I've never been the most organised of people and so getting everything I needed for the race was proving a challenge. My i-phone Notes was overloaded with to-do lists and equipment to buy.
Seven years ago I ran in a similar multi-stage race across the Sahara Desert called the Marathon Des Sables and I was hopelessly underprepared and under-equipped. Despite no food being provided, I decided not to take a stove to the desert and so I ate cold food all week (big mistake) and my idea of dinner was crushed crisps and Pepperami. I had just one type of energy bar and made up most of my daily calories with energy powders that my body would gradually begin to grow sick of and reject. Furthermore, I didn't take gaiters to keep the sand out of my shoes and the soles of my poorly chosen trainers melted in the desert heat, meaning that I had severely lacerated feet from exposure to the sand.
I swore I would be better prepared for the jungle and I have been reading previous runners blogs and emailing them for advice and I have been checking the UVU and Jungle Marathon Facebook pages daily for advice and tips.
I wanted the best shoes and so I researched into what the best ultra-runners wear. Killian Jornet has won just about every major ultra-marathon and he helped design a shoe by Salomon called the S-lab Sense. I was convinced that this was the shoe for me- it is super light and very well reviewed. The only problem was that no UK stores had it in stock and so I had to order it from Hong Kong. I ordered two pairs to ensure I had the right size and so £260 and £70 of custom duty later they arrived. At just over 200g they weighed very little and I knew that no-one else would have a pair... they would be my secret weapon to give me a psychological boost! Unfortunately, on my first muddy run in them I was sliding all over because of poor grip and so with just 2 weeks until race day I was without race shoes.
I went into an outdoor store in London and by chance I bumped into the head of sales for running shoe maker Inov8. He convinced me that a pair of their x-Talon shoes would be perfect for the Jungle due to a thick tread for grip and their lightweight.
The 6 day race is completely self-sufficient besides water. This means carrying a week's food, as well as a hammock to sleep in and compulsory medical equipment.
Most people would be taking a 30L back pack to squeeze this into, but I wanted to be as compact and efficient as possible and so I've chosen to go with a 20L back pack designed by Malmo for Raidlight- a very successful Marathon Des Sables runner. To give you an idea of bow big this is, it's probably no bigger than a child's backpack for school! This would mean no space for any spare clothes besides what I would be racing in and everything else would be stripped down to a minimum. Race organiser Shirley recommends a new pair of socks each day to give maximum feet protection... I would be taking 1 pair.
Hydration and keeping cool
Staying hydrated and not over-heating are probably the most important things in the Jungle Marathon. My back pack has 2 x 750ml bottles on each strap and I will carry a 1L water bladder to make up the compulsory 2.5L of water carrying capacity. I chose this system because water bottles can be filled up without taking off my back pack off at check points to save time (water bladders are stored inside your back pack and so the bag needs to be taken off to fill them, costing valuable minutes).
Most of my water will be mixed with electrolyte tablets, which replace vital salts lost through sweating.
I am very fortunate to have my clothing provided by UVU- I will be wearing fabrics specifically designed for the jungle environment, that have been used in garments specifically designed for racing. The top I will run in is short sleeved, lightweight, breathable and close fitting. I will be wearing knee length tights that look like cycling shorts on my legs and these will keep out creepy crawlies. They are also less likely to get caught on branches etc.
On my feet I will be wearing knee high Injinji compression socks- these have separate slots for all ten toes and the compression properties help blood flow and help prevent swelling.
Correct nutrition is probably the third most important thing for this race, behind hydration and foot care. I will be eating high energy Expedition Foods for my evening meals, which come in all kinds of flavours such as Spaghetti Bolognese and Hot Pot. For breakfast I will make my own combination of Readybrek, sugar and powdered milk. In addition to these I have tested out lots of energy and protein bars to find my favourites and I have beef jerky and jelly beans for snacks. I have also packed some really special foods called Peronin and Skandishake, which are meal replacement shakes that have a huge amount of calories per weight. They're not readily available and the Peronin for example had to be ordered in from Germany.
The big question remaining is whether or not to wear snake guards.... they wrap around and protect the lower leg, which is the place where a snake is most likely to bite you. There have been lots of deadly snakes seen on the course when the route was marked and I need to decide whether the risk of being bitten outweighs the added weight and warmth of wearing them.