818MR’s sand man is back from the desert

MR’s sand man is back from the desert

Jody Raynsford returns from the Marathon des Sables with tales to tellJodyRaynsfordJody at the start of those bloody dunes...hence the smileIt was everything I expected and more. At the end of three years of anticipation and training I finally crossed the finish line of this year’s Marathon des Sables (MdS) and what a feeling it was. An adventure-filled week in the Moroccan Sahara living it up in a tent filled with increasingly weary but high-spirited chaps, the culmination of months of training, planning, pouring over kit choices for hours on end (then throwing them all out at the last minute) ended with an ever-so-slight tinge of sadness the journey was over. But that bottle or two of Casablanca beer waiting for us back at the hotel felt richly deserved.Plan for the best, prepare for lots of sandNot only did the 849 competitors in this year’s event have to negotiate 150 miles of the toughest running terrain you could imagine - from the soft, shifting sands of the dunes to ankle-breaking rocky plains - we also faced quad-busting hill climbs and endless stretches of awkward shuffling across dried river and lake beds. Couple the distance with temperatures topping a scorching 57C, a full-scale sandstorm thrown in for good measure, and topped off with the indignity of hauling an 11kg pack around with all your food, water and kit for the week and it proved more than a little tricky.But having stood on the receiving end of everything that race director Patrick Bauer and his race team threw at us during the week, it is clear why the MdS deserves its reputation as ‘the toughest footrace on earth’. Any single one of the race stages (apart from the last day) could easily have ranked as the toughest race I’d ever done. Special mention needs to be given, however, to the 82K introduction to extreme fatigue known as the ‘long day’ for living up to its seemingly innocuous moniker so accurately. In other words, 15 hours on my feet. 15 hours. Surely that, on its own, contravenes some sort of human rights legislation.Think happy thoughtsFortunately, like my faulty water bottles, my cup runnethed over with motivating thoughts thanks to the charity I was running for, rare kidney disease campaign Action For Alport’s. Founded by my sister-in-law whose seven-year-old son has been diagnosed with the condition, the campaign aims to raise £50,000 to start research into the genetic disease that can lead to deafness in its sufferers from the age of 10 with kidney failure likely before the age of 20. It was British competitors who first brought fundraising to the MdS and so, for me, it became the starting point towards the £50,000 goal for a condition that currently has no funding whatsoever. Suddenly, tackling those endless dunes and suffering the mild discomfort of blisters over several hundred kilometres didn’t seem all that bad.Just getting to the start was a journeyMy transformation from plodder to MdS competitor began three years earlier when I signed up for the race in 2008. Maintaining an ongoing marathon programme to build my endurance over that period, with six months to go my training turned serious with a race-specific programme of gym work to tackle upper body and core muscles, speed work during the week and back-to-back marathon-busting runs across the South Downs at weekends. In anticipation of the withering effect of the Saharan climate on my body, I also dropped 10kg in body weight by saying bye bye to the delights of alcohol and my culinary favourites, bread and cheese. My local Domino’s loss, however, was most certainly a gain for my performance during the race and in the vein of The A-Team’s Hannibal, I loved it when my plan came together.Read the full story of Jody’s race in the July issue of Men’s Running magazine, on sale May 26. For more on his preparation and kit, see May’s issue of the magazine.
To read more about Jody’s charity Action For Alport’s or to donate go to www.kidneyresearchukevents.org/jodyrunsthesahara

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