Training in Vietnam for the toughest marathon in the world

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Escaping the English winter to live abroad in a warmer climate sounds like a wonderful idea, right? But, how about spending five months training hard in the sweltering midday heat? Running back and forth along the beach, and in scorching sand dunes whilst wearing a 10 kilogram bag on your back? Well, this is how Olly Campbell, from Ringwood, Hampshire has been spending his days in Mui Ne, a beach town in the south of Vietnam. This place is a popular destination for kite surfers, who come here during this season to take advantage of the great wind conditions and laid back lifestyle.

Olly is in training for the Marathon Des Sables or “MDS”, also known as “the toughest foot race on earth”, taking place in April 2013. It’s a race of 230 kilometres, over six days in the Moroccan Sahara Desert. Competitors run or walk this immense distance, carrying everything they will need to survive for the duration of the race (water is provided by the organisers at various checkpoints). They endure extreme conditions, high and low temperatures, rocky terrain, mountainous sand dunes and possibly sandstorms. Why, you might ask, would anyone want to do this?

Here, Olly talks about his motivations for taking part in this extreme event, his training, and his experience of a winter spent in the beautiful town of Mui Ne.

So Olly, many people may be wondering why you would want to put yourself through such a painful and extreme experience, what would you tell them?

I first heard about this event 12 years ago, and remember thinking, “I’m going to do that one day”. I just think it will be an incredible adventure, and huge challenge and something that, if I manage to complete it, I will be very proud of. I’m not someone who does things by halves; I’d rather do something extraordinary, so the MDS really appealed to me.

You must be quite fit, have you run many marathons before?

No, I’ve never run an actual marathon, although by now my training runs equal marathon distances. As I said I’m all or nothing!

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What types of people run this race?

Every year, around 1000 people take part. Men and women from all over the world, of various ages (the youngest person to run it was 15 and the oldest 78), ranging from complete amateurs through to elite ultra runners. So basically, anyone who wants to take on this massive challenge can do it.

Why did you choose Vietnam and Mui Ne particularly as a place to spend the winter and train?

Well, I visited Mui Ne briefly back in 2007, during a year long round the world trip, and spent just a few days here. I did a few hours of kite surfing lessons. Since then, I’ve wanted to come back and learn to kite surf properly. So I bought my equipment and decided to spend this extended time here kite surfing and of course training for the MDS. There are sand dunes here, as well as kilometres of beach, and this, along with the hot climate made it the perfect place to train in preparation for the heat and landscape of the Sahara desert.

Are you raising money for charity?

Yes, I’m raising money for the MDS official charity, Solidarite, a children’s charity which helps to educate underprivileged children in Morocco, and also for Patchwork Kids, another charity which works towards improving the lives of children in impoverished places around the world including India and Uganda.

So tell us a bit more about your time spent here in Vietnam. What’s Mui Ne like? And how do you spend a typical day?

Life here is very relaxed and simple. I train six days a week and vary my runs from doing beach, road or track runs. I also cycle to the sand dunes, which are about 15 kilometres away and then run around them for a few hours.

I usually run in the heat of the day, carrying the pack that I’ll be using during the race with the same weight inside. After training I usually spend the afternoon kite surfing or relaxing on the beach.

There are loads of great restaurants here so I eat really well. Lost of fresh seafood, fruit, vegetables, rice and coconut juice, which is a great way to rehydrate after running.

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Do you think your living and training in Vietnam will be advantageous to you during the race?

Well, I hope so! That’s the idea. During the MDS temperatures can reach up to 50 centigrades in the middle of the day,  lots of people have big problems with dehydration, heat stroke, blisters and sore feet. Hopefully my body will be well acclimatised to the heat because I’ve trained here, and also my feet are being well prepared from running on the sand and in the heat with my trainers on.

It’s less than a month until you’ll be standing on the starting line, are you feeling prepared? 

To be honest, yes, I’m feeling fit and healthy and as prepared as I can be. I think during the race it will be unimaginably painful and difficult, but how well I do will depend a lot on mental strength not just pure physical endurance. I’ve been careful not to over-train and give myself an injury, which I think can be common. I think I’ve given myself the best chance possible and I’m looking forward to challenging and pushing myself to the limit.

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Amy is from England but loves spending time travelling abroad. She has lived in Barcelona, Spain where she did her TEFL qualification and taught English for a year, and has spent time travelling in India, where she recently qualified as a yoga instructor. Amy is currently based in Vietnam where she's spending the English wintertime.

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