In the preparation for the MDS, there were pieces of advice I took and adhered to, and others I took with a pinch of salt. The most important has to be kit weight – make sure your pack is as light as possible. There were occasions when I thought a little comfort would be more important, and to a degree that is probably correct (but I don’t think it was worth drilling holes in the toothbrush handle to save weight). Some people can’t live without their coffee and if you’re used to a morning brew, you should take it. But in some instances, I’d have preferred to be carrying less weight (both in my pack and on my body, two weeks in Florida pre-race contributed to the latter!).
Bag: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L £109.99
A drysack style bag which velcros shut and rolls down, good for adjusting as your go along and the size of the contents is reduced. No front pack, but there are small pockets under the bottle mounts to put your snacks in, and mesh pockets on the sides which are also easy to access. It is a bit like a hydration vest with wide straps on the front of the body and I found this much more comfortable than any other pack I tried on. Pros: Wide straps, seems larger and easier to pack than the WAA MDS pack, snazzy colour, as seen on 2015 female champion Elisabet Barnes. Cons: No front pack, wide straps can make it tricky to not obscure your front number (a cardinal sin), unlike the WAA MDS pack which opens all the way, if you want something you’ve packed at the bottom, everything has to come out.
Sleeping Bag: Terra Nova Elite 250 £139.99
One of the cheaper sleeping bags available, and bought because it was warmer than others I tried. Biggest regret. I wish I’d spent more and gone much smaller, and much lighter, especially as it was warm at night.
Sleeping Bag Liner: Trespass Kids
Packed but didn’t use on first night so sent back to the hotel.
Folding “eggshell” foam mat – trimmed to size, and I ended up trimming a bit more off each day. I’d probably take one of these again. The inflatable mats are comfy to lie on but not good to kneel or sit on around camp, at risk of being popped by the evil spiky seed pods, noisy at night, and don’t allow you to roll over or lie on your side. I took a U shaped inflatable pillow, the type people use on aeroplanes, but I found it very uncomfortable and a bit like being strangled so ended up sleeping on just one arm of it and next time I’d take a different shape inflatable pillow.
Bottles: Raidlight bottle 750mls x2 £9.99 each
Brilliant – no leaks, even with fizzy electrolyte tablets. A tip is to put the tablet in as you’re coming to the end of the bottle so it dissolves and does its major fizzing before you top up at the checkpoint.
Mizuno Wave Ascend Trainers – Half size up from usual. No issues at all, best shoes I’ve ever owned, and very sad they’ve been discontinued.
Skins A200 shorts – loved
Cheap Take Five shorts – no compressive benefits, thin, a little see through, funky star design, didn’t really need the second pair of shorts
LA gear cheap white tshirt – brilliant
Long sleeve white race finishers top – brilliant
Pants – 3 pairs Primark seamless knickers – my staple running underwear, always good
Socks – 1 pair injinji liners, 2 pairs midweight injinjis, 2 pairs coolmax socks
I wore the liners with coolmax over the top for the first couple of days, planning to graduate to different combos as the week went on and my feet would inevitably swell. Next time, I’ll stick with just the injinji midweights and have 2 pairs to rotate.
Welsh Dragon Buff – great, good to soak with water at a checkpoint and use to cool yourself down, looked super cool 😉
Raidlight Sahara sunhat – did the job, nice colour
Calf guards – Lunatik athletics – worn to aid in keeping the sand out, and protect my legs from scratchy things as the name suggests, probably not necessary and didn’t wear them much
Gaiters – Raidlight – absolutely essential. One thing I haven’t mentioned in previous blogs is the gaiters, and need to get velcro sewn around the base of your trainers to attach them. I’d recommend Alex Shoe Repairs in Clapham.
‘Sub’ fleece-lined compression tights & Baabaa merino long sleeve top
I also took a bikini which was good for changing, washing, wearing around camp.
