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Middle-aged, middle-weight, mother of 3 on mad marathon mission
Middle-aged, middle-weight, mother of 3 on mad marathon mission
When I started this blog, it was to track my progress from an occasional kayaker to taking on the Devizes to Westminster non stop 125 race. Little did I know that would start me on a long distance obsession which has resulted in my completing the 30th Marathon des Sables. It has been a strange and sometimes painful ... but always wonderfully challenging journey

This is my occasional account of a middle-age mother's attempt to take on things which are really quite beyond her.

Marathon des Sables 2015 - the 'training' started

crawlingkiwiby crawlingkiwiMay 10th 2015
So having done a 125mile kayak race on water in 2011 and a 100km walk in May 2014, the next step was obviously to do the Marathon des Sables. Yes I am over 50, yes I am over-weight, no I can't run for more than 2 minutes without being out of breath, so what do you mean this is a bizarre choice?

To be honest, I am not quite sure why this seemed the logical follow-on from two long distance events, but I have been fascinated by the MdS for years. I already knew about it when I watched a Ben Fogle documentary following his successful completion of it and then of course I had watched James Cracknell take it on and I just always fancied doing something that totally mad. I had registered my interest a long time before, but never really believed I would do it - it was more of a pipe dream, something I fancied taking part in but wouldn't do it in reality.

After the 100km, I realised several things about myself. When I set something as a goal, I will do everything in my power to achieve it. I might not be able to run, but I can walk fast. Once I have reached a speed, I can keep going for a very long time. I have a mental strength to keep me going. I don't like the cold (but that is nothing knew - my family are aware of just how tolerant I am of cold temperatures!). So when the email came through shortly after I had finished the 100km, telling me that entries would be open for the 2015 MdS at 10am on a date in mid-May... well, I thought of little else for the next week or so. Financially it was going to be difficult to afford and to justify, but by being careful I thought I could just about do it. But could I manage it physically? I have been afraid of running and wasn't sure I could ever get to the required standard, but on going through the results in detail it seemed that a lot of people ended up (either my design or because the conditions surprised them) walking most, if not all of the race. I knew I could walk, but in those conditions? I thought I probably could...

The day the registrations opened was during half-term. When the time came round, I was there on my laptop, heart thumping. I hadn't told anyone what I was about to do, but as the clock ticked I had a slight crisis of confidence and registered to go on the waiting list rather than signing up immediately. I thought that would give me another couple of months to train and to decide whether I would really be able to take this on. My husband was aware I was signing up to 'something' but had no idea what. He phoned me at 10.15 saying 'come on then, what the hell have you done?'. I told him I was on the waiting list for a race which would mean being in the desert for several days. 'OK' he said, that sounds a bit mad. He phoned back a few minutes later having looked it up online, this time he was slightly more forthright. 'You are f***ing certifiable'. But he knows me well enough and with an air of bemused resignation settled into his role of chief supporter for my training. My daughters reacted positively - I like to think they enjoy having a slightly bonkers mother. To my horror, I had an email within the week offering me a place in the race and giving me 24 hours to make my decision and pay a non refundable deposit. With 30 minutes to go, I confirmed my place.

I realised I would need some help with training if I was ever to take this race on and emailed Rory Coleman who had completed the even 11 times and had trained a huge number of participants to get to the finish. I described myself to him and asked him to be honest, did he think there was any chance of me doing this? Because I had already shown I have stamina, he felt I absolutely could do it and arrangements were made for me to visit him in July.

The following two months were extremely difficult for different reasons. My beloved father-in-law who has always enjoyed my mad undertakings while professing never to understand me, had been ill in a non life-threatening way for some time, but suddenly became jaundiced and was put back into hospital. He was diagnosed with cancer, but then before we could even tell him, his kidneys stopped working properly and he started failing fast, dying a week later. We were reeling from the shock. We had to cope with the funeral arangments, lawyers, trips to France and so on. And then, the week before we were due to inter his ashes, I was out running with my little jack russell Tess, when I noticed that for the first time ever, she was running alongside me, rather than tugging the lead in front. Over the next day or so she became more and more listless and I took her to the vet. The news was devastating as she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of anaemia and she was rushed to an emergency vet for treatment. On the Saturday night we were faced with making the decision to try a blood transplant (at £1800) while the insurers tried to refuse to pay. On Sunday, Robert's ashes were interred. It was a hell of a time.

