Dean Baker, a swimming and triathlon coach, is taking part in the inaugural Marathon des Sables Peru, to be held in Ica desert south of Lima between 28th November and 4th December 2017, in a format similar to the Marathon des Sables in Morocco (around 250km in six stages of 20km to 80km over seven days, self-sufficient in food and bedding, with water and medical care provided). As a veteran of four Marathon des Sables in Morocco, he tells how a coach prepares. See details of the Marathon des Sables, Peru 2017 course here, and see Dean Baker's post race interview here.
First a bit of Form
I would call myself a swimmer with a running habit… or perhaps it’s the other way round. At any rate I can’t remember a time when I didn’t run or swim and now I work as a swimming and triathlon coach. At school I was a middle distance runner, but as I got older I stepped up the distances up to marathon. I first heard of the Marathon des Sables through a small report about it on TV. I was captivated by the whole idea, but it came at a good time as I was a little disillusioned with my running - I found myself thinking that I didn’t get a PB then I had had a bad weekend, and yet it shouldn’t be like that. So the MdS seemed like a good way to take myself into retirement, to cap off a running career with honour.
Only it didn’t turn out like that, of course. I loved the whole experience – the desert, the people, everything – and I realized in the last five kilometres that I wanted go back and run it again. On my second MdS I decided to make my way down to Morocco a bit differently, under my own steam – by running, cycling and kayaking. And I have been back twice more since then. Now I’m about to do my fifth desert ultra in fifteen years.
In amongst them I have competed at Ironman, taken part in a channel relay (there’s a solo crossing to come, but don’t tell my wife…!), I have swum Windermere, completed a non stop 36 hr swim in an endless pool, climbed Kilimanjaro with my daughter and had many shorter adventures. It takes a lot of effort to work on training with a full time job, a family and a social life, but I just don’t want to say it’s time to finish.
Why MdS Peru?
I wasn’t going to go to Peru, though of course I knew it was taking place. And I didn’t even want to watch the video, because I knew where it would lead. Then my wife pointed out that the departure date is my 55th birthday. I watched the video and of course I’m going… So it’s a sort of birthday present to myself. I have had six months to get ready, which isn’t a long lead time, but let’s say it’s another age and another test…
How much training have you done?
With a relatively short build up, I have chosen to run twice a day most days, once in heat (either around a hot poolside before it opens or jogging on the spot in the local sauna) and then a longer, easier run outside. In addition, I am swimming around 5 km per week and doing 4 weights sessions. Most of the running has been done with a backpack as I feel that training should be specific to the event.
I guess I am slightly odd in that I love the harder sessions. Indeed I like to get out in early hours of the morning in the rain and run. There is never anyone else out there, and mentally that’s good for me. It makes me feel I am doing more than others. I coach swimmers several mornings per week and it’s great to know that I have done the first session of the day before I start. They can’t easily moan that they are tired either!
I tend to find taper time difficult - so does my family! My wife says I get a look in my eyes and I can’t sit still. I really need to work on that!
I believe mental training is a big part of these challenges. I guess that’s why I love the tough stuff in training - you are working hard with your brain as well as your body. I am at a point in training for Peru where mentally I feel so very powerful, there is nothing that will get in my way. I may not be the fastest but I am willing to suffer more than anyone else.
I don’t really want to analyze the last statement now as I don’t want to break the process down. Maybe I will after the race... However I am planning some other challenges after I return, so on second thoughts, maybe I won’t analyze it after all!
Bags have been packed and repacked and, if I am honest, repacked again. The food has been tested – it’s grim but light in weight. I’ll add an Oxo cube to the freeze dried food and extra salt to give it a bit of flavour. I have had to book the puppy into kennels to save the family a bit. Plus there’s all the other little jobs that have to be done just before you go.
Are you ready for the race?
I feel absolutely ready, I think you should always be strong mentally before a race of any kind, because if you go in doubting yourself then the chances are you will fail - again afterwards I will analyze what worked, what didn’t and so improve. Always remember to be prepared for something to go wrong then you can sort it. Anyway, never be frightened to try new things - live learn evolve
What’s the most daunting thing ahead?
I guess at this point - avoid getting ill or injured before the start or ill during the race. It’s something you cannot control, so it is a worry. Again, I may admit more after the race!
And what are you most looking forward to?
I love the adventure, and the chance to challenge mind and body, I love the interaction between runners on these long events – and I have made some friends for life doing them. They bring everything back to basics and defy all superficial rubbish in life. I love the evenings in the tents chatting, all the crazy ideas.
And what are your expectations?
My first aim is to finish, and if possible I would like to finish mid pack or higher. Also, I’d like to get through the long stage non-stop. Generally I hope the race is tough and that it truly pushes me to my max, that is why I opted to go. Patrick - the race director - is a fantastic person. I know he won’t disappoint us with the course.