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Photo credit: Marina Ranger

500KM in 5 Days Across Holland: A Chat with Marina Ranger

25-Aug-16

By Luke Jarmey

Like shining knights in an armour of pink (R)underwear, Marina Ranger and Lucja Leonard recently galloped along the length of Holland, running 500km in five days. We have a chat with Marina to learn more about her background and this fabulous ultra running crusade. 
 
Q. So tell us a bit about yourself Marina. Where are you from and what do you do?

A. I'm a 25-year-old born and bred in London. I work for a creative events agency called BrandFuel in Southbank.  
 
Q. When did you first make your foray into the wonderful world of ultras? And what motivated you to do so?

A. Funnily enough, my boss! I entered a competition at work to win a place at the KAEM (Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon) three years ago. My boss had taken part the year before and wanted to give someone in the company the opportunity to have a life changing experience, and I certainly did! I had to prove I was fit enough and raise £2,000 for charity so I fundraised, did my first marathon (slowly) and completed the KAEM 6 months later as the youngest girl to have ever finished. 


 
Q. The KAEM is quite some race to have as your first ultra! How did you do?

A. Yes, straight into the deep end... The best way! We walked a fair bit and finished middle of the pack but the race was very much about getting to the finish line and enjoying the experience with my boss. I absolutely loved it and it was that race that got me hooked.

Q. Great stuff. So what have been some of your favourite race experiences since?

A. The best for me has got to be Marathon des Sables 2016. I met so many friends that I still keep in touch with today and I over-achieved on my expectations by coming 14th lady and 152nd overall so that experience will never be forgotten. Earlier in the year, a group of us also went to Mongolia for a marathon in -40 degrees. It's such a stunning country and I've never felt so aware of my surroundings in the complete wilderness as I did then. 
 
Q. Cracking result, well done! And yes the Genghis Khan Ice Marathon, tell us more about this? 

A. Back in January about 10 of us travelled to Mongolia to take part in the first ever marathon over a frozen river in Mongolia, in temperatures of -40 degrees. We lived in gers for the week, ate traditional nomadic food and did various activities including husky riding. It was incredible, an experience of a life time. 
 
Q. We actually interviewed Lucja when it was still being planned last October. She hinted at temperatures as low as -40 degrees! How did you deal with this?

A. Yes! It was a shock to the system but all part of the experience. No matter how many layers you were wearing, you couldn't stand still outside for much longer than 5 minutes. I brought thermal layers to cover every inch of skin exposed to the air, wore hand warmers, hid gels in my sports bra when running to keep them from freezing and relied on the CP crew for unfrozen water. 

Photo credit: DigitalPict - Johnny Graham.
 
Q. We also heard mention of ‘Extreme Wild Golf’ out there…. Did that come to fruition?

A. Ha! Yes! And Lucja bloody won... Jammy! 
 
Q. Are there plans for a 2nd edition of the Genghis Khan Ice Marathon? And would you return?

A. I believe they are thinking of doing the same next year, yes. I'd love to say yes but for now there are so many other places that I've never been to before that I'd like to explore. I would love to go back again sometime during the summer though to see the landscape in a different light. 
 
Q. You seem to have pounded many a mile with Lucja, how did that all come about?

A. Yes… Her husband is going to ban her from me soon! Well, we met at KAEM 2013 and have been great friends since. After KAEM, Lucja wanted to get into running coaching so used me as her guinea-pig with a training plan for KAEM the next year. We kept in contact through friends and coaching. Running is so good for bonding friendships in a unique way and we've followed a similar journey through running so it's been great to have someone to share so many experiences with. 


 
Q. How does the remote coaching work? And what’s the best bit of advice she’s given you?

A. We chat over the phone, on WhatsApp, over email and work off a shared drive so we can both update the plan live. I don’t think I would benefit any more out of having a coach closer to me. Obviously the company would be nice for some training runs but she tells me everything she needs to over the phone and I think it’s important to feel ownership over your plan once its written for you and you’ve been given the advice you need. At the end of the day, it’s up to every individual to commit to the plan they have been given. Lucja always gives valuable advice and I really look up to her. I’d say the most valuable advice she has given me is to do what is right for ME, no one else. We are all different and have our own needs so it’s important to listen to your body. 
 
