Marathon Des Sables (MDS) Peru: hunger games

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Swimming with the seals and flying with the birds was the prize I got after the long stage at Marathon Des Sables PERU, but do I really knew how it will end at the begging of it, definitely not.

If the simple marathon stage is hard, long one is even harder, but as once somebody told me – when the situation is tough, you must me tougher. This was my mantra the whole 68km through the swampy sand, with the front wind blowing straight from Pacific Ocean and with the solid elevation gain peaking at impressive 300m dune climb on the last kilometres. Though I wasn’t hungry for victory and kept reminding myself that it is more adventure than race itself, adrenaline and testosterone did it’s job and from minute one starveling beast inside me was unleashed.

It was just a perfect day in the desert and though many believe that placing is the most important thing in the races, it is not true at all. Time, which I spend alone or with friends on the trails matter more. Gained new life experiences drive me to do such a rad things. So, having all it in mind, super tired, depleted, but happy I managed to crawl to the campsite. The day was over, fatigue and satisfaction blurred away, but something still remained there – hunger.

#MDS is one of the toughest desert footstep races all around the world and definitely more extreme than overestimated Dakar Rally. It has several reasons being the one, but the cruellest part of it – self-sufficiency or I would say food sufficiency, as you must wisely choose calories and not to have super overloaded CamelBak IOT run light. Nutrition and proper fuelling are crucial parts of running, as no one can run on empty tank. Everyday runners become lighter and their glycogen storages are not the same as it used to be prior the race. Energy demand increase, food and glycogen storages decrease and the only way to deal with it, is either being hungry or full, but with heavy refrigerator breaking your spine on the course. Ideal weight of the running vest should be no more than 10% body mass, which became true for me just after 4th stage. However, together with diminishing food stash I was shrinking as well, so sadly I have never found this perfect balance.

In the past few days I figured out that raw cuisine is not my thing, as I couldn’t pump myself with million nuts with no desire of something else. Food was the thing, which I could really think about at the lonely moments in my tent. It was not that I didn’t have enough Kratos Sport – Biosophia srl supplies anymore, but I have just missed variety so much, that would certainly have committed the crime for just one mango or avocado fruit. Suddenly the sin of Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden for just one apple didn’t looked so meaningless anymore and the only thought, which I was obsessed while daydreaming in my runs was veggies and fruits, so terrible sexy dream with the real taste, feel and smell, but still empty stomach.

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Marathon des Sables (MDS) Peru: survival creativity

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It could be surprise for many, how creative one must become to manage all the challenges during Marathon Des Sables PERU in order to have a bit more comfortable life. Let’s take the simple plastic water bottle, which is the only thing organizers are providing to us. It can serve as a bowl, as a pot to heat the meal, as a mixer to prepare electrolyte drinks or as simple dust bin to store all the garbage, because penalties for flying trash in the strong desert wind is cruel, but fair ones. More creative runners even managed to use it as toilet substitution as well, since nights in the desert are cold and dark, so navigate back to own tent could be yet another challenge.

#MDS brings a lot of unknowns and figuring out the answers could be crucial part of this adventure. Each day runners are gambling in the desert and usually their health or life is at stake, so trying to get those answers right is vital. It is kind of art, how to find solutions for camp daily life problems or get used to them simply by ignoring. However, do we really know what the future holds for us next day or next hour? Not really, but exactly in that is the beauty of stage racing and exactly what got me addicted to it – mysterious camp life! This is why experience how to survive in the nature matters.

Let’s take the simple tent example. That’s right, each runner has the tent, which must be set up in the evening and put back in the bag early next morning. Sure, it is not the rocket science, but anyway skill, which must be developed in advance, as it definitely makes your life easier and preserves energy, needed for running. So, after one stage, I had run to the finish line first from my cell and thought what a nice idea would be to put all the tents and surprise my herd with the positive vibes after their hard day on the sand. However, our campsite suddenly was ambushed by such a strong gale, that it was impossible to set even my own roof. On their arrival I was still standing with “parachute” in my hands, not being able to move, as needed to secure flying house from disappearance. Just all together, after hard cross fit workout with the stones, we managed to set all the cell tents and conquer unpredictable.

Is it easy to have life like that? Not at all, but adventure and creativity is always here, so every wasted minute in the desert is worth that!

