Monday, 1 April 2013

Namib Desert Challenge: Post-race contemplations

Home sweet (and cool) home. Now that the unpacking and washing is done I'm settling into customary post-race blues. That's the problem with a most wonderful week away with a most excellent group of like-minded people and nothing to worry about but running, eating and sleeping. Well, there's no better way to deal with post-race blues than to seek new adventures.

The second wave of runners waiting for the start of the final stage on Friday morning. Photo by Hannisze.
I thought I'd jot down a couple of notes - thoughts whirling around in my mind.

Desert gaiters
When you run in sand, you do need a shoe covering to prevent sand getting in. Desert sand is not the same as beach sand; it is fine and dry and it sneaks in through any and every gap in your shoe - the top, the mesh, the tongue. A desert gaiter is a shoe covering that is attached to the upper of the shoe and it covers your foot from the ankle to the sole.

You need to plan ahead as it is best to have velcro sewn around the base of the upper (the gaiter has velcro around its base). Glue is definitely not a good idea, especially for multi-day events as it wiggles into any little gap and lifts the glue. Any shoe repair shop will be able to do the stitching.

Desert gaiters are not that easy to find. Make your own or order online. Be sure to order the correct size (there are usually two or three sizes available). Too small gaiters will not fit properly and they'll pull up the front of your shoe creating toenail issues. There are a few options available.

Shooting the breeze with Christine (in pink) after Stage 3. We were looking up at the most beautiful blue sky, streaked with interesting clouds, through the branches and leaves of a shady Camel Thorn tree. These blue gaiters covered with fish were my super-dooper gaiters for this race. Photo by Hannisze.
Obviously I think that my Desert Gaiters are the best. The current version is my third evolution of the design, tweaked after three years of the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge and my first run at Namib Desert Challenge in 2009. They're made from lycra, they come in two sizes and we make them up in your preference of colour and print - whatever fabric we can get our hands on.

I am definitely not a good example for what training to do in preparation for this event... especially when I tell you that my longest run pre-race was a 15km in January... I generally average 40-55km/week. Although I had a comfortable race and I came out the other side with no stiffness on any day (I think my massage ritual helps with this) and good feet, more training and longer runs would have seen me being able to run faster, harder and longer. I've been running regularly for 20 years plus many long and multi-day races plus a mix of other disciplines every week so I really, really do not recommend doing what I do.

Runners like Marius, at the top of the field, runs 200km a week and spends a lot of time too on core strength. Asa, who had a superb run, clocked around 1300km since the start of the year (I think it was) and he also spent time running up and down a small sandy dune to build strength and prepare for the sandy stages. Excellent for building leg strength. He says that he thinks he only walked about 2km in total! Christine, who lives in Toronto, heads up to a cottage over weekends and she does a lot of long running. She gained bit by bit on me every stage - about 30 mins a day - ended up exactly 2hrs ahead of me overall. It does pay to put in the time and distance.

If you're a newbie, work your way through running programmes. Start with 5km and 10km programmes, move on to 15km, 21km and marathon. You just can't go wrong with a solid base. And later add in some trail for better proprioception and foot-ankle strength. But, don't rush your training. Take your time and get strong steadily or you'll spend more time at your physio than on the road.

Food & drink
This year delicious dinners were provided every night. We only had to pack in our own breakfasts, lunches and snacks for the run. The waterpoints really were superb and while I didn't eat much of the cookies and fruit provided there, I did drink loads of the electrolyte mix and iced tea. And to think that I only tried the iced tea on Day 2; I really missed out on Day 1!

For breakfast I went for FutureLife with added protein powder. I'm not going to be eating this again for some time... During the day I popped a couple of gels and ate some of my snacks, like cornnuts and roasted nuts, dried mango and home-dried banana. In the afternoons I ate my two-minute noodles with tuna. And then it was dinner time with veg soups, salads, pasta or rice.

