane Dujardin kept her in contact until the final 25% when Bouchra pulled away to take victory in 11:20:54.

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Oriane was a clear 2nd in 12:02:23 and Judith Havers from Germany placed 3rd in 13:24:06.

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The story of the day though was intense heat, a tough and relentless course and dehydration. As in any race, nothing is guaranteed. Rachid’s performance was spectacular, the CR may well last for some time!

STARTERS: 168
FINISHERS: 117
ABANDONS / DNF: 51

New record : Rachid El Morabity

Men overall

1. Rachid Elmorabity🇲🇦08:21:39

2. Mosbah Lagha 🇹🇳10:17:02

3. Rachid Aamimi El Amrani 🇲🇦11:18:21

Women overall 

1. Bouchra Lundgren Eriksen🇩🇰11:20:54

2. Oriane Dujardin🇫🇷12:02:23

3. Judith Havers🇩🇪13:24:06

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You can obtain more specific information from the race website, HERE

RACE IMAGES HERE

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Ultra Mirage El Djerid 100km 2019 Race Preview – Fierce Mind’s Edition

The 2019 Ultra Mirage El Djerid 100k #UMED rolls closer. Now in its 3rd edition, this 100km desert race based in Tozeur, Tunisia, North Africa brings 300 runners from all over the world to experience something very special in a unique environment.

The 1st edition had just 60 runners from 12 countries, for 2018, these numbers escalated to over 150 and a remarkable 20+ countries for 2018 and now 300 will toe the line.

Tozeur is the main city of the Djerid, known for its stunning surroundings it has a mixture of rocky mountains, valleys, salt lakes and desert dunes. The Ultra Mirage© El Djerid (UMED) is the first 100km Ultra Trail taking place in the stunning Tunisian Sahara desert.

A single-stage race that takes runners across a wide diversity of terrain, the start is at Mos Espa, famous as a movie set and tourist attraction as it was the home of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movie. The film set still exists and provides all involved a great opportunity for a photo before or after the race!

Soft sand, small dunes, rocks, dried river beds and multiple oasis, participants have 20-hours to finish the race with very specific deadlines to reach each of the checkpoints which will be between 15-20km apart. Starting at 0700, the race concludes at 0300.

Offering 4 ITRA points and equal prize money for the top female and male athletes, the 2019 edition of UMED looks set to be a great race: #1 EUR 3000, #2 EUR 1500, #3 EUR 500.

2018 Champions, Rachid El Morabity and Elisabet Barnes return to defend their crowns, can they beat the course records? Mohamed El Morabity has a faster time from 2017, (08:48:11) but the race route was very different! Elisabet Barnes set the 2018 record, 10:12:12. However, the 2019 route does have approximately 20% course change, and in the words of Race Director, Amir Ben Gacem:

“From cp3 at 50km is identical to last year: straight long lines in the desert. The first part will be the same for the first 20km across Chott el Gharsa. But between 20km and 50km we are probably changing the route to skip the road section in favour of plain desert. It will be more difficult as there will be no shade at all except at check points, and there will be more soft sand.”

MEN

Rachid is the outright favourite and little more needs to be said, he is the desert king. Rachid’s brother, Mohamed, will also return. The duo, both desert specialists, encountered difficult races in 2018 – the intense heat challenging them. Rachid collapsed at the finish line with dehydration and exhaustion, his brother making the podium after a very difficult final 20km. As desert experts, Rachid a multiple champion at Marathon des Sables, Mohamed equally a desert expert, but often in the shadow of his older brother, they are without doubt favorites for the 2019 title.

Sondre Amdahl from Norway will also return after making the podium in 2018 and nearly upstaging the desert king, Rachid. The final 10km really was a spectacular battle as they traded run stride and cadence to be champion. Sondre has raced at Marathon des Sables where he placed in the top 10. Certainly, the single-stage format and 100km distance will suit him as he proved last-year, however, he has been injured recently and therefore his form may well be below his own exacting standards.

