Over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of quick fire questions with 2017 MdS finishers. Featuring competers to completers, first timers, multi finishers, walkers, racers, young guns and old-enough-to know-betters, Brits and beyond.

I was lucky enough to be talked into this venture by someone who had already done it. During our walks and talks I squeezed every bit of advice I could from her, without having to spend too much time on the facebook forum. Her advice was invaluable and led to my success and to hugely reduced anxiety pre-departure.

So this series of light hearted blogs aims to show there is no ‘right’ way of doing things, but some advice does seem to feature frequently (pack light!). With questions you really wanted to ask, and some you hadn’t thought of, but really should have. Read these if you have signed up for 2018, or if you are just curious to know… so how many squares of toilet paper do you need for a week and how many toenails am I likely to lose?!

First up is London based South African, Gordon Robinson. 44, father and Overall Winner of the Afterparty.

It’s a longy, (especially the list of kit he despatched after stage 1) but a goody!

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Reason for signing up Always liked a challenge – first saw the MDS through the James Cracknell documentary ‘Toughest Race on Earth’ – put it on my bucket list. So probably being plotting for about five years before taking the plunge.

Finishing position: Middle – I actually think I was the middle placed finisher! Not bad for a chunky monkey!

Previous biggest endurance achievement?  Completed Ironman

Longest or toughest training walk/run/event?  50km training walk/runs – did about 7 of them in training 8/10 hours.

Sum up the experience in 5 words: Brutal but absolutely loved it!

What, if anything did you throw away after day 1?  Haha – Pebble Battery charger, lighter, Tyvek suit, small water bottle, my big front bag pouch, half a survival sheet, esbit fuel tabs, 2 x small 10ml tubes Gurney Goo, spare running shirt, ate my ‘extra biltong and fudge supplies’.   I felt much more comfortable beginning day 2 😉

What was your most treasured piece of kit?  My X Bionic Trick shirt – was a very clever useful shirt.

What item of kit would you change if you did it again?  Going ultra light is not just a cliché. I would have a lighter bag – the MDS ones are good but heavy. I would also: 1. I would take a small light warm jacket that I could sleep with – I have big shoulders and most light sleeping bags are restrictive and feels cramped – sleeping bag up to waist jacket on top. 2. I had a 2 in1 pair of running shorts – next time I would take two separate pieces so I could take one off and wash it – wear the loose piece around camp – more comfortable. 3. Get the lightest possible solution for electronics – camera, music & running watch.

Did you sign up alone or with anyone?  With a friend – my advice is don’t plan on sticking together – it’s a long race and people have different experiences – you don’t want to hold someone back or be held back. You will meet different people all along the route which is a big part of the experience if you like company.

Hardest stage and why? Stage 1. The heat caught me off guard and my backpack was too heavy.  The only time I thought negative thoughts.  Stage 2 was much better.

Top tip for preparation? 1. Get walking – do some long (8 hours) hilly walks.  2. Speak to several people personally who have done it. 3. Read the forums but don’t get too caught up in them. 4. When packing bag – if you have any doubt whether to take some piece of kit – leave it behind.

What shoes did you wear? Were you happy with them?  Brooks Ghost – compared to many people my feet were in great shape and the shoes held up well. For me these shoes were a great choice.

How much did you ‘size up’ if at all?  This is a strange one – I have always run in size 10 shoes as I have paddles for feet. Went to Profeet and they sized me normally as a size 8.5 but with Brooks you can get the 2e (extra wide) fit. So in theory I sized down – point is it may be worth getting someone to check your feet and going from there. I never changed my shoe size once I was given the correct fit from Profeet.

Backpack start weight? 10kg

What backpack and were you happy with it? WAA MDS backpack – I was happy because I got it as part of the deal of going to the exhibition and it felt good for me. I had no chaffing or any other issues with it.  If I did it again however I would try out different options as this backpack is almost half a kilo heavier than some of the others and as I said before – weight is a big factor.

What personal quality is most important to succeed at MdS?

Be positive, it rubs off on other people

and other positive people rub off on you.

Don’t complain!

I found I  away from negative people and that when I was negative (day 1) my mood was a lot worse overall. Everybody is in some sort of pain and discomfort – be positive no matter what!

How many toenails have you lost to date? Haha – I lost none but have one blue one which weirdly only went blue after I got home

Gordon Robinson's home coming hoof
Gordon Robinson’s home coming hoof

Any advice foot preservation advice? Ok – so again I will say I had a very good experience and can only say what I did – I used Hilly Skyline Anklet socks ( took 2 pairs and changed after stage 3), Brooks Ghost shoes with Velcro attached myRacekit gaitors. For about two months before the race I put Tanno on my feet in the morning and NOK on in the evening. I also filed them regularly trying to get rid of any calluses or hard bits. And I spent a lot of time walking or running getting my feet ready for long efforts.  Must say my feet looked pretty good when I started … bit battered at the end but compared to others I was very happy. I did not use any tape to start – I taped a few hot spots. I covered my feet in Gurney Goo every day.

