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Training for the Sahara 100km

We (Charlie and Gaynor) at Tribal Tracks have both taken on a desert challenge at some point, numerous times in fact. Here are our tips, from our experience, to help you prepare.

Trekking 100km in the Saharan desert is as spectacular as it sounds. It is a very demanding trek, but profoundly rewarding. You will need to be properly prepared to have a successful and more enjoyable adventure.

It's important to know that (though they are the most photographed) the Sahara is not just made up of sand dunes (ergs). You'll also encounter rocky plateaus, gravel plains, dry wadis and oases throughout your 100km trek.

The Sahara 100km is challenging in a number of ways, aside from the heat (which can be intense) and sun exposure. Rocky plateaus can have uneven surfaces that require careful footing, and walking on dunes is inherently physically demanding as the loose sand shifts underfoot. 

The tips in this article can also be used to prepare for the Wadi Rum 100km challenge.

Key factors:

Mental preparation

Preparing for sand

Strength Training

Endurance training

Prepare for heat

Read more

As with all challenge expeditions, it is vital that you prepare in good time. We don't just mean making sure you have the correct boots and sun hat, but ensuring you're mind and body are prepared for what lies ahead. All Tribal Tracks adventures are achievable but challenging and will require a commitment from you to make sure you are as 'ready as possible' to get to the finish line. Much like running to London Marathon, you wouldn't attempt it without at least doing some training first — and if you did, would you really enjoy it? The same applies when you're taking on an overseas challenge such as a long multi-day desert trek.

Mental Preparation

Once again 'mental preparation' sits at the top of our list. Being in the right mindset is crucial for effective training and completing the challenge.

It's doubtful that you will complete any challenge-based activity without encountering some degree of fatigue or discomfort. They are designed to be achievable, but you need to truly earn that sponsorship money (if you're completing the challenge to raise money for charity).

Your mental resilience often helps you navigate these moments and stay focused and resolute. Although your Tribal Tracks Leader and local support team will assist with any concerns or issues during your trek, some mental preparation could significantly impact the success and enjoyment of your trip.

You're on board!

By signing up to a challenge based overseas trip, you've already decided you're ready to take this on. In this case, the aim of the expedition is to complete a 100km trek through the desert. Although you could put your head down and 'crack on' with getting to the endpoint, we want you to enjoy the stunning landscapes, scenery, culture, flora and fauna and the general majesty of being in such a spectacular environment, one that will be a new experience for most of us.

It's a good idea to visualise the trek, and how you'll want to be feeling on it. When you're on the trek, and finding it tough, focus on crossing that finish line and the sense of accomplishment that will flood your emotions.

You could also practice breathing techniques. We'll write more about these in the future, but in the meantime, there's plenty of literature out there with different methods — avoiding mouth breathing, focusing on deep breathing, and abdominal breathing, to name a few.

Preparing for sand

It's no secret that walking on sand is more difficult than walking on a solid surface. This is because of its physical properties and how it reacts to movement. Sand particles are loose, so the surface shifts under your weight. This instability means more effort is required on your part to maintain your balance and continue moving forward.

This, in turn, means you're expending more energy. Because you will move the (heavy) sand and sink into it with each step, your legs will need to lift higher than they would on a solid surface.

As we mentioned previously, the terrain in the desert isn't constant. You'll experience firm sand, loose sand, rocky plateaus, gravel and so on. The changing terrains mean making constant changes to your gait.

The factors above mean that different muscles in your legs, feet and core will be engaged compared to walking on a hard surface.

So what can you do to prepare?

Strength Training

The last question nicely leads us to this point. You will need to undertake some form of strength training. To prepare for sand, you will want to focus on exercises that strengthen your legs, core, and lower back (but mostly your legs). Think about exercises such as calf raises (including calf raises with bent knees), lunges, squats, and toe raises. Balance exercises will also help improve your balance and stability, which you'll find useful when crossing uneven desert landscapes.

Get outside (to the beach if you can!)

As with preparing for most challenges, the best way to train is to expose yourself to similar environments or terrain. Head to the coast for some long walks if you're able to. Start with shorter distances and gradually increase them to give your body a chance to adapt.

Endurance training

Our desert treks involve walking for many hours a day. Your body will need to be happy to 'keep going' even when fatigued. The more stamina you have the better your body (and mind) will cope. Running, cycling, swimming, circuit training, and HIIT training are all types of endurance training; pick a method that you enjoy.

Coping with heat 

Unsurprisingly the desert can get hot, very hot. Most strategies to cope will be related to clothing (lightweight, light colours, breathable) and continuously hydrating, as well as strategic planning (timing, pacing, route planning and nutrition). These logistical elements will all be handled by us, Tribal Tracks). In terms of physical conditioning, you could expose yourself to heat; for example, do some exercise at the hottest part of the day to build up heat tolerance. You could also try hot yoga or the odd trip to a sauna to help simulate the heat too.

Any questions?

Feel free to drop us an email if you have any questions. Similarly, just get in touch if you're interested in running a Sahara 100k, or Wadi Rum 100k for a group of people, or if you want to join an existing trip.

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01242 895272