Sue Ding and the 2018 Marathon des Sables #MDS2018

Marathon des Sables is an iconic race. For over 30-years it has been the leading example of multi-day racing all over the world. It has often been copied, but never bettered. In its incredible history, runners from all over the world have toed the line for the experience of a lifetime.

In 2018, for the first time ever, a Malaysian lady toed the line in the hope to be the first Malaysian lady ever to complete the race.

Sue Ding has been living in the UK for over 20-years. She came from Kuala Lumpur to study law at Liverpool University and then stayed successfully building her own legal practice in London. She is an entrepreneur, business woman and is extremely successful.

Running became an escape from the everyday stress of work. Like many, Sue built to the marathon distance and has successfully completed London, Berlin and Tokyo. But Marathon des Sables was something very different – a new challenge.

I first met Sue when she joined our Lanzarote Training Camp (HERE) in January 2018.

I was fortunate to follow her journey as she prepared for the 2018 MDS, both in training and then day-by-day throughout the race.

It turned out to be quite a story and shows that the mental aspect of ultra-running is often far more important than fitness.

You can listen to a full and in-depth interview with Sue on Talk Ultra podcast HERE

What initially made you decide to take part in MDS?

I had heard about the Marathon des Sables from friends and I had seen images on Instagram. It enticed me, I was looking for a new challenge and although I thought the race was beyond my ability I took the plunge and entered. I told nobody for two weeks as I couldn’t decide if I had done the right thing. When I did finally disclose my intentions, some friends and relatives were negative saying I was crazy and that I couldn’t do it… I needed no better motivation to prove them wrong!

You have run several marathons such as London and Tokyo. How does the MDS compare?

Other than running or walking, there is no comparison really. A road marathon is a challenge but it is safe, you have aid stations, there is always help at hand. MDS is just so much more than just running. It brings in elements of survival, it plays games with your mind and it pushes the individual to depths that they maybe never even realised they could reach.  MDS is truly a transformational experience and although I will always remember my first road marathon, I now think, ‘it is only a marathon!’

What was your training and preparation like for the MDS? What are the differences in comparison to a road marathon?

In all honesty, marathon training is actually good preparation for MDS as the individual stages are marathon distance or below. Of course, the exception is the ‘long day’ which in 2018 was 86.4km (around 53 miles, so two marathons). Marathon training works well but of course one needs to build up strength and stamina for the challenge ahead. Therefore, most people allow 12-months to get ready for MDS. Time on feet is important and also including some specific ‘training’ races that provide a similar scenario to MDS. For example. Several races in the UK last 2 or 3 days therefore providing a mini MDS scenario.

I also signed up for a specific desert training camp in Lanzarote, 3-months ahead of the race. This proved to be essential as I met other competitions, we trained on terrain specific and comparable to Morocco and I was able to test equipment. We even spent one night sleeping inside a volcano to simulate camp conditions in the Sahara.

Training Camp information HERE 

Finally, two points. 1. Many runners think they will run MDS – the reality is that they will not! Walking is an essential and integral part of completing MDS for most participants and I can’t stress enough to walk, walk and walk in training. 2. Prepare the mind for the challenge. If you get the mind in the right place it will take the body to the line.

What was the biggest challenges out in the Sahara?

The challenges change daily. For example, just starting on day 1 seemed like a huge challenge as I was so anxious and nervous.

Then on day 2 I was silly and neglected taking my salt tablets, this impacted on my hydration and caused me to be dizzy. It was touch and go but I rallied and achieved the finish line.

That night we were hit by a sand storm which wiped out our tent and reduced sleep to a minimum. So, as you see, the challenges change daily, by the hour or even by the minute at times. This is what makes MDS so special, it is how you adapt both physically and more importantly, mentally at times.

How did you cope with the challenges, did you feel prepared?

One can only prepare so much. I really dedicated myself to the task and prepared methodically for the challenge. But after Tokyo Marathon I picked up a stress fracture.

