Hello, Mister Blister!

Anyone who followed my row across the Atlantic (Jan > March 2009) might remember my battle with the nasty bleeesters on my fingers. Unfortunately in my training for the ‘Marathon des Sables,’ the danger of bleeesters is back. In fact, one little blighter has already cropped up on my middle toe.

At this stage however, I say,

Welcome, Mister Blister!

You see, if I can blister now, then my feet should become all roughty-toughty in time for the race. At least, that’s my theory. What it also tells me, is that something is wrong. According to the NHS webpage on blisters, with its fantastic orange-ring-with-red-spot-in-the-middle gravatar, in order to avoid bleeesters you can:

  • wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes
  • wear gloves when handling chemicals
  • use sunscreen

which is fine advice, although not all applicable to my middle toe. So, it was clearly time this week to address, or rather re-dress my footwear!

Run Tru is a new, specialist running shop in Truro and so I took myself on a pilgrimage to meet Brian Price, the shop’s owner. With two pairs of Sauconys in hand, of 2004 and 2007 vintage, we set about analyzing my gait. Brian had me walk and then run across a panel on the shop floor. The panel took a pressure image of my foot, which Brian then analyzed.

The upshot is that my left foot (the victim of the bleeester) does do some kooky things! Occasionally my left leg steps ahead of my body, when it should be treading beneath or behind the plumb line of my torso. Tut tut tut! My left heel also strikes the ground inboard of my foot’s centre line. Consequently, my left foot doesn’t pronate very much, which the Asics shoe brand explains in their brilliant webpage titled Understanding Pronation. My left foot underpronates or supinates, which means:

The outer side of the heel hits the ground at an increased angle, and little or no normal pronation occurs, resulting in a large transmission of shock through the lower leg.

I learnt that as an underpronator I want to, a) avoid running in shoes that have dual density mid-soles and, b) have harder carbon-rubber on the inside of my shoes’ heel to encourage my tread more towards the centre line of my foot.

After the science part, came the shopping!

Here Brian showed me how a running shoe should fit. Once you’ve wriggled your foot into the shoe, you should give your heel a tap on the ground. This ensures that your heel is all the way back in the shoe. Next, there should be a gap of a whole thumb’s width between the tip of your big toe and the end of the shoe.

While aesthetically I fancied this sporty pair…

and I really didn’t want to buy anything white (which won’t be white for very long), I couldn’t get past the divine feeling that with these beauties,

Cinderella had been reunited with her rightful slipper! My footsie felt as snug as a bug in a rug!

With laces that stem from the sole (see beneath the PI logo), the shoe wraps the foot around the arch. I simply had to have them! Thus the fabulously titled

Pearl Izumi synchroFuel trainers for women

became mine!

If last weekend I ran 9 miles in 1hr 56mins (an aborted effort after the coastal path became an ankle-twisting mudslide), think what I could achieve this weekend!

So long, Mister Blister!


Sauna training?

Lying on the top rack of the sauna at the Falmouth Beach Hotel spa yesterday evening, I closed my eyes and imagined I was in the middle of the Sahara, running.

Yep, something like that!

Except that I wasn’t actually running, I was sitting still. I was sitting still and melting like a lollypop. I was losing the feeling of definition to my body. I was turning into liquid, my senses teased by beads of perspiration that tickled on my upper arm, right thigh and down my left breast, but not in a good way.

With my mouth closed, I could feel cool water on the roof of my mouth, condensed water. When I opened my mouth, the hot air invaded, permeated, hot air now being inside and out of me. My heart rate increased. My head seemed to expand and contract, pressure building, until my brain pounded with blood that thumped loudly in my ears. A low guttural feeling came next, of panic rising, I wanted to get out of there.

I pulled myself back to the middle of the Sahara desert.

There is no getting out of there

I calm down. I relax and the physiological symptoms disappear.


Back home, I threw the words ‘sauna training’ and ‘marathon’ into Google. Et voilà! I found this article by an 8-time-finisher of the (appropriately titled) Badwater Ultramarathon, which is a non-stop, 3-day, 135 mile, team event through some of the wildest terrain in Western United States in 130 degree (F) heat. 

