10 Top Tips for Multistage and Multi-Day Racing

Running is running yes? Anyone can do it! Well I guess the answer is yes. However, variables come in to play. Running is broken down into many different distances, from 100m to 100-miles and beyond. The longer we run, the more the challenges and requirements on a runner change. Running for multiple days or running a multistage race on mixed terrain throws up many different scenarios. Over the years I have spoken with many champions who have raced in the sands of the Sahara, the forests of Costa Rica and the mountainous paths of Nepal. They all provide me with similar hints ’n’ tips to a successful multistage race.

TOP 10 TIPS FOR A MULTISTAGE

1 – RUNNING IN THE SAND

Desert races are very popular. Marathon des Sables for example is the father of multistage racing and over the years, many races have followed in the MDS format. A desert race is never all dunes but some races have more soft sand than others, so, be prepared. To avoid getting tired it’s important to read the terrain. Carve your own path running on fresh sand and when possible, run along the ridges. In smaller dunes (dunettes) it can be beneficial to run in tracks left by others, at all times, run light as though running on ice – you don’t want to sink in the sand!

2 – HYDRATION

Dehydration is a real risk in any race, particularly a self-sufficient race where water is rationed. The risks of dehydration increase when the mercury rises and a lack of cover comes. A desert for example will be open, have intense heat but humidity will be low. By contrast, a jungle such as those found in Costa Rica may well have plenty of tree cover and streams to cool off in but the humidity will be through the roof. In both scenarios it’s important to drink regularly. Take small and regular sips of water and supplement lost salt with salt tablets. Races like Marathon des Sables provide salt tablets at aid stations and they recommend dosage. Other races you will need to think of this and plan accordingly. Also think about food choices on the trail and when in camp – food rich in minerals and salts will also help you. Importantly, multistage racing is about management from day-to-day and this is what can trip people up. Think about the event as a whole and make sure you recover after each day – rehydrating is as important post a run as when running.

3 – BLISTERS

Many a multistage race is ruined by bad personal management of feet. Think about this well in advance of the race by choosing socks and shoes that work for you. Also choose shoes appropriate for the terrain you will be racing on. A shoe for MDS will be very different to a shoe for the Himalayas for example. By all means take advice on shoes from previous competitors BUT you are unique and your needs are unique. Do you pronate? Do you supinate? Do you need a low or high drop? Do you prefer a cushioned shoe or a more minimalist shoe? What about grip, do you need any? Do you need to fit gaiters? The questions can go on and on and only you can make a choice. If all this is new to you. Go to a running store that understand runners and can provide expert and impartial advice. They will assess you and your run style and provide advice. One consideration for multistage racing is that your foot ‘can’ possibly swell due to variables such as heat, running day-after-day and so on. Your foot will not go longer, but it may go wider. So, think about shoes that have some room in the toe box. Don’t purchase shoes that are 1 or 2 sizes larger – this is poor advice. Larger shoes will only allow your foot to move… a moving foot causes friction, friction increases the risk of soreness and soreness will lead to a blister. Also think about walking. Many people choose a shoe because they are good to run in… But how do they feel when you walk? Remember, a multistage race can involve a great deal of walking!

Do you have sensitive feet? If so, you can prepare your feet in the run-up to an event. Also make sure your nails are trimmed back. While racing, if you have blisters, stop and get them treated as soon as possible. Take responsibility and learn basic footsore before an event. You need to make sure you can make any necessary treatments. Finally, many races have a medical team that are provided to look after you and your feet. Don’t hesitate to use them, but remember, there may be a big line waiting. Self-care is an excellent way to make sure that you are ready to run in your own timeline.

4 – BALANCED PACK

Not all multistage races are the same. The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, for example, is not self-sufficient so a runner only needs to carry liquid, snack food and any ‘mandatory’ kit. By contrast, a self-sufficient multistage race requires you to carry everything. A simple rule is keep everything as light as possible and keep your pack balanced. Luxuries really are luxuries in a race over multiple days so really ask yourself, do I need to take that? You will need mandatory kit as specified by the race and in addition you will need (as a guide):

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping matt
  • Warm layer
  • Spare socks
  • Food (minimum calories are specified per day)

Clothes, shoes, hat, sunglasses –  but you will be wearing these so they don’t go in the pack.

That’s it. Keep it simple and if at all possible, get your pack with its contents as close the minimum weight as specified by the race.

By general consensus, a luxury item is considered a music player (or 2) such as an iPod shuffle.

Also remember that minimum pack weight will be without water, so, if your pack weighs 6.5kg, you will have to add 1.5kg on the start line on day 1. This is where a front pack or a pack where bottles sit on the front works really well. Bottles on the front help balance the front and the back and provide a greater running experience. Also, think about items your need whilst running… it’s not a good idea having them in the back, they need to be at the front so you can access them ‘on-the-go!’