Photo ©sueding

This resulted in no running for three weeks and then a slow return to training. Ironically, my final preparation to MDS was terrible and that worried me. Friends were always positive, they told me, ‘You can do this!’ I trusted them and despite my reservations, I achieved the start line.

Equipment is equipment but it is essential. I took advice from the training camp and honed my equipment for my needs. I made last minute changes to the pack I would use and I also changed my down jacket. It all worked well. During the race you must be flexible and adapt to conditions – tiredness, dehydration, sore legs, snoring tent mates, sharing a space with 7 others – you can’t really prepare for that, it is this that makes MDS such an experience, it is a journey into the unknown.

What did you enjoy most about the whole experience?

I was so anxious before the race but I feel like I blossomed as the race progressed. I embraced the challenge and got the race done – I did that and nobody can take that away. But my tent mates, Tent 95 were incredible and they will be friends for life. You were also at the race and shared my journey, that was so special and something that I will never forget. The race is a life changer, I was told this before I went to Morocco, it’s only now, afterwards, that I realised that this is true.

What were some of the most memorable or unforgettable moments for you, explain why?

1. Tent 95 – Gary, Daniel, Mark, James, Brian, Taka and Denise were just the best. We laughed, we shared our stories in the morning and the evening and we rallied and encouraged each other. We all finished – what an experience!

2. On the long day it was dark, I was walking through large sand dunes and I was listening to Craig Armstrong music, I looked up to the sky and saw thousands of stars… I was lost in my mind and thoughts and it was truly magical.

3. I had low points throughout the race, times of despair and worries if I could push on through. They were my lowest moments but each time they became the most memorable – you would always arrive, just at the right time.

4. I got some really bad blisters which needed medical treatment and caused great pain – I had to continue on, ignore the negative and fight each day to achieve my goals.

How did you manage the conditions – heat, survival, rationed food etc?

In all honesty, I was expecting the worst and the reality was not as bad. We had cold nights, sand storms and hot days but I managed. I wore the same clothes for ten days with no showering or proper washing, it was unpleasant but I survived. I craved fresh food and had to eat dehydrated food.

I wanted so much a different drink other than water but water is the only thing available. I keep saying it but this is MDS. It is meant to test you mentally as much as physically and you need to embrace it. If you fight it, your week will be miserable. It’s best to laugh and soak up the experience.

A Coke after the long day was so magical – simple pleasure! Going to the toilet is also somewhat an experience… you will need to use your imagination for that one!

What went through your mind during the race?

Ha! What didn’t I think about…? I put the world to rights, thought about my past, thought about my future. I concentrated on one foot ahead of the other and I escaped with music.

You have a great deal of time to think and I think this is why, for many, MDS has such an impact. You suddenly realise what is important. I have realised it. Experiences and memories are far greater than things and possessions – the Sahara and the MDS made me feel truly alive, pushed me to the limit and beyond.

Did you doubt yourself at any time, elaborate?

I had huge doubts and anxiety before the race but did as much specific preparation as possible and I listened to you and Elisabet Barnes,  you both told me I could do it. I was so nervous on day 1 and of course on day 2 I was extremely worried.

However, as the race progressed the stronger mentally I became. I was more tired, my body ached, my feet hurt but my mind was strong, there was no way I was giving up or not finishing – I had to prove all the doubters before the race wrong.

One lady had said, ‘If you finish the race, I will eat my hat!’ Guess what? I bought a hat in Morocco after the race…

What was crossing the finish line like?

On the marathon stage I had a moment early on when I cried but I got over it and pushed on despite the pain.

The miles ticked by and then as the finish line came, you were waiting as were all my tent 95 teammates.

I had no more tears left, just smiles and gratitude. I was flying the Malaysian flag, I kissed my cross which was around my neck and I gave thanks for the opportunity to complete a truly magical, life changing journey.

What are the biggest takeaways from the race?

We are too protected, too comfortable in the world and we shy away from tough times. A little tough, some challenge, some hardship and some pain makes you realise you are truly alive.