In his article, our 8-man Arthur Webb states that the sauna serves two extremely important functions:

  1. It prepares the body to deal with the blistering heat
  2. It gets the body used to drinking and processing the large volume of liquids needed for survival.

Webb advocates sauna training every day, which I think is fantastic news!

When you get unexpected goose bumps at work/home or when it’s 100-degrees but feels like eighty, you are acclimated.

Perhaps training for the ‘Marathon des Sables’ isn’t going to be all pain, after all.


Sample four-week sauna training:

in Sauna
110 (steam)
110 (steam)
110 (steam)
110 (steam)

Check out the first 50 seconds of this video, by 2009 MdS competitor Adam CJ Park. I think ‘Fort Minor’ by Remember the Name, just became my favourite song of the day…

You ready? Lets go!
Yeah, for those of you who want to know what we`re all about
It`s like this y`all (c`mon!)

This is ten percent luck,
Twenty percent skill,
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will,
Five percent pleasure,
Fifty percent pain,
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!

The Deadline for Entries

I received various messages throughout the day, since today is the last day for confirming a place in the Marathon des Sables 2013.  ‘So?’ ‘What did you decide?’ Readers asked.

Copyright http://santesportmag.files.wordpress.com/

A competitor 2 years ago told Steve, one of the MdS organizers (after begging Steve to take his race number off him at check-point 2 on Day 3 – needless to say he didn’t!) after finishing the MdS, that he had worked it out. He said;

The MdS is 90% mental,

Steve nodded in acknowledgement of this sudden wisdom. The competitor then said,

I have also worked out what the other 10% is.

After a perfect comic pause he continued,

The other 10% is mental.

Well, Thomas A. Edison did say that ‘genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration!’ And if you haven’t guessed already, I’m going RUNNING!

Let us live so that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry.

Mark Twain would be proud that I have been offered a place in the Marathon des Sables 2013 (that 156 miles, 6 day, running jolly across the sandpit of Northern Africa I mentioned in an earlier blog). Now all I have to do is accept the place, places being oversubscribed and in demand as they are and by Thursday, the deadline for joining the throng being the day after tomorrow.

While, according to marathon nutritionist Sunny Blende,

ultras are just eating and drinking contests with a little exercise and scenery thrown in,

the best ‘you-might-die, it’s-going-to-be-hell’ video, is this:

I recently read the bestseller ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall, which is a thoroughly good read, for runners and non-runners alike. (McDougall also has an excellent blog.)

Set in the Copper Canyon in Mexico, the book’s main character is a quasi-mythical white American, Caballo Blanco, who lives among the Tarahumara Running People. In his quest to discover the secret of long-distance running, McDougall who writes for Men’s Health magazine, became an ultra-running aficionado himself. So, how hard can it be?

“Don’t fight the trail.” Caballo called back over his shoulder. “Take what it gives you. If you have a choice between one step or two between rocks, take three.”

“Lesson two.” Caballo called. “Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one – you get those three and you’ll be fast.”

But perhaps the best answer to my dilemma is presented in the Charles Bukowski  poem, ‘Roll the Dice,’ read here by Bono:

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
otherwise, don’t even start.

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
endurance, of
how much you really want to
do it.
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with

do it, do it, do it.
do it.

all the way
all the way.

you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, its
the only good fight
there is.

And on that inspiring note, I’m off out for a jog. Let’s call it a little 10k taster…

Haruki Murakami – Acclaimed Novelist/Marathon Runner

Haruki Murakami began writing at the same time he began running. In fact, in his memoir, ‘What I Talk about When I Talk about Running,” Murakami reflects on 25 years of running and writing. Having spent a comparatively mere six years endeavouring to carve my own niche as an artist/sailor, this seemingly symbiotic duality fascinated me.

© Jody Barton

Murakami’s accomplishments as an author

  • 12 novels translated into 42 different languages, (not to mention…)
  • Translation work of 41 novels + all works by Raymond Carver
  • 2 works of non-fiction.

His accomplishments as a runner

  • 23 marathons,
  • 6 triathlons

A novelist friend of mine who has had 6 novels published himself, said of Haruki Murakami’s memoir,

“It struck me that it was an almost perfect example of how a man can lie to himself.

His need to run was evidently never what he was claiming it to be – which is not to say that I know what the truth is, just that he was lying.”