Photo Fredrik Ölmqvist #MDSPeru2017

Marathon Des Sables (MDS) Peru: simple life

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At Marathon Des Sables campsites we are living like a big family and it has its own charm. Somebody is eating and somebody is farting at the same time in front of you. However, it is new reality and norm that anybody gets angry or frustrated. We are definitely building something unique here, as being almost 24/7 all together is not just about recovery and running. Most likely those difficulties, disappearance of privacy and shame are the things, which makes our relations so special. It should be similar to high mountain expeditions and though I have never done one myself, feeling that instead of fighting cold and snow we are fighting heat and sand as well as unpredictable human factor in very stressful daily situations with a lot of unknowns. The only difference is that we do it with total strangers, whom we met in bivouac Zero for the first time.

Big brood of strangers is divided into the cells which consists of 4 to 5 tents with their own stories and colourful personalities, so build the good and supportive team takes time. I live with Ozzie, Mauritian, Japanese and the Cow. I would say we are one of the most international cells and Cow being the most interesting from the rest of group. Though being Japanese he clearly doesn’t have nationality. Seems that running with super warm cow costume in the desert with heat reaching up to +40C is the essence of his life. Although it is a bit weird and I am a bit unsure that he will be able to finish all the stages, probably he the best got idea of life. Life is simple and just we make it too complicated. Furthermore, everyone here with his own reason and though reasons differ, most of the runners want this simplicity in their complicated or super busy lives. Very likely deep inside most of them a super jealous to Cow, who found meaning of life just being the one

Marathon des Sables (MDS) Peru: lessons learned

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Heat and sand creates miracles in the desert, sadly mine wasn’t so sexy today. Remember while ago I was writing about magic of never? Guess what, #MDS surprised me with another one.

Today I was puking my guts out on the way to the first stage finish line and even wondered how good runner I am as was chicked and passed by few elderly gents. Tried desperately to keep up with them, but had no chance doing so. The more I tried to stay hydrated the more water I have been loosing, the faster I tried to push myself forward, the slower I have been moving. Battle was lost and the only hope left was not making hydration situation even worse and dangerous in those extreme heat conditions. Mitigation of expectations is must in the races like this and the better own manager you are the better race outcome is. This time it was as low as no matter what reach the finish line, but to do that I needed #hydrateordie.

Though I was desperate and surprised by all his new experience, actually it didn’t make difference, because I just like running no matter how hard it is. Sorry for those who think that I can compete with Usain Bolt and Mo Farah in their preferred distances at Olympics or stay close to Rachid Elmorabity in his playground. Everybody has Achilles heel and I am happy to find out my third one. Failures are just part of the process and yet the best way for improvement, when lessons learned are identified. Definitely, on my vomiting odyssey, I remembered poor Jim Walmsley during this years Western States Endurance Run and probably it was very first time when I could really got under his skin and into his shoes. However, my shoes didn’t move at all, as all energy was used for marking the course with the pieces of food from my stomach, so after a while I simply have no power left to lift my #megagrip‘ed legs at all. Water wise, professor Prof Tim Noakes would be super proud, as I definitely wasn’t waterlogged and done all stage with one litter of water in extremely hot desert conditions. Sounds stupid, but the more I drunk the more I watered plants all around me. So, looking from this perspective I wasn’t totally miserable and have done few great things in the sake of science.

No more excuses. Certainly, the fastest won the first stage, of Marathon Des Sables PERU however no less demanding five ones left through the #IcaDesert, so I won’t stop at the finish line, as tomorrow is yet another splendid day!

 

Photo Fredrik Ölmqvist #MDSPeru2017

Marathon des Sables (MDS) Peru: bivouac Zero

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For me all races start much earlier than H-hour or gunshot announcing the beginning of the stage. Marathon Des Sables isn’t the exception at all. It started way back in Lithuania when I have begun packing all mandatory equipment and necessary food into CamelBak Octane 16 pack. Sounds silly, but getting ready for 6 days self-sufficiency in the desert requires a lot of effort and as usually I have been very negligent and slow, so basically packed everything just last minute before departure. Despite, great tips, which my stage-pro-runner friends shared with me, I had to be very creative, as so many unknowns were waiting for me. Experiences, from the past MDS races, were so individual that definitely one size hat couldn’t fit all. Moreover, traveling itself was already the race and I was hardly involved in competition with time, boredom, sleep, proper food, jet lag and numerous hours spent on the planes and busses reaching campsite Zero.

In the Zero was easy to notice and distinguish first time entries like me and regular MDS participants like Rachid Elmorabity and Remigio Huaman, famous for their wins at previous MDS races. However, in the camp Zero everybody was alike and different at the same time with his or her own agendas and various reasons being in complete wilderness. In the newly established desert campsite life was just flowing and this river of simplicity was nothing-similar compare to civilization, which I have left hours ago in Lima. I was there as fruit of greed mixed with luck and pure coincidence, the offer, which I could not resist, in order to discover undiscovered and becoming better version of me.