Christophe Le Saux, France, also toes the line. He is a long distance expert, has a great history with MDS and he loves the desert. The men’s race will be interesting in 2019!

 

The UK’s Ben Whitfield will not be a name you know, but mark my words, you will after the 2019 UMED!

WOMEN

Two-time Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes, will head up the women’s race and after placing 4th overall, setting a CR in 2018, she is without doubt the favorite. A solid June and July saw Elisabet clock some great training miles which she has tried to maintain throughout August.

Bouchra Lundgren Eriksen will push Elisabet for the victory, a very accomplished marathon runner and podium finisher at MDS, she may well be the one person who challenges the MDS Queen, Elisabet, for victory.

Oriane Dujardin placed 2nd in 2018 and ran a solid and consistent race. With more experience and one year of training, she will once again contend the podium.

Rebecca Ferry has experience in multi-day racing and ultra-running, particularly at the 100km distance. She recently ran CCC and DNF’d, however, she has kept her powder dry since. If she has a good day, she will definitely contend the podium.

Chefia Hendaoui is the female Tunisian hope and she made the podium in 2018 – can she place higher?

As in any race, nothing is guaranteed. As the distance takes its toll, the soft-sand wears the runners down and the heat exhausts, anything can happen. Stay tuned for the action as it unfolds in Tunisia. No doubt, some names will shine that are not mentioned here.

One thing is for sure, the desert, Tunisia and the UMED organisation will provide a special experience for all.

Runners will start to arrive in Tunisia from Thursday 28th and transfer to Tozeur. Friday is registration and briefing and then the action starts Saturday, 0700.

You can obtain more specific information from the race website, HERE

Multi-Day Racing – It’s not complicated

It’s Not Complicated…

Let’s get one thing clear, multi-day racing is simple, it is often over complicated and this creates too many questions and too much confusion.

Let’s hark back to Patrick Bauer’s pioneering days and simplify the process, just like he did. Over the years I have interviewed and chatted with many runners in bivouac and after racing who have done just that, they had applied simple logic and worked out what would work for them. 

Yes, they had taken advice, looked at websites, processed information but importantly they had found out what worked for them. They realized early on that they were an individual and as such, they needed a personal approach to multi-day racing and not a generic one. Not all multi-day races are the same, some are completely self-sufficient, some are semi self-sufficient and others are supported where all you need is transported for you.

When you break a race down, particularly a self-sufficient race, key things are really important:

Pack

Must fit and be comfortable when loaded. Have enough room (but not too much) for all your equipment and provide easy access to fluid. You must also make sure that your race number is visible as per race rules. Think about additional pockets, such as a waist belt for snacks.

Sleeping Bag

Lightweight, packs small and warm enough. I would always recommend a sleeping bag and jacket as it offers more flexibility, reduced weight and reduced pack size. Popular sleeping bags year-on-year are PHD, Yeti and OMM. Read HERE on how to choose a sleeping bag.

Clothes

You just need what you will run in. However, a spare pair of socks is often commonplace and many runners have one or all of the following: a warm base layer, a lightweight down jacket or waist coat, buff and maybe long lightweight pants. Remember, you have to carry everything, so, it’s all about getting the pack as close to minimum weight. At MDS that is 6.5kg plus water.

Sleeping Matt

It’s optional but a good nights sleep is important and usually those who do not take one wish they had. It provides comfort and importantly an insulating layer between you and the ground. Two options exist – inflatable and roll out solid foam. The choice is yours. The inflatable ones offer more comfort, more flexibility in packing but with poor admin, you do run the risk of a puncture. I’ve used inflatable for many years with no issue. A solid foam Matt will last the week with no risks of problems but they roll large and need to sit outside the pack.

Shoes and Gaiters

Shoes (more below) are personal, just make sure they have a good fit, appropriate drop for your needs and suit your run/walk style with enough durability for you. I say ‘you’ because someone like Rachid El Morabity can complete the whole of MDS race in say 21-hours whereas most people won’t even do just the long day in that time – his shoe shoe choice will and can be very different to what most of us need!

