Hi everyone. It was great hearing such good feedback from last weeks interview with Andrew. I do, and I know, Andrew really appreciates the support and messages.
This week, I wanted to bring to you an athlete I found really showcased some real inspiration and perseverance. His name is Stuart Cox. An ultra-marathon runner from the bayside area in Melbourne’s South-eastern suburbs. Coached by Kevin Mannix from Run For Body and Soul , Stu also works full-time as a cardiac technician at MonashHeart. While he Stu was training for his most recent event, the Marathon Des Sables (MDS), I was lucky enough that chose to see me with managing his body for massage treatments.
There have so many different events around the world recently. Some world stage, some local and all have their own stories. But this race is like no other.
Ok then, lets get into it.
1. Hey Stuart, so you’ve just run the one of the worlds hardest and most famous ultra-marathons, Marathon Des Sables (MDS) in Morocco which is a self supported race. Tell me more about this event.
Thanks Dion. This event has being run for the last 34 years and ranked in the top ten hardest foot races in the world for the last ten years. Distances have varied each year from 240-270km with an average of 60% on soft soft sand and the rest of terrain varies from hard rocky river beds to large cliff faces. Participation is usually around 900-1000 people from many different countries. This year was 970 people from 52 different countries, majority of participants from France, Spain and the UK. When they self supported race, they really mean self supported. The only thing supplied is water and a bivouac (crude shelter, material with some sticks). All cooking materials, food (minimum requirement of 14,000 calories or 2000 calories per day) and sleeping bag etc you had to carry the whole time. The course and distances were kept confidential till two days before the race begun. Each day was a point to point run with schedule looking like; Day 1 -32km Day 2 -34km, Day 3 -38km Day 4 -78km Day 5 -Rest pending on what time you finished. (People were still finishing at 10am from the previous day) Day 6 -42km, Day 7 -6km (Charity day, un-timed but had to complete). Each day started approximately 9am. Temperatures in the day went well past 38 degrees and at night went below -1 degree’s. There was approximately aid stations every 12kms with only water which was rationed at 3 litres to 1.5litres. Upon crossing the finishing line for that stage you were given 4.5 litres which was to last you till the first aid station the next day.
2. What was your thought process when thinking about entering this race?
Thought process about entering this race…..I had heard about this race from various runners which claimed it was one of the toughest things they have done. I thought this sounded like a bad idea, great, lets do it. After a few slow days at work and very little research, filled out the entry form and hit ‘send’. After more research and more information from people who had completed it before, this bad idea turned into a very very bad idea.
3. What did your training look like while training for MDS?
With so many different cogs to MDS, training for MDS was going to be complicated. Heat was going to be a major issue. Whenever the temperature got hot outside everyone headed to the beach to cool off I headed to the beach with my back pack to run on the soft sand. Whenever the temperature was cold/normal I would make sure I would layer my clothing to emulate hot conditions. Carrying a 10kg pack was also going to be a major issue, loading up the back pack with rice and water and running at least 3 times a week with a loaded pack was essential. Nutrition was another major issue. Practicing what worked and what didn’t work was important when it came to freeze dried meals, actual race nutrition and calorie requirements then came the actual ‘running bit’. Some people get side tracked with ‘running bit’ but if you can’t put heat, back pack and nutrition together you won’t be running. Running training consisted of putting together nice consistent months of long km’s with a lot of back to back long runs to emulate and prepare you mentally for what we were expected to encounter in the desert. Lots of sand!
4. What were some of the complications you had while training for such a grueling event?
Most of the complications in training were from carrying a 10kg pack. I initially tried to use flour as weight in the pack. I had a crash one day while carrying 6kg of flour and turned into a big mushroom cloud of flour. I tried to wash myself and back pack with water to the dismay of my wife who could only offer me some choc chips and salt to make some cookies. I switch to rice after that. Chaffing from the pack was probably the major issue, trying different things i.e packing, strapping and different creams solved the majority of these issues.
5. You needed to carry all of your fueling with you, what was actually in your pack? Did you have anything that was a huge help? And would you have done anything differently?
There was nothing that was a clear ‘stand out’ but would highly recommend the freeze dried apple crumble (delicious) and the dark cherry cliff blocks with caffeine. Overall, was very happy with how the food went. It came down to doing the work before the event to see what worked and what didn’t.
6. You would have needed a big team behind you to train, get to the race and arrange other logistics. Who do you want to thank?
As you know running to the outside world appears as an individual sport, nothing could be further from the truth. Ultra-running requires some incredible anchors to keep the ship safe and running well. My loving 34 month pregnant wife kept my spirits up and provided unbelievable support throughout the entire journey from the hardest of training runs right the way through to the finish line. Kevin Mannix and the whole Body and Soul running group provided expert running programing and lots of company and encouragement through the many tough km’s. The guy’s down at Physio@Sandringham (yourself and Tessa) who kept the ship running! So many people to thank I am sure I have forgotten some people.
7. Would you do it again and why?
I probably wouldn’t do it again. MDS was a such a great life experience not just ‘a run’. It added so many other dimensions to running. I think there are so many other great experiences and adventures out there in the world that repeating the same race again would be limiting.
8. What other crazy events have you done? I recall Leadville 100. Do they compare?
Nothing will ever compare to this epic adventure. The organisation, training and research for ‘a runner’ like me who can barely tie his shoelaces up some day’s is too much.
9. Finally, what’s next for Stu Cox?
My wife is 34 weeks pregnant with our first child so very excited about becoming a father.
Thanks so much for your time Stu and I’d like to wish you and Anna all the best with your exciting wait ahead.