The start of August (and coincidentally the end of my holiday) marked 14 weeks to go until I do my next challenge…… the Oman Desert Marathon. 165km of desert running split over 5 days, carrying everything I would need (minus a tent). To say that I am underprepared would be an overstatement. I have never done anything like this before in my life. So why have I signed up for it? One of my very good friends Amy is off travelling after she finishes her physiotherapy Masters degree before she goes back to work. She’s heading to South America, and had been told about the Jungle Marathon in Brazil by someone she trains with who has done it before. Cue lots of emails and messages back and forth between us as she tried to convince me to sign up to it with her. I DESPERATELY wanted to – what an amazing challenge, plus it would be so much more fun doing it with a friend rather than on your own. However, with the amazing challenge comes an understandably amazing price tag. Seeing as Amy was already going to be in South America anyway, air fare had already been factored in…… whereas I would first have to get a flight back to the UK, and then on to Brazil. Oman to Brazil equals a lot of money. So sadly I had to say no, but the damage was already done – I wanted to find something similar that I could do instead. There were a few events I found in the Middle East (or close-ish) that looked promising, but for a lot of them the daily distances looked pretty intimidating to me. I have run marathons before, but aside from a slightly-longer-than-a-marathon off-road EnduranceLife Coastal Trail Series marathon (43.6km) in 2013, I’ve never run over marathon distance before, and definitely have never been in any shape to run that kind of distance on consecutive days.
A reasonable amount of research later, and I decided that not only was the Oman Desert Marathon a perfect one to do in terms of location (no flights needed, local health insurance already covered etc., not that far from my house – maybe a 4 hour drive), the daily distances and (almost more importantly) daily time allowances were actually very friendly looking for a complete novice.
I’ve been running regularly since I arrived in Oman almost a year ago, but normally only twice a week, very occasionally three times a week. Over winter I was quite fit, doing some cycle training too, with a mixture of turbo sessions and long bike rides, swimming sessions, and racing local triathlons. That all fell apart a little bit after about March, when the weather started to get unbearably hot, we had a string of week-long fieldwork trips away from home, and I generally decided that I liked my bed better than exercise in the mornings.
One of the reasons I wanted to sign up to something scary was so that I had something to keep me motivated through the summer months that I knew would be horrible to train in. So in late May / early June I decided that running 165km through the Omani desert would probably be a good enough challenge. Combine this with my first attempt at a Whole30 month….. what can I say, I like a challenge!
I started running a little more frequently from that point onwards (fieldwork trips permitting), or at least ensuring that I did actually go to all the sessions I was aiming for. July was a bit of a challenge due to it being the holy month of Ramadan, and the necessity to be respectful and cover up in 40+ degrees C with no water during daylight hours. I was very happy to spend that last two weeks of July back in the UK, and managed to get in a fair few runs, even if they were a little on the short side. When I arrived back in Oman at the beginning of August, my aim was to increase the number of days on which I was running per week, in addition to slowly increasing weekly mileage, with one long run per week. Mission partly accomplished. I’ve continued doing my usual group runs with the Muscat Road Runners; Monday Mystery – usually 5km+ mystery route from someone’s house and Tuesday Trauma – either speedwork intervals or hill reps, usually 12km+. I’ve also started going to the Friday social run, an early weekend run starting at 5.30am. Which means my alarm goes off at 4.30am because I live so far away from the meeting point. Waaaah. I need this extra push to get out of bed and do that kind of distance, so having a group to do it with is perfect for me. It’s a very relaxed run, stopping every 4-5km for water stops at garages/shops etc. Particularly with these stops, it’s ideal for me training-wise; it means I’m getting the distance in for a long run, and I’m also increasing the time spent on my feet if you factor in the stops. In reality I will not be running the entire time for the desert race, and I will be stopping at checkpoints every 10km or so.
