As the start line draws ever near, I thought I would share two more weird and wonderful experiences I have had in the build-up to the Marathon des Sables.
My Marathon des Sables was almost over before it began as the doctors unearthed a heart condition, I had been completely oblivious to.
To take part in the Marathon des Sables you need a medical certificate signed off by a doctor. For MdS you have to also have an ECG, which is a simple test that can be used to check your heart’s rhythm and electrical activity. It’s done by covering you with tiny sensors which detect the electrical signals produced by your heart each time it beats. Long story short mine was abnormal; showing up a possible left atrial enlargement. This led to my doctor being unwilling to sign me off for the run, stating in the medical certificate that he could not, with any confidence, state that I was fit to race. If I had turned up to the race with this certificate I would not have been allowed to race.
It’s safe to say at this stage I was bricking myself. Would I even be allowed to run now after all this training? Should I even be running at all? After a few chats with other MdS runners, past and present, I went down to see a doctor who had taken part in the race himself. He ran the same test but being from the world of endurance running knew that this was not a sign of something sinister but Athlete’s Heart. It is nothing to worry about at all but simply a change brought on by my training. My heart, like other muscles in my body, has got stronger and because of that it’s grown. In a person not doing endurance training it would be a sign of something sinister but mine is simply a sign that I’ve gotten stronger.
Arriving in the Porsche Experience Centre at Silverstone race circuit I automatically felt out of place. Everyone was dressed smartly where as I had arrived in battered clothes and a shopping bag full of running kit. I was ushered past the expensive cars and men in suits to a small gym where the first of many strange experiences would occur. The first thing I had to do was go for a wee, the sample would be use to see how hydrated I was before the experiment, yes experiment, started. I then had to strip off to my underwear and get weighed and measured so they could calculate how much I sweated during the hour. Because you sweat so much that your clothes become sodden you have to do it in your undies as the sweat heavy kit would skew the result. I am very self conscious about my body so this caused my heart rate to spike before I’d even started exercising!
I was then led to the heat chamber.
The only way I can truly describe it is a treadmill in an oven with the temperature set to 40°C (105 in Fahrenheit). This small chamber only just has enough room for the treadmill and standing space to one side. With only one thing on the wall; a scale of how hard the running feels, there is little to distract you from the fact you’re hot, really bloody hot. The scale goes from light to max out (which sounds like a terrifying place to be) so that the experts can gauge how your struggles correlate with your core temperature changes which they measure every five minutes with an ear thermometer and your heart rate which is measured by a monitor they put on at the start. By doing so they can advise me how hard to be going and the signs of when I am moving towards heat exhaustion and heat stroke territory. The signs are different for everyone, mine seemed to an extreme feeling of flushed face and a need to pop to the loo!
The main reason for using the heat chamber is so that my body begins to adjust and acclimatise to the heat before I step foot in the Sahara. The exertion is built up over the hour, sometimes increasing speed and other times increasing the incline. Due to the fact that I am struggling with some knee pain at the moment the final three session I have been going at a quick walk (6kph) at a 10% incline. This has produced the same results as a steady run on the flat, so I am still getting the same amount of stress, so the same amount of benefits, which is a big relief. I have also used the time in the torture chamber to get my kit tested, wearing all the clothes I will be running in as well as my pack loaded with everything for the race. It has helped me see what works and what I need to adjust so come Sunday, and the start of the race, I will at least have an extra level of confidence to go with my acclimatisation.