In terms of volume of fluids we were all drinking a lot. I was almost flattening my water reservoir by the time I reached each waterpoint. That's around 1.5l. Plus, I'd leave the waterpoint having consumed about 750ml there and then. And then we'd all be drinking more in the afternoons after running. That's a lot of liquid. By the end of the week I was feeling quite puffy. Heat, salts, fluids... all contributing factors.

Here's an interesting one... On the 4th and 5th days I was peeing frequently, even out on the course. On the long day I made three stops during the stage! Definitely nothing wrong with my kidneys. On Saturday, post-race, I wasn't drinking much as we were on the bus for hours yet I had to go on the bus (there was a loo onboard), when we stopped in Windhoek and again at the airport not long after we arrived and again before boarding. I probably hadn't consumed more than 1-litre that day. And this continued all through yesterday. The good news is that my body is no longer stock-piling fluids, I'm not as puffy and I'm no longer bouncing up every half-hour to go to the loo.

It's easy to get to Windhoek with regular flights from Jo'burg and Cape Town on SAA, Kulula (British Airways) and Air Namibia. Transport by bus to Sossusvlei was provided and organised by the event - it's a 4h30 trip, mostly on a good quality dirt road. If you've got the dosh, you can fly into and out of Sossusvlei by charter.

Bye bye
I always get a bit sad to see my running buddies depart. To some we say goodbye at Sossusvlei if they're staying on; others go different ways at the Windhoek airport as they board other flights; and some are off when we land in Jo'burg.

Events like this present an opportunity for the coming together of people with more than just running in common. It's what burns in our hearts that is more unifying.

I'm fortunate in that I've been in this adventure / ultra / multi-day game for a long time and the people I hang around with the most are much like me. Running three back-to-back marathons plus an ultra plus a 'short' 24km stage to top it off - over challenging terrain and under extreme heat conditions - is not considered 'crazy' or really out there. Rather, I'm sent off with a wave and well -wishing text messages saying, "Enjoy the race". And they can relate to what I'm going through because they've done similar events - in some or other form. So, when I get home, I merge back into a similar environment surrounded by similar people.

But this isn't the same for all the participants. Many stick out like a sore thumb among friends (and families). I think it is far harder for them to re-integrate after such an experience, one that can literally be life changing.

[Not quite a year after I started adventure racing I deregistered from my Masters studies and turned my back on seven years. I have experienced first-hand the life-changing effect that hard, challenging, multiday events can have.]

Thank goodness for Facebook and being able to easily connect with the people with whom you have shared the experience.

What's next?
This was probably the most common question flying around camp. Some of the runners have got some good events lined up over the next year.

On the racing side I don't have much planned. I'm organising Metrogaine Jo'burg for 11 April; then I'm writing for Expedition Africa in early May (not racing because of being away shortly afterwards); and then I'm off to Argentina in mid-June to mid-July for intensive Spanish lessons -  an adventure dream I've had for almost eight years now.

Participating in races will be taking a back seat for a bit and with a number of projects that I had on the go from the beginning of the year to shortly before the race - Forest Run being a big one -  now out of the way, I'll focus a bit more on running training (I heard recently about a speed session group on Tuesdays near home) and aerial disciplines (another class in the pipeline).

That said, I'm cruising various websites, keeping an eye on what is on. I have a race in mind that I'd like to do much later in the year. For this one I'll really need to tune in my focus on running - I'll definitely need to do runs longer than 15km in preparation for this one, especially if I want to do well and feel great. For sure, squeezing in more running between other odd activities and circus classes is possible but ultimately something will have to give - for a few months at least. We'll see what the months bring...

Keep an eye on for details on the September running of this superb event. Absolutely superb photos by Hannisze are on the NDC Facebook page -


Linda D said...

Thanks for the fantastic updates throughout the NDC, Lisa - as always, superbly written, packed full of useful tips and info, and reflective of what a great event the Namib Desert challenge is. All the best with your next challenges, carry on being the great example you are of what brilliant adventures there are to be had out there!

Chris Horner said...

Hi Lisa, fantastic blog about the weeks adventure! Don't know where you found the energy each night to post such a detailed account of the day!!