Q. Ok moving onto your very recent endeavour, what sparked the idea for the 500km in five days? And why Holland?

A. I had been talking to Lucja for a while about creating my own challenge so after planting the seed, Lucja just came up with the idea, WhatsApp’d me to see what I thought and without thinking twice I said yes. We chose Holland because we wanted a distance of a country to cross that was achievable, not too far away from home and Lucja was born there so we knew we'd have her family for support. Most people think we chose it because it's flat but Lucja and I love the hills and mountains so this wasn't really a drive for us but at least it meant we could finish the days quicker.
 
Q. ... please elaborate on why you ran in your underwear!? And what is so special about this particular brand of undergarments, Runderwear

A. Good question! We wanted something different that would grab people’s attention. Who wouldn’t want to see two blondes running around in their underwear after all?! ;-) It had to be Runderwear because unlike most sports underwear, nothing rubs and it’s so important to have the right underwear on to protect those bits and bobs! 


 
Q. Ha-ha, nice. So what did your training plan look like? And did you pack any special nutrition or bits of gear for it?

A.  Both Lucja and I took part in the Marathon des Sables in April so our main base of training came off the back of that. I usually run between 40 and 60 miles a week plus some yoga and strength sessions. During the week I focus on shorter, high quality sessions like hill repeats, stair sprints (in my office block seeing as I have no big hills near me in London), tempo session and speed sessions on the treadmill. On the weekend I usually fit in two back to back long runs. I always make sure I have one rest day a week and fit in at least one strength session which is usually with my personal trainer. If I have time, I try to do some yoga too to help with my flexibility. For nutrition we stuck to real food, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to survive on gels for five days and would need to get plenty of nutrients in. Gear wise we didn’t need much apart from our undies and compression tights to sleep in. I could pack lightly for once!
 
Q. How did the run go? What was the hardest stretch and were there any mishaps along the way?

A. Still actually finding it hard to comprehend what we have done. Day 3 and 4 were the hardest for me but it is hard pin-pointing one moment because it was honestly all so hard. Mentally, we both hit rock bottom just after 250km. We were exhausted on five hours sleep a night after running 15 hour days. The body was struggling to regulate heat, our legs were sore and heavy and our feet were tender and swollen with a lot of blisters. It was a struggle to think we still had another 250km left to go so I found myself at an all time low. I ran in tears for at least two hours that day (I think I managed to really frighten my parents!). By Day 4, my knee that had been playing up the previous day was starting to become excruciatingly difficult to move on. I felt like I had nothing left in me so it was a battle to keep moving but something in me wouldn’t let me give up. 

Q. Other than the finish of course, what where the highlights?

A. Of course the highlight of any challenge like this is the finish line but we wouldn't have got there if it wasn't for our support crew! They were absolutely brilliant and such a huge part of our success. Having to put up with two needy runners with nothing but a smile on their face and organise a check point every 10km for us on five hours’ sleep was a challenge in itself. They had their fair share of problems to deal with and they didn't once moan or respond to our rather random requests with a no. It got us through every next 10km knowing we had them at the other end so my highlight has got to be having them there. Other highlights were seeing the support from people back home, it kept us going knowing how many people were behind us and of course raising money for charity; it means a lot to do something for such a great cause. 


 
Q. Fantastic, well huge congrats to you and Lucja for that! Looking forward… what’s next on your race calendar?

A. Thank you!! I’ve got Ultra Tour Monte Rosa on 31st August which is a three stage 116km mountain race led by Lizzy Hawker. It should be beautiful although my knee is still sore so I hope I recover enough before then!
 
Q. And finally, have you got any more unique challenge ideas brewing?

A. Nothing for the moment, unfortunately. I think I still need to get over the last one. Although I never say never and if the right thing comes to me I’d probably find it hard to say no.
 
Thanks Marina, it’s been a pleasure.

 

All images: Marina Ranger except where stated.

For more on Marina, check out her blog – Running Ranger.
Or follow her on Twitter @mranger90
Read Marina's review of the KAEM here.

For more on Lucja her blog is Running Dutchie.
Lucja is @runningdutchie on Twitter
Read Lucja's interview about the Genghis Khan Ice Marathon here.

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