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Final preparations: What have I gotten myself into?

This week marked my first week of taper — although I’m still struggling to get my mind around that concept of a taper week that involves two 90 minutes runs and one 3-hour run with my fully loaded backpack — plus a session at the gym and a few heat acclimatization sessions in the sauna! I was envisioning taper to involve a couple 20-minute casual walks through the country-side followed by ice cream and napping in the sun. Little did I know!

With just over a week left before I leave for Morocco, I’m now faced with finalizing all the nitty-gritty details that have been occupying spreadsheets, emails, lists, and my sub-consciousness for months now. The first of which was to close out my medical testing. The MDS organizers are quite serious that competitors enter the race healthy, so I have to bring with me a signed clearance form from my doctor, as well as an EKG print-out. My Swiss doctor took this all very seriously — rather than a rushed 5 minute visit (which I would have expected in the U.S.), my doctor took the time to understand the conditions I would face in the race, ran both sedentary and at-exercise heart tests, and performed a series of additional tests. Following my fourth appointment, I received my EKG printouts and clearance – albeit with several words of caution regarding the heat and risks of what I would term “over-perseverance”.

The next big logistical challenge has been finding a cobbler in Zürich to glue and sew Velcro strips onto my running shoes. You see, it’s highly recommended to use special gaiters to cover your shoes — it prevents sand from entering, as sand can pretty much destroy your feet, spirits, and race experience. From what I’ve read, it’s very, very important to have the gaiters attached the right way — first glued, and then sewn into the running shoes. Few Swiss cobblers apparently speak English (well, none that we’ve found) or have ever been asked to sew Velcro onto running shoes, so my wife Becky volunteered for the huge task of finding a cobbler who would take on this task — all the while explaining this very unusual request in her budding German skills. After half a dozen attempts, she finally found a cobbler who would give it a go. We were thrilled to get the shoes back with the Velcro in the right place, but then disheartened to see that he sewed straight through the footbed insert! The shoes are unusable at this point, so this one is going down to the wire, as we have to get the shoes re-done the week before I leave!

The next step is to finalize my food selections. All the food I’ll consume for 7 days will be toted on my back and I have to pass an inspection by the race organizers to show that I have a minimum of 2,000 calories a day. The race organizers will inspect my food to ensure that I have the minimums. The minimum isn’t the problem — the fact is that I’d love to have about 5,000 calories a day, but I also want to have a lightweight backpack. There’s the rub — it’s either lots of calories or lots of weight! I’ve been working on this for months, ordering lots of typical endurance racing foods from the U.S. and France (and having friends cart them over to Switzerland). I’ve also decided to forgo a stove and just cook my freeze-dried dinners in the sun. Today, the moment of decision, I piled about 50,000 calories of food on my dining room table (no kidding) and started the process of making final choices to reach the 20,000 calorie mark that I’m aiming to have for the entire race.

Now I just need to sort out my medical kit (focused on treating inevitable blisters and desert boo-boos: needles, alcohol and iodine pads, New Skin, medical tape, pain killers) and my remaining gear (knife, compass, iPod, solar charger, survival blanket, anti-venom pump, twisted sense of reality) — you know, standard marathon stuff. 🙂

Proof that MDS training can make you a little crazy, I delayed today’s run, passing up a gorgeous morning, until the very moment that a storm struck. I set out as the winds kicked up and skies darkened, smiling and thinking that it was a fitting intro to the sand storms I’ll be treated to in a couple weeks.

Speaking of, the race starts on March 29. Believe it or not, the race organization sets up a mobile telecommunications hub in the desert each night — complete with a satellite Internet connection. This means that I may be able to send updates at times during the week. I’m limited to only one outgoing message a day, so it’ll be a quick update — hopefully to let you know that I’m having fun in the sun — or something like that. You’ll also be able to send messages to me (and I’d love to hear from you!). I’ll post my race number and other details later this week. In addition, just in case I can’t get an update sent out, Becky will be monitoring daily race news items and posts from other blogs. She’ll post updates on my blog during the event, so please feel free to check in.

Thanks for being part of this journey!


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