So how do you train for 6 back-to-back marathons across the Sahara Desert?

I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to my last post “I may have done something silly…” and everyone’s support, incredulity, advice and generosity on social media and my JustGiving page this week.  There’s still a long way to go time-wise and fundraising-wise, and also training-wise.  So how do you train for 6 back to back marathons across the Sahara Desert in temperatures of 50 degrees?  It’s important to understand what my goal is. I am clearly not going to win Marathon des Sables (MDS), so why train? I suppose it would be possible to run MDS with no training, but it would be incredibly gruelling and painful. We’ve probably all experienced that feeling on a walk or maybe a sporting event, where we’ve felt that if we’d been a bit fitter we’d have enjoyed ourselves more, and hurt a little less. So the purpose of training will be to make the experience as pain-free and enjoyable (!) as possible.

According to Bryon Powell in his book ‘Relentless Forward Progress‘, the key to running long distance races is twofold: a weekly Long Slow Run and total weekly training volume. Having one run a week that is my Long Slow Run, and gradually building up its distance is key to training my body to run for a long time in one go.  I will go into more detail about these Long Slow Runs in a future post, but I started off at 8 miles in my first week, and then it will gradually increase until I get to around 30 miles in length.  I will also aim to get in at least one 50 mile run (ulp!) to give me confidence that I can do the MDS long stage.  This is the legendary double-marathon day which is typically on day 4 of MDS.

Weekly training volume is all about building up the number of miles week by week, and doing so gradually and consistently.  I will be aiming to run 5 times per week, with one of those runs being my Long Slow Run.  The key to remaining injury-free appears to be to not increase the total mileage by more than 10% each week.  So I will be gradually building up the mileage from 20 to a whopping 70 miles per week.  This does mean that I will be entering the MDS untested at the 150+ miles in a week, so I will also look to run a multi-stage race in the UK at some point that gives me confidence that I can do that kind of distance.

Being a geek, I have my spreadsheet with every run I need to tick off between now and MDS, but to paraphrase the German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke (thanks Pog), no battle plan survives its first engagement with the enemy. So it will evolve over the weeks and months as real life intervenes, or I get ill, or injured and recover.

The key to training will be to not get overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, but just focusing on the next run.  If I can do Tuesday’s 3 mile run, then I know I will do the Marathon des Sables next April.

This week I have run nearly 40 miles and it is becoming apparent just what a commitment this is going to be, and how little my family are going to see of me.  Looking at my Strava feed I can see my first run back in September 2015 where I hauled my two-and-a-half stone overweight arse for 1 mile on my first day, and then 2.4 miles the next day at nearly 15 minutes per mile.  I’ve come a long way since then, and this gives me the confidence that training really works.

Next week I’ll be thinking about those long slow runs in a bit more detail.  In the meantime, you can sponsor me by donating as little or as much as you like to the Lord’s Taverners here and follow my training on Strava here.

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