Marathon Des Sables 2018 - Robert Achieves The Goal!
For those who don’t know, this is a classic six day run in Morocco where you are self sufficient in food for the duration of your desert experience. That means they supply a ration of water at checkpoints and distances change each day, together with terrain changes. You carry all your own food for the entire race and sleep with about six ‘mates’ in a tent each night. Your pack could be 7kgs or 15kgs, that’s up to you but lighter is best- ‘self sufficiency’ catches many out who are terribly exposed with poor training. It’s a big race with a total distance of over 250 kms, over a thousand racers and distances ranging from a final day of 15 kms through fifty kms and the big day of about 85kms. The scenery is superb and the experience unbeatable. It’s tough though, lots of people don’t finish and the huge dunes and sand and sun take a toll, the medical tent is full of walking wounded each day. It takes character to do this. I drilled and trained Robert over the months on the correct foods, equipment options, gym work and training sessions. He tested everything and refined his choices.... with repeated packing and refining of items and weighing we got his bag down to about 7kgs, a pretty good result- at Action Potential we routinely make huge evolutionary changes to people’s initial lists. I knew he would have to run light for a good race, both his body weight and his gear.
Robert Jackson Mee came to me in Auckland over a year before the race and asked me to help him get there. This was after he had quizzed me on my two MDS races a year or so earlier..... the goal had been worming its way into his head over the months. He was in his fifties with a lot of interesting life background but zero endurance sport! We set to work immediately to slowly change all his routines on diet and training etc etc to get him there. His goal was a finish ( but I knew he would want more). Having raced this thing twice myself and Coached people to happy finishes I was well placed to get him there.... but it was not going to be easy. The race requires detailed conditioning and preparation with multi cyclical approach and some people simply don’t have the attitudes and work ethic to get there or to perform if they do. With Robert we set about very slowly building his regular running, with the slow adaption needed trotting along behind. His ‘engine’ very slowly built capacity, supplemented with strength work in the gym.
He doggedly kept at it and as his weight slowly dropped and diet changed we began to see a runner emerging. Let’s not rush here.... it took us months to make these changes, all the time avoiding injury and seeing what the strengths and weaknesses of this person were. I get approached by people quite often and sometimes have to turn them down, at the end of the day the two people need to have faith in each other and be committed to the agreed training, some cannot do this. Robert was really keen to make this race and got through the work
To cut a long story short he did some buildup races where he practised key points such as nutrition on long days, key equipment selected and tested ( discarded and more tested) as well as how to run long with attention on heart rate and the different terrain we expected. We revisited my established specific locations here in New Zealand ( mostly around Auckland ) to practice. In one race Robert picked up an injury which required several months work and together we got through to the race. This period is tough for an athlete who can see their race disappearing but if the right people are visited and the right rehab and treatment obtained we mostly get there. Not all medical staff are equal in this sort of race prep. As a Coach I enjoy this whole process and this is a race I thoroughly enjoyed myself, running to two top fifty finishes and putting into practice some race plans. I was almost as excited as Robert to see him go -training to perform on a date in a foreign land in a big race is not easy, it takes skill. A lot of people run and train and yet never test themselves in this way. He knew the importance of the nutrition plan and the execution of the race we had put into place and practiced. The broad basic food plan involved a core of freeze dry foods with the addition of powders and nut mixes and other solid foods for the day. All this has been carefully evolved over ten to fifteen years and I was very confident it would provide enough calories in a useable form whilst keeping to the required light weights and sterility to keep him out of the dreaded medical tent. I wanted Robert to avoid the common foot damage that cripples many, eat well enough to recover each day and enjoy the race. You cannot run for six days with either a poor nutrition knowledge or poor conditioning. I break these races right down to their core components and gradually cover everything people will need. We practice everything and prepare people to the level they wish to achieve, matching to their ability. Robert applied himself and I knew he was going to love the whole experience if well prepared.
I kept up with his progress in the race, day by day, and saw him keep a good consistent pace, looking after himself in the dunes and dust by day and night. Day three is crunch time with its 85+ kms. Most runners end up running through the night and I was very keen for him not to stop and sleep on the trail as some do. We had a strategy of really hitting this day and Rob delivered, he played a blinder and ran through the field to place well that day. That allowed him to rest up for the next day instead of running all night and some of the next day. He worked hard on this massive day as we planned and I knew he was capable of it. Any worries I had disappeared when I saw his progress in the web site for the race. Like everyone he made friends for life in his tent and shared a lot of laughs as well ask the tough times. Unfortunately on the last day he injured a knee but that wasn’t going to stop him and he got in for fine middle of the field finish. I knew he would be taking a couple of showers to get the filth off, throwing away race clothing unchanged for the duration and having a beer or two. When I did my two my shirt hit the wall in my hotel and then slid down to stay in a single hard sheet, I felt elated and raced downstairs to go for a few beers and decent food at last. Unfortunately everyone is so tired they sit around until about nine o’clock and then hit the sack. Robert absolutely loved his experience!
Congratulations Rob, nice working with you and I was so pleased you enjoyed the experience so much. I actually think it was one of the best weeks of your life.... as they were for me. So much work, so much prep, so many miles run and so many visits to Drs etc. Only you and I know what that took. You cracked it and came out smiling.
Robert joins the short list of people that take on this challenge. He has the Marathon Des Sables legendary finish for life.
Anyone else keen? It’s worth it. Give me a call.