13 Oct Preparing the 8th edition of the Oman Desert Marathon: the expert view Interview with Kathleen Leguin
French runner Kathleen Leguin has a lot to say about the experience of crossing the Omani desert. This veterinary surgeon, with extensive experience in desert races from her long stay in Dubai, knows the Oman Desert Marathon well, having already enjoyed the sensation from the podium in this race which will be holding its eighth edition from 21 to 24 January 2023.
What is different about running in the desert?
From a technical point of view, as the ground is soft, no energy is returned when you run, you get a bit of a feeling of not moving forward, of giving a lot for little return, and the sand is not always easy to handle, it slips all over. From a physical point of view, to prepare for the race if you don’t have access to sand, running on soft surfaces like mud or snow would be a good alternative. As I’m living now in the Alps, that’s how I’ll prepare for it.
What is the hardest thing about running in the desert?
Climbing dunes. And to be efficient running on sand, you need good running technique. For instance, I don’t think poles are useful if the intention is to run the race. However, if you’re intention is to power hike the race, they could be helpful, especially to climb dunes.
When you are in the middle of the desert and you only see sand, there is also an important psychological factor, right?
Yes, of course! It is difficult especially when you see the finishing line in the distance and it takes forever to get there! When you run in the mountains you go up, you go down… it’s varied. Not in the desert.
How can someone living in Europe prepare for the race?
You have to look for soft ground, with not very long slopes if possible. It is important to strengthen your legs by going up and down small slopes. Sand on the beach is an excellent option (or mud or snow), but then you have to look for the slopes.
Any tips on the heat for less experienced runners?
Getting used to the heat is always hard. In my case, since I lived in Dubai, I already lived with it. But the ODM will be held in January, when it is not too hot; maybe thirty degrees. One way you can adapt your body to higher temperature when living in cold climates is the use of 20 minutes hot bath or sauna after the run.
Four stages… That implies a certain logistics.
Yes! Lightness is important, but that’s not a problem today. For me, the aim was to have as much space as possible for food, because it is very important to recover. It is easy to find, for example, a light and comfortable sleeping bag, and the food is basically freeze-dried: some products are not so bad, but it is very important to have tried them. You can’t play with that. If I don’t like something in training, I won’t like it during the race. The only solution is experience. There is always something that goes down better, and variety is important.
What do you have to do to take care of your feet?
The first point is to wear comfortable shoes, as always over long distances. For the sand, some shoes have a better seal than others (beware of the shoe mesh). You have to look. Finally, sand gaiters are very important to keep the sand out. They should also cover the entire shoe: if the sand gets in, it will give us blisters. A spare pair of socks is also important.
Is cushioning important when running on sand?
We are talking about stages of about forty kilometres, in the desert and with sand. That can take over 12 hours for some participants, so comfort is important, but more than that, the ground can be very hot and a shoe with good cushioning will insulate better. With sand at forty degrees, a minimalist shoe is not recommended.
One last piece of advice for those still unsure?
Oman is a wonderful country. I love it. The people are very nice and welcoming. It is a race with a very good and small organisation, a very familiar and pleasant race. It is an excellent choice for a first race in stages. My advice is: Go!
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