It was during one of the adventure marathons that I first heard of MDS. In 2007, when I was running the Great Tibetan marathon in Ladakh, a runner friend, Brigid mentioned that the Marathon De Sables was the toughest foot race on earth and she felt that I had it in me to participate in it. A very encouraging thought, it compelled me to read all about the race, which further fuelled my interest.
It was then, five years from now, that I set my eyes on MDS. And it was then, five years from now, that I started preparing for it. I started running with a backpack from that day on, during all my training runs and marathons. Till date, I run with 3kg backpack! I came to realise that not only will this train me to run with weight on my back, but it is also very convenient as I can carry my change of clothes, 1-1.5litres of water, some food and change of footware.
I was mentally prepared for this race and it’s something I really wanted to do. I have had this dream of running this race for nearly five years, and, I repeat, everything I did over this time was geared to prepare me for MDS. I moved to ultra marathons, so that I was prepared for the long stage of this race. I took up endurance cycling of 200 and 300km races, so that I could be ready for all day running. I even did one 19hr bike ride as prep for one of the endurance races!
I figured that if I have to train for ultra marathons, AND keep a day job, AND keep up with my hectic social life – on and offline, I would have to incorporate running into my schedule in a way that is least disruptive. So, I run to work twice a week so that I don't have to wake up too early on week days. And if early morning was a problem on some days, I would run back home post work and evening coffee. My weekend runs are more leisurely and allow me to catch up with my weekly dose of celluloid! Since getting anywhere in the city takes up most time, I run the distance, rather, get to my destination.
The difficult thing about endurance running is the time that one needs to set aside for it. My usual weekday runs are between 11-14kms and weekend runs are longer. The days I am running I need to set aside a minimum of seven hours of sleep, as the body needs to be fresh and well rested.
I try to run about 50-60km per week all year round. I don't believe in overtraining and am very careful about not going overboard with running. I have stayed relatively injury free for the last three-four years. Even before big multi stage marathons like the Kerala ultra, I ensured that I do a max of 150km in seven days or 300km in 15 days about 45 days before any big event. This is to ensure that my body is adequately prepared for it, and that I don’t carry any injury into the race (should something happen).
Though many people do more runs to train before a big race, my take is different. Having said that, each runner has his/her distinct style of training, and it is best to listen to what your body is telling you.
Most importantly, it is critical to remember that when one is participating in a race which involves difficult conditions, some sort of isolation, and several days, there is more than just the body that one needs to prepare!