Dr Chloe Baker, an anaesthetist, is entering the Marathon des Sables 2018 as part of a team of 14 running in support of the London Air Ambulance Service. She does quite a bit of publicity work for the charity, which saved her life after a dreadful bicycle accident in 2007, when she was run over by a lorry on her way to lectures as a medical student. Chloe definitely has an adventurous attitude to life, often training or working abroad (France, Sierra Leone as part of the NHS first response to the ebola crisis, and Tanzania, India and Togo), and having made an extraordinary crossing of the Congo River Basin by vehicle in 2013.
Chloe successfully completed the race. You can read a her thoughts written after her return here.
First a bit of Form
I was a very unsporty child until I discovered rowing at the age of 16 and that became a passion for the next eight years. I rowed twice for Cambridge in the Boat Race (2004, 2005). When I came to study in London I cycled everywhere.
The accident put me out of action for a year, but as I got better I started to cycle again. I rebuilt my old bike and it was a good kind of rehab. At that stage I never went to any physical extreme – I wouldn’t have wanted to do any harm to the body that had effectively been given back to me after the accident.
Although it’s quite a natural evolution for rowers to take up running I didn’t really like it back then, and it’s only more recently that I have enjoyed running for running’s sake. I took it up in 2014, when my father decided to do a marathon: I thought if he was going to run one then I may as well too. Then a friend of his introduced us to Sky Running (mountain running on technical trails).
Running is really more than pounding the pavements - it’s an opportunity to get out there onto high trails. It’s important to have the base fitness to take your body out into places that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit. I still feel quite naïve about the long distances of ultra-running, but I hope the Marathon des Sables will be the start of something big in life.
How did you come across the Marathon des Sables? Why now?
I remember hearing about the MdS about 10 years ago and thinking: “wow...” But also saying to myself that it was beyond my limits and would remain something I’d never have the courage to say I’d want to do. And I remember hearing horror stories about it from the other workers in Sierra Leone
But then last year I got an email from the new Chief Executive of the London Ambulance Service, Jonathan Jenkins, who asked if I would run the event for the charity. I realised that it was a once in a lifetime chance to say yes. It was now or never, and of course I couldn’t turn it down…
How much training have you done?
Ironically, as soon as I signed up, it all went wrong. I went to do the Mont Blanc Half Marathon (23km around Chamonix) and managed to develop what was probably a stress fracture, which meant I couldn’t run for the first 12 weeks of my training programme. Still, it meant lots of time doing strength and stability exercises, so in the end it might have been a good thing.
The biggest challenge is that I have absolutely no routine at the moment, which makes training hard. I am changing hospitals every three months, so often it’s impossible to run to work, and I can’t run if I am on the night shift as I immediately catch a cold.
Still, there are compensations - doctors are on their feet for 12-13 hours at a stretch when they’re on shift and that’s an advantage. And by working in a Burns Unit, I am lucky in an unexpected way too - the temperature is often at 32 degrees. I’m quietly acclimatizing as I go about my work.
When I have a weekend off I usually manage about 50km.We have entered a few races, including the Dorset CTS (Endurance Life), that’s 53km with around 2500 metres of ascent, and the St Peter’s Way Ultra, which was a muddy 67km into a headwind in Essex… We also ran the Yorkshire Three Peaks.
Are you ready?
There’s something about having a year’s lead-in to an event that makes it hard, actually. Perhaps it would be easier psychologically to be generally fit and have just six months. I know there are a million and one things I might have done…
There are just a couple of worries. I know I will arrive exhausted. In order to get the time off I will be working nights and I’ll have been on call just before departure. Also the patients always have viral illnesses that they’re happy to share…
What are your expectations for the race?
I’m quite competitive with myself and although I know that with ultra-running, even just completing a race means that you can give yourself a pat on the back, actually I’m hoping for a decent finish time.
And what are you most looking forward to?
I am looking forward to being out in the sunlight and the heat. I haven’t underestimated how hard they will make it, but it’ll be great to get away from the grey and the wet here. And I'm lucky to be part of a team of interesting people. You know you're going to make friends in the tent at the MdS, but hopefully this will be particularly special.
Most of all though, what I am looking forward to (I had this happy realisation last night when brushing my teeth and running through all the things I need to do this week before we depart for Morocco - finish a paper, pack for 3 x 13-hour shifts, exam revision, my brother's birthday, sorting out my tax code, dealing with the rota for my next job, finding a mouse-trap that works, planning a hen party...) is having a single purpose and being focussed on one thing for a week. Running, eating, sleeping and foot care - as each one presents itself - without a million and one other competing concerns. It's going to be great. I think the dedication to one cause, the focus, brings an amazing sense of freedom. It was the same being stuck in the jungle in the DRC and doing the ebola stuff.
What does adventure mean to you?
I'm not sure that I actually see adventure as a specific thing - and I certainly don't seek it out per se. I see it more as something that comes with living life to the full., saying yes to opportunities, and being brave when necessary (perhaps stupid if you're looking from a different point of view) and accepting risk. Often adventures involve using skills or capabilities that we might not realise we possess. Without wanting to sound cliched, it's life really that's the adventure. It's just about being open to letting it in, going out of your comfort zones and not restricting yourself with worries or fear. And by extension, I don't think adventure necessarily has to be physical. It can be in any part of your life. I guess what I am trying to say is that for me, adventure is just living life the very best way that I can.
The London Air Ambulance team of 14 heading out to Morocco include the Chief Executive of the charity, the Chief Pilot and the surgeon that treated Dr Chloe Baker at the time of her accident in 2007. You can find out more at the London Air Ambulance website and their facebook page.
And you can donate to the cause at Chloe’s Just Giving page.
See here for more information about the Marathon des Sables.