BLOG- KEY KIT FOR RUNNING THE DESERT

Running with the seals (DigitalPict Photography)

It would be a lie to say that the running is the easy bit, but the most common questions I get asked after running say the Namib, the Sahara, or in the Namib desert is around kit, and specifically being a doctor, around medical kit.  Here are the lightweight things that I carry, and maybe of help during for example to Marathon des Sables or other races and events like this.

  • Footwear

Running day after day in the desert, your feet swell up.  I use a pair of shoes ½ a size bigger than my standard shoes.  For a lightweight shoe that is comfy and has a bit of grip, I use the Merrell All Out Rush

  • Sandgaiters

Having worked at many desert ultras as well as raced them, if you are racing on sand, do not leave home without sandgaiters. These prevent sand getting in your shoes and causing blisters.  The best on the market by far are “Sandbaggers Gaiters” made with parachute silk.  Stitch these into your shoes rather than glueing, as the glue will melt in the heat.

  • Clothing

The key thing is to have clothing (including socks) that are lightweight and wicks moisture away from the skin keeping blisters and overheating down to a dull roar. Some clothing has the additional bonus of sun protection. I use the Merrell clothing range which suits me perfectly

 

  • Sunscreen

Do not skimp on this. Buy high factor sunscreen that stays where it is when you sweat, and only needs applied once or twice a day. P20 has never failed me, while Himalaya is great also

High in the dunes (DigitalPict photography)

  • Blister Kit

The largest study of blisters in ultra-runners showed 85% of competitiors got blisters. This number would probably be even higher in the desert. So take some Sterets to clean the skin, some sterile needles to pop the blisters, (pop at the lowest point, squeeze fluid out, and leave to dry until the morning), and zinc oxide tape to put over the blisters in the morning to prevent them getting worse

  • Vaseline

Stick small amounts of this in the areas you are vulnerable to getting chafing

  • Hand Sanitiser Gel, and toilet paper

Use the hand sanitiser as directed, to cut down the prospects of getting diarrhoea nad vomiting, one of the most common causes of medical withdrawal from races.  Drink bottled water, and avoid foods that look dodgy.

  • Med Kit

Paracetamol, 2 tablets 4 times a day is good for pain.  NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory meds like brufen and voltarol) should not be taken for endurance running. There is a risk of stomach ulcer, kidney failure and other badness. Lyprinol likely has anti-inflammatory actions and I take (batch tested) version of this to combat this.  Immodium/ loperamide is worth carrying in case diarrhoea and vomiting does occur

  • Fuel

Like a car, if the human body is out of fuel, it will not go anywhere.  Small amounts of carbohydrate taken regularly in any race longer than an hour boost performance. I use Science in Sport gels, and carbohydrate and electrolyte powder, whilst post exercise REGO helps by providing carbohydrate to replace used up stores, and protein to repair damaged muscles

  • Ear plugs

These and eye masks help sleep on flights, as well as in noisy tents. Well worth the 6 grams

Sandbaggers gaitersRunning with the Seals
All Images by DigitalPict Photography

BLOG- RUNNING ACROSS THE NAMIB- PART 2 OF 2

Genuine challenges are always a roller coaster of emotion.  Both Donnie and I reflected upon what it would take to get us to the finish.  The first 3 days had proved we could have absolutely every confidence in our support crew.  Their route finding had been superb and we had been kept well stocked up on food, sun cream and anything else 2 men traversing the Namib desert could ever want.  We probably needed to conserve a bit more energy, by covering good distance, but running slower, and we needed not to think too far ahead.  Breaking the challenge down 10km by 10km, and day by day would keep anxiety about the scale of the challenge down.

chameleon

In good spirits we set off again through the dunes on day 4, trying to avoid having to go over every dune by hitting the cols, and using the sand valleys between the dunes where possible.  This made progress a lot easier.  Having run in deserts including the Sahara and the Gobi, I must admit I had not expected the Namib to be so hard.  It is partly the size of the dunes, but also the fact that everything in the Namib desert is sand, and heavy sand to run through.  Running races like the Gobi Challenge, the Sahara Race, and Marathon des Sables usually at least half of the course is a more runnable hard sand, or rocky terrain but this just wasn’t. But after a few days our bodies were settling into it, and we knew that the second half of the challenge would feature some beach that although sandy is a good deal easier than dunes.  I felt after day 4 we had at least a 50/50 chance of getting it done>

 

A suprising feature of the Namib is the plethora of wildlife.  This is due to it being coastal, and although it on average receives the least rain of any desert, a fog in the morning from the sea sometimes rolls over bringing moisture.  The next 3 days allowed us opportunities to run past seal colonies (we even went for a swim with the seals), as well as spotting chameleons, giant spiders, antelopes and the tracks of hyena’s and sidewinder snakes on incursions inland. There was also the bizarre sights of various shipwrecks, some well inland, for example the well preserved carcass of the Edward Bohlen, a 1907 ship marooned in the desert showing that the desert is alive and moving week by week and year by year.

