A week to go – a pain in the bum

Look, Sun!
Look, Sun!

7 days to go – right now I should be in peak physical condition. Instead I’ve got a streaming cold and a pain in my bum. 

The cold will take its course – I can believe that will go.

The pain in my bum, well it’s sciatic pain – wickedly good when I cough or sneeze. I’m sure it’s because I haven’t taken care of stretching my glutes, so some foam rollering and some glutes stretches are order of the day.

The major downside of the cold is that I’m missing out on sessions in the sauna – really important for getting my body ready for the higher temperatures in the desert. 

All in all not ideal, but I still know I can complete the distance, I might just have to take it a bit easier than I hoped.

Otherwise things are coming together.

Layout of most of the kit
Layout of most of the kit

I’m pretty organised with my kit, a few bits to finally sort out – needle and thread, some Pepperami wideboys that sort of thing. In general though I’m pretty happy. My total kit without water is going to come in around 7.5-8kg on the start line. Which is about where I wanted to be. Much closer on the weight limit of 6.5kg would mean I’d be calorie light – so this is a good compromise.

ECG heart trace
ECG heart trace

I got my medical certificate signed off. Due to the nature of the race an ECG is needed as well as a general check over from the GP. Despite it showing up some abnormalities my doctor was happy enough to sign me off as ok to go. The unusual trace shows Sinus brachycardia compatible with a bundle branch block, left ventricular hypertrophy with wide QRS and an insignificant Q wave in high lateral. Basically, compared to the normal person, I have a big, slow heart – quite common with people who exercise. Makes sense, running needs a big pump.

Dune training and kit testing
Dune training and kit testing

I also managed to get a short test in with my gaiters and shoes on some lovely, hard dunes. Really not looking forward to day 1 of the event…there seems to be a lot of dune work to come! 

Cooking, a teaspoon of cement and soup for the soul

So having just written an article about balancing training and life for Andy Mouncey  this week sucked a big one for training. 5am starts and at 11pm finishes meant for 5 days training wasn’t an option, and Saturday I was washed out totally so training was completely unappealing.

Saturday then, I put to checking out how my cook kit would work out for Marathon des Sables. I’ve got the equipment and fuel to under 200g for the race, but I really wanted to check that it’d work in the wind. I’m going to be eating dehydrated food, so need to get some heat into the water I’ll use for reconstitute. I’m using an Alpkit Mytimug  to cook in, an MSR Titan tool spoon, both of which I have used a good bit on different trips. But to get the weight down, and as I’m not going to be worried about speed I’m going for an Esbit titanium stove. That and some solid fuel tabs will see me through the race, tests show that 10 mins is what it takes to boil the right amount of water. I can wait whilst I’m recovering! The only thing I need to work on is the high performance wind shield – tin foil. Job done.

Last night I realised that work wasn’t going to be much better this week, I might get the chance to do a few 40 minute runs in the morning, but not much else. So although I woke up really tired, and it was miserable with wind and rain, I needed to head out for some kind of exercise. My ankle is taped at the moment because of a sore Achilles, so a long run would have been a bit daft, though it is getting to the point where I want to test it.

A long ride would be perfect. Took a metaphorical teaspoon of cement and went out. Got a category 2 climb  in and a bunch of category 3’s so the training effect is good.

Achilles KT taping.
Achilles KT taping.

What the ride has taken out of me physically, it has given me a whole load back mentally. So it was definitely worth it!

Packing it in

March training is going well, apart from this really cold weather. I’m trying to build my mileage slowly and steadily to get my leg better. That means cross training on a bike and all this snow is meaning I’m not getting as much time training as I’d like.

For my birthday I got a key bit of equipment for Marathon des Sable – my pack. I wanted to get this early on as it is the key bit of equipment, other than footwear, that can make the trip comfortable, or not. Bedding in time with this is really important.

Aarn Mountain Magic 33
Aarn Mountain Magic 33

I’d done a bit of research, I have a long back and I wanted something with easy access to front pockets so I can keep feeding easily. This is quite a unique set of requirements. The pack needs to be lightish, able to take 7 days of food, all the cooking and sleeping gear, mandatory kit (venom pump, first aid) and a few luxury items.

I’d tried a few packs from the normal contenders and one way or another there was something niggling. In the end I tried on an Aarn pack, and despite it having a fantastically complicated strap system it was really comfortable.

I’m a big fan of simplicity, especially when things can break. The idea of having to stitch, or bodge something back together in the middle of the desert isn’t massively appealing. However, being made in New Zealand I’m pretty confident that the kit will work really well, I haven’t had heaps of time with the pack yet, nor have I taken it out loaded up, but that will come pretty soon and I’ll write more.

I’ve settled for a Mountain Magic 33, probably a little bigger than I actually need, but the strapping system means that whether the sac is full or empty it carries just the same. So as I eat most of what I’m carrying I can reduce the pack size and stay comfortable.

I am a little worried about some of the cording on the front pockets, but I’ve got some time to hack it better, and that will probably involve some Sugru too. Mountain Marathon events will give me a chance, to load for multiday, run, camp, repack and generally get the pack to fit me well. I’m interested to see how the ventilation works-going to save me a really zitty back if it does!

To read more about some of the unique features of Aarn packs it’s worth having a read on their website.

2/26 2012in2012, Tikka, Brecon, and Brenig

The last two weeks have been hard getting the miles in, first of all really cold, then really windy, then really wet and then chilly again.

At least good kit means that the cold stay outside, though Mrs C was pretty “impressed” when I came home with little bits of frost on my shoulders. For impressed read that she thinks I’m a little unhinged but then she is a tropical flower by her own admission.

Work got in the way too with a few 16hr days so I’m pretty happy that in the last two weeks I’ve managed 94 miles 2916m of ascent. That means year to date is 219.4miles and 5679m of ascent which is 64.6 miles ahead of schedule.

This mornings run was really nice, I felt strong and the hills were easy. I’m happy with where I’m at right now.

I broke my old head torch (a Petzl Tikka) this last week too, it’s an old friend that has done some special trips with me, Alps, Scotland, Mountain Marathons, got me out of scrapes night riding and been around Morocco on a motorbike. I’ve replaced it with the updated Tikka XP 2 against alot of advice that the Myo XP is the way forward. I’ll do a little write up when I’ve put some miles in with it.

I had a trip to Brecon with work promoting the tourism opportunity for Paddlesports in Wales with Visit Wales. I had a few spare minutes and wandered along the canal. I’d never realised that Aberhonddu (Brecon) is the end of the Taff trail- I really like the topographical casting they have outside the Brycheiniog Theatre. I can feel a family trip coming on!

Today we managed to get out in brilliant weather to Llyn Brenig. I can’t being really frustrated when I visit places like Brenig on clear bright beautiful days. The fact that the lake is not being used is an absolute disgrace-not by choice but by restriction. Amazing resources that could be unlocked sensibly for no cost. They stayed locked up with objection on Health and Safety grounds and from others who aren’t prepared to share – neither of which sit comfortably with me.