Marathon des Sables Training: Weeks 9-22

A summary of training for the Marathon des Sables.

By on March 2, 2009 | Comments

Marathon des SablesSo I’ve been more than a little remiss in updating y’all on my training for the Marathon des Sables. I skip my laundry list of excuses and get to the MdS training update for which many readers have been asking. In broad strokes, my training volume has not been nearly what I had planned (especially in the new year), my cardiovascular training is behind, my leg and core strength is more than satisfactory, I’ve got more speed than I would have thought, and I’ve started my heat acclimation program. I explain all of this below; however, for a more complete understanding of my MdS training, check out my Marathon des Sables entry announcement post and my summary of MdS training weeks 1-8.

Wow, I can hardly believe that I’m already through week 22 of MdS training. During that period, I’ve logged 1107 miles, or just a hair over 50 miles a week. However, that’s not the whole picture. During the first 8 weeks of training, I averaged around 55 miles per week, which means I’m a bit shy of 50 mpw in the 14 weeks since then. While I’d hoped to be running 80+ mile per week from January through now and that clearly didn’t happen, I’m still pretty happy with my overall training. Much of the perceived drop off is due to being sick the week following Christmas (20.5 miles) and a calf injury following a snowshoe trek across Yellowstone National Park that laid me up for two weeks (15.5 and 13 miles). Excluding those weeks… or treating them as recovery weeks, I have averaged closer to 57 miles per week in my active training weeks during MdS weeks 9-22.

My MdS training for weeks 9 through 22 (click to enlarge)

More generally, these 22 weeks have been one of my more consistent training stretches over the past few years. The 1107 miles are on par with the 1141 miles I ran in the 22 weeks immediately prior to the TransRockies Run; however, this time around my training is much more consistent where as the TRR training mileage was dependent on a few big weeks. If I adjust my comparable pre-TRR miles to exclude the four weeks immediately pre-race to match the 4 weeks I still have until MdS, the mileage is reduced to 1072, so I’m ahead of the game at this point. This week was actually a down week, but I’ve got a big week coming up and will still put in a decent week the following week. I’ll taper less than normal as I don’t want to give up my gains in leg strength.

MdS pack trainingPack training in Yellowstone National Park

Speaking of leg strength, my pack runs are going smashingly well. There are days on which I wear an 18 pound pack and I feel like I am not carrying anything. Another positive sign came from fellow MdSer Meghan, who saw me run 31 miles with a 15 pound pack back on December 13th and then 21 miles with an 18 pound pack on February 21. On the latter run she noted that I had a normal running stride unlike when she saw me two months earlier. I’ve also had numerous signs that I can run quickly with a loaded pack. Back on January 11, I averaged 7:17 per mile during a mostly flat 18.5 mile road run with a 14 pound pack. More recently, I ran the same loop with an additional 2 pounds at 7:30 pace, but at a much easier perceived effort. No, this is not world record pace, but I think that I could keep it up for a while longer and suspect that I could run 3:10ish for a marathon with a 14 pound pack. If any of the first 3 MdS stages are flat and non-technical, this sort of speed will significantly increase my overall race pace and get me in before the heat really builds.

The details of my pack training (click to enlarge)

I’ve also started my heat acclimation process. You can read last week’s heat acclimation post for an overview of heat acclimation and my first two sauna sessions. My first week of heat training is over and I’m seeing huge improvements in only 5 sessions. Yesterday, I did 50 minutes at 160 F and while it wasn’t “fun” I didn’t panic, had no nausea, and didn’t feel too lightheaded afterward. Today, the sauna started at 140 F and hit 155 F by the end… the 50-minute session was easy enough that I didn’t take a cold shower immediately after leaving the sauna. Instead, got dressed and walked home without feeling particularly poorly. One more tangible change that I’ve noticed is that my sweat is already much less sweaty salty.

I could bore you with scads of detail regarding particular runs and stories of woe regarding illness and injury, but I won’t. The above should give you a pretty good picture of how my training is going. (I do still hope to post about the Trans-Yellowstone snowshoe trek from back in January.) As I noted in the opening, my training hasn’t included as much mileage as I’d hoped or as much as would be ideal for my cardiovascular conditioning. That said, I’m feeling really good about MdS. I’m strong, as injury free as I’ve been in years (Achilles rehab is going well), and in decent shape. I’m not yet comfortable with putting out my target placing (I do have one), but barring injury, I will not disappoint my Dreamchasers USA teammates Mike Wardian (he just won his FOURTH USATF national championship in just over a year) and Ted Archer (who went sub 2:50 for the marathon back in December).

Please let me know who you think about my training so far. Got any thoughts on what I should do over the next 4 weeks? Do share. Think I should go pound sand… soon enough, my friend. ;-)

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.