Many packs are available to choose from and you will see two or three are very popular – WAA, Ultimate Direction and Raidlight. Choosing a pack is light choosing shoes; we are all personal. However, keep a pack simple, make sure it’s comfortable and make sure it has little or no bounce when running/ walking.

Consider joining a multistage/ multi-day training camp HERE

5 – PROTECT FROM THE SUN

The sun can be a killer in any race, single stage or multistage – use sun protection and apply it daily. Also use products like arm coolers, a hat and a buff. At aid stations or whilst racing, you can keep these wet which will help cool you. Particularly the buff. If you overheat, slow down and apply cold/ water to the back of the neck. Use UV protective clothing and the jury is out on if clothing should be tight or loose. This often comes down to personal preference.

6 – EAT WELL

Any multistage race is quickly broken down into three phases – running, eating and sleeping. Food is a really important part of any race as it has to perform many functions. Most importantly, it has to sustain you so you will need carbohydrate, protein and fat. Individual requirements will vary but carbs will restore energy, protein will repair and fat is essential as this is one of the primary fuel sources for a multistage race. Remember though, our bodies have an unlimited reserve of fat. It’s important to understand that your diet whilst training may well be very different to when racing. In training you may well have eaten less carbs to teach your body to use fat, but when racing, you need to recover and be ready to run/race again the next day. Have variety in your food as your palette will change with fatigue, dehydration and heat. Real foods are good but dehydrated food also has a place. You also need to decide if you will require a stove for heating water? Don’t think twice about stepping up a little on the organization’s requisite minimum daily dose of 2,000 calories a day, remember though, it’s all weight!

7 – REST

Rest is crucial and how much you get will depend on how fast you run. Front runners have no shortage of rest time, however, those at the back of the race get minimal rest. Make sure you have a good sleeping bag that is warm enough for you and is as light and packs small as possible. You can save weight by not carrying a sleeping matt – general consensus says that carrying one is worthwhile as sitting and sleeping is much more comfortable. Matts come in two types: inflatable or sold foam. Inflatable matts work really well, pack small but you run the risk of a puncture without diligence. Foam matts won’t puncture but they can be bulky.

Make sure you have a warm layer for comfort, temperatures drop with darkness. A jacket (usually down) will also allow you to add warmth while sleeping if required. A lightweight sleeping bag and down jacket is preferable (by general consensus) over a combination sleeping bag that turns into a jacket. A jacket and bag offers flexibility, weighs less and packs smaller but will be considerably more expensive.

8 – PACE

Remember that you have entered a race that lasts multiple days. Spread your effort and have the big picture in mind – pace yourself. Don’t set off too quickly and consider race profiles, distances and cut-off times. YOU take responsibility of when you need to be at checkpoints. A day with a great deal of climbing, soft sand or technical train will take longer, allow for this and be prepared. Most multistage races have a long day and it’s fair to say it is the most feared day – keep some energy back for that day. Remember, the long day often has a generous time allowance so don’t be worried by taking a sleep break midway through.

9 – KEEP ON TRACK

Most races will have markers for you to follow but be sensible and self-aware of the challenge. If a race requires you to carry a map and compass, then please understand how to use them. Carry a Spot Tracker for safety and if you use a GPS such as Suunto or Garmin, remember that these watches plot a route that you can use to backtrack. In a race like MDS it is difficult to go off course due to the volume of people, remember though that dunes are not way-marked and you will be given a bearing to run off. If you are alone or in the dark, an understanding of how this works is a positive.

10 – ENJOY IT

A multistage journey often offers so much more than any single-day race. It’s an experience like no other and friends made in the desert, jungle or mountains will stay with you forever. Also remember that this journey is a hark back to a more primitive and simple time – embrace that. Leave gadgets at home and live a simple life for a week – I guarantee it will change you!

contributions from

Elisabet Barnes, Danny Kendall, Jo Meek, Nikki Kimball and Laurence Klein

Lanzarote Training Camp 2020 – Day 8 and 9

The penultimate day of our training camp was a cracker and one that many of the camp attendees have called a highlight.

Our first run was between 8-10 miles and included a climb, traverse and descent of the Montana Soo. It’s a great route and one that pushes many out of their comfort zone as the terrain is often steep, technical and challenging with loose stones.

At the summit it provides a great photo opportunity with Club La Santa off to the right in the distance.

For the more experienced runners, they move fast over the terrain embracing the challenge that it brings. Others move slower, more deliberate and thoughtful. We include it in the camp as it closely replicates the feeling and exposure that one can get at the large Djebel at Marathon des Sables.

After the mountain loop, we all returned back to CLS for a 3 hour break before a self-sufficient run. This is our mini multi-day experience that allows all our clients to run to a bivouac location in ability based groups with packs carrying sleeping bag, essential, dehydrated food for dinner and breakfast and a minimum of 1.5ltr of water. Most packs weigh around the 5kg mark.