From now on MDS race road-book clearly became my new bible, as contained all necessary information, which structured my daily life for upcoming week. Moreover, it contained first insights on the racecourse, which was top-secret information up till now and had more than 10 commandments, what I shall and shall not do. Trail religion is strict and cruel, but guess super necessary one to protect the lives of runners and make us as one to survive. However, it punishes runners with time penalties even for the smallest faults, so being absent minded I was already waiting for the first nail to my cross.

Marathon des Sables (MDS) Peru: magic of NEVER

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“I will NEVER run stage race, never do it on sand, never put myself in unknown environment and never even dare to think about it” – I was loudly shouting it to everybody who wanted to convince me in doing so just barely one month ago. However, irony is, that it has never been so easy to say yes and accept such a challenge!

Marathon Des Sables (MDS) – Peru is just around the corner and I have never felt so unprepared and so unsure about what is going to happen. The only thought, which makes me calmer, is acknowledgment that it is the same running, which I have done already for years. Certainly, I will encounter different and unknown environment, but it is nothing more than adventure, self-exploration and kind of new experience, where the winning is not the main goal. At least I hope so, but isn’t it a bit foolish? I am coming without any specific preparation, straight from my off-season and even though it is a bit childish and irresponsible who doesn’t like to risk and go all in no matter consequences? Moreover, it is Peru, dream destination for any mountain lover. This time it is sand mountains, dunes in Ica Desert, parts of which are barely touched by civilization. It has so many archeological sites, that there you can still easy find bones of dinosaurs or maybe even baby dragons breathing and making this extreme desert heat.

6 days self-sufficiency to cover 250km is nothing else, as being camel in the snail house and the most vital decision, which everybody tries to make prior the MDS is – how not to starve, but still run light. Not easy task, but I am not doing anything what is easy, as it is the essence of my philosophy of the running sport. Suffering is part of the game and like in all other ultra challenges, usually not the most fittest guy is wining the race, but the one who has strong mind and stomach. Though stomach could be empty this time, I am ready to go till the very end and find out undiscovered horizons.

Definitely, my decision to come was impulsive, but knowing that I will leave my footprints on million years of evolution and history made my call relatively easy. Furthermore, magic of never could not be underestimated, as it is exactly what pushes me forward and now I pronounce it more carefully and with more respect, as I am obsessed with everything, which I have NEVER tried before.

Going David LANEY | Part 3 – TGC

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My training prior Transgrancanaria (TGC) was hampered. It’s because I had twisted my ankle few times and couldn’t precisely follow the plan. You can imagine how one feels when something restrains you from doing what you really love. In normal conditions I would take some rest and let my body recover. However common standards are not for ultra runners. What is said is done. I shouted at my tired body, “Shut up!”, taped the traitor foot and got back to training. No excuses!

Being already in Gran Canaria and counting the days until the big day comes, I still felt pain. It made me anxious as I was not sure how it will go from there. Finally I decided to give my feet last chance to prove if they are worth anything. I am a man of habits and every time I go to TGC, I do training on the same course. It gives me an answer where exactly I am: if I need to rest, train more or simply pack the stuff and go home. Sort of last check up before the race. I didn’t want to make an exception this year so I decided: I’ll kill my ankles for good or make them loyal again. I think they got the lesson. My standard run from Agaete to Artenara was great, actually the best one in recent years – it boosted my confidence and from that moment I knew the race would be just great!

Ultra Trail World Tour venues are good occasion to meet friends and runners from all around the world, people who share the same passion. Although I like challenging myself during the races, the time spent with them on the trails prior the running events are no less important and even more fun. Each year TGC brings more and more talents to the island and this time field of athletes was impressive as well. This naturally formed the question, which persecuted me all the time: – “do I feel pressure?”

Coping with pressure is one of the keys to success. So, another task for me before TGC was to get rid of tension. I still remember the painful lesson I received at Gran Raid Reunion, but what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. And this is exactly what happened to me. I found a remedy that made me immune to stress – my family! As long as they are next to me, nobody can get under my skin. This time they were with me, so I felt secure and serene, ready to make TGC my day.

I believe family is the best dope ever invented (should I be disqualified for using my closest ones as illegal substances?) as it boosts your motivation, self-confidence and lets you fly from one aid station to another. Basically this is what happened to me this time as well. My family’s presence added me wings, which carried me kilometer by kilometer closer to the finish line and further from my rivals. I felt amazing, my feet were finally tamed and didn’t create much problems. The entire run went at lightning speed and I was able to sustain this crazy pace till the finish line, improving my TGC time once again. Although I finished second I am so thrilled to be back on track – the future looks bright!