And I took hotel slippers (huge no no, those spiky seed pods go straight through, next time I’d either take a pair of proper flip flops or just wear my shoes around camp with the laces loosened)
Tyvek suit – recommended as a windproof overall for cool nights in camp, didn’t use it at all, ditched it after a couple of days
NB: The yellow vest shown above was given to us at the end of the race, so just wore that the last evening for the prize giving and showing of the race video.
Sunglasses: Adidas Terrex Fast – highly recommended, they have a removable foam section which means they fit close to your face sort of like goggles and keep the sand out, without the constrictive tight fit of goggles and negates the need to take both. I was absolutely gutted to lose these after Ironman and they’re no longer available in this colour, so I’ve had to replace them with a plain black pair.
Foldable toothbrush, mini toothpaste, andrex mini “on the go” toilet roll x2 (should have taken 3), small suncream (barely used, didn’t really need as you’re quite covered up, and as the week goes on so caked in sand I was quite well protected, I actually got a better tan in Llanelli running a marathon the following week!), betadine/needle/syringe (didn’t use and not really necessary, if I’d had foot issues, the Doc Trotters have everything you need), spare contact lenses (I went in a pair of monthly continuous wear lenses, lost one and did the whole thing with one lens so didn’t use these), ibuprofen, paracetamol, codeine, piriton, immodium (didn’t really use any meds), savlon (didn’t use it), plasters, needle and thread, dressings, sterile gloves, two types of tape (used a scrap of one, but again, the Doc Trotters have plenty of tapes), lip balm, insect repellant (didn’t use and it leaked), alcohol gel (probably a very good idea!), Wemi wipes (brilliant invention – small tube of what looks like tablets, wet them and they expand into big wetwipes).
Poles – Vandesail
I wouldn’t take poles again. They are beneficial on the tough sandy uphill sections, but a nuisance to take out/put away all the time so I ended up keeping them out on sections where they weren’t needed and think they were then just a hindrance. The times when they’re beneficial, I feel it’s probably more beneficial to have free hands for eating, drinking, and taking photos.
Bungee cords/velcro strap – to attach sleeping mat/sleeping bag to the outside of the pack at the start.
Small stove, cooking pot and esbit fuel tablets – wouldn’t bother next time. The freeze dried meals rehydrated ok with lukewarm water I’d been carrying a while, and I had my porridge cold every morning anyway. Folding plastic long handled spoon and plastic fork. Knife – mine was a tiny folding knife about 2 inches long by half an inch wide and a few mms thick when folded away.
A bit about cooking: The best way to cook the food for me was to slice an empty plastic water bottle in half, empty in the freeze dried meal, pour on the water and ram the top half of the bottle back on then leave in the sun (for longer if using warm rather than boiled water).
Passport, road book, anti-venom pump, signalling mirror, compass, GPS tracker, foil blanket, safety pins, headtorch (x2, supposed to have one with spare batteries, but mine was USB chargable so had to take a whole spare headtorch), whistle, glowstick, 200 euros, ECG and medical certificate.
Small charger with spare batteries for it, iphone, iphone cable, ipod shuffle, camera, camera cable, pens, reusable hand warmers (didn’t use), giant welsh flag (maybe unneccessary but could be used to mark the tent so you can find it at night/to use as an extra layer if cold at night/to douse in water and drape over yourself to cool down in the sun). I didn’t take a running watch as the one I had at the time had a battery which wouldn’t last a trail marathon, let alone an MDS stage. I’m undecided as to whether I’d take a watch/a charger/a phone/a camera/ipod again.
Total weight: 5914g (inc kit worn)
Breakfast: Every day, I had a packet of instant porridge, a sachet of chia seeds, a mini box of sunmaid raisins and a portion of jam, nutella, or peanut butter. This worked really well for me, I didn’t get bored of it and I had it cold every day so it was quick and easy to prepare and eat.