We transport tents to the bivouac, rationed water and two gas burners to provide hot water for cooking. Once the runners leave CLS, they are self sufficient.

At the bivouac, they put up tents.

As the sun disappears they test out dehydrated food and simulate a bivouac experience. They understand the weather, the need for warmth and then they sleep under the stars.

Our night started perfectly with beautiful clear skies. Amazing star views and warm temperatures. As the night progressed, the wind increased and very much simulated a stormy night in the Sahara. For many, it was a sleepless night with shaking tents and sand being blown everywhere.

An early breakfast call, self-sufficient breakfast, water rations given and they were then off for another 13-miles of soft-sand and dune training before returning back to CLS.

Our final day has one final talk by Elisabet Barnes and Sondre Amdahl and then a group dinner to say farewell…

The next time we will all meet will be in Morocco for the 35th Marathon des Sables.

Our 2021 Training Camp will be announced soon HERE

Huge thanks to our coaches guides

Elisabet Barnes 2x MDS champion

Sondre Amdahl MDS top-10 and Trans Atlas winner

Gemma Game 2x 3rd place at MDS

Jodie Moss 8th at MDS

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

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.

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

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

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

Lanzarote Training Camp 2020 – Day 4

It was a double run day today in Lanzarote starting at 0800 with a really great 9-miles with sunrise with trails along the coast leading to the volcanoes around the village of Soo and then a re-route back down to Club La Santa.

We then had a very quick turnaround to a 2-hour presentation by Running Reborn coach, Shanne Benzie. Shane is a the forefront of discussing and analysing run technique to increase performance and reduce injury, as usual it was fascinating.

A break for lunch and then the afternoon was split in to two 2-hour sessions.

Groups 1 and 2 remained on the run track and had analysis with Shane Benzie while groups 2 and 4 ran along the coast to play on one of the volcanoes climbing to the summit and descending.

You can move around the video image by using the toggle button that appears on the left of the video screen.

And then coasteering one of the technical paths returning back to Club La Santa.

Back at Club La Santa, the groups swapped with 3/4 remaining on the track with Shane and 1/2 heading out on the trails.

The day concluded at 7pm with everyone exhausted and exhilarated after a very full day.

Dates for our 2021 Camp will be announced soon HERE

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

Lanzarote Training Camp 2020 – Days 1-3

A year soon passes and once again I am in Lanzarote for our annual Lanzarote Training Camp which is geared towards providing 7-days intensive training for ultra-runners and multi-day runners.

I arrived 3-days a go so that I could check out routes and in particular test a ‘long day’ route which would be a new addition to the camp.

It was a real pleasure to travel from almost one side of Lanzarote to the other on foot. The new route is a point-to-point covering approximately marathon distance with 1800m of vertical gain.

Taking in the best of Lanzarote, the route is extremely varied with a mixture of terrain and gladly has very little road. Some sections cover little used paths and offer a real sense of adventure.

One again the base for the training camp is the sports complex of Club La Santa which is the perfect environment for an intensive week of training with a plethora of facilities on hand.

The camp takes place from Tuesday to Tuesday for 2020 and a full week of activity is planned with routes of varying distance and difficulty.

We have typically 4-5 groups guided and this allows for runners/ walkers to work at a pace that is comfortable for them. Our core team is myself, Elisabet Barnes who has won MDS twice and ranked highly in multi-day races all over the world. Sondre Amdahl who is an experienced single-stage and multi-day ultra-runner with an impressive list of results from all over the world.

Last year we had Running Reborn specialist, Shane Banzie join us and he is back in 2020.

Our additional guides for 2020 are Gemma Game (multiple times top-10 at MDS and 3rd in 2018 and 2019) and Jodie Moss who placed top-10 at the 2019 MDS and who has just completed a PHD and who will provide a talk on heat acclimation.

All the preparation is now done and we patiently await the clients arrival on January 7th. We ease them in to the camp with an easy 1-hour run, a welcome talk and then a group dinner.

Day 1 starts with an 0800 call and 9-mile volcano run. Note news to follow as the days progress.

You can view images from the 2019 Training Camp below and HERE

Dates will be announced soon for the 2021 camp HERE

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

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!

Continue reading

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.

Strategy for Completing and not Competing

The last time I toed the line as a runner was 2012. It was at the Lakeland 50 in the UK. I was confident, I was really fit and in April, I had won an ultra in Turkey.

However, everything was not ok.

I was getting constant knee pain and I kept ignoring it… Ultra runners are good at that!

Anyway, for much of Lakeland 50 I was near the front, that is until Ambleside and then it all fell apart with constant knee pain. My hopes of a top-10 disappeared and I eventually crossed the line in 36th place in 9:59. My target had been to run around 8:40. In retrospect, I should have been happy. But I wasn’t. I went away knowing that my knee issue had stopped me performing and it needing addressing. 

