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  • 5 min read

One of the problems that everyone faces in life is that we don’t know what we don’t know.  There are quite a few ways that this can be, and is, overcome. Self-confidence, gritting one’s teeth, endurance, and the determination not to give up are a few.  I have also seen though, and especially with an unknown like running in the desert, where the daily temperature was 37 degrees Celsius, and for the most part you are running on your own without a soul in sight, anywhere, for hour upon hour, that this lack of being prepared makes it easy to throw in the towel.  Or perhaps I should say, provides you with the justification you need to allow yourself to give up.

Many people will now be saying, but how is it possible to be prepared for something if it is unknown?  In the answer to that question lies the key, and most important factor necessary to be able to successfully participate in endurance and extreme events.  This answer is also the key factor for all people to lead successful and happy lives. It is far more important that you train your mind than your body. Of course there needs to be a balance between the two, but it is not an equal 50-50 balance.

Knowing this I did do the ‘time on the legs’ running training that was required, but most of the time I was doing mind training.  And it was this that helped me to finish the run after suffering from sun stroke and dehydration at the end of the first day’s 43 km run.  I was placed under a wet blanket and observation all afternoon and I suppose to be on the safe side they should have pulled me out of the race.  I ensured them that I was recovered, they let me continue, and I finished 12th out of the 28 finishers from a starting line-up of 43 runners, and I should have done better.  Why I didn’t do better is another story and example that can be taken into our approach to everyday living, which will be told later in this series.

There are similarities in the preparation that any athlete will do before a long run.  There are also differences that need to be considered when that long run changes from being a one day event, like a single marathon on the road.  Doing the same distance as a marathon but doing it as a trail run is harder and will take longer, the equivalent say of running an extra 10 km. If it is a one day event you can get away with poor nutrition during the run, and taking yourself near to your limit and exhaustion at the end.  You cannot do this for a multi-day event. If your one day event is an ultra-distance then the kind of training and preparation that you do for marathon training is not enough. If you are running in different terrain and weather conditions, like a desert run, then there are a number of other factors that need to be included in your preparation, as is the case when you are running for days and days on end across a huge distance.

Here are the things that I did and how I prepared for the 5-day Namib Desert Challenge (NDC), and remember, on the first day I still got it wrong!


The Training Programme

I had a 13 week training programme leading up to the NDC.  One of those weeks, immediately prior to the run I did absolutely zero exercise of any description, for 8 days.  The 5 days prior to that I did light training which included swimming and cycling. Quite an extreme taper many would say, as in, I should have done more exercise.  For me though this depends upon three factors:

  1. How well have I stuck to my training programme and how hard has it been?
  2. How is my body feeling?
  3. What is my intended outcome of the race?

I have trained with athletes who have been preparing to do an Iron Man, and who believe in an ‘active taper,’ which means that they will still be doing some fair distances but not quite as far and will not be pushing as hard as during their normal training.  One of the fears they have is that if they ‘let it go’ too much, the level of training that they’ve been used to over the previous 6 to 9 months, then they will adversely affect their level of readiness. I have carefully not said ‘fitness’ because to anyone that surely would sound ludicrous.  To do so many months of training and then lose their level of fitness through a 2 week period of tapering – this cannot happen. It has not surprised me that they have failed to do as well as they expected on the day of the race.

The first week of my programme I did 6 hours 30 minutes of running.  To some this may sound surprising, but at the age of 17 I discovered my love for being fit and active and also my mental ability to endure.  I have never lost this enjoyment and preference for being fit and in good shape, and I have always maintained a base level of fitness which allows me to suddenly up my game and kick in to a more rigorous training routine.  But not without the usual ups and downs, as I’ll share with you below … I was 53 when I ran the NDC.

In the following two weeks of my training I ran for 9 hours 30 minutes in each week.  I like to make notes so that I get a better feel of how I’m doing when I review my overall programme in the weeks to come.  Here are my notes from Week 2 of my training, unedited:

1 hr 30min (18km ?) - east Tokai forest & Groot Constantia green belts (flippin hot)
45min - Chrysalis academy speed work (flippin hot; had to bale)
1hr 30min - trail run Tokai forest (flippin hot; good run; new route)
REST DAY (did 1,5km swim)
1 hr 45min (18km ?) - east Tokai forest & Groot Constantia green belts (flippin hot; ran at 09h30; went slower)
2hrs - Muiz beach to Simon's Town
2hrs 15min - Silvermine south to valley & extra to make up time (great run; felt really strong)

And here are the notes from a few weeks later, one of my peak weeks, also unedited:

Nothing - knackered, bad attitude
2hrs 35min - gym to past Fish Hoek
2hrs 30min - Tokai forest with NB, up over top & home to Noordhoek
REST DAY - think I might be over training - sure I did less for Cape Odyssey
Nothing - waiting for cupboards, only arrived at 18h30
2hrs 25min - Lighthouse, 95% soft sand, carried 8 or 9kgs
3hrs - old wagon trail; round Silvermine dam; detour & back; carried 8 or 9kgs

You will have noticed that I record the amount of time that I’ve been running rather than the distance, and the next blog will explain why.

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