I went to so many low points during the race and overcame them, I made new friends and I triumphed over arguably the toughest challenge I have ever undertaken.

I now feel invincible, I feel alive!

If you did MDS again, what would you change in preparation and why?

Well, I would definitely try not to get a stress fracture just 8 weeks before the race. In general though, I feel everything clicked into place. I would make sure my shoes did not give me blisters, I made a mistake there going with a shoe size too large.

What advice would you give to future MDS runners?

Prepare the mind and the legs and lungs will followI also had a ‘special’ bag with me ‘Not Gonna Happen’ it contained daily inspiration to keep me going… It was invaluable.

MDS is described as the toughest race on earth, on a scale of 1-10 give it a rating and explain why?

Tough question as I have done nothing like it to compare, so, for me it would be a 8, or 9. But the daily cut off times are generous and it is possible to complete the race walking, so, like I said previously, get the mind right and anything is possible.

Certainly, no change of clothes, carrying everything one needs on ones back and having rationed food and water takes things to another level and therefore it’s a combination of all those elements that makes the race so tough.

MDS is not cheap, can you elaborate on how much the whole process cost?

I don’t really want to think about it… The race costs so much more than just the entry fee. For example, entry fee, flights and hotels around £4000. But I started to prepare 12 moths in advance. I did training races, I did the Lanzarote training camp, I purchased all my equipment and then changed my equipment. I added some extras such as staying in Morocco afterwards. I have not tallied up the total cost but it would easily be £10.000.

You are the first Malaysian woman to complete the race, how does that make you feel?

I am proud to be Malaysian and cross the line flying the flag – it is a real honour.

You ran for charities, Make A Wish Malaysia and Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better, how much did you raise?

The total goes up daily as donations come in, but currently it is over £25.000.

“We all have our stories, we got together, encouraged each other, were there for each other, we went on a 250km MDS journey together… We are friends forever Tent 95! I was also privileged to have the additional support of a truly dear friend who documented our journey. Friendship and love completed the journey.”

#suckitupprincess

Check out Sue in MARIE CLAIRE – http://marieclaire.com.my/lifestyle/features/marie-claire-amazing-women-2018/5/

He must be CRACKERS! Part Two of an interview with James Cracknell

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In our next article we feature James’s experiences in the Marathon des Sables in 2010 and his tips for those taking part in April 2015 or planning to take part in the race in future years. His 2015 comeback plans include the Richtersveld Wildrun and the Badwater 135.

“It will be about me drawing a line after the accident as well and moving on. It will be nice to go back to Death Valley and put some demons to rest. I need to square the circle and move on. I don’t want my life to be defined by winning two gold medals. I don’t want my life to be defined by being the guy who got hit on the head by a truck! I refuse, I will choose my path and I will not be pigeon holed. I will create my path.” – James Cracknell

If you missed Part One please go HERE

To read Part Two in full please go to RUNULTRA HERE

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He must be CRACKERS! Part One of an interview with James Cracknell

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In a previous life, James Cracknell spent too much time mucking about in a boat with big blokes wearing too much Lycra. He was lucky enough to win gold medals at the Sydney and Athens Olympics. After that he stupidly rowed across the Atlantic and did a race to the South Pole (both filmed by the BBC).

 

After Antarctica he decided the cold wasn’t for him and entered the Marathon des Sables where he did okay and came 12th. At the time that was the highest place a Briton had ever come until Danny Kendall upstaged the Olympian.

James’s MDS progress was filmed by the Discovery Channel. This was followed with another film documenting a journey from LA to New York: cycling from LA to Death Valley running through Death Valley then remounting and cycling Route 66 to Lake Erie, rowing Lake Erie then cycling to New York and finally swimming to the Statue of Liberty.

 

Unfortunately James didn’t complete this journey as a fuel truck in Arizona hit him! Placed in a coma and a two-month stay in a Phoenix hospital, James was close to the edge. It’s been a long journey and one that is ongoing.