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Mount Toubkal, Morocco – Embrace the highest peak in North Africa

Located in the Toubkal National Park, Morocco, at 4167m, Jebel Toubkal is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is also, the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World.

Located just 75-minutes drive from Marrakech (approximately 40-miles) the National Park and the Toubkal summit has long been an excellent opportunity for those looking for a challenge, either for a specific purpose or as an add-on to an active holiday. As ultra-running, mountain running and the desire to explore new places grows. Morocco and Toubkal is a great place to adventure. Toubkal is considered by many as a great entry level mountain and it’s altitude is a great allure.

Toubkal has two-seasons, Winter and Summer. In winter, summiting the peak brings different challenges as it is completely covered in snow and ice. Winter mountain skills are required and the use of crampons are essential.

So, in this article, we look at Toubkal as a summer adventure and in due course, I will follow up with a Winter article.

PRACTICALITIES

Flights to Marrakech are in abundance and if you plan ahead, you can get very good deals, particularly from some of the budget airlines.

If you have not been to Marrakech before, I would say it is essential to soak up the atmosphere of the place by staying in the Medina (souk) in a typical Riad. Riad’s are standard Moroccan accommodation and like anywhere, you can go cheap or expensive. I have several favourites. My all time favourite, the ‘Dixneuf La Ksour’ (http://www.dixneuf-la-ksour.com ) which has only 6-rooms, excellent staff and they serve wonderful local food in the evenings and they have a licence to serve alcohol, if that is your thing!

My advice would be, arrive Marrakech and then spend two days sightseeing. Visit the Medina, get lost and haggle for a bargain. On the following day you could visit the Yves-Saint-Laurent Museum (https://www.museeyslmarrakech.com/fr/ ) and the Jardin de Marjorelle (https://www.jardinmajorelle.com)  both worth the effort. There are many other things that one can do, but this is a good starting point. You could then go to Imlil/ Toubkal for your adventure and the return back to Marrakech for another day or two before returning home.

TOUBKAL

Depending on your budget, you can either get a taxi or a private car to the village of Imlil. This is the starting place for all summit attempts. A taxi will be 35-40 euro and private car 80 euro.

OPTION ONE:

This is a standard option for Toubkal, and what most people do on a first attempt.

They leave Marrakech after breakfast, looking to arrive Imlil, say for 11am. You then meet your *guide, have tea (nearly always compulsory) and then leave for the refuge.

*A guide is now compulsory in the National Park and you cannot enter without one. There are currently three checkpoints that you go through and on each occasion your guide must provide your passport and the details are logged.

Imlil to the refuge is designed to introduce you to the terrain and slowly adapt you to the altitude. Imlil is at 1800m and the ‘Les Mouflons’ refuge is at 3207m. Depending on experience and adaptation, Imlil to the refuge can take 3-6 hours. 

Leaving Imlil, you have a narrow trail that rises quickly to a road and then the village of Aroumd. Here you will meet the first passport control and then you cross a floodplain before starting the climb to the refuge. The terrain is rocky and rough but not dangerous.

Chamharouch is the next passport control and here you will see a large white rock that is a Muslim Shrine. Here it is possible to get water, food if required and soft-drinks such as Coke.

The path now climbs steeply and gently reaches upwards, once again the terrain is rocky. You will arrive at two disused building that now sell drinks and here is the 3rd and final passport check. Before you know it, you will arrive at the refuge located at 3207m.

Depending on what you have arranged with your guide, you will have a meal at the refuge and then you will stay in a shared dorm with all the other climbers. These dorms are often unisex, so be prepared. You also need to be self-sufficient in terms of sleeping bag, additional clothes and warm layers. Everyone usually sleeps by 8/9pm.

The summit day will typically start at 0400 with breakfast and the intention will be to start the climb asap. Sunrise is approximately 0700, so, depending on your projected speed, the guide will advise on a departure time so you can climb from 3207m to 4167m.