Snacks: Mini Cheddars, Frazzles, nuts, Jelly Babies, dried pineapple and papaya, fruit rollups, pork scratchings, Nakd bars, mini chorizo sticks, Power Bar wafers, biltong, Food Doctor bars, olives, M&Ms.
I was advised before going to take plenty of savoury things, as I would crave this rather than the sweet, but I really wish I’d taken more sweet stuff for the run. Most of these snacks worked really well. Peanut M&Ms are brilliant – they only variety that don’t melt and are much easier to get down on the go than dry nuts. (I’m actually eating some as I type this and reminiscing). I’d take a packet per day next time, along with a mini bag of jelly babies/haribo/dried fruit each day too. The savoury things such as mini chorizo sticks/biltong/nuts/mini cheddars/frazzles were good for arrival back at camp to tide myself over until dinner. I didn’t really enjoy the Food Doctor bars, and the chocolate covered 9 bars proved messy, but the Nakd bars were good.
Pre-dinners: Mugshots x2, Pasta N Sauce x 2, Super Noodles – wouldn’t bother again.
Dinners: Smash with olives, biltong and parmesan; cous cous with olives; Expedition foods dehydrated meals (Spaghetti Bolognaise, Chicken Tikka and Rice, Beef Noodles, Vegetable Noodles, Chicken Korma and Rice). All really good.
Other: I took electrolyte tablets (4/day) and a Robinsons Squeezy squash – made the lukewarm water more palatable and a good way of keeping hydrated. I’d take a second squash next time for the evenings to make sure I got through a full bottle of water overnight. Protein shakes – I took 3 individual sachets but wish I’d taken one per day for arrival at the bivouac to have with my savoury snacks. I also took a tea bag and a hot chocolate sachet for each evening but wouldn’t bother again – too much effort to boil the water again after dinner, so ended up just having them straight after dinner and found it more of a chore to get them down rather than a treat.
Total food weight: 4528g / 16885kcals
Next time, my meals will look like this:
Breakfast: Instant porridge, raisins, jam/PB/nutella
Running snacks: Peanut M&Ms + dried fruit + jelly babies + electrolyte tablets
Post run: Protein shake
Afternoon savoury snacks: Mini cheddars/nuts + dried meat such as chorizo/biltong
Dinner: Expedition foods meal, squeezy squash
Packing the food:
I tried reducing weight and volume by decanting the food from the Expedition foods packets, snipping all my packets open to squeeze the air out and sealing them with tape, and doing some vacuum packing. I kept changing my mind between packing foods by type or by day. In the end I vacuum packed each day’s foods together, but the packs that went in the hold lost their seal and vacuum. I think next time I’d go back to packing by type as the things all tessellated better that way, and actually it was annoying doing them vacuum packed per day as they had to be cut open at breakfast and then be open for the run.
Overall I think my training went well, but I wish I’d done more runs with a full pack and spent more time thinking about the weight distribution. I also found that I was taking too much water at checkpoints- it felt awful to waste water in the desert, but water is supplied to suit the biggest man, and I’m a petite girl, I ended up carrying a lot of extra weight in water I didn’t drink, and I probably drank too much, resulting in too many toilet stops. Our tent of 8 was leaving multiple full bottles at camp at the start of each stage as we just couldn’t use it all. Next time, I’d use it to wash myself and my clothes on arrival at the bivouac each day. Finally, I compared my position to others who I’d raced before or whose PBs I knew, and I could see people I was “supposed” to outrun ahead of me. A week before the race I ran my marathon PB, and a week later ran my 2nd best marathon time, showing my legs were still fresh. I made mistakes in the race, my kit was too heavy, and also I respected the race and feared it, to the point that this was probably the one race of my life where I paced too slowly at the start, and once I’d done that it was hard to speed up. Next time, more running, run everything runnable, give it my all.
Summary for next time
Smaller lighter sleeping bag
Single layer socks
More protein shakes
More pack runs
Pack food by type not by day
No vacuum packing
Less medical kit / toiletries
More loo roll
Carry less water
Fear it less – run more