Monthly Archives: March 2012

A rather smelly run along the Regent’s Canal in desert like heat!

A beautiful sunsoaked run, 20km with a rather heavy pack, all along the Regent’s Canal.  The sunshine brings everyone out and as I trotted along the canal passing ducks, swans and Canada geese in the canal there were some surprising sights to be seen –  a great many involving a lot of winter white flesh on display.  That and the occasional smell of dog poo will not be things I miss when running through the sand of the Sahara.  My pack was quite heavy.  I put it all together in the morning minus a few last minute items are on my expanding to do list!  My food seems to be the main weight, although I have been ruthless and reduced it by 1.5KG today…  at least I will be shedding 1kg a day as I eat my way through the pack.  I did have one “memo to self” moment as I trotted along the towpath, “I must remember to do my drinks bottles up tight”, having energy drink dribbling out onto your arm is stcky and rapidly becomes uncomfortable and dirty.  But other than that… a few lary comments from blokes out on the canal towpath drinking their strong cider it was a rather pleasant run.  I reached the Olympic Park, it all looks very impressive and turned back, passing again the attractively smelling drunks, running through a wafty haze of marijuana as I passed some young folks who looked suspiciously like they should be in school, dodged a lot of mothers and prams, stopped to listen across the water to a rooftop music gig, it is surprising what you see out on the Regent’s Canal.

So 7 days to go until we fly to Morocco, and 10 days until the start.  I am nursing a few little concers about blisters on my toes – hoping my sock strategy will work.  The nerves are also building regarding the heat.  The lovely bunch of boys I am sharing a tent with are all doing bikram yoga, hanging out in heat chambers and one has even built himself a heat chamber in his own wet room at home…  Me, well I have been for a few runs in the sun and spend most days working in a hot humid hospital ward.  I’m hoping this is going to prepare me, it is more preparation for the heat than 5 years ago.  Having said that, my sister informs me that it is currently hotter in the UK than Morocco at present! Heat… bring it on!

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Delirious from lack of sleep… just like desert… allegedly

Delirious from lack of sleep… just like desert… allegedly.


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Delirious from lack of sleep… just like desert… allegedly

Well – I have finally surfaced back into the real world after doing four long night shifts at work which feels a bit like going into a dark tunnel where you don’t communicate with the outside world.  It was a tough 5 days, where I just about managed to squeeze in a bit of training.  A quick session after my first night shift in the high altitude chamber at the gym followed by a dip in the pool… and a good breakfast. Then on Monday evening I had to head back to the gym to teach an indoor group cycling class before heading to my last night shift. Any sane person would then think that the following morning I would head straight home to bed, but here’s the catch: The desert is going to be a tough mental challenge and so one of the weird and twisted ways that I have prepared for this is, instead of going home to sleep after a series of night shifts I head straight to the gym to be put through my paces by Jon.  I had a small window to have breakfast and feed my brain and veins with caffeine. Although, I must admit, I think my ability to string words together in a full sentence was rapidly dwindling.  I headed first to the pool to loosen up my limbs and refresh myself – it felt like a good idea, but after swimming 40 lengths I felt a tad light headed as I got out of the pool. I did sort this out by consuming some awesomely good energy products kindly provided to me by Maxi Fuel. The funny thing with energy products is that you often expect them to immediately make you feel buzzing and fired up… They don’t, or they certainly don’t when you have done night shifts and not slept for about 16 hours!  But somewhere down the line you realise they are giving you the stamina to keep going.  I headed up to the gym floor and slumped down on the sofa to wait for Jon.  You will imagine my surprise when he slumped down next to me and we sat chatting about the forthcoming race, my preparation, how I was feeling about it all, etc.  Going through my mind was that this was a rather pleasant way to train, sitting chatting on the gym sofa, not a hint of exercise… I was merely being lulled into a false sense of security.  The infamous step bench was waiting for me and soon I was set to task doing my step up routine with weights: 25 step ups on each leg, then 25 step downs on each leg – well that was the first set.  Very slyly in the second set this was sneakily increased just as I thought I was getting to the end of the set, to adding another 25 step ups to each leg.  A pattern formed here, I realised.  Was catching my breath and just about to commence the third set when Jon said right this time it was 75 on each leg – I did hint that I wondered if he could count that high, as I certainly wasn’t capable of doing so, and I just have to trust that it was 75 on each leg that I did and not 175 which is what it felt like!!  However, shock of all shocks, Jon was kind and after the step ups that was it and we headed to the mats for me to roll out my muscles and be stretched, that was almost more painful that the third set of step ups if I’m really honest.  I am sure that at some point when I am in the Desert and slogging up and down the dunes that I will suddenly look at the dunes and simply see them as a series of step ups in the gym 🙂  although I might not count to 75 as I am running up and down them!

