The first thing people usually say when we tell them that we signed up for the Marathon Des Sables is “WHY?!” (which is closely followed by “you’re crazy!”) 🤣.
I get it. I really do. Call it what you will, but entering my fourth decade on this planet made me take a long hard look at life, my health, and my long term goals. My childhood best friend lost her battle with lung cancer at 41, and it really shook me. Then the Covid-19 Quarantine / Lockdown began. All of our travel was cancelled (we had trips to Lithuania, England, Vegas, Austria, Amsterdam, Lake Tahoe, Chicago, Madrid, etc booked and planned through the end of fall) and we had no idea when it might be safe to fly again.
Darin and I both agreed that we wanted to use the quarantine to the best of our ability and not squander it! We were both injured as well, so it was a huge leap of faith for us to register for the Marathon Des Sables 2021 during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. We focused on our individual physical therapy (sessions done via Telehealth) and we got an indoor bike that we could ride / take Peloton classes on. We also started to read every blog, book, memoir and article ever written on the MDS and voraciously researched gear, kit, and supplies. I made an excel spreadsheet that included the weight of each item we purchased and we began the process of pricing out and procuring everything on the MDS compulsory kit list.
We’ve both come out of quarantine having run more miles weekly than ever before, began the process of raising funds for an incredible charity, St. Baldrick’s, hired a professional running coach, and finally embarked on the journey of getting into the best shape of our adult lives. Personally, having battled an eating disorder as an adolescent into early adulthood (anorexia nervosa), actively trying to lose weight has been a very slippery slope for me in the past. Running makes me feel strong and I know I need to nourish and feed my body in order to get through an ultra marathon and give myself the fuel to power on. I set out to shed the weight this year, and am happy to report that I’ve successfully and healthily managed to lose 25 pounds during quarantine (whilst knowing I could’ve very easily gained 25 pounds too). I’ve tried almost every diet out there, and even gained 10 pounds last year when training for our very first marathon. (I took the concept of “carb loading” to a whole new level...🤣)
When we signed up at our local gym, they offered a one on one consultation with a member of their nursing staff, who administered a body fat assessment and overall health screen. The nurse we met with not so gently told me that I fell into the “obese“ category for my height, weight, and age, and she recommended I lose ~20 pounds. We were less than two months away from our marathon and I had never worked out harder in my life (with the exception of intensive classical ballet training in my teens). I burst into hot, frustrated tears when we got to the safety of the gym parking lot. But still, I was at a complete loss. I was burning so many calories, still maintaining a caloric deficit, and not only had I not lost a single pound, I was actually gaining weight. As upsetting as that consultation was, it still wasn’t enough for it to click with me that maybe my nutrition was the problem.
Earlier this year, I decided to try something new with my approach to nutrition. I’d previously spent quite a bit of time and energy discounting the entire concept of the ketogenic diet and referring to any of my friends who raved about it as “keto cult members”...referring to their lifestyle as “kulto”.
I won’t go into every gritty detail of being injured, stuck on the couch feeling absolutely miserable in the dead of winter, being as emotionally and physically defeated as I’d ever been, then being faced with the endless black hole of quarantine/the pandemic: but for whatever reason, I decided that that seemed the perfect time to kick my raging sugar addiction. 🧐😳😬🤔 Let me just say that those were some dark times. 🤣
Darin had to endure my keto flu moodiness and lethargy for 2-3 weeks. I withdrew from coffee over 2 years ago and that was a cake walk compared to this nightmare. Headaches, exhaustion, depression, irritability, nausea, insomnia...it was downright hell.
I’ve since educated myself and realized I was severely lacking in electrolytes - but what a wake up call that was. I recently read an article that a laboratory test was conducted with rats where they were given unlimited amounts of cocaine and sugar. Given the choice, they ended up going for the sugar every time. Now I’ve never tried cocaine, but it seems like a pretttttyyyyyyy pretty addictive drug.
I learned the hard way this year that just like those lab rats, my drug of choice was also sugar/carbs.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to speak to a senior staff member at our gym, Tony. Our gym (Princeton Fitness & Welllness) recently opened back up and we finally managed to squeeze in two much needed weight training sessions last week with the goal of going at least twice a week as we continue to prepare for the MDS. We wanted to share our Sahara Strong training journey with Tony, as it’s been exactly a year since joining the gym. Tony shared with us that the year he turned 40, he got seriously injured (he’s a lifetime athlete) and just felt sort of lost. His injury was to his leg, so he set out to conquer a different kind of challenge. He didn’t want to accept that “your body falls apart at 40...”; so Tony trained for, and successfully broke the world record for sit-ups in 2001 (and set it again the following year too!). He’s now in his 60s but manages to work out ~2 hours a day. I found so much inspiration and motivation from his story, which resonated with me deeply. He didn’t let injury turn into a midlife crisis - he took control and set a challenge for himself. So although registering for the MDS is certainly cheaper than indulging my midlife crisis fantasies of buying a fancy sports car, I know I wouldn’t have had the motivation to improve myself, change my nutrition, and overhaul my fitness if instead of running, I was speeding around town in a lambo. ...Still, it might be nice to get that car one day though! 😉 - xx, J