Wednesday, 2 March 2011

On My Way

Well, this is it!! I'm leaving for the airport in about an hours time and am trying to stay calm. I was surprised that I actually had a good sleep last night but feel a bit queezy this morning. Partly nervousness and partly from excitement!!
I have closed the bags so hopefully I have remembered everything!! I am planning to meet Catherine at 12 noon, our flight for Madrid leaves at 2.30pm. We don't fly out of Madrid 'til 11.25pm tonight for the 9.5hr journey to Santiago Chile, where we have a 10hr stop-over before our last flight in to Calama where we should arrive at 10.30pm tomorrow night (Thursday). I must say I am not looking forward to the long delays in between flights but, hey ho, we just have to deal with it!!
On a brighter note, we got our 'Tent Assignments' the other day and Catherine and myself are sharing with SIX men. The fact that there are only two women and six men in the tent was not a surprise to either of us as, with any of these events, only about 20% of competitors are female. Actually on this event, there are 110 competitors and only 21 of those are female. But, after reading the bios of the other competitors in the tent we have no less than THREE doctors from Switzerland !! So, I guess we're sorted for the week as regards medical help. We are also sharing with an IT consultant, a construction expert AND an Austrian commedian,
so should be an interesting week!! By the way, I am the only Irish person taking part so will be proudly flying the Tricolour from my backpack and letting everyone know that..
Thank you all for your support so far, for listening to me going on about food, counting calories, all I have to carry etc etc and for the donations so far to the House of Hope. I hope I will have lots of tales to tell when I get back and hopefully won't be boring you all too much.
Wish me luck xx
My thought for the day is,,,, 'Any limitations we have--we set upon ourselves!! if you THINK you can only run 5K then you will only run 5K, it's where you set those goals!! there really are no boundries' and with that thought in mind I head off to tackle 'The Driest Place on Earth'

Saturday, 26 February 2011


Up to recently I hadn't decided wheather I was going to try and raise money for charity as I embark on my 3rd Ultramarathon but when I did decide there was just one charity at the moment that I would like to raise some money for and get more awareness for and that is Bahay ng Pag Asa (House of Hope) in the Philippines, run by Nickie Kenning(Or Mama Nickie is she is better known). The reason I hadn't decided is that Nickie has been out in the Philippines since last August, doing amazing work, and has just returned, so I needed to check some details with her about setting up a site for donations, which she has now organised, and if you would like to find out more about her fantastic work with the children of the Philippines, or donate some money to support Nickie then just log on to  Any donation, no matter how small, will be gratefully accepted and if you are a taxpayer don't forget to tick the 'Gift Aid' box so the House of Hope will receive even more of your money. On behalf of Nickie and myself 'Thank you all so much'

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

One Week Today

In exactly seven days I will meet my very good friend Catherine Manifield at Heathrow Airport before we jet off for our next 'adventure' together. Catherine and I met when we were training for the MDS back in 2007 and have been friends ever since. We spent a very 'traumatic' weekend training on the South Downs in preparation for the MDS where I came away feeling totally unprepared, and that I had made a dreadful mistake signing up for such a challenging event where, even the fittest, struggle to complete the course.
But, I soon picked myself up and, if I may not have been the fittest and fastest person partiscipating in the event, what I lacked in fitness I made up for with sheer determination and a positive focus on what it was I wanted to achieve and there was no way that I wasn't going to finish!! And so it was, that Catherine and myself started at the back of the pack every day at the MDS but with the thought of completing what was billed as 'The toughest foot race on Earth' we finished the course together(with lots of competitors behind us) and duly received our medals.
We have shared so much together, been through so much together, we've cried, we've laughed, I've screamed at her when she was holding everyone up climbing up a mountain on a single track saying she couldn't go any further(she christened it 'the mountain of doom') but she is like me and will never give up. She is super organised and is always in a good mood and even when times get tough(and believe me they do) she still manages a smile.
We leave Heathrow next Wednesday and fly to Madrid, from there to Santiago, then fly to Calama and from there we get picked up and drive to San Pedro where the race starts and finished. The terrain that the race covers is 1.6Km above sea level so to make things even tougher there is the possibility of Altitude sickness to look forward to,,,,,
Today, I had real doubts about how ready and able I am for this. I don't know where this came from as I'm always the person who motivates everyone else and tells them to think positively. Something I read a few years ago and that has always stuck with me is 'If you never go out of your comfort zone how on earth do you know what you can achieve' and I have found that to be so true. Way back in 1999 I told a friend of mine who wanted me to do a half marathon that I never ran, I had it in my head that I couldn't run, but I got up one morning and said to myself 'if I can go out and run for three miles without stopping then I'll go for the half marathon' and to my surprise I did, so I completed the half marathon six weeks later, went on to do lots of marathons and now I'm on to ultramarathons!! Going out of my 'comfort zone' all the time and pushing to see how much more I can do.... I think I have just talked(written) my doubts away and YES I CAN DO this,,,,,,the Atacama here we come..........

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

12 days to Go!

In 12 days time I will be at the start line of the Atacama Crossing. Where on earth did the time go?? First I was counting down the months, then it was weeks and here I am now with just DAYS to go.
I have got all my kit together, all the Mandatory equipment has been checked off (see list below) plus all the other optional equipment and things that I 'MIGHT' need as well. I have lists for everything, what I need on the plane, what I need for Friday while in San Pedro, what is coming in my backpack with me for the week, what I need for the Presentation dinner at the end and then for the plane journey home on 13th March etc etc. I love my lists and ticking off everything is the only way I can see myself getting organised.
One very good tip we got before doing the MDS was to carry all your essential equipment with you on to the plane(including three days food) as some people's luggage can get lost in transit and if you get to your destination without your shoes and all essential items then you are in deep trouble,, food, you can always get from other competitors(everybody brings too much anyway) but no one else will have a spare pair of shoes that will fit you.
My long training has now come to a stop and this last week now I will be using my exercise bike daily and will probably go swimming a couple of days just to keep off my feet as much as possible while still keeping mobile.

