Marathon des Sables Training: Weeks 1-8

Long time iRunFar readers may recall that I (Bryon/Trail Goat) used to regularly post training updates. As the focus of […]

By on November 23, 2008 | Comments

Marathon des SablesLong time iRunFar readers may recall that I (Bryon/Trail Goat) used to regularly post training updates. As the focus of iRunFar has shifted from me to trail and ultrarunning more generally, I’ve practically eliminated these training updates. However, as I noted in my Marathon des Sables entry announcement, I’ll be posting a few training updates in the coming months as I prepare for my biggest challenge of 2009. Check out how my first 8 weeks of MdS training has gone. (I’d love to hear whether you think I should continue posting infrequent personal training updates, should post training updates more frequently, or never post one again.)

With nearly a third of my MdS training logged, I’ve put in 435 miles in 8 weeks or a hair under 55 miles per week. I’m pleased with this as I’m considering everything through the end of December as base building. If my training goes ideally, I’d love to be putting 80 mile weeks throughout January and February. By that time, I also want to feel comfortable running 25-35 miles and be able to run 3 or 4 runs per week with a 14-20 pound pack. Everything I do until then is preparation to reduce the chances of getting injured or burning out during my peak 8-10 weeks of training.

Trail Goat's Marathon des Sables trainingMy log for MdS training Weeks 1-8 (click table to expand)
[black=no run, yellow=double, pink=20+ miles]

The first three weeks of this stretch I logged 55.5, 62.5, and 31.5 miles with only one run longer than 12.5 miles (18.5 miles in Week 1). I ran every day the first two weeks and continued the streak through Wednesday of the Week 3. I missed three of the last four days in Week 3 due to travel. While I could have been disappointed with these missed days, I considered Week 3 an unscheduled recovery week.

Weeks 4-7 were one of my best training stretches of the year. I logged 57, 65, 61, and 57 miles with a long run each week. While I didn’t feel like I was getting faster during this time, I definitely felt myself getting stronger. The only downside was that I was sick throughout Week 6 and that cold lingered into Week 7.

A foggy Georgetown morning during the Marine Corps Marathon (Week 4)

During Weeks 4-7, the weekly long runs were without a doubt the highlights of each week. Here’s how they went down. In Week 4, I ran 4 miles to the Marine Corps Marathon and then ran it with my buddy Tony and his friend Kristen. (Tony’s race report) Week 5’s long run was a 21 miler out-and-back on the beautiful Potomac Heritage Trail. It was probably my most enjoyable full out-and-back on the PHT to date. A 36.5 mile run on the Black Forest Trail in Pennsylvania kicked my butt in Week 6. The run had about 10,000′ of climb, including some 1,000’+ climbs in under a mile. (See elevation profile below) Yikes! Week 7 brought on 23.5 miles of Kerry’s Death March in Shenandoah National Park. This run in occasionally pouring was never flat and included the aptly named Little Devil’s Stairs.

Black Forest Trail partial elevation profileBlack Forest Trail run (Week 6) elevation profile.

On the Friday and Sunday of Week 7 my resting heart rate was elevated (60+ on Friday, 70+ on Sunday). That’s way above what it should be, so I thought I might be overtraining. When I turned around just 2.5 miles into my Sunday run, I new it was time for a recovery week. I took Monday and Tuesday of Week 8 off completely. I also bailed early on both my Wednesday and Thursday runs, running just 2.5 miles each day. Based on those two runs, I took Friday off, as well. Fortunately, this left me feeling great for a 35 mile pacing effort at the JFK 50 on Saturday. It felt great to pace two friends to their first ultra finish … and it sure did make the long run go by more quickly! After an easy Sunday run, I ended up with just over 45 miles for the week.

Did I forget to mention that I’ve been training with a weighted pack twice most weeks. So far I’ve logged 15 runs with a pack that’s ranged from 10 to 18 pounds at the start of the run. In September, I had two pack runs, 11@10# and 5@10#, for 160 pound-miles in total. In October, I logged 7 pack runs (18.5@10#, 5@10#, 9@10#, 6.5@16#, 6@10#, 31@13#, 7.5@13#) for 989.5 pound-miles. I’ve stepped up the pack training in November having already logged 1909 pounds-miles in 6 runs (21@14#, 7.5@13#, 36.5@16#, 6@12#, 23.5@14#, 35.5@15#). I am well aware that this much pack training is not recommended this far in advance of MdS. However, I’ve come to the realization that I’m not as fast or cardiovascularly-fortunate as the folks with whom I want to be racing. I am training to be the camel to their antelopes.

From the 21@14# along the Potomac Heritage Trail

One thing that motivates me during my pack runs and my MdS training in general is the fact that I will be on a team at MdS…. and I hate letting teammates down. I’m fortunate enough to be on the Dreamchasers Outdoor Adventure Club team along with Mike Wardian (2008 USATF Men’s Ultrarunner of the Year) and Ted Archer, the top Americans at MdS in 20
00 and 2007, respectively. Needless to say, if I live up to my end of the bargian, DOAC will have one hell of a team in Morocco next spring. Though I am far from partiotic in any conventional sense, I kind of have the feeling that I’ll be representing the US over there and I sure as heck want to be a good representative!

The only other things I’m doing in training at the moment is actively rehabilitating my right Achilles tendon based on the advice of ultrarunner Greg Loomis as well as doing some core and shoulder work. Ok, the core and shoulder work is simple, I spend some time with the wheel of death, which works my abs, back, and shoulders, and then do some push ups. For the first time in forever, I’m regularly exercising other than running and it feels good.

Week 5 and the Potomac Heritage Trail overlooking the Potomac River

On thing I forgot to mention was that I’ve been putting on weight through my first 8 weeks of training, but am ok with it. I’ve gained a bit over 5 pounds, but a mirror check shows that I’m as lean (if I’m ever lean for an ultrarunner) as I was two months ago. At 165 pounds this morning, I’m quickly approaching my highest weight ever… this was not the plan, as I’d hope to go into MdS extra light; however, it appears that bulking up (rather than trying to run light) may be the best solution to running across the desert with a 20 pound pack. Still, I think I’d be a bit shocked if I tipped the scales at over 170 pounds at any point during my MdS training. Any thoughts from past or future MdSers? Others?

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.