In summer, the trail is very dry and although not a technical climb, Toubkal does have a great deal of loose scree and rocks. With the addition of the demands of altitude, the climb can provide an excellent challenge for someone new to experiences like this. Or, experienced runners and climbers can use it as a form of training. The trail goes straight up often zig-zagging to ease the gradient. Once at the saddle, the trail goes left and right. Here you go left for a final push to the summit. On a clear day, the views are magnificent and if you time it correctly, the sunrise can be truly magical.

Importantly, be prepared for the cold. It may be 30-40 degrees in Marrakech but the summit can be very cold and windy. Make sure you have wind proof jacket/ trousers, warm layer, hat and gloves as a minimum.

Most arrive at the summit between 0700 and 0900, you spend time soaking the views and taking photos and then return via the path you came. (There is another way down, more on that later!)

Descending becomes easier from an altitude perspective, with every meter you go down, the easier it will become to breathe. However, I think many find the descent harder and more challenging than the climb. This is due to the loose scree and rocky terrain. If experienced, one can drop from the summit to the refuge in 60-75 minutes. However, many eek their way down and falling/ slipping is a very real possibility. To clarify, there are no exposed ridges or real danger. It will just be a slip and a slide.

Once back at the refuge, many take a break for lunch and they will look to descend back to Imlil in the afternoon via the exact same route they went up the previous day. The out and back route is approximately 22 miles.

Once back in Imlil, it makes sense to book a local Riad, they are very inexpensive and serve great Tagine. The following morning you can arrange for a taxi/ car to collect you and you will be back in Marrakech for lunch.

OPTION TWO:

If you are experienced or want a challenge. Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil can be done in one day. I have done this twice now, once in Winter and once in Summer.

Most recently (August) I left Marrakech at 0530. I met my guide at 0700. We summited at midday and I was back in Imlil before 4pm in the afternoon. I had a car collect me and I was back in Marrakech before 7pm.

The above is not for everyone, but for me, it was an ideal opportunity to fit an action packed day between holiday days, before and after in Marrakech.

OPTION THREE:

As option two, but from the summit it is possible to take another route down. This is a more challenging descent with some exposure, very loose scree and lots of technical rocks. In terms of distance, it is maybe a little less than the standard up and down route but it does offer more excitement! I took this route down on my first trip to Toubkal. It rejoins the path up to the refuge below Les Mouflons.

EQUIPMENT:

During the day, shorts and t-shirt is ideal for the climb to the refuge. Shoes should be good trail running shoes with toe protection. Hikers will probably use walking shoes, approach shoes or boots. I used VJ Sport MAXx shoes which were perfect on these trails. You will need a pack and in that pack a change of clothes, warm layers, a sleeping bag and the capacity to carry liquid and some snacks. Refuge to the summit and back can be cold and windy. Be prepared with a Primaloft warm layer, gloves, hat and wind proof pants and jacket. It is recommended to have waterproof (just in case!)

I think poles for most people are an essential item. They will considerably help on the climb up and on the descent, they will add a security blanket.

TIME OF YEAR:

August for me is perfect. Marrakech is hot but has less tourists. Expect 30-40 degrees during the day. Imlil to the refuge, temperatures will be somewhere between 15 degs at 0700 and 30 deg in the afternoon. May can still have snow, so, be careful.

BOOKING:

The refuge at Toubkal is a great place to liaise with in regard to booking. 

refugetoubkal@gmail.com  – Liaise with Hamid.

Refuge Tariffs:

34.5 euro per person per night full board ( Dinner, breakfast and lunch )

29.5 euro per person per night half board ( Dinner and breakfast  )

19.5 euros per person per night ( without meals )

The refuge can also arrange the following for you:

Transport from and back to Marrakech

Accommodation in Imlil

Mountain Guide – A guide will be approximately 80 euro per day and is payable in cash only.

IMLIL HOTEL:

The Riad Atlas Prestige is located on the climb out of Imlil. It’s cozy, provides an excellent service and the food is great. It also very inexpensive at typically 30 euros a night for 2-people.