Backpack,(Berghaus 64 Zero suitable for short people like me,5ft nothing)
 Sleeping Bag(Marmot Atom)
 Headlamp(Petzl) & Back-Up Light
Compass,   20 Safety Pins,   Knife/ Multi-Tool,
Whistle,   Survival Blanket(Saved from London Marathon)
 Sunscreen,(P20 Fantastic if you have light skin like me)
 Lip Sunscreen
Blister Kit(with everything suggested by RTP but have never used Hydropel)
 Alcohol Gel,   Red Flashing Light
Jacket/Fleece(Helly Hanson top for nighttime)
 Shorts(1), Tops(2)1 short sleeve/1 long sleeve)
Socks(Toe Toe,2 pairs, used these in Sahara Egypt and didn't get any blisters!!)
Headgear/Cap(Buff and Cap)
Fleece Hat,   Gloves,   Sunglasses
Nationality Patches/ 4 Desert Patches
7 Day Food Supply(at least 14,000cals) inc
Dried Meals(Expedition Foods 800cal meals, you eat SO much sweet,high carb stuff during the day in energy bars that you tend to crave savoury foods when you get back to camp so my favourites are Chicken Tikka & Vegetable Tikka, I brought desserts on my 1st Ultra but didn't use them)
 Energy Bars/Gels(Personal Choice/ Mule/Clif/Powers gels and this time I have found a lovely nut bar in Tesco's Jordans Absolute Bar 45g with 230cals, my brother makes his own Flap Jacks which are very high in cals as well.
Nutrition Supplements(I take 1 sachet SIS Rego Recovery every evening when I get back to camp)
 Snacks(Personal Choice/anything savoury)
Eating Utensil,   Electrolytes(Nuun tabs)
Hydration System(I use 2 water bottles and at each Checkpoint fill one with water and pop a Nuun tablet in the other)
Medication(Prescription from GP for Diclofenac-anti inflamatory & Co-Codamol)

My Optional Equipment
Sleeping Pad & Pillow
Trecking Poles,   Watch
Nightcream,   Buff,   Jelly Beans
Gaiters,   Slippers(Flat white hotel type)
Sports Bra,   6prs Pants(1 for each day & throw away!!)
Wet Wipes(I tend to use the larger baby wipes, you can have a head to toe wash with just one!)Notebook/Pen(To scribble my thoughts)
Goggles,   Turbo Lighter(Useful for burning the toilet paper so it doesn't blow through camp!!)
Ireland Flag(To put on my backpack so there is no mistaking where I come from)
 Rosary Beads/Lourdes Water( That's the Catholic in me, have never gone anywhere without my Rosary beads and if I get an injury I treat it with whatever and then rub some Lourdes Water on it ,,just to be sure!)
Toilet Paper,   Leggings(For sleeping in)
Duck Tape(For Bag/Shoe repairs)
 Peppermint Cooling Foot Lotion(In Sahara Egypt this was so soothing, after getting back to camp every day and washing my feet I smothered them in this and lay down with my feet raised for at least 20mins,,,Heaven)
And of course a Camera.

For those of you who have never embarked on one of these ultras, yes, all the above has to fit in to the backpack and carried for the week. I know I have been making light of it so far but there is no mistaking that 250Km over the Atacama Desert in temperatures above 40deg is nothing to joke about and it will be really tough going but as I've said before the determination is there and I WILL do this. I havn't weighed my bag and am not going to before the check in day at San Pedro.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

As I near my final few long training sessions in preparation for the Atacama Crossing I think back on the time when I had registered for the Marathon des Sables(MDS) thinking that it would be a once in a lifetime effort at an ultra marathon and here I am preparing to start in to my 3rd ultra!! MDS 2007, Sahara Egypt 2008 and now Atacama Crossing 2011.

The course for the Atacama Crossing 2011 crosses the stunning Atacama Desert that is more than 15 million years old and known as the driest place on Earth (fifty times more arid than Death Valley in California). In some places along the course, there has never been a single drop of rain recorded. The Atacama Desert also has the most lunar-like landscape on Earth and is frequently used by the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to test it's Mars rover vehicles. The entire race is held at least 1.6 kilometers/ 1 mile above sea level and covers the distance required to make a horizontal crossing of the country of Chile (250 kilometers/ 150 miles)

The race is made up of 6 stages commencing on Sunday 6th March (just three weeks from today !!)
Stage 1  35.2km/ 21.9 miles   Stage 2   41.8km/ 26.0 miles  
Stage 3  40.0km  24.9 miles   Stage 4  42.8km  26.6 miles  
Stage 5  73.6km / 45.7 miles   Stage 6 16.0km / 9.9 miles

For my last four long training sessions (Saturdays & Sundays) I have done back to back long miles. This weekend I did 20 miles yesterday and today. There is no way you can prepare yourself for the intense heat of the desert when you train during our winter here but I tend to over dress myself so that I am uncomfortably warm all the time during weekend training. I have also worn the tops I will be using and the shoes, socks and the same bag that I have used for the other two ultras. I have been training carrying 8kg weight.

Competitors are required to carry all the mandatory equipment, and as I look at it now strewn in a heap on my living room floor I think 'how on earth is all that going to fit in to my backpack' but from past experience and carefully packing and folding everything I know that I will get it all in (eventually). In the Sahara Egypt on 'check in day' where they (Racing the Planet personnell) check that you have everything that is required my bag weighed 9.5kg which I was very pleased with and if I ended up with that weight this time I would be very happy.