So the training continues, and my task for today is to take advantage of all this glorious hot sunny weather; to pack up my rucksack with all my kit and head out into the midday sun for a gentle tapering run with full kit… Somewhere in my crazy old head that sounds like a good idea… I will let you know if it is was.

In the meantime if I could lay a challenge to those of you that are interested and following my progress towards the desert?  I will be taking my ipod with me, I am looking for some inspiring songs to urge me onwards.  If you have any suggestions of music that will power me forward through the desert please, please let me know…

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Current total….

…my current running total of funds raised for the Tiyanjane Clinic is a fantastic:


Thank you to everyone who has made a donation or pledged one so far.  I am a quarter of the way to my target which is absolutely brilliant – I am so grateful for the support. It will already make a difference for the Clinic.

To read more about Tiyanjane Clinic please see my earlier blog entitled “what could be worth running 150miles across a desert for” or go to my website where you will find out how to make a donation.

Many many thanks


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anyone for cards…

52 card pick up anyone? Well not the traditional 52 card pick up, but a new interpretation according to Jon as he put me through my paces this morning. Having run to the gym sporting my new backpack for the desert (courtesy of my very wonderful parents for my birthday), I had about 25 minutes to kill before my session with Jon, so decided to have a quick swim. As a result by the time I was due to start training with Jon I was already warmed up and rather tired… all by 9.30am.

I was directed to the climbing wall area of the gym where there was a 3kg ball lying next to a punching mat and 12kg kettle bell and suspiciously, a pack of cards. This  was going to be a session of card circuits… A different exercise for each suit: fast single leg squats for Diamonds, kettle bell swings for Clubs, squat and throw the 3kg ball as high up the climbing wall as possible for Hearts, and for Spades rise onto toes and throw the ball hard onto the punching mat, catch it and repeat. Obviously doing each one as many times as the number on the cards, with Jacks, Kings, Queens and Aces being 10, and for the two Jokers I would have to sprint up two flights of stairs to the cardio floor and row 500m as fast as possible. My first reaction once started was that Jon really needs to learn how to shuffle as several picture cards appeared one after the other. This was shortly followed by the relief that there are only 2 Jokers in a pack. The other thought that crossed my mind was that if either of my brothers were watching they would probably think I was throwing like a girl, although I would challenge them to throw a heavy ball (basketball size) as high up against a wall as possible, repeatedly. For once I have to say there was nothing in the mix that was a press up in disguise – phew. It did cross my mind that at what point in the desert will I be throwing a heavy ball whilst running up and down sand dunes, but I let this thought pass – best not to challenge the trainer. All in all this took half an hour, followed by what was quite possibly an even worse half hour. I’m not the world’s greatest fan of stretching at the best of times, but when someone else is helping you stretch it’s exceedingly painful, especially if firm foam rollers are involved – if you have done this you will know what I am talking about, if you haven’t and think I have gone slightly bonkers, then don’t worry, it is something you can congratulate yourself on being blissfully ignorant of. Suffice to say that had I been offered a second round of card circuits as opposed to rolling/stretching I would have picked circuits!

However, stretching and rolling from here on in over the next 2 weeks is what it is all about. Yes folks, it is just over 2 weeks until the gun goes. I CAN’T WAIT! My kit is pretty much all gathered now. Just a couple more pairs of socks to acquire. Some snacks for my food rations and then I have to pack it all, ruthlessly cut it down on weight and repack it all again. I’m hugely grateful at this point to say a massive thank you to Maxi Fuel (@maxifuel) who are sponsoring me with deeelicious nutritional supplements. Their products were I think the secret to my success 5 years ago – so fingers crossed they work their magic again.

Stay well all. X

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Sneaky, very sneaky trainer!