I found this very intriguing. Did my novelist friend mean that Murakami should decide if he is a:

Novelist or runner?

When Murakami talks about trying an Iron man competition his response is:

“…the training would (most definitely) take so much time out of my schedule, it would interfere with my real job.” p177

Why run?

Does Murakami run in order to prove his own self-worth?

“Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn’t be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. My own individual, stubborn, uncooperative, often self-centered nature that still doubts itself…”

For the adrenalin rush?

“…it is precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome the pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive – or at least a partial sense of it.”

Or simply escapism?

“…really as I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning.”


Three Karate-Kid type life lessons I took away from the book,

  1. Discipline and
  2. Endurance are character traits that can be honed by running and that possibly the best advice to aspiring writers is to
  3. Focus.

“– the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at that moment.”


Haruki’s monthly run mileage for the year the book was written – 2009

  • June – 156 miles
  • July – 186 miles
  • August – 217 miles !!!
  • September – 186 miles

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger!

Daft Punk & Music for Expeditions

Music for cycling, music for running, music for aerobics even – is well marketed. But what about music for Alpine cycling, ultra running and extreme sports such as offshore sailing, where the accomplishment is largely mind over body?

In the course of my ventures to date, music has played an important role in shifting my mood. Yet it is during the expeditions where I experienced prolonged periods of solitude that my top ten tunes became a list of the weird and wonderful!

For each the following expeditions my brother loaded the music selection. Thanks again Jasper!


My first solo stint was the ‘Faraday Mill OSTAR 2005′ (Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race) , where I spent 28 days racing single-handed from Plymouth, UK > Newport, R.I, USA. Then spent 29 days alone sailing back from Mattapoisett MASS, USA > Plymouth UK.

During these periods, I stuck in the headphones in order to:

  • Relax – before napping
  • Escape – be transported
  • Forget – drown out the sound of the storm
  • Remember – the support of volunteers, friends and family
  • be reminded – to seize the day!
  • be motivated – to put on those wet foulies, get up on deck and shake out more sail…
  • be entertained! 

While U2’s ‘Beautiful Day,’ Shantel’s ‘All I want… is a room somewhere’ and the club anthem, ‘Let’s get this party started,’ each had good air time, my absolute favourite was the talking song –  Baz Luhrman’s Everybody’s free (to wear sunscreen), in which there are many phrases that were quite fitting for an ocean crossing! ‘Floss…’ ‘Be kind to your knees…’


The  Route du Rhum 2006 was up next. This had me racing for 23 days alone from St. Malo in Northern France > Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

On this occasion,

  1. Lazy Boy’s Underwear goes Inside the Pants (see below) became my most listened to tune, followed by
  2. Katie Melua’s Nine Million Bicycles (which I now can’t listen to) +
  3. Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean.’

By now I was noticing a trend. What I enjoyed listening to on land was not at all what I wanted to hear at sea. Ambient, background, mellow, classical and jazz were now entirely missing from my most-played, with songs rich in lyrics, songs with built-in stories and spoken songs creeping in, in lieu. Gone were the instruments and in were the people with interesting voices!


During the Atlantic Rowing Race 2009-10, Mick Birchall rowed while I slept and vice versa. As a result, we spoke very little. Our time at sea was 73 days from La Gomera in the Canary Islands > Antigua in the Caribbean.

Without much more than the occasional visit from birds, whales, dolphins, fish and boats, my musical choices closely chart my emotional journey.

In the first few weeks, I took motivation from Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of ‘You Only Live Twice,’ (1967 James Bond Soundtrack) and the lyrics;

Make one dream come true, you only live twice.

Half way across and at my lowest (hopefully ever), in severe physical pain with tendonitis in both hands, I was cheered along by (dare I say it out loud) Thomas the Tank Engine Night Train! (Please note that this was not some re-connecting with my inner child thing. It was my brother who liked Thomas the Tank Engine as a child.)

Later, when my rowing partner and I were struggling to relate to each other, I was reassured by the words from Deborah Cox’s disco (!) anthem, Beautiful U R,

Don’t never let nobody bring you down girl
Don’t never let nobody tear your world apart
Look in the mirror and see who you are
Beautiful U R

Finally, Freestate by Depeche Mode became my homecoming fave. This was in part due to the rhythm which matched the wallowing shove of the waves and the metronomic forward slide/stroke action of the rowing.