How much toilet paper did you take? Was it enough?  I think I got it just right – pic below of my last day rations – ok maybe it was a bit tight 😉  Seriously though I took wemi wipes (3 a day – washed body with them and kept the sheets for loo) which I used in conjunction with two packs of ‘ten’ tissues. I was very lucky though as all my ‘visits’ were ‘tidy’ so to speak.  Toilet paper is light – take as much as you think you will need.

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Final day’s loos roll ration

Meal or food you most appreciated?  Hot chicken korma after stage 3 for dinner – stands out for some reason as my best meal. My overall view though is that as long as you get the calories in for me meals did not stand out as a luxury part of the experience. Variety is definitely important and towards the end of the week you will lose your appetite – force the food down.

Did you take a ‘luxury item?  My mobile phone – used for pictures and music – some people used their phones to connect to outside world – I had mine on aeroplane mode the whole week. Music was a winner for me – never really used it in the past but it helped me big time.

Tom Jones Sex Bomb coming over the finish line on Stage 6 will always be a winner

😉   I will say however that if you don’t mind having no photos, music etc leave the tech behind! Weight is key. I borrowed a charge here and there to get through the week as I through my battery away early on.

What did you learn about yourself? I have the ability to dig deep. I am a lot better person when I am positive.

I learnt that my life is great and I need to appreciate that more.

Did you do hot yoga/heat chamber sessions?  No – in hindsight some sort of acclimatization would be great – however I am not convinced by heat chambers and yoga even though I did not try (so maybe it works) – if you are very serious about been prepped go out to Morocco five days early and get use to the heat!

Lots of temperatures in excess of 50 degrees recorded – did it feel that hot?  Yes at times – however the X Bionic trick shirt worked a treat – when there was no breeze it felt very hot – the breeze made things cooler. Day one I felt very hot but as the week went on I got use to it.

Approx calories per day? 3000 calories a day consumed

Advice for the long stage and for what type of person?   I was a walker – my advice is to try and reach checkpoint 5 (deck chairs) before taking a long dinner break rest. I walked relatively even paced all the way. A spent 5 minutes at the first 4 check points and rewarded myself with 30 minutes for dinner at checkpoint 5. There is no doubt it is easier to navigate the sand and dunes better in daylight. But obviously cooler at night. Top tip – go as far as you can in the light. Don’t waste unnecessary time at all the check points! Try create groups or ‘busses’ of people to walk/march strong taking in turns to lead. Don’t forget to check the moon out – this year it was spectacular – my iPhone did not do it justice!

What do you wish you had known before, that you know now?

Weight is everything and not just a cliché! 

Any difference between dark and light clothing?  I had black clothing – I cannot compare it to light. I was very happy with my outfit. Black does look a bit cleaner – although the salt stains are very visible.

Have you made friends for life?  Most definitely. The absolute best and most memorable part of the MDS for me was being in Tent 63 and meeting all the people I did (you included Jen 😉 ).   Such inspirational and special people. Band of brothers and sisters!!

Would you do it again if you got a free entry?   Honestly – I don’t think that would be my motivator. I think I would have to get my head around the training again. I have a young family and I spent many hours very early (or late) in the cold, wet, dark winter training.  Saying that if someone else paid ….. isn’t there one in September in Peru …. Summer training …mmmm ?    I would love to do the MDS again …. Maybe in a few years time!!

What would your tent mates say was your most annoying habit?  I had one of those crisp packet sleeping mats and I move around a lot in my sleep.

When was your lowest point and what was it/how did you overcome it?  Lowest point – day one between checkpoint 1 and 2. I was very uncomfortable – hot and bag was heavy. Luckily it was day 1 and I was fresh enough to get through. Mental strength is key – everyone goes to deeper places of strength than they think possible.

Did you find the pre departure admin stressful ? Any tips on keeping it stress free?   I was told by everyone to expect queues and chill. So I did ….  Just make sure you have all your own admin in place and take it easy. Leave the stresses of the world behind and just go with the flow.

Its nearly 4 weeks since we finished. Are your muscles still tired?  I think my muscles are a little tired still. I’m doing a few 10km runs here and there … eating a lot …. Taking it easy still. I have a triathlon soon so I will jump on bike soon and get in the pool as well. However all in all I deserve a period of easy training!!

Any last words?!     Don’t think about it just sign up.

The MDS was a brutal event for sure.

Its tough but certainly not for elite only.

It will go down in your books as one of your greatest adventures. In years to come when people asked me what I did in 2017 the only think I will probably remember is MDS. I met amazing people. I had some good and bad times. I learnt a few things about myself. And I had a great party at the finish.

I absolutely loved my MDS experience

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Gordon and Jen hobbling around bivouac after stage 4.