The hotel is on booking.com or you can contact directly +212 666 494954

SAFETY:

Morocco is safe. I have been travelling in different areas for over 7-years and I have always had a great time with wonderful experiences. Of course, there are cultural differences and as a tourist, it is we that must adapt. Women in particular should consider ‘covering up’ a little more, particular if running. But, in Marrakech, there are so many tourists that pretty much anything goes. Taking photographs, one should be careful. The locals really do not like it, and this I know from first hand experience.

Unfortunately, in December 2018 two girls were murdered between Imlil and Toubkal and this created a stir worldwide and locally. Hence the need for a guide and three passport controls now. I cannot emphasise enough that this incident was a one-off and to clarify, I have been back to Morocco and Imlil twice since this incident and at no point was I worried.

CONCLUSION:

An active weekend away or part of a longer trip to Morocco, Imlil and Toubkal is a real adventure and is highly recommended. For example, it would be quite feasible to fly from the UK (for example) on a Friday and return on Monday having visited Imlil and summited Toubkal over the weekend.

For those with more time Imlil is also a great place for a longer stay. There are many trails to explore in the area and the place is a hidden gem.

For those combining holiday and adventure, Imlil and Toubkal is a great active outlet amidst a more relaxed time in Marrakech. If you are planning to be in Morocco for longer than 7-days, also consider heading to the coast to visit Essaouira which is a 4-hour drive. It’s an old place with a very different feel to Marrakech. Of course, the options are only limited by your imagination and budget – it is also possible to go and stay overnight in the desert and have a bivouac experience.

As destinations go, Morocco is a magical place.

PYRAMID TRAINING for Marathon des Sables

Runners from all over the world are looking ahead to April and the next edition of Marathon des Sables.

It’s daunting and it can be intimidating.

Planning is key. All runner’s need to periodise training so that you get the most from it.

This ‘planning’ often comes in the form of a PYRAMID. The ‘classic’ pyramid training method is well established.

BUT, in this article I want us to look at this pyramid in two ways by looking at two different runners.

Runner 1– Runs regularly but MDS is a new target and pushes the boundaries of what they thought possible.

Runner 2– Has completed MDS and wants to go back and improve.

First of all, both runners need to count back. Let’s assume that training will start in June.

  1. April – MDS race.
  2. March
  3. February
  4. January
  5. December
  6. November
  7. October
  8. September
  9. August
  10. July
  11. June

Counting back, it’s easy to look at the objective in real terms and understand what one needs to achieve.

Depending on experience, how this plan is put together is very much dependent on the individual. However, certain key elements should be present in any training plan and this article is intended to provide the basics from which you can develop a strategy that works for you. I must stress, for you!

RUNNER 1

As stated, runner 1 “Runs regularly but MDS is a new target and pushes the boundaries of what they thought possible.”Therefore, a classic pyramid will be ideal.

See below:

Decide on objectives for the year, decide onCand targets, obviously, the ultimate A is MDS. Put them in a diary and ideally have a wall planner so that you have an overview of the year. It’s easy to see how a year looks on a planner. C should be something that one trains through, can be more challenging and have a taper for, A is very specific such as a training camp.

For example:

  1. April – MDS race – A RACE
  2. March
  3. February
  4. January – A
  5. December
  6. November – B
  7. October
  8. September
  9. August – C
  10. July
  11. June

MDS is a long way, typically 250km sobase training and getting the miles in is key. I have allocated 12 weeks for this in the plan below. Hours of easy miles progressively building up to a target, let’s say a marathon. It is always good to have a goal and a target to aim for. The is a training race/ event and will have no taper, you would race through it as a training long run.

Progressing through the season, this will be ‘the build phase’ so it’s a good idea to place a objective, in this case, November.  The B will allow you to progress to the objective and then the ultimate goal.

You can’t perform well at every event and this is why C,and targets are important. Ultimately, MDS is the one in which you must perform.

