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CNN posed this question about the 220km Sahara Desert run:

“Would you pay thousands of dollars to spend seven days running under the scorching sun of the Sahara Desert, traversing shifting sand dunes and punishing rocky plateaus for more than 220 kilometers, with all your food and kit affixed to your back?”

It sounds impossible to me yet it was exactly what one of our clients, Jay, did when he participated in Racing the Planet: Iceland 2013. Even though the landscape and weather conditions may be vastly different from the Sahara Desert, it must still a mean feat!

Racing the Planet: Iceland 2013 covers a distance of 250 km, divided into the following stages:

Stage 1: 46 Km
Stage 2: 46 Km
Stage 3: 41 Km
Stage 4: 40 Km
Stage 5: 67 Km
Stage 6: 10 Km

Jay started including Pilates one-on-one as part of his preparation 6 weeks before the race and he worked with me 2 times per week.

Our sessions focused on strengthening his hip muscles, increasing hip mobility and strengthening his upper back.  I selected pieces that combined flexibility, strength and endurance which worked his whole body as a unit. In addition, we made sure he understood how to release and stretch his leg muscles before and after running.

What Jay did was daring and very inspiring to me, so I asked him to share his experience.

Q. How and why did you choose Pilates one-on-one sessions as part of your training and preparation for the race?

The race was in August 2013 and I started training in January 2013.  My program was simple – run and run and run, and hit a certain mileage every week.

As time passed and I started carrying increasingly heavier loads to simulate my race pack weight (10+kg), I realised that running alone was not an efficient training program, and that I needed to do something else to build a stronger core.

I had read online that some runners found Pilates very useful and my wife had been telling me for years that it was a great way to strengthen one’s core.  So I thought why not just give it a go – and that’s how I ended up at Pilates BodyTree.

Q. What prompted you to join the race?

It began with a dream of a great adventure, a search for that sense of accomplishment I have missed for so long.

It is a call to arms, a song for Sacha & Tazzie – to always chase your dreams.  And now it is not just about me.  It’s about the charity I am representing.  It’s about what every child deserves – innocence, protection, a chance.

Please help these kids here.

Q. What was the most challenging part of the race for you?

I found two issues particularly hard.

The first was dealing with the cold weather.

I was mentally prepared for about 10-15 degrees with occasional sunshine, but throughout the 6 days of racing we only had 1 sunny day.

On the first day, I think with wind chill we started with a temperature between 0-5 degrees, once you run you start to warm up, but once you get too tired and start to walk – the cold can really get to you.

The second was running with an injury.

By the fourth day after completing about 170+km, I had tendonitis (not used to running downhill) and my left shin was swollen and hurting.

Both my feet were also feeling the strain of running such long distances with little recovery time, this was exacerbated by my choice of a minimalist shoe rather then one with more cushioning.

So on the fifth day, it took me 15 hours to get through the 67km, the “long march”, and it rained the whole day – I was miserable for probably 50km of it (LOL).

Q. What did you enjoy most about the race?

The camaraderie.  Fellow racers and volunteers cheering you on throughout the course and during our downtime in our tents or campfires.

The scenery.  Words do not do justice, you have to see it for yourself.

The process of racing itself.  Its funny how you can be in such a low place for 10, 20km and then suddenly something inside you clicks and the mood changes and you can be happily running again for the next 10, 20km or the next day… I see this happening to other competitors as well.


Q. Post race, how would you say Pilates helped you in the race?

On a physical level, even though I did only 10 sessions, I felt stronger during the race and I attribute this to the Pilates one-on-one sessions.

On the mental level, I always remember not to cheat while stretching and LayYong telling me it hurts for a reason LOL.

I’m also trying to figure out how to breathe deeply – I know it helps, but I haven’t got it yet, especially when I start to get tired.

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