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muddy legs

Marathon Des Sables: Training With The Green Man Ultra

Adam Chapman is running the Marathon Des Sables for Walking With The Wounded. Support him and donate to Walking With The Wounded through his Virgin Money Giving Page.

As part of my Marathon des Sables preparation I entered the Green Man Ultra – a 46 mile loop around Bristol. I thought this would be a good opportunity to test my recent training and get some miles under the belt in more testing circumstances.

I spent most of the day before the race on a plane and when I finally arrived home Friday evening the last thing I wanted to do was pack my gear for an early start the next morning. Especially as my body clock was in another time zone and I’d been awake since 2am. However, I reminded myself of why I was doing it and that it was never meant to be easy! I’ll probably only get one attempt at the Marathon des Sables and I want to do as well as I can and not come back thinking I could have done more. I had just been reading up about Lev from Secret Compass who is currently walking the Nile and I thought he’s probably having a much tougher time! (Great inspiration) A lot of people are sponsoring me as well so I would feel guilty not going for it – and that includes all of the early starts, late finishes and hours spent training. I just hope it pays off! So I sluggishly unpacked from my work trip, re-packed for the race and had a big pasta meal before trying to get some rest.

The one bonus of being in a different time zone was that getting up at 0500 felt ok! Fast forward a few hours and it was time to start the race. Now unlike the last few Ultras I have run, navigation was going to play a big part of this race as the course was not marked out in the sense of other races and runners would need to navigate around the route with either compulsory GPS, or by map. A number of runners had either ran the race before or had recced elements of it (top tip if you are planning on entering this in the future). Unless you have a really good memory though you still need to check the map or GPS regularly as it was a very technical course; which went through woods, fields, housing estates, over and under motorways, through and around golf courses – all of which seemed to be covered in mud after the recent torrential rain and flooding (great desert preparation).

As we set off I knew from experience that the runners would soon get spread out and as I did not want to waste any time getting lost or spending more time than necessary map reading so I made sure that I kept in sight of, or with other runners as well. It’s always nice to chat to other runners along the way I find and it helps things go quicker. Before Check Point 2 I’d ended up running with another guy and a women – who flew through the Check Points without stopping where as I made sure to get plenty of food and drink on board. The Check Points were excellent and you had a pick of Coke, squash, Redbull, nuts, peanut butter sandwiches, gels and sweets – all the things you’d normally not eat! From here on in the other runner (Mark) and I checked each other as he was using a GPS watch and I was going off the map. This worked really well as I’m not sure how useful each on it’s own would be without a recce, especially with some of the more technical parts of the course. This meant that I did not lose the will to live whilst navigating around the course and could concentrate on the running (thanks Mark).

Like other Ultras I get into a nice rhythm and plodded along, I made a concerted effort to eat more on the way around the route as I’m guilty of not eating enough and as such I did not suffer any serious dips in energy until the very end, when we got into a minor “sprint” finish over the last couple of kms. I was also testing some Salomon x-wing shorts with compression inners so I’m not sure how much they helped. I finished in 8hrs 29 mins which given the conditions I was pretty happy with although I’m still waiting for the final results to see how that time compares. It was good just to get the miles under the belt and I’ll start dropping the mileage from here on in as the MDS starts in under 30 days.

At the finish I was given probably the best medal ever! The size is impressive enough but it has loads of detail on as well and is unlike any other I’ve seen. I was also given a mug, t-shirt and certificate. I am now an official “Woodwose” having completed the route. There is a lot of Green Man type goings around the race which gives it a unique feel. After a stretch off and shower there was also a meal provided, which was an added bonus, given all of these end of race treats and the amount of food/drink available at the check points I think the race is pretty good value.

Home, bath, eat, drink, sleep, repeat.

Results just in, 8th place overall – very happy!

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I’ll probably only get one attempt at the Marathon des Sables and I want to do as well as I can and not come back thinking I could have done more.

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