Read the full (part one) article on RUN ULTRA HERE 

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African skyrunning leaps sky high following Lesotho Ultra Trail

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High mountains, arduous climbs, thin air, incredible vistas and the adrenalin rush of running on technical trail – the Lesotho Ultra Trail (LUT) promised everything a skyrunning experience should offer, and it delivered even more.

As Africa’s first Ultra Skymarathon®, the announcement of the LUT drew much attention in the world’s skyrunning arena, and the event did not disappoint. The race, which was staged in the Maluti Mountains of northern Lesotho, just 50km of the border of South Africa, attracted athletes from around the world, including South Africa, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Australia, Canada, UK and USA.

Affectionately known as the Mountain Kingdom, Lesotho boasts some of southern Africa’s most beautiful skyrunning terrain with its vast wilderness of unspoilt mountain vistas, and is regarded by many as a paradise for skyrunners. The LUT was hosted by the Maliba Mountain Lodge, providing a superb hub for the efficient organisation of the event.

Both the men’s and women’s field provided a tightly competitive edge, with many of South Africa’s top trail runners vying for top honours. The day brought its share of surprises and made the race even more exciting than predicted.

For the first third of the 50km race, the trio of Lucky Mia and race favourites Iain don Wauchope and AJ Calitz led the field, with several fast runners forming the chase group as they climbed the 1 150m of vertical gain over 15km to reach 3 145m, the highest point of the route at 23km.

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Thick mist on the 10km stretch of ridgeline above 3 000m reduced visibility and made the sighting of the bright yellow route markers difficult for the runners. With the front three runners Mia, Don Wauchope and Calitz temporarily losing their way, the chase group of Andrew Hagan, Quinton Honey and Spain’s Manual Diez Raobago took the lead, and the race was on.

Hagan, well known for his high-speed downhill running capability, took full advantage of the 8km technical descent, earning him enough of a lead on Raobago and Honey to maintain the gap over the next nasty climb, which called for a 720m vertical gain over 6km. The final 700m technical descent further clinched Hagan’s lead, and he took line honours in an impressive 6:07:22.

Raobago came in 2nd place in 6:22:14, followed by Honey in 6:23:10.

The ladies race was just as hotly contested, with Robyn Kime and Tracy Zunckel leading the fray together until the 37km mark, when Zunckel took command over the final 13km, achieving an 11 min gap on Kime to win the race in a convincing 6:56:17. Kime finished in 2nd place in 7:07:28, followed by Canadian Stacie Carrigan in a very solid 7:23:36.

Speaking about her experience at Africa’s first Ultra Skymarathon®, Carrigan was ecstatic. “When I arrived at Maliba Lodge, I was blown away by the scenery – it was incredible. The race course too did not disappoint, and my hopes for a challenge were met. During the low points when I started to feel beat up and broken, I would look up and catch a glimpse of a waterfall, river, the mountains and valleys and all the beauty of my surroundings was enough to make me smile and keep pushing to the finish line,” said Carrigan.

LUT race organiser Andrew Booth sees skyrunning in southern Africa as the exciting future of trail running. “For years South African trail runners have watched with envy as the sport of skyrunning grew in Europe. Now, with the formation of the South African Skyrunning Association (SASA), the discipline has officially arrived in southern Africa. That means we can have a national skyrunning series in our own ‘backyard’, accessible to all,” said Booth.

The LUT was SASA’s second sanctioned skyrunning event – the first being 36km Matroosberg Skymarathon®, which was staged in the Western Cape in October.

“The success of the Matroosberg Skymarathon® and the Lesotho Ultra Trail has seen much excitement, and the imminent announcement of the launch of a national skyrunning series in 2014 has got the trail  community in South Africa quite abuzz,” said SASA chairman James Hallett.

For more information visit the official SASA website of follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Website: www.skyrunning.co.za

Facebook: www.facebook.com/skyrunningsa

Twitter: www.twitter.com/skyrunningsa

Run Rabbit Run 2013 – Race Preview

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Run rabbit, run rabbit

Run! Run! Run!