I have not raced since…!

Now you may consider that to be sad? And yes, for a while I struggled with the demons of running twice a day to not running. But I was working on races as photographer, journalist and podcaster and I soon realised to move on.

My knee injury was chronic and required two, maybe three operations. I declined all knowing that knee surgery success is hit and miss. So, ever since, I have managed that pain, changed my goals and loved an adventure. Gladly, big hikes and fast packing is ok. I get pain, but it is not like running. So, all is good. I am happy to do what I can. I can run and my daily run would be normally 8-miles, sometimes I can do that back-to-back, but often I need to rest and then stress again. And yes, every now and again I run long. But I no longer compete, I complete.

So, why am I writing?

Well, I started running after cycling and triathlon. I have to say, I have never considered myself a good runner. I dropped my marathon PB to 2:53 which was creditable but in doing so, I lost the true reason for running. FUN! Do not get me wrong, I had loads of fun running but PB’s, time, diet and training all took over from a healthy outlook on my running. 

I was obsessed by my running. I must clarify, I was previously obsessed by cycling and triathlon and that is why I stopped…!

Being a photographer and journalist has allowed me to look at running in many different ways. I mostly follow the elites, but multi-day races, such as Marathon des Sables, allow me to follow runners achieving a life time goal. I must clarify, achieving a life time goal may be a 5km, 10km, half-marathon and so on. I use longer distances as this is the area I usually deal in – ultra.

They are looking to complete and not compete.

I have learnt since 2012 that I normally complete anything I set my mind to in sport and the reason for that is strategy, planning, getting the mind in the right place and embracing walking!

The Older I Get, The Better I was

So much truth here… For me anyway. As the time has passed from 2012 I have worked on races worldwide and all of those races require me to have a level of fitness. For example, Everest Trail Race, I do pretty much most of the race with cameras – it is the only way. For personal adventure, I have done big treks, the most recent being the ‘High Passes’ in Nepal with the additions of Kala Pather, EBC and Ama Dablam BC.

There is one truth in completing. YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO WALK.

Walking is often looked on as a negative. To be honest, I have heard some people say, ‘I don’t care what time I do, as long as I do not walk!’

The reality is, if walking is embraced, learned and practiced, finishing times will not only get faster but more enjoyable.

For perspective, we now include walking as a key training element at our Lanzarote Training Camp (HERE) with a specific walking group and one day dedicated to a long walk, for all!

So, how do you start?

Firstly, there is a big difference between walking to the shop for a carton of milk and walking in a race/ training. If there is not, there should be!

Walking in a race (or training) should be meaningful, strong and powerful.

There are many strategies one can use.

For example, one strategy I use is a thing I call “7’s” or “5×2”.

Quite simply, it is about covering 7km by walking 5km and running 2km.

The Strategy:

Firstly, with my coaching clients I ask them to walk 5km and time it. We then look at technique and discuss how to get faster.

I need to clarify here, we keep the route flat on road or good hard trail.

I am aiming for, where possible, sub 10-minute km’s. Now of course, many variables come in to play – terrain, weather, climbing and descending to name but a few. But let us assume flat terrain, good weather and fast trail.

Once we get the walking of 5km in under 50-mins, I then add running. Firstly 1km. So, walk 5km and run 1km. Once that fees comfortable, I add another 1km. And here is where the “7’s” or “5×2” comes in.

Basically, the plan is walk 5km and jog 2km.

Like any plan it is progressive, starting with walk 5 and jog 2. Then walk 5, jog 2, walk 5. Then, walk 5, jog 2, walk 5, jog 2 and so on…

This teaches the mind to break down distance and time in manageable blocks. You can focus on the walking, knowing that a jogging break is coming up. You can endure the jogging, knowing that a walking break is coming up.

Why, “7’s” or “5×2.”

Well, 7 conveniently goes in to a marathon – 7/14/21/28/35 and 42.

I think a marathon is something we all understand and although I will round numbers up (for ease) 50-miles is two marathons and 100-miles is four marathons, 7’s provides a great strategy.

So, you see my thinking?

Let’s say, you trained your walking to be so good, that you could walk 5km and jog 2km in under 1-hour. Suddenly, you are doing a 6-hour marathon with actually only maybe 50-60 minutes of total running.

So, if that pace is maintainable, you could do 50-miles in sub 12-hours and maybe even 100-miles in the desirable sub 24-hours!

Here is an example and of course, pace fluctuates based on terrain conditions, but it provides a good perspective.

Continue reading

PYRAMID TRAINING for Marathon des Sables

Marathon des Sables has just finished and now, runners from all over the world are looking ahead to April and the next edition of the race.

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

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

Author of RUNNING BEYOND now available in paperback