Yesterday I met up with one of my intrepid clients to say a final “good luck” as he embarks on a truly epic adventure: the Marathon de Sables (MdS).
Today Mark is flying out to Morocco, ready to start his extraordinary challenge: 250kms in six days across the Sahara Desert, carrying his own food, sleeping bag and other essentials, with day time temperatures expected to reach around 45-50C whilst dropping to 10C and below at night.
And "ready" is the key word. For both of us this has been a real lesson in preparedness.
First off, one would think it’s all about packing in the long miles for the extraordinary distances to be covered, getting in to a hard regime of run training. We soon learnt from those who have done the MdS and coached others that it’s about being ready in many other ways. And that the training required really isn’t about upping the distances of long runs. Think walking/hiking. With a back pack. One marathon after another. In the heat. Still think its all about running?
For me, I've also learnt there's lots of patient, thorough trial and error, with few, if any, short cuts from reading a manual. Meticulous attention to detail. And a big focus on mental preparation.
In Mark’s case, quite early on in the programme, coming out of a three day event, he had a big set back of an injury that severely limited even the walking.
Lesson 1 in preparedness became an all important reality check on what the event actually entails and Mark's goals. The ambition had never been to run the whole thing (very, very few do) or achieve a certain time or place, so there was a comfort in thinking through afresh and more concretely what the aims would be - and from that, what preparation was needed.
Hand in hand was Lesson 2, about sorting out the root cause of the injury through some very focused (often painful) physiotherapy and remedial pilates.
Mark and I both did quite a bit of research and talking with those who've done the event before and coached others to it. For me an interesting lesson has been that, whilst such conversations have been immensely valuable - helping focus on the right things, put others in perspective and, particularly for Mark, develop a sense of doing something big with others - it only comes to life through trial and error. We've tried to keep a focus on and learn from how his body responded and his mood swung so as to feel confident and ready going in to the event.
The mental preparation, self-belief and feeling ready is so important. In this respect its been exciting and a challenge for me too, to apply and test out with Mark the model I am developing for the new, soon to be launched, Confidence Centred Coaching. A key idea here is about taking ourselves to such big events, having a readiness mindset and back pack of mental strategies, rather than waiting for the event to come and impact on (and most likely overwhelm) us. I'm so excited for Mark and really looking forward to hearing from him about how he responds in the extreme conditions - and feeling confident in him.
Huge credit to Mark that he is now on his way to Morocco so well prepared. Every bit of kit has been repeatedly tested out, including in Brighton University's Environmental Chamber where he has undergone heat acclimatisation sessions (and got to know others doing the MdS). Yesterday he was also telling me about the final steps in getting the weight down on his kit bag - all the freeze dried food vacuum packed afresh to be even more compact and any unnecessary edgings trimmed off, the straps on the bag cut back to just the essentials and any unnecessary pockets or liners discarded. Every gramme counted and accounted for.
So these next ten days or so are going to be tense for me - and obviously incredibly arduous for Mark. Watch out for his story. Its going to be amazing.