Training for the World’s Toughest Ultramarathon
The Ultimate Challenge – Making the Impossible, Possible
Ever considered running a marathon? How about running six in six days, across the Sahara Desert carrying everything you need in a 25lb backpack? It almost sounds impossible! Who would even want to attempt that?
Here at Oriam, we welcome people from all over the globe, we offer facilities for a range of sports and provide space for both recreational and professional athletes. This allows us to play a key role in supporting our community to achieve their sporting and fitness goals no matter how big or small. We recently had the pleasure of hosting an athlete who will be competing in the world’s toughest footrace, and sat down with them to find out how they’re making the impossible, possible.
Meet Scotland’s very own Scott MacDonald who will be competing in the Marathon Des Sables Ultra this year on the 21st of April, and find out how Oriam Clinic and our Performance Wing have helped him to prepare.
You can watch the full interview over our YouTube Channel.
Who is Scott MacDonald?
Scott MacDonald is a performance coach with a passion for wanting to help people live their best lives, he specialises in helping people optimise their body and mind with testimonials from high level business executives and performance athletes. Scott takes people at the top of their field and shows them how they can achieve more.
Growing up, Scott loved sports, he couldn’t get enough of them and always wanted to get involved. He didn’t have a favourite, but just wanted to try everything. In his twenties Scott developed some back problems that limited his ability to stay active. Once he was in his thirties, Scott decided to hire a coach to help stay active, to have enough energy to take care of his kids to the best of his ability.
“I think there’s a perception that when you get to your thirties your body kind of gives way, and that’s the end of that. What I’m doing now, I don’t think I did any of that in my teens or my twenties, certainly not at this level”.
What is the Marathon Des Sables?
“So I’m training for the Marathon des Sables, which is six marathons, six days across the Sahara Desert, and it’s self-sufficient. So you have to carry all your own gear and probably a pack of about 25lb where you carry all your food, and it’s pretty much hell on earth for a week, I think.”
Marathon Des Sables is a 250km ultramarathon located in southern Morocco within the Sahara desert. The event takes place over 6 days, averaging one marathon per day.
Candidates are required to be self-sufficient, meaning they have to carry any provisions they may need on their person. This includes food, sleeping apparatus and any other essential equipment. Marathon Des Sables, translating to The Marathon of Sands, gained its title due to its desert location.
When asked why he was doing this, Scott said…
“For me it’s actually less about the physical battle and more the mental battle. Every time I do something that I didn’t think was possible, the self-belief, the confidence, all of that stuff just bursts and you reach this whole new level.”
How to train for an Ultramarathon?
For an event of such a high calibre surely there is an intense training regime to follow. How does someone prepare for the Marathon Des sables? Here is Scott’s program:
“So I run five times a week. At the moment we are nine weeks away from the race, so I’m doing a marathon every week or maybe a little bit more than a marathon 45/46k. I do somewhere between a 25/30k run, a 15k run and another 15k run, and then the first one would be more sprint work. So interval training heart-rate peaking and lowering and then the whole stretching and recovery work to try and let your body recover from that.”
That’s a whole lot of running, but what else would you expect. Scott really loves running and chasing those runners’ highs, however is not so fond of having to stretch. He finds it challenging rather than fun.
“I know scientifically how important that is, and I know myself that I feel so much better when I do it, but it’s boring, right? And it’s mundane and it’s difficult.”
One of the conditions Scott has to be aware of when training is the difference in temperature between sunny Scotland and the scorching sands of the Sahara Desert.
“You’re talking like minimum 50 degrees up to high fifties, 60. I’ve never been in heat like that. That doesn’t sound good to a white pasty Scottish guy.”
To train for these conditions Scott says that using heat chambers have allowed him to practise adapting to more extreme temperatures, however, the heat chambers do not reach the temperatures he will have to face in the Sahara.
Another condition that Scott believes he will struggle most with is the possibility of sleep deprivation. Scott normally doesn’t sleep that well after marathons. If Scott can’t sleep well between stages, it will be a lot harder to recover each day and therefore increase the chance of getting an injury. Another consideration Scott will have to watch out for is the Moroccan wildlife, the Sahara desert is home to a number of species of venomous snakes.
How Does Oriam Help With Your Training?
Oriam helps Scott by providing him with access to our Performance Wing as well as the Oriam Clinic. Scott’s average day at Oriam would consist of:
– 45 mins Hydrotherapy (stretching, floating and running on the underwater treadmill)
– 15 mins cryo-spa (2min cold plunge, 1min hot plunge) x 5.
– 30 mins sauna workout
– 1hr 30 mins massage (primarily lower body for running recovery, but upper body to relax the back from carrying a backpack).
Scott’s favourite part about Oriam is getting to use the hydrotherapy pool.
Our hydrotherapy pool has features such as water jets for massaging and an underwater treadmill allowing for low impact running.
Scott also loved the cryo-spa, the ability to switch from cold to hot plunge pools is extremely convenient compared to only being able to do cold work at home.
Scott also talks about the social benefits of Oriam:
“Put yourself in an environment that makes you better”
Our Oriam Performance Wing is full of high performance athletes, being able to share spaces with people with a similar mindset and work ethic is motivational and makes Scott want to raise his game.
“you can understand a little bit more about what somebody else is doing and how you can bring that into your game, and all of that stuff just means I’ll be a better athlete at the end of it.”
Running Advice for Beginners
What advice does Scott MacDonald have for beginners starting out in running?
“It’s probably slow down. I see so many runners and hear so many runners trying to run further, but they’re trying to run too fast. There’s a great saying, slow down to speed up. That’s so true in the world of running, slow down and ultimately you will go faster and pay attention to your heart rate, not so much your pace.
I think people get excited about the whole, “how’s my pace going? I’m better going faster”. In actual fact, you’re soon going to max out if you’re working at your pace rather than your heart rate, do a lot of research or talk to somebody who knows what they’re talking about with heart rate training and you’ll be amazed at how much further you go in a much shorter period of time.”
How Can I Get Involved In Running?
If you are looking to get involved in running, be it a mile or a marathon then you are in the right place!
Whether you are a seasoned runner or are just starting on your journey to becoming the next Mo Farah, it is important to to build your strength and fitness. The Oriam Park Run is a great introduction to distance running and is a fantastic way to explore the wider Heriot-Watt Campus.
If you feel you have an injury that is stopping you getting started, Oriam Clinic has a team of experienced professional practitioners to help get you back on your feet and can accelerate your recovery from long runs or hard workouts.
Keeping Up To Date with Scott’s Journey
If you would like to hear more from Scott MacDonald and keep up to date with his inspirational journey, you can follow him on Instagram and Facebook, as well as his website:
If you would like to watch the whole interview with Scott MacDonald, click below: