The sort of preparation one needs to run an ultra-marathon

Besides all the other ultra-marathons which are scheduled to happen before the end of the year, the big one coming up is RacingThePlanet’s 4th desert – Antarctica…

Antarctica mountains, more pictures in the gallery

Need to know a little more about this region?

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, highest and driest continent on the planet. The lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was -89°C (-129°F) at the Russian Vostok station in Antarctica in 1983. At this temperature steel will shatter and water will explode into ice crystals. The continent also experiences regular Katabatic winds, reaching 300 km per hour (185 miles/hour), that blow out of the continental interior and make the Antarctic coastal regions breezy. Antarctica has an average altitude of about 7,000 ft, with the South Pole situated at almost 10,000 ft. Furthermore, there is little precipitation and the air is very dry. The Polar Plateau is regarded as a desert and experiences similar precipitation levels to the Sahara Desert. The average annual precipitation in Antarctica is only 50mm (2 inches).

Antarctica has six months of daylight followed by six months of darkness. It contains 70% of the planet’s freshwater and 90% of the world’s ice.

How on earth does one train for an event like that?  RTP’s ultra-marathons are mostly run in extreme heat conditions – but this one will challenge participants in a whole different way. Extreme cold.

Matt Owen, who ran his first marathon earlier this month when he took part in the Sahara race was lucky enough to have an experienced marathoner put forward a training programme for him. Diego Carjavel had him begin light – absolutely necessary as he was planning on going from couch potato to supreme athlete in a matter of months! Once his fitness had increased a little then Carjavel started him doing interval running and complemented that with some light weights to strengthen the core muscles. After progressively lengthening the workouts, Matt began running in Richmond Park and enlisted the assistance of a friend and personal trainer to do more intense workouts. As the race drew closer, he started doing more and more laps of Richmond park, to get as much time as possible outside on his feet. And so it went on…

Dean Karnazes says: “Nothing can replace getting mileage in the legs. I run between 100 and 300kms every week. It’s the only way you can know for sure that you’re capable of covering the distance. I mix it up with cross-training that includes mountainbiking, windsurfing, climbing, stand-up paddle boarding, surfing and snowboarding in the winter. I aim to train every part of my body…. Even on an average day I do reps of push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups (I have a pull-up bar installed in my office) in between emails, meetings and conference calls. I train every spare second of the day.”

And a little more advice from him…

“Try to eat all-natural and minimally processed foods. If a caveman wouldn’t have eaten it, nor should you. Don’t eat white sugar, white flour or white fat (i.e. lard). While you’re at it, avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), transfats and hydrogenated oils, too.”

That’s all great advice. Really useful and informative, especially for someone starting out for the first time. But how do you train your body to compete against the icy conditions of the Antarctic?

Jenny Hadfield, the official coach of the Antarctica Half and Full Marathon and who has run the Antarctica race twice, once in ankle deep mud and rain and once in 40 mph winds and knee-to-hip deep snow, says “you are in for an adventure, and one you will never forget.”

She also says that “preparation means training in all types of conditions, getting the proper gear, training with a realistic and specific training regimen and understanding we are at the mercy of the elements. It is a very challenging course and typically takes an hour or more longer than your current marathon or half marathon finish time.”

Jenny sells training programmes for running full and half marathons.

32 year old James Heddle (UK)’s training for the Antarctic Ice Marathon involved cross country military runs, half-marathons, summiting Mont Blanc, cycling from Paris to London as well as yomping (old British military term meaning foot-travel, usually to extremes ie: too fast for safety, too far, too tiring, etc.) and cycle races on the Surrey Hills and South Downs.

Variety is the spice of life!

Ryan Sandes, South Africa’s top trail runner, has set his sights on becoming the first competitor in the history of the 4 Deserts series to have won all 4 races (GoTrailSA). He’s making the most of the short time left for preparation. The event begins on the 17th November.

Dean Karnazes, who competed in the 2008 RTP Antarctica, has one last extremely salient point. “Do your homework,” he stresses. “Have the right gear, equipment and clothing. Try to test this stuff extensively before the event.  Also, prepare for a long and perhaps rough trip to the frozen continent. Your overall endurance will be tested like never before, and you’ll love every second of it!”

The Last Desert has only been staged three times before, but for many extreme endurance athletes it is the icing on the cake of all the 4 Deserts events. Those who make that two day voyage across the Drake Passage to run around the bottom of the world are generally rendered speechless by what greets them. As other-worldly as the Sahara, Gobi and Atacama deserts can sometimes seem, there’s always a human and cultural element to give you some perspective. But in The Last Desert it’s just you and a small band of like minded individuals, clinging to Mother Nature’s blank canvas.

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