As in any plan, flexibility is needed. Nothing is fixed and one must be flexible and listen to one’s body. I recommend building for 3 weeks, recovering on the 4thweek and then building again (see the pyramid above)

  • 12 weeks of base – June/ July/ August
  • 8 weeks – September/ October
  • 6 weeks – November/ December
  • 4 weeks – December
  • 3 weeks – January
  • 3 weeks – Specific phase – February/ March
  • 3 weeks – Preparation phase – March
  • 3 weeks – Taper to event – March/ April
  • RACE

BE SPECIFIC

Marathon des Sables will need you to be specific. For example:

  • You will be carrying a pack that on day-1 of the race will weight at minimum, 8kg.
  • You will be racing in hot conditions.
  • You will be self-sufficient.
  • You will be compromised on calories.
  • You will almost certainly walk more than you anticipate.

The above list goes on and on and as training progresses, you should refer the list and asses importance. For now, I would place the above list in the following priority: walk!

No need to worry about the pack and the self-sufficient element now, the priority is on training.

As training progresses asses, one’s strengths and weaknesses and then adjust the plan.

  • Do you need to work on strength and core?
  • If you have poles, do you know how to use them?
  • Are you recovering?
  • How is your diet?
  • What is my resting heart rate, is it fluctuating?
  • Am I being specific and thinking of the race terrain and simulating it?

And so, on and so on. The above questions are a starting point. Read through the list and add your own questions to appraise what type of runner you are.

As the time progresses, not only will you feel more confident, you will be able to understand what needs to be done to achieve your goal.

RUNNER 2

As stated, runner 2 “Has completed MDS and wants to go back and improve.”

You may say, well, the above pyramid for runner 1 applies here.

Yes and no?

I want to throw a curve ball in here and suggest reversing the pyramid.

For runner 1, the emphasis is building a base and then slowly but surely progressing up the pyramid to the pinnacle, MDS. Speedwork and faster sessions are not as important as building the endurance for the event, speed will form a very small element of training.

But we know that runner 2 already has a good base of fitness. How do we know? Well, they have already completed MDS…

So, if they are going back to the race, almost certainly, they will be looking to progress. So, before planning training, the following should be asked:

  • Did they lack endurance?
  • Did they lack speed?
  • Was strength and core weak?
  • Were they mentally strong?

With answers to the following, one can look at the pyramid in a new way, turn it upside down and instead of putting a priority on long steady sessions early on, they can place a priority on:

  • Strength and core
  • Speedwork
  • The mental approach

Speed training is usually used to add the finishing touches to a solid block of training. But as stated, as an MDS finisher, they already have endurance, so, working on speed now is a great use of time.

  • June, July and August can be used to get faster and stronger with a C target, something like a fast(er) half-marathon or marathon.
  • September and October can be used to add endurance to the speed so that longer sessions can also be faster and at the end, a B target.
  • November, December and January can then be used to add speed to the endurance to complete the event and importantly, the long day. This period can can have an A objective.
  • February is about adding the finishing touches.
  • March about being specific and the tapering.

If you are someone looking to perform and improve, you need to be more self-critical. Plan your training and periodise your training so that you are able to (hopefully) predict good form on 1 or multiple Arace days in a year. This is not easy.

Remember you can only hold form for a limited length of time and if you want to peak, you need to make sure that this planning stage is done early so that you understand what you are trying to achieve. It’s all about stepping stones. And make sure you consider the terrain that the race will take place on.

Finally…

This article is not a hard and fast plan, it’s a guide for you to go away, look at your targets having assessed past targets and hopefully it makes you think about future objectives so that you can plan for a successful, injury free year of running and racing.

Are you runner 1 or runner 2?

There are many more questions to ask and points to consider when planning but these should come after getting the training plan and schedule prepared.

  • Preparing for heat. (Heat chamber)
  • Planning equipment.
  • Working on food for the race.

Fancy an early season multi-day TRAINING CAMP? Join us in Lanzarote with 2x Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes HERE

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