Well, that was nasty! After a week feeling under the weather I thought at the start of my training session with Jon that he was going to kind to me! When will I learn…? He eased me into the session with some relatively easy (not that I said they were easy to him!) one legged lunges in various forms using the TRX straps, pull ups, arm presses, side planks etc. I hasten to add that Jon is an expert when it comes to disguising the press-up. It presents itself in many shapes and forms and I’m rubbish at it. 🙂  I realise that I may have just written a load of gobbledygook but bear with me… All these exercises are one after the other with at least 15 repetitions of each 2-3 times through. It was when we paused and he said that we were heading down to the weights floor that my heart started to sink. Yes, there was the pile of 3 step up boxes, Jon handed me 2 10kg dumbbells, and ordered me to do 25 step ups onto the box (25 on each leg), followed by 25 side step ups and over with just 10km, (again 25 on each leg).  It may sound relatively easy, but the step is quite high – you have to make sure you straighten your leg at the top, keep up a steady rhythm as the weights start to feel heavier and heavier… I also have to trust that Jon can actually count to 25! I did this twice through, I was about to start the 3rd set when Jon muttered something about a surprise in this set… This turned out to be a fourth set straight away after the 3rd set with no break. Very, very sneaky! An absolute killer – I couldn’t speak afterwards. I know, I know. It all helps not just with the physical aspect of going up and down dunes,but also with the mental challenge of getting to the top of one and seeing another even bigger one loom up in front of you. Still doesn’t make it easier. Not only that, Jon then tortured my poor old leg muscles on the rollers. Stretching no matter what anyone says is not fun… And quite frankly I’d rather have done another set of step ups. 

But in all honesty, I have to say that although he pushes me hard, I have to thank Jon as he is responsible for getting me to the start line in fighting form… Still 3 weeks to go…

Check out his website at – lots of fitness tips for everyone 🙂 



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man flu… a poor excuse!

Well folks – it’s been a tough last 7 days! Not least because I’ve been battling the mental challenge of not really training and from panicking that I will completely forget how to run and lose all the benefits of my training from the last few months.  Yep, I came off night duty last week and rather rapidly succumbed to a really rather filthy heavy cold.  I restrain myself from saying I had “man flu”…  I struggled through a training session with Jon last Thursday afternoon and tried to look enthusiastic when he suggested that for Friday I get up and go for a “light” bike ride, then have a rest for a few hours and then head out for a long run or hard interval session…  I did neither!  I woke up on Friday and quite honestly spent the rest of the day in very comfy clothes feeling rather sorry for myself with a head & throat like a thick pea soup.  Crawling into work on Saturday for a long 12 hour shift on a suffocating hot ward was not the most enjoyable experience or probably the wisest and by Saturday night with my voice beginning to give way I called in sick for Sunday’s shift – one thing I have learnt over the years with training for races long or short is that you must listen to your body.  Lying on the sofa feeling lousy (but inspired by the GB athletics team in Istanbul!) I did have some panicky moments thinking I was losing all my fitness but Monday dawned and a bit of mind over matter and I put in a fairly hard training session.  Many of you know that I teach at the Third Space Gym in Soho, and on Monday evening I teach the Indoor Cycling class (spinning to some), followed by an outdoor Interval Running Class.  I teach a level 3 class, and maybe someone put something in my food on Monday, but according to those who attended the classes I was apparently on a mission – I certainly felt cream-crackered afterwards! But hopefully sweated away those cold bugs.

So… the race is drawing ever close – 3 weeks to be precise!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

And the great news so far is that I can inform you that to date in received donations & pledges I have raised £800 for the Tiyanjane Clinic, which is wonderful and I am so grateful to those of you that have so far supported me in this cause.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

If you would like to make a donation – please contact me at

For more information about the Tiyanjane Clinic please go to my website  – for a little bit more inspiration, here are a couple more pictures of some of the people who’s lives will be made a little bit easier by your contribution:


A patient recovering from Karposi Sarcoma


Brenda Witke at home with her mother

Well folks – I hope that you are all fighting fit (and free of a snivelly cold!).  With the sunshine now attempting to make an appearance in London I am about to head out for a run in a vague attempt to pretend that the feeble spring sunshine is some sort of replica for the burning intense heat of the Sahara desert!          

