The direct preparation for the actual start was quite difficult. I’d planned to start the run on the 1st May, this had to be moved to the 1st June. We, my running partner Darren and I, also knew that we had to be under-trained for the start. We would be running for about three and a half months and one couldn’t prepare as for a normal race where you build up, reach maximum intensity, peak, and then taper before the event. We were going to need to use the first about 6 weeks of the expedition as part of our training so that we didn’t peak too soon and our bodies would be too wasted and tired to finish. This meant that every step of the way during my training before the start I was always feeling unfit and useless. Added to this problem was that we had been advised (by David Grier) that we would be losing between 15 and 20kg of weight. I only weigh 75kgs and have only about 11% body fat. This meant that I was supposed to be trying to pick up weight before the event – which in fact I never managed to achieve, the greater intensity of running training just wasted away the extra food that I was eating. So training runs generally felt like I was an unfit, fat slob – a far cry from my usual activity.
We decided upon a training programme which focused more on running shorter distances twice a day, rather than one run of a longer distance. The key here being recovery. So right at the start we would run between 5 and 7 kms twice a day, then increase these distances to the maximum of doing 10km twice a day, with the occasional longer run over the weekend. This was going well until we hit our next problem. We were supposed to be driving out of Cape Town on our way to the start point in Namibia on the 1st June, but then the paperwork for the vehicle and trailer, which we had to borrow from a friend, wasn’t complete. Trying to get the change of ownership papers and original registration papers from the previous owner in Johannesburg, to the new owner our friend Chris in Cape Town, and then letters of permission to use the vehicle and trailer for the border posts caused a two week delay. I was all packed and ready to go, with nowhere to go! Literally, I had arranged for a young couple to housesit my cottage whilst I was away and they had to move in on the 1st which meant that I had to move out. I spent the first 5 days at a friend house, then had to move out when his daughter came home from university, then spent the next 3 days at Darren’s house, again having to move out when his house guests returned, then I spent the next 3 nights on the floor in my daughter and her boyfriend’s flat, all the time living out of a suitcase and using the kit that I’d prepared for the expedition – far from ideal! This also meant that extremely little training happened during these two weeks. We then left on Tuesday the 16th June and spent a few days driving up to Torra Bay, our start point, so again no training during this time. The end result being that we started running on an exceptionally low base of training over the previous 2 to 3 weeks.
The first few days of running were horrible. We had set out with the idea that because of all the delays and lack of training we would probably start with a gentle 5km run the first day, then up this to maybe 10km, and then see if we can run twice the next day etc. We started running on a fairly difficult dirt road, lots of small rolling hills, lots of soft sand in the road which kept us changing lanes all the time to run along the harder tyre tracks, and then there were the corrugations and camber to deal with – it was fairly hard going. But, to our surprise we clocked up the following distances in our first week of real and hard running: 17,7km; 20,7km; 21,7km; 24,8km; 23,8km; 32,2km followed by a rest day.
This was also the first time ever that Darren and I had run together. We set off and I immediately knew that the pace was too fast for me. Darren’s training runs before we left Cape Town, when he could only manage to go and do a 5km time trial, he was doing these in under 18 minutes! My comfortable cruising pace is around the 6min/km mark. But I decided to stay with Darren at his pace the first few days because I knew that it would take 3 or 4 days for my body to adjust to the conditions, to running again, and to running distance. I found it quite hard, and a bit worrying, but I was considerably comforted and boosted by the fact that firstly I was recovering very quickly after each run, and secondly that Darren didn’t expect us to be running together all the time – which is in fact what has developed as the norm now during our second week of running.
Far more of a problem is my feet, and Darren’s hip. Darren did all the driving in the vehicle which has an extremely hard and stiff clutch. Over the first 2 weeks of our running he has had a constant battle to loosen his hip, hip flexor, and most of his left hand side, which is all referring from the hard clutch. For me, on day 2 of running I damaged/bruised the bottom outside ridge of my right foot, somehow. By the time I get into the last 10kms of each day’s run it is extremely painful. I then spend the rest of the day with my feet up as much as possible, and rolling it on my hockey ball which I fortunately brought with me. For the first time in my life I have also now taken some Myprodol tablets to ease the inflammation, which do seem to be working, as well as some anti-inflammation gel and arnica/wintergreen gel.
The 2nd week of running has been far more “organised”; we’ve slipped into a routine where we start out at either 06h30 or 07h00 depending upon where our start point is, if we start from our camping spot Darren and I slip out on our own at the earlier time, then Amy catches up with us at the 20km point, we have a little bit of breakfast then run a further 10km, or slightly more. We start off walking for a km or two then break into a stumbling, painful, disjointed trot which must look a bit like the difference between Usain Bolt coming out of the blocks (Darren) and me easing myself up out of a wheelchair. This creates an immediate gap between us which means that we pretty much do the run solo for most of the way, which I prefer rather than feeling that I have to keep up with Darren’s pace. He will wait for me at about 12 or 14k’s to check and see if everything is ok, then we meet up again at breakfast, start off the last 10k’s together and finish separately in a ragged, ever slowing pace. I’ve also slipped into the routine that I perfected during my Namib Desert practice run whereby I slow to a walk every so often to drink water, sip some Perpetuem, eat a few enerjelly babies etc. This really works for me. Here’s our distances for the 2nd week: 31,5km; 30,4km; 31,1km; 31,7km; 30,1km; and 17,5km.
As to the question of whether I prepared sufficiently – there are 3 answers: yes, I definitely prepared well for this expedition over the past 7 years; no, there was not a very well structured and executed training programme in the weeks and months leading up to the start but, there was little else and not much more that I could do, so I’m comfortable with it as it was. Thirdly, the logistical planning left much to be desired! Strangely, but another story for another time perhaps, I have a Diploma in IT Project Management and spent over 25 years in the IT and Compliance industry as a project and programme manager – yet this event was not terribly well planned … swings and roundabouts, there was also some really good stuff that happened, and again, quite a lot where there was not much else that could be done.
The first week of running was daunting and scared me a bit from time to time. The hurting that I was going through often made me wonder whether it would get better and whether I would make it over another 3 months or so. Fortunately, the last run that we did I felt exceptionally good, after 17,5km, and was very disappointed that we didn’t do more, a really good sign. My foot is still extremely sore and will require constant and close management.
Mentally I am feeling fantastic – I’m right on top of everything, myself most of all, and I know that this is the one aspect that will not falter, my mental strength. It is this strength that will carry my body through if it starts to falter or break down too much. I have also spent many years looking after my body strength and building it with an excellent Personal Trainer so I am in great shape and very strong. The bottom line is that after 2 weeks things are looking really good and were it not for my foot problem I would say that everything is going fantastically well and is 100%