Wednesday 3 October 2012

Jungle Equipment!

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. 
My kit!

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.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Last week of training before Brazil!

Another round of vaccinations left me with two dead arms again and another less than perfect training week. With the race so close I wasn't too concerned about training less as I didn't want to be worn out for when the race starts.

However, I did squeeze in a Tabata interval session (see earlier blogs for details) and this involved 480 body weight squats and 480 lunges... needless to say I couldn't walk the next day, but still a great session to build confidence before the race. 

Once again the focus of the week would be heading down to Dorset to re-run the Dorset Doddle Ultra-marathon course. Storms were predicted and it had already been raining for 24 hours.

I set off from Weymouth and even the kite surfers were struggling with the strong winds. My new shoes couldn't find grip and a number of times I found myself either on my backside or slipping down hills. The going was slow and 5 hours in to my run I was losing daylight and the winds were picking up. I had only passed about 3 people on the footpaths all day, which gives you an idea of how horrible the conditions were. It became too dangerous to run as I was running along the cliff edge and so I had to cut the run short. I ran for about 6 hours and only managed 28 miles, but it was a gritty and dangerous run and the perfect way to end my preparation for the toughest footrace in the World!

The Dorset Doddle

Mark Hines, the author of The Jungle Marathon book, told me that if I could tackle the hills on the South West Coastal path in Dorset, then nothing in the Jungle would be a surprise. As I was growing concerned about my lack of hill running experience and preparation, I decided that heading down to the coastal path was a must.

Unfortunately, my week's training had been less than ideal, as I was suffering after having lots of vaccinations ready for Brazil. With 2 dead arms and a weakened immune system, I had taken my week's training easy, but set myself the challenge of the coastal path at the weekend.

After a 3 hour train ride from London I arrived in the seaside town of Weymouth with the intention of running along the coast to Swanage. I chose one of the toughest sections of the coastal path to run along and I later discovered that the route I ran is actually the route of an ultra-marathon called the Dorset Doddle (a doddle it wasn't). 

There are so many hills along the course that it's the equivalent to going up and down Mount Snowdon and Ben Nevis (2 of the highest UK mountains) in 1 run. Thankfully it was a beautiful day and so it was ideal for heat training and the scenery was breathtaking! 

Despite running low on water a number of times, I finished the run in 6 hours 30 minutes. The winner of Dorset Doddle tends to take 5 hours 30 minutes and so my time didn't seem too bad considering I had a 10kg back pack to carry. 

Saturday 22 September 2012

Hills, hills and more hills!

Monday- rest
Tuesday- rest
Wednesday- 40x Primrose Hill
Thursday- gym session
Friday- 24km
Saturday- 21km at Box Hill
Sunday- 23km at Box Hill

After last week's high mileage, my goal this week was to run up as many hills as possible! The jungle course is notoriously hilly and I've been told that this year is going to be hillier than ever.

After a great session on Primrose Hill (see previous blog) I hit the gym hard on Thursday, doing more Tabata training. When you're short of time there's no better way to maximise your work out. As I've mentioned previously, Tabata interval training involves 20 seconds of intense exercise (such as push up), followed by 10 seconds recovery, repeated 8 times.

I did 2x squats, push ups and lunges + one extra squats, which took just 42 minutes. It really hurt, especially after Primrose Hill on the previous day and hopefully sessions like this will improve my strength on the hills!

Living in London isn't ideal for hill training and so after a flat 24km run along the River Thames on Friday, I headed out of London to Box Hill for my weekend runs. The trails on the North Downs Way are the closest thing I have found to how I imagine the jungle trails will be and my average speed of  9km/h (compared to 12km/h on flat ground) shows how hilly the course is. I ran up as many hills as I could find and repeated this run on the Sunday as well!

Hopefully my body is starting to adapt to hill running. It's definitely going to remain the focus of my training until I leave in 2 weeks. On the advice of Mark Hines (author of The Jungle Marathon book) I have decided against running the Windsor Ultra (75km along The Thames) as the course is too flat. Instead I will head down to Dorset to tackle the hilly paths of the Jurassic Coast!!!

The beautiful North Downs Way at Box Hill

One of the hills on the North Downs Way

40 times up and down Primrose Hill!

Hill training is a form of interval training, as you work hard on the uphill climb and actively recover on the way down. It can increase your lung capacity, improve muscle strength and it definitely tests your mental strength!

Primrose Hill in Regent's Park is one of the few places in Central London suitable for hill training. It provides a great combination of elevation and distance and hopefully there won't be too many steeper hills in the jungle! I picked a hot and sunny Wednesday afternoon to tackle Primrose Hill and whilst most people were sunbathing, I set myself the challenge of running up and down 40 times! The most I'd done before this point was 20, but hill running is definitely my weakness and so it was time to take drastic action! 

An hour and a half later and after lots of funny looks I hit my target of 40 repetitions! My legs felt like jelly, but this was a great confidence boost and a sign that my hill running is improving! 

