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Photo credit: Johnny Graham

Crossing the Devil's Workshop

06-Oct-15

Last updated: 06-Nov-18

By Luke Jarmey

Thanks for doing another Q&A with us Andrew Murray; we’re all in awe of your Namib 550 Challenge. Truly inspirational!

New readers, for some background information on Andrew, please check out our first interview we did with him back in January.

Q. To start things off, could you give new readers an overview of what the Namib 550 was all about?

A. Donnie Campbell and myself decided to attempt to be the first to run Luderitz to Walvis Bay, 500 odd km across the highest dunes in the world, in the driest desert in the world. We crossed in 9 days, battered and bruised, and were both keen for a lie down and comfortable bed once we were done.

Q. What inspired you to come up with the idea for the challenge?

A. Dave Scott of Sandbaggers is a guy I really listen to - and he said that the Namib desert was hands down the most difficult desert to run across. He showed Donnie three photos taken by Johnny Graham of the Namib Desert, and neither of us could resist it!

Q. Tell us about the record-breaking aspect of the run?

A. Both Donnie and I run to see things, meet new people and the Namib offered incredible vistas, and a surprising abundance of wildlife- hyenas, oryx, jackals, and when we got closer to the sea - seals and the like. But breaking new ground is always fun, and Chief Kootijee and our colleagues at Live the Journey found an incredible route through areas not run through before, and it apparently halved the record time taken to traverse the desert (a coastal version of the route had been walked before).

Photo credit: Johnny Graham.

Q. Can you give us an insight into your training regime for this? Were there any techniques you employed to condition yourself for the extreme desert whilst training in the ‘glorious’ Scottish weather?

A. Actually believe it or not, training for this desert run will end up being similar to the next run across outer Mongolia in winter. Running in the mountains of Scotland does not acclimatize you to either the heat or extreme cold, but it does get you used to running through heavy terrain be that sand or deep snow. So running through the Scottish mountains will be my staple, and often is for a lot of my expeditions. They are beautiful too.

Q. We noticed there was a strong humanitarian and also science focus to the challenge, can you elaborate on this please?

A. Applying Science helps you to get from A to B. It doesn’t matter if this is a 100 meter race, or an ultra marathon - essentially I called on the experience of my colleagues at the University of Edinburgh - Scottish Running Clinic to give me the right advice. Donnie is also a running coach (with Get Active Running) so I took training advice from him.

We also had the chance to spend some time with Chief Kootijee and the Topnaar Tribal community, and were able to learn lessons about life in remote and rural Namibia. We also shared vital medical supplies and athletic equipment donated by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and Merrell UK.

Q. We heard the dunes in the Namib