Run rabbit, run rabbit

Run! Run! Run!

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

Goes the farmer’s gun

Run rabbit, run rabbit

Run! Run! Run!

 

The 2nd Annual Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile Endurance Run, held in the terrific little town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The race starts on Friday, September 13, 2013 at midday

I cant help but hear ‘Speedgoat’ Karl Meltzer in my head… jogging along allowing all the fast guys to shoot of in search of the $10,000 first prize and singing the song aloud. It happened last year (not singing the song, but allowing the others to shoot off) and look what happened. One-by-one they fell by the wayside and the old goat himself reeled them in and schooled them all on how to run a 100-miles. Karl should know; he has won enough.

Once again he is playing down his chances of winning the 2013 edition RRR. In last weeks Talk Ultra (Ep43) we discussed at length his form and reading between the lines, I know he is ready. He wasn’t ready at Western States early in 2012 due to niggles and still pulled out 10th, however just a few weeks later, just like Seb Chaigneau at TNFUTMB, the exertions of a tough 100 at WSER took its toll and he dropped from Hardrock 100.

Karl, with his own race done and dusted, the Speedgoat 50k, he finally found some down time and concentrated on getting fit and healthy for the RRR and for Karl, there’s nothing quite like a $10,000 purse to motivate him… ask his wife, she got a new bathroom out of the race last year! (Or was it a kitchen?)

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Joe Grant also had a troublesome Hardrock 100 and although he was super motivated to top the podium he just didn’t have the right day. It may very well have been his early season Iditarod still making demands on his body or ultimately, it may have just been a bad day! However, he seems to have got his head in a great place and certainly his recent trip to Europe as support and crew for Anton Krupicka has given him a new lease of life and all those mountain miles may well transfer to something special at RRR.

Ever present force over the 100k distance, Dave Mackey will hope to bring that speed to RRR and pull off a win at 100-miles. Although he has had some good 100 performances, notably 2nd at WSER, he has never quite hit the nail on the head like he has done over the shorter 100k-distance. He nearly rectified this at San Diego 100 earlier this year but unfortunately that went pear-shaped due to course errors. He is due a win!

Jason Schlarb I am pretty sure will be looking to put the record straight at RRR this year after a great start to the 2012 race that went completely problematic and frustrating due to going off course. For me, he is the dark horse of the favourites and don’t be surprised if he leads early on but manages to hold on!

Timothy Olson, TNFUTMB ©iancorless.com

Timothy Olson, TNFUTMB ©iancorless.com

Timothy Olson gets my final mention. Yes, I am mentioning Timothy last. Not because I don’t think he can win but you have to consider his season and because just the other week he placed 4th at TNFUTMB. I am pretty sure the $10,000 first prize is the attraction here and that has to be a motivating factor. However, he dug deep at TNFUTMB and used all his physical and mental reserves to reach the line. It could go either way for Timothy at RRR. Irrespective of what happens, he has had a great year with results at Tarawera, Transvulcania La Palma and of course, the defense of his WSER crown.

Behind this front five is a group of runners just waiting for the opportunity to steal the carrot from the other Rabbits. Keep an eye on Jeff Browning, Jason Loutitt, and if Dave James is in a good place, he may well push the others for the podium.

Nikki Kimball, La Palma ©iancorless.com

Nikki Kimball, La Palma ©iancorless.com

The ladies race is potentially a little more open than the men’s race however; it does have some key names that stick out. In particular a rejuvenated and in-form Nikki Kimball. I interviewed Nikki after her incredible 2nd place at the 2013 Western States and for sure, she has found a new balance. She is racing less and when she races, she wants to perform. Her lining up at RRR can only mean one thing!

Darcy Africa is another hot ‘fave’ for the RRR crown coming from another great win at Hardrock 100. She is consistent over the longer distances as her 2012 season shows. Without doubt she will be pushing the pace at the front here!

