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What it’s like to train for a 250km desert ultramarathon


Running a marathon is no mean feat, but imagine multiplying the distance by six, adding 20c to the temperature and throwing in sand storms and difficult terrain for good measure. The Marathon des Sables is not for the faint-hearted, consisting of 250km of Moroccan desert, with participants spending six days being entirely self-sufficient carrying their food, bedding and all other every day essentials on their backs.

25% of race participants are Brits – of those taking on this mammoth challenge is Kate McKeand, Corporate Partnerships Manager at Walking With The Wounded, a charity that helps to raise funds for the re-education and re-training of wounded servicemen and women. We spoke to Kate about how she is preparing to take on the ultramarathon with a week to go…

When did you first start being interested in running an ultramarathon?

I’ve never really been a big runner at all – I’ve participated in 10K runs and taken part in the odd half marathon, but nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve been in the ballot for the London Marathon but never won a place. I did do the Marathon du Médoc in France, which is essentially a 26.2 mile wine-tasting race in fancy dress, but I’ve never really been a serious runner.

What first made you want to take part in the Marathon des Sables?

A colleague of mine Duncan Slater, who is an amputee after being injured during his time in the RAF in Afghanistan, will be the first double amputee taking part in the MdS. Somebody jokingly asked “How about you Kate?” – I thought I’m middle aged and a bit unfit, but I couldn’t really think of an excuse not to do it. The next thing I knew, I had signed up. I never really planned it.

What’s your training regime for MdS?

There’s been lots of running to and from work and plenty of trekking during the weekends. Unless you’re a hardened ultra-athlete, you do end up walking quite a bit of the distance, mainly due to the scorching temperatures and the fact that you’re carrying around 10 kilos on your back. I’ve spent quite a few weekends doing trail walks in the North Downs and the South Downs and taken part in a couple of coastal trail marathons as part of the training.

I’ve had a fantastic personal trainer called Annie Foulds. I had no idea what I was doing and she’s given me a bit of a framework – she does quite a lot of ultra-running herself but I don’t think I’m quite in her league.

I’ve also been working on upping my strength so I’ve been doing squats, spinning and weights, so my back and my core is stronger to carry the big bag on my back. I’ve started heat training at St Mary’s University in Richmond using their heat chamber – it’s essentially a hot room which is around 37c and you run on the treadmill for around an hour, while they measure your sweat and your heart rate.

Have you obtained any injuries during your training?

I’ve had quite a few problems with my feet – I’ve managed to get plantar fasciitis (this is when the plantar fascia, the ligament that connects your heel bone to your toes, gets strained which can cause swelling and heel pain). I’ve been having physio and shockwave treatment – this is when a probe is applied to the skin and an electrical charge creates an energy wave which creates a force on the tissues. I also have to have to soak my feet in a bucket of ice and water for ten minutes a day, which is actually really difficult.

How will you manage to eat while you’re out there?

I’ll be eating basically freeze-dried meals while I’m doing the MdS – I’ve been going around the supermarket looking for food which has the most calories per 100g, which is the opposite of what you normally do when you’re shopping! You have to have a minimum of 2000 calories a day and they check all of your food beforehand. Those taking part in the marathon are supposed to drink 6-7 litres per day of water a day with salt tablets – I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this much water in the day. I struggle to drink 2 litres a day so it’s going to be a challenge.

How are you feeling now there is only a few days to go?

I’ve hardly been drinking, only around one or two glasses of wine a week which is unusual for me! I started taking it a bit more seriously after Christmas, when the reality of what lies ahead started to feel more real. Overall, I am really nervous. I’ve managed to raise over £28,000

You can sponsor Kate on her Virgin Money Giving page here:

We will catch up with Kate again and hear all about her experience taking part on her return from Morocco.

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