Freedom awaits
Open the gates
Open your mind
Freedom’s a state

Land! People! After 73 days at sea, it was hard to take it all in.

Now I am curious to hear about your experiences! What did you think you would listen to and what did you ultimately end up playing on continuous loop, during the expedition you went on? The race you ran? Drop me a line!

Further viewing…

The trailer for the film, ‘The End of the Line’ which charts the journey of Sunday Times journalist Charles Clover and his petition against the demise of the Blue Fin Tuna.

The trailer for the film, ‘The Cove’ – a gripping and horrific look at the slaughter of dolphins for eating and the entertainment industry, featuring the actor from the film ‘Flipper,’ Elijah Wood who became an activist against dolphin cruelty.


There aren’t plenty more fish in the sea

Half of the fish caught in the North Sea is thrown back overboard dead” cries the poster on Hugh’s Fish Fight led by British celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. This certainly got my attention as I was walking up the stairs of my local pub, The Boat House.

So startled was I by this statistic, that a google search led to a Sunday afternoon watching my way through the well executed Channel 4 TV series ‘Fighting Fish which (for those of you with slightly less time on your hands), is neatly summarised in this Guardian article dated Jan 13th (2011).

The bottom line is that every day out in the North Sea, tonnes of delicious cod and other less commercially desirable species are being caught and then discarded because of EU fishing quotas, which stipulate how much of what type of fish each boat may land. Perversely it would seem, EU regulations have been promoting over-fishing.

According to the New Scientist, at the rate we are going there will be no more wild fish left in the sea by 2050. But what can we do about it?

  • Hugh and the Fish Fight team are currently campaigning to the Common Fisheries Policy Reform Group in the EU, to enact change. Your name carries weight.

Here’s my pledge. Makes yours here.

They call it the toughest foot-race on earth…

Call it a fit of madness or simply mad fitness; I am becoming obsessed with a 150 miles, 6-day, cross-Sahara, ultra-marathon called the ‘Marathon des Sables.’

The Marathon des Sables UK website calls it “the equivalent of running from London to Dover, deciding not to go to France after all and running back again. In 120 degree heat. With a back pack on. And voices in your head, talking about ice cold beer.” In case the gravity of what the MdS entails, has yet to sink in, the MdS website converts miles into their bigger number sister.

The distance is about 156 miles. That’s 254 Km.
The longest stage is about 55 miles. That’s 91 Km.

But frankly, the organizers are right when they say:

” You will struggle to explain to people why you would want to do this.”

In theory, 6 days of up to 20 hours a day of running should be nothing after 73 days of 12 hours a day of rowing, but that was the Atlantic and this is the Sahara. Somehow the addition of sand makes it seem less enticing. Which would you choose, (if you had to choose) between running a desert and rowing an ocean? As Eddie Izzard would say, Cake or Death

Alarmingly (for me, anyway) drop-out places have become available for the 2012 race beginning in early April. Fortunately I am safe, for now. I have other commitments. I am doing an MA in Professional Writing at the University of Falmouth and early April isn’t quite the Easter holidays.

Fun facts from the MdS website:

The organisation comprises of:

100 volunteers on the course itself
• 400 support staff overall
• 120 000 liters of mineral water
• 270 Berber and Saharan tents
• 100 all-terrain vehicles
• 2 “Ecureuil” helicopter and 1 “Cessna” plane
• 3 mountain bikes
• 6 “MDS special” commercial planes
• 23 buses
• 4 camels
• 1 incinerator lorry for burning waste
• 4 quads to ensure environment and safety on race
• 52 members of medical team
• 6,5 kms of Elastoplast, 2 700 Compeed, 19 000 compresses
• 6 000 painkillers, 150 liters of disinfectant

• 1 editing bus, 5 cameras, 1 satellite image station
• 6 satellite telephones, 15 computers, fax and internet


30 % Previous MdS competitors
25 % UK & Ireland entrants
30 % French entrants
14 % Women
45 % Veterans
30 % In teams of three or more
10 % Walkers
90 % Alternate walking and running
14 km/hr: average maximum speed
3 km/hr: average minimum speed
Age of youngest competitor: 16
Age of oldest competitor: 78