I predicted Cassie Scallon would have a great race at WSER based on her performances over shorter distances and her natural speed. However, the big dance didn’t go well and she is untested at 100-miles. I still think we will see her rectify the situation in Steamboat Springs and contend for a podium place at least.

One-to-watch goes to Jennifer Benna. She ran a great 100 earlier this year and then went to Transvulcania La Palma but pulled out early saying things just didn’t feel right. WSER didn’t go well either so redemption is required at RRR.

Finally, last years 2nd place at RRR, Rhonda Claridge returns and with another solid performance at Hardrock 100 she will be looking to move one place higher and take home the $10,000 pot.

Jeez, I missed Pam Smith. Thanks Speedgoat. For sure, Pam Smith coming from winning the 2013 Western States changes the dynamic of RRR and she will be gunning for the win. Of course Pam will be the one who all the ladies will be watching. Her main priority will be ‘chicking’ Speedgoat again though and of course taking the big bucks!

 Links

  • Race Line up is here if you’d like to point out any contenders for the podium.
  • Race website here
  • Course description here
  • Athlete tracking here

 

Transvulcania La Palma – The Elites

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Just five days to go to the 2013 Transvulcania La Palma on the island of La Palma in the Canaries. Without doubt one of the racing highlights of the 2013 calendar. It is a who’s who of ultra running and here is the current confirmed line up for May 11th.

Make sure you follow all the race build up by Talk Ultra. I will be uploading images and commentary to Facebook, Twitter and this website. In addition, I will be conducting pre race audio and video interviews.

On race day we will keep you informed of all the action, phone connections allowing. Rest assured, we will be providing all the information and excitement as this iconic event unfolds.

2013 Confirmed Elite Entrants

Mohamad Ahansal – UVU

Nicola Bassi – Vibram

Jennifer Benna – Hoka One One

Patrick Bringer

Miguel Caballero – La Sportiva

Adam Campbell – Arc’teryx

Sage Canaday – Scott Sports

Cameron Clayton – Salomon

Sylvain Couchaud – New Balance

Yann Curien – Sigvaris Trail

Francois D’Haene – Salomon

Nuria Dominguez

Emelie Forsberg – Salomon

Uxue Fraile – Adidas

Anna Frost – Salomon *Anna will not race see HERE

Maud Gobert – Adidas *update 7th May, Maud will not race

Lidia Gomez – Studio54, Helly Hansen, Team A

Joe Grant – Inov-8

Miguel Heras – Salomon Santiveri *update 7th May, Miguel will not race

Luis Alberto Hernando – Adidas Trail Running

Zigor Iturrieta

Dave James

Kilian Jornet Burgada – Salomon Santiveri

Anton Krupicka – New Balance

Emelie Lecomte – Quechua

Thomas Lorblanchet – Team Asics

Fernanda Maciel – The North Face

Giuseppe Marazzi – Vibram

Nathalie Mauclair – Lafuma France

Sebastien Nain – Vibram

Luke Nelson – Patagonia Ultra Running Team

Santiago Obaya

Timothy Olson – The North Face

Nuria Picas – FEEC/Buff

Yanis A Povea

Philipp Reiter – Salomon

Gustavo Reyes – Salomon

Stefano Ruzza – Vibram

Karine Sanson

Armando Teixeira – Salomon Portugal

Xavier Thevenard – Team Asics Trail

Sean Van Court – Vibram

Information

Links

  • Skyrunning – HERE
  • Tranvulcania Race Website – HERE
  • Talk Ultra Facebook – HERE
  • Talk Ultra Twitter – HERE

Timothy Olson – Go Trail

My good friend James Hallet today re launched Go Trail. A labour of love, James has worked hard to provide a great online magazine for trail running with a great new look. It is available free or for just $10 you can get all 6 issues for a year with unlimited viewing.

I have two articles in the new edition. The first on Timothy Olson, winner of Western States 100 in 2012.

You can listen to the audio HERE