Success_diagram

With covering these distances there were issues.  Donnie and I both ate a fair bit of the sand blowing in our face, Donnie had sand in his eyes, and my back totally seized up one day leading to an uncomfortable time at the end of day 5 unable to move for half an hour.  But we were getting there, and thanks to the expert route finding of our Namibia hosts we thought we could emerge from the desert a day early, on day 9 rather than 10, allowing an extra day for community work.

 

So with the hammer down we progressed over salt flats, dunes, and the coast on day 8.  As we were within 100km of Walvis bay, flamingos greeted us regularly, and on another occasion we were hemmed in by 300kg of Oryx, a huge antelope with massive straight horns that have been known to kill lions. That evening was one for celebration.

Dune Running

We had only 55km to do on the last day, over manageable terrain, which we knew would be a formality. So relaxed were we that we staged an impromptu game of golf over the sand dunes before setting off.  With sand valleys of 300 metres, good scoring proved difficult, but it was a grand warm up for tanking the last leg into civilisation.  Apart from our tight knit group, we had seen no humans at all during our time in the desert, so seeing Chief Kooitjee and members of the local Topnaar tribe welcoming us to Walvis bay was special.  Any finish line is great, but one with a pint of beer and the promise of a shower is even better.  It was a great moment that we shared, expeditions like this are just not possible without expert help, and having Jurgens, Hein, Len, Paul, Wossy, Percy and Luciano, as well as Dave, and our fantastic documentary team Brian and Gayle of LittleBigShot productions, and Jonny Graham of DigitalPict the expeditions professional photographer.  Donnie deserved more beer than me.  He had put up with my whining about my back and various ailments and stayed strong throughout.  When he was asked by a newspaper if he had thought of giving up he simply said “I was in the marines. So no”.

At the end of the Namib Desert

The 2 days after allowed opportunities to share experiences and assist locally with community work. More about that in the next blog, but we did also raise a glass to Bert Jukes, who both through himself and Lyprinol UK had unswervingly supported the expedition, and to Merrell UK, who as ever had supplied top quality kit not only to myself but to support local athletic projects.

PRESS RELEASE- RUNNERS COMPLETE EPIC NAMIBIAN DESERT CROSSING

UK runners Dr Andrew Murray and Donnie Campbell have successfully completed a  first – running across the Namib desert from Luderitz to Walvis Bay, Namibia.  The challenge was set three months ago by Scottish Expedition organiser David Scott, and supported by Lyprinol UK.  The record breaking run crossed the highest sand dunes in the world including the formidable ‘Devil’s Workshop’, in punishing conditions with the pair running over 50km every single day, completing 504.1km in total almost entirely on punishing heavy sand, and crossing the finish line on day 9 of the expedition, at 1430 on 10th February 2015. The pair are no strangers to racing in extreme conditions, with Murray having completed an epic 4295 km run from north Scotland to the Sahara desert, and won races at the North Pole, Antartica and Outer Mongolia amongst others, while Campbell, a former Royal Marine Commando completed a 184 mile run from Glasgow to Skye without sleeping.

Near the start at Luderitz

Speaking from Walvis Bay, Aberdonian Dr Murray 34, of Merrell UK said

“The Namib desert is, hands down both the most spectacular and gruelling place I’ve run in.  Every step through the sand was energy sapping, and my feet are destroyed with blisters.  We were in hefty trouble even after 2 days, but our support team and the incredible views got us to the finish. There were times every day I felt like stopping, but taking on many 300 metre dunes, passing shipwrecks miles inland, and seeing the suprising plethora of wildlife were particular highlights.  We don’t advise everyone to run through the Namib, but would like to promote the value of exercise. Even 30 minutes of walking 5 times a week helps you live on average 7 years longer.”

Edinburgh resident Donnie Campbell, 30, added

Running 500 odd km though the Namib desert was extremely tough and we could not have done it without the expertise of our expedition leaders David Scott, Bert Jukes and the support and superb local knowledge from the team in Namibia.  Their route selection was incredible considering no one has ever driven parts of the route never mind ran it, so this was a huge them effort to deliver Andrew and myself to Walvis Bay a bit battered, bruised and tired but still in one piece. We even ran through abandoned diamond mines, although my fiancee Rachael will be disappointed to learn I couldn’t find a big one ahead of our wedding next month!”

David Scott, from Glasgow added

“Three months ago I challenged Donnie and Andrew to deliver a World first – to run from Luderitz to Walvis Bay across the mighty Namib Desert, supported by a joint Scottish, South African and Namibian safety team.  As expedition organiser I was faced with huge logistical and safety concerns which we tackled as team and overcame to a successful and, more importantly safe conclusion.   The physical demands we placed on the guys were immense and throughout the challenge we were never certain we would emerge successful.  Apart from seeing the guys cross over the finish line my lasting memory will surely be having the privilege of tackling terrain through special concession areas which had never been driven (or run) over before.   We are indebted to Bert Jukes and Lyprinol for believing in this expedition, and supporting it from the outset.  I am also indebted to our excellent African partners Live the Journey
Near the Finish pictures
and the Topnaar tribe for allowing us to pass through their stunning desert.’

Following the run, the team are now engaged in some community work and the sharing of medical and athletic equipment, and education in the Kuiseb river region with Chief Kooitjie and the local Topnaar Tribe, the custodians of the Namib desert work supported by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Lyprinol, and Merrell UK.