A 17km run home rounded off a great day's training!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

100 mile week!!!

After the slight injury niggle that I wrote about it my last blog, I'm really pleased to report that that I had a great week's training. Unfortunately there was no time for any hills, but I upped the mileage to 100 miles and ran another 60km on Saturday!

Sometimes rest days are just as important as trainining days so after running my first 60km I decided to take 2 rest days to allow some extra recovery time. It seemed to do the trick as I've had no injury worries since :)

On Tuesday I visited Kew Gardens (The Royal Botanic Gardens) for a day out. I was particularly keen to experience the 'tropics zone' in the Palm house to see some of the Jungle plant species and also feel the heat and humidity there. It gave me a good idea of how humid its going to be and even walking up a small flight of stairs to see the 'canopy' was hard work!

I ran home from Kew, which was around half a marathon and then I followed this up with another half marathon on Wednesday.

I then ran a slow 36km around Hyde Park on Thursday and followed this up with a nice cold ice bath!

Apparently ice baths speed up recovery by draining the blood from the legs and then when you get out of the bath and warm up, fresh oxygenated blood fills the legs.

I had another rest day on Friday with a massage, before the dreaded 60km on Saturday! I followed exactly the same route as I did the week before and this time I stayed much better hydrated (I drank 2.5 litres of fluid made up of 3 0.5L electrolyte waters, a lucozade and a powerade). 

Even without high energy jelly beans I knocked 25 minutes of my previous time (finishing in 4 hours 45 minutes and averaging 12.6km/h, which is 3 hours 20 minute marathon pace) and that included wading along the flooded river bank in Richmond- excellent Jungle preparation! 

I also got chance to test some of the UVU gear that is similar to what I'll be wearing to race in! It's all top secret as it's not been released yet, but I can tell you it does some really cool temperature regulation stuff!

I decided to train on the Sunday as well rather than resting- I have to get used to running far on consecutive days and so I ran another half marathon on the Sunday. 

A really good week's training, but now my focus has to be on hills! With just 3 weeks to go until I fly to Brazil, I'm going to put myself through some really tough hill training sessions rather than long runs! 

Sunday 26 August 2012

A great week of training!

Just under 5 weeks until I head to the Amazon!!!....

Its been a week since my last blog post and after a few tough runs I'd decided that I needed to up my mileage and hill training. Thankfully it's been a really great week and that's exactly what I managed to do... here's a quick summary:

Monday: 16km running up and down hills on the trails of Box Hill

Tuesday: 31km run along the Thames Path

Wednesday: 21km along the Thames Path

Thursday: Gym session with lots of squats (good hill preparation!) and then 13.5 km run

Friday: Rest day and Thai massage

Saturday: 60km along the Thames Path

Sunday: 8.5km slow run

Total distance: 150km

I set out in search of some tough hills on Monday and took the train out of London to Box Hill (Olympic Cycling venue). I was really pleased to find the perfect training in the form of the hills of the North Downs Way on Box Hill. I ran for 2 hours up and down the trails and it's definitely a run I'll be doing lots more in the Jungle Marathon build up!

Here are the Olympic rings positioned on the top of Box Hill and the great view from up there:

On Saturday morning I set out with energy gels, electrolyte filled water bottles and high energy jelly beans with the goal of running 60km along the Thames Path. The furthest I'd run up to this point was 50km and that was a real struggle. It didn't help that I'd had a deep tissue massage the night before and I was struggling to get out of bed as a result. 

I set off at a bit of a sluggish pace, but soon got into my stride. I was really happy with how I paced the run and I went through the marathon distance (42km) at an average of 12km/h (3 hours 30). However, shortly afterwards I felt a sharp twinge behind my left knee. I stopped briefly to stretch my hamstring and drank lots of water in the hope that it was cramp, but unfortunately the pain persisted. I managed to carry on running, but had to slow the pace. Then the rain came down... really heavy thunderstorms made the last 15km slightly unpleasant (the only good thing was that I had the path to myself!) 

I finished the run in just over 5 hours and I was really pleased to know that I could have carried on running. My average pace dropped to 11.5km/h because of the injury niggle, but I feel confident that I'll be able to do the double marathon in 7 hours, which is the pre-Jungle marathon goal I set myself. 

The last few km were so wet that it was like running through a stream... my feet took a bit of a battering, as you can see from the photo below. It's definitely time to start looking after my feet better!

I went out for an easy run this afternoon to see how my hamstring was. I only ran for around an hour, but could definitely feel that something wasn't quite right. The last thing I want is to get injured so close to the race and so my plan is to take things a bit easy over the next few days! I'll make the days productive by sorting out lots of the equipment and food that I need to take with me and do some more research into the race. I've been reading Mark Hines book about the Jungle Marathon- a fantastic read, especially for anyone interested in the competing in the race. I've got to a bit about lots of competitors going on drips and others dropping out of the race and being taken to hospital in the middle of the night- scary stuff, especially considering that the nearest hospital is 24 hours away!