'Cool our bodies more than 15-20 degrees below 98.6 and we lose consciousness and die; heat us more than 6-8 degrees above normal and we suffer the dangerous symptoms of heat stroke. We are hardy creatures, but dreadfully intolerant of extremes!' (Jerry Dennis, It's raining Frogs and Fishes, 1992)
Every year, elite and first time runners alike take part and finish races all over the world. Whether in the UK, Europe or further afield, people are out exploring some of the most incredible places on Earth, while testing themselves and their fragile human psyche against the elements.
When runners enter these races, people believe them to be completely insane. When I did my first ultra-marathon, the Buxton High Peaks challenge, everyone certainly thought I was mad. Completing this race was one of the biggest tests I had gone through, and I had to dig deep.
However I had already heard the whispers of gruelling ultra-distance running in the Sahara desert, so I knew that this was merely the beginning. When others heard what the race actually involves, the word insanity began to seem too mild. However absolutely anybody can do these races. The human body is extremely adaptable and both men and women can run much further than is commonly thought, and they can do so in conditions that many imagine to be too inhospitable.
In the Marathon des Sables it is common for competitors to get blisters on top of blisters, have swollen feet and red raw rashes on body parts they would not want to talk about. There, I saw the most dedicated of mothers who were previously self-confessed coach potatoes, successfully complete the race, yet have watched a veteran of the Everest Marathon quit the race before the start of day 2. The determination to finish a multi-day event is the key to success.
When starting out, every competitor will have to address their fitness, skills, and assemble a whole host of specialist gear for the event. You will need to be aware of what the course involves in terms of distance, terrain and weather. Some events may require a set of skills such as orienteering both in day and at night. Some stages of a race may involve distances of over 50 miles to be covered in a certain time.
Absolutely anybody can complete these races. The human body is extremely adaptable and both men and women can run much further than is commonly thought, and they can do so in conditions that many imagine to be too inhospitable
From mud and sand to a dry sea full of golf ball size pebbles and boulders, every event is different so may require different equipment. For example the KIMM requires you to run with a partner in a team, carrying a tent and other compulsory equipment. A quirky, but necessary rule on the Marathon des Sables, is that you are required to have an anti-venom pump and distress flares on you at all times.
Organisers usually send out equipment lists, offer advice and often supply a list of past competitors who don't mind being contacted. If you have not done the event before, contact several people from it - exhaust the list until you are completely satisfied. Speak to a range of people who finished in different parts of the field. Try and find someone who had real problems and suffered greatly on the race. Ask for advice on all aspects of the event. I have not met a single competitor who minds talking about the events that they have done. Often you have to shut them up, for they will talk about their experiences for hours!