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14 March, 2012 · 1:28 pm

what could be worth running 150 miles across a desert…

Training has taken a back seat over the last four days as I have been in the depths of working the night shift over the weekend… a training of a different kind, I still have to be on my feet for roughly 12 hours, and whilst I am not carrying a backpack as I walk around my patients, the heating on my ward must have been at least as hot, if not hotter, as the desert will be.

My colleague on one of the night shifts said to me, “nothing on earth could make her run 150miles across any desert”. And whilst we clearly have different opinions, this led me to pondering what does make running across the desert for 150 miles, lugging everything  I need on my back, suffering from the heat, exhaustion, dehydration, blisters and anything else the desert cares to throw at me.  Yes there is the personal challenge of testing my body to its physical limit, which I appreciate is a relatively uncommon desire in most people, and something I am increasingly enjoying doing.  However, there is a bigger reason, by doing a race of this nature I can potentially make a difference to the lives of some people who lead very underprivileged lives – and hopefully inspire some of you who read my blog or my website to help me do so. 

I am running the Marathon des Sables 2012 to raise money for the Tiyanjane Clinic, a palliative care clinic based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantrye, Malawi.  I first visited Malawi when I was 16 years old, staying with my great school friend Rebecca Neeve (now Rebecca Marquis) and her wonderful family.  Since then I have spent many years over the last 20 travelling and working in various countries in southern Africa at various times.  When I ran the race in 2007 it seemed only right that I should raise money for something in the country that I first visited in Africa, where my somewhat cliched love affair with the continent began.  I raised a fantastic £10,000, with a lot of help from many of you who are reading this blog.

I went back to the hospital in 2010 as a student nurse to work for 4 weeks.  For some of that time I worked in the Tiyanjane Clinic where I was overwhelmed by the work I witnessed.  In the hospital where I work in London we have wonderful palliative care services, with many options on offer to patients who are at the end stage of their disease.  The options in Malawi are slightly different.  The resources for one are so minimal it is simply amazing how much they achieve as they are under constant strain from the increasingly large number of patients, many with advanced disease.  As you can imagine facilities are constrained and the staff to patient ratio is very poor.  The clinic provides the privacy of a clinic room where the team can listen to patients and offer advice and support to not just the patients but their families as well. 

The community care offered by the Tiyanjane Clinic is fantastic.  The focus is at Ndirande, a township on the edge of Blantyre with a population of roughly 200,000.  There is one palliative care nurse based at the health centre in Ndirande and she spends the majority of her time travelling (by foot) to patients’ homes to deliver support, advice and clinical care.  Just twice a month the community team has a doctor’s visit.  I spent a day with the palliative care nurse at Ndirande and was truly overwhelmed by the miles covered on foot to reach patients at home in the township, in just one day.  One of the patients I met was a young man, of 30 years, with HIV and Karposi Sarcoma, a rather unpleasant skin cancer than can be virulent in HIV sufferers.  It was not a disease I had ever come across before – below is a picture of the young man’s leg:


I appreciate it doesn’t make for pretty viewing.  Another patient had the most enormous tumour on the side of his head, which made his head so heavy he could barely hold it up:


Both conditions for these patients are excruciatingly painful.  If they were being treated in the UK, there are all sorts of pain relief that would be made available to them, in reality for these two patients often the only form of analgesia available to them is Ibuprofen.  To be able to only offer ibuprofen to someone with advanced AIDS or cancer is almost unthinkable in this country, or any Western developed country.

Just raising a small amount of money for this clinic will be amazing.  Any amount will do some good.  But with enough funds greater and more adequate pain relief can be provided for patients, greater disease understanding and also training more volunteers and staff so that more people can be reached and helped, and the work of the clinic can spread further throughout Malawi.

To find out more about the Tiyanjane clinic please go to .  You can read more about the work the clinic does and also some patient stories about their experiences.

You are able to make a donation on this website, however if you have been encouraged to make a donation because you heard about the charity through my endeavour to run the Marathon des Sables 2012 please could you contact me to make the donation, my contact details are on my website at

In Chichewa, the local Malawi language, Tiyanjane means “let’s come together”.  I ask you now, please come together in helping me support this wonderful clinic, knowing I have your support in this will make a difference to the hard lives of many very sick patients and their families, and it will also of course inspire me as I reach the top of one sand dune only to see another 50 spread out before me.



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