2012 Marathon des Sables Training Update #2

On March 18, 2012, in Racing, Running, by Meghan

I’m back to talk Marathon des Sables (MdS) training once more. If you’d like to check out my first update, I published it back in November.

If you’re stopping by for the first time, MdS is a 150-ish mile, seven-day stage race in which you carry your own provisions (except for water and a shade structure to sleep under, which are provided by the race administration) in a backpack whilst running through the Sahara Desert. The race takes place in 2012 from April 8th through 14th. As I type this, I’m entering my last week of training.

I’ll save you (Mostly me, training plans nearly kill me. At the end of the day, I just like to run.) the details and summarize the various elements of training as well as a couple fun specifics.

Danni Coffman and the Grand Canyon during our R2R2R training trip over Thanksgiving weekend (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).

Build/recover cycles

I’ve adhered to taking a recovery week after every two weeks of hard training. Many traditional training plans call for three weeks up and one week down, but that cycle length doesn’t work for me. If I want to work real hard in training, my body asks for frequent recovery.


Cycle by cycle since November, my mileage has crept up from where it was in the 60 miles-per-week range to the 90-110 miles per week range. If this last week of training week goes well, I’ll have put in four weeks above 90 miles. For me, this is as high as my mileage ever gets. And, in training for MdS by running with a weighted pack, it not only takes forever to run this many miles in a week, it’s also stressful on the body. All along, I’ve let my body do the talking on how much time to spend running each week. You can bet your bottom dollar that I’m grateful for this kind of physical health.

Self-portraiting on a solo weekend training trip to Moab, Utah in January (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).

Back-to-back long runs (with a running pack much of the time)

With the exceptions of recovery weeks, my weekends this winter have been filled by these back-to-back long runs with a running pack. This is pretty much what running MdS is about, getting up every day for a week and doing a long run with a pack.

Fortunately, I did some of these runs as races, including the Red Hot Moab 55K in February, which I ran with a 12-pound pack and the 3 Days of Syllamo two weekends ago. At the 3 Days of Syllamo, I ran with 15 pounds in the 50K, 13 pounds in the 50-mile, and no pack in the 20K. And, next weekend, I plan to run the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50K with a pack. Using races for long runs takes the edge off the torment of running a real long way with a pack on your back. Also fortuitous is that some of my running buddies have put up with doing long runs with my running pack and I around Park City and Salt Lake City. Finally, I’ve traveled to Moab twice to do these runs in beautiful and unfrozen terrain. This variety and support have kept me sane.

Speed workouts

I have done one or two of these each week, even on my recovery weeks. Most of them have been in the range of tempo workouts that include somewhere between four and eight miles of tempo-effort work. I have done these on the treadmill at the gym. Treadmill training is a blessing and a curse. I love people watching and I get to do lots of it while I’m on the treadmill. Though gerbil-style running is quintessentially not me (Just give me a mountain to frolic upon, alright?), these runs have built strong legs and perhaps an even stronger mind.

Strength work

If there was any part of my training that I could have improved upon, it has been my strength workouts. I love doing them but I just plain struggle with the gym environment and feeling like a caged bird in there. If I’ve already been at the gym twice in one week for the treadmill, the idea of going back some more is like clipping my wings. Nevertheless, I’ve done them, either one or two per week. I could have worked harder or stayed in the gym longer, but I’m proud that I suffered through, er, did the work.

Me on a training run in Canyonlands National Park in January (Bryon Powell photo credit).

Easy miles/streaking

I’m streaking 2012, running (or hobbling if the occasion calls for it) every day. Through streaking, I’ve gotten in all of my easy mileage around training’s most important workouts. The key here has been to do these runs really, really slow. Early on in training, I was doing a lot of these runs with other people. I found that it was better if I did the majority of this easy mileage on my own so that I could stick with an easy effort and slow pace.

Heat acclimation

In the last five weeks before MdS, I’m acclimating to the heat I will find in the Sahara Desert. Five weeks out, I sat in the sauna twice for around 45 minutes. Four weeks out, which is the week I’m finishing up as I type, I sat in the sauna four times for between 45 minutes and one hour. Three weeks out, I plan to sit in the sauna four times for a bit over an hour each.

Ten days out, I’m going to the Sahara Desert to acclimate there! Holy smokes, I’m a lucky girl and I know it!

Me finishing the 3 Days of Syllamo 50-mile stage with my running pack (Travis Liles photo credit).


My biomechanics are imperfect. I wouldn’t have made it through this training season without weekly Active Release Technique/chiropractor visits and monthly massage. Knock on wood, I have been working really hard to get to this year’s starting line as healthy and as fit as I am able.

Mental-toughness and do-nothing-stupid training

Running MdS is about staying mentally flexible and adapting oneself to whatever conditions present themselves over the course of the week. At the 2010 MdS, I did not possess enough mental flexibility and I ended up spending a night in a medical tent. This sucked in general and, more importantly, frightened the pants off my mother back at home, who was following my progress (or lack thereof it in that case) via the race website and the timing chip around my ankle. I wish to never, ever again partake in or create this type of mess. Ever. So, I’m taking with me some new mental abilities.

How does one train to not be stupid? For me, there are a couple components. First, it’s about rolling with whatever punches happen out there. Not feeling good? Figure out why and fix it instead of mourning it. These miles are getting hard? Yep, that’s what running is about so don’t belabor that fact. Second, it’s, for me, also about learning to listen to my body. It tells me everything I need to know and, if I listen to it, I’m going to have a great experience.

Finally, it’s about understanding hyperextension. Running these long distances in training and racing is about going to the outer limits of where you feel comfortable. There’s a fine line out there, though, of  taxing oneself enough and really effing up and hurting yourself. I’ve not always been the best at staying on the sustainable side of that line or even knowing where and what the line is. I think you can only learn about this place by going to it, testing the waters, and coming back from it feeling good. I’ve spent my fair share of time in this training cycle trying out that hyperextended place, then coming back to recover before going out again.

Okay, friends, it’s a simple as that. Heh. As you read this, I’ve entered my last week of hard training. After Saturday, March 24th, it’s time to taper!

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7 Responses to “2012 Marathon des Sables Training Update #2”

  1. Karen says:

    Good luck!

    I love the sauna training. Sounds just awesome enough to work. Do you exercise in the sauna too, then go outside and roll in the snow? 🙂

  2. Sara says:

    Specific, smart training, Meghan. You’re going to do great!

  3. Derrick says:

    You are so well prepared and ready to play. Great training block!

    Keep the streak going!

  4. Danni says:

    I am so impressed! That is a lot of solid and focused training. I am so excited for you.

  5. Paige says:

    Wowie! That’s some seriously awesome training you’ve gotten in. I am really excited about this experience for you. Go you!

  6. Pam says:

    This makes me so happy to read, Meghan. It sounds like you have learned from past mistakes/injuries (the place I’m stuck), and taken your running forward into a healthy and strong place. Your gratefulness shines through. I think you’re in perfect shape in every sense for this race. Enjoy!!

  7. Ewa says:

    You are so ready and I am very excited for you. Can’t wait to hear all about your adventure. After all this effort you put into your training, I am sure you will do great!

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