The training diary for August looks a little like this (apologies for the mix of km and miles – I’m only just getting my head around using km for running, and what the paces correspond to!);
- Sunday – lazy day
- Monday – 3.7mi (31:37 – 8:27/mi)
- Tuesday – 6.9mi, (1:02:47 – 9:08/mi – 4x1000m efforts)
- Wednesday – fieldwork (diving)
- Friday – 10.4mi (1:42:32 – 9:51/mi), climbing
- Saturday – 3.3mi (31:06 – 9:29/mi – offroad)
- Total run mileage: 24.3miles (39.1km)
- Sunday – slacklining
- Monday – 3.8mi (32:59 – 8:45/mi)
- Tuesday – 6.3mi (1:05:35 – 10:26/mi – 6x800m hill reps)
- Wednesday – lazy day
- Thursday – kettlebells
- Friday – 11.0mi (1:45:10 – 9:32/mi)
- Saturday – 62.9mi hot and hilly road bike (3:55:24 – 16.0mph)
- Total run mileage: 21.1miles (34.0km)
- Total bike milesage: 62.9miles (101.2km)
Not as many runs as I’d hoped for, but figured that the long bike ride made up good leg cross-training, and the kettlebell session was squeezed in so that I at least did something on the Thursday. Good to maintain strength training too (although having said that I haven’t done any since!)
- Sunday – lazy day
- Monday – 3.7mi (32:14 – 8:38/mi)
- Tuesday – 8.4mi (1:08:23 – 8:11/mi – Pyramid interval efforts)
- Wednesday – 14.6mi road bike commute (46:25 – 18.8mph)
- Thursday – 2×14.6mi road bike commute (48:27 – 18.1mph, 46:04 – 18.9mph)
- Friday – 11.8mi (1:52:51 – 9:32/mi). 1.7mi run to get my lift to & from run (15:28)
- Saturday – 44.8mi road bike (2:27:27 – 18.2mph) (plus an 8km cycle food shopping trip)
- Total run mileage: 25.6miles (41.2km)
- Total bike mileage: 88.6miles (142.6km)
Halfway through week 3 I suddenly found myself without a car. In Muscat this is a fairly major problem. Particularly so when I live nearly 15 miles from where I work, and the only way to get there is to cycle along the hard shoulder of a dual carriageway, with wild wadi dogs that like to chase cyclists. I’ll keep up the cycle commuting as long as I need to, and as long as it doesn’t get in the way too much of my running training. At a low level I’m working on the assumption that it’s good for my fitness, good for leg strength, and good for keeping a bit of muscle balance in my legs between the two sports.
- Sunday – 2×14.6mi road bike commute (45:39 – 19.2mph, 44:09 – 18.7mph)
- Monday – 14.6mi road bike commute (45:24 – 19.3mph), 4.5mi run (38:09 – 8:25/mi)
- Tuesday – 14.6mi road bike commute (43:01 – 20.4mph), 6.3mi run (54:18 – 8:40/mi – 6x400m sprints)
- Wednesday – 2×14.6mi road bike commute (48:39 – 18.0mph, 50:16 – 17.3mph)
- Thursday – 3.5mi run (35:01 – 9:53/mi – active recovery run)
- Friday – 1.1mi run to lift (10:15 – 9:15/mi), 13.1mi (2:05:27 – 9:36/mi)
- Saturday – rest day
- Total run mileage: 28.5miles (45.9km)
- Total bike mileage: 87.6miles (141.0km)
Commuting on Wednesday was HARD. Legs were very tired after a hard run on Tuesday night, and I hadn’t eaten or drunk enough on Tuesday, and it hit me like a train on the Wednesday. I opted out of the normal Saturday morning group cycle, as they were planning the 100+km hilly Halban loop again, and although I desperately wanted to go, my body was telling me that I needed more sleep, and a bit of a light day. So I made nut butter, and went shopping for sports gear instead!
- Total run mileage for August: 99.5 miles (wish I’d added this up sooner – would have run round the block a few times to get that extra half a mile!) (160.1km)
- Total bike mileage for August: 239.1miles (384.8km)
Plan for September training – carry on upping the mileage on my long Friday run, make sure I am running four times a week (preferably with a longish run on Thursdays), and start running with a rucksack (gradually upping the weight). I’ve been doing my long runs with a 2L camelback rucksack anyway, and I’ve run with my Raidlight rucksack before, so I’m quite used to the feeling of running with a pack on, I just need to get myself used to running with a decent amount of weight in it. I haven’t yet added up the weight of everything I’ll be taking with me for the Oman Desert Marathon, so I’m not sure how heavy it will be, but I’m guessing around 7-8kg without water if I’m lucky. Time to get a spreadsheet going I think!