Tess was rushed to the top vet's hospital round the M25 and despite astounding care and attention, continued to fail. On the friday I drove back round the motorway to be with her in her final stages. This little dog who caused nothing but trouble for us since we took her on (previous owners couldn't handle her), who terrorised our older dog, who would tunnel out under fences, who despised all other canines but loved humans, who had been my constant companion through every run or walk I had ever done, who should have had 10 more years with us, and who I adored beyond any sense of reason ... finally lost her battle. It was utterly heart-breaking. And I struggled to get out to train or do anything having lost a man who was very special to me and a little dog who was my constant companion. It was not a happy time.

My daughters and I had already decided we were going to get another dog. Tess was irreplaceable (thank god there was only ever going to be one dog like Tess!!) but given the amount of loss we had just suffered, we needed something to fill the gap. And although we were aware it was far too quick, we found a little black jackapoo (half jack russell and half poodle) and she came to brighten our lives. [The summer was the only time we could take on a new puppy and we couldn't face waiting until the next year.] While we all knew it was too soon ... we needed to fill that gap and our new Dora has done that. Although she was obviously far too young and tiny to train with me, she settled in astoundingly well, adored my elderly incontinent dog and has been the best decision we ever made. We remember Tess constantly (I am still tearful writing this), but Dora has definitely improved things for us.

But back to the MdS training, which felt very strange going out on my own.

When I went to meet Rory in Cardiff, he really put me through my paces and to my horror, weighed me. The result was not pleasant but he pointed out how much weight I needed to lose if I was going to finish the race in decent shape and gave me a detailed training plan along with a diet sheet. He was adamant i would be able to run sections of the race and should be setting out with that mindset, I wasn't so sure but was prepared to give it a go. But the diet - it was game on for that. Driving back from Cardiff, my husband and I discussed it and when I said I couldn't do it alone we decided we would both absolutely go for it (he needed to lose even more weight than I). Essentially, Rory proposed cutting out all complex carbs. No potato, no pasta, no rice and NO BREAD. There was a list of banned foods, cutting out sugar, lots of dairy, dried fruit and etc, eating from a smaller plate (portion sizes have always been an issue), no drinking (as I barely drink, that one went by almost unnoticed). We were absolutely vigilant. My husband does virtually all of the cooking and he had to become even more creative to avoid using rice, potato and pasta, and I have to say we ate very well. And the weight started to come off. By the time I returned to school in September, I had already lost around 4kg although no-one seemed to notice at first. And then as I reached about 8kg gone, they suddenly noticed. I also had nothing which fitted me and it was only when my Headmistress told me (in a caring sharing way) that the dress I was wearing now looked ridiculous on me, that I realised I had to almost completely replace my wardrobe.

From July to November I trained hard, remembering of course I was going from no running at all to running almost every day. To manage to fit it in, when I work from 7am to 7pm, I started getting up at 4.50am, so I could do at least an hour before school. On the weekends I wasn't working I did a long walk/run and fitted in gym sessions in the school gym before any of the girls woke up. It was exhausting, but I was utterly focused and determined. I was still a slow extremely rubbish runner, but my stamina was improving. Because of the weight loss which was by now around 10kg, I felt so much better and was so much happier. The MdS had been paid for by Christmas and as a family, we had made the momentous decision to buy a house in France, with a view to ultimately living there when I wasn't working in the UK.

By Christmas I was just about still managing to run, was fitting in some long walks and was trying very hard not to think about the race. A large part of me never thought I would make the start-line as I would be injured or would have to pull out because I just wasn't fit enough. I had taken part in a half marathon and was embarrassingly slow (walking much of it), but had managed to finish a tough hilly marathon by walking it (again very slow, but I did it without too much trouble), so I was aware that I was indeed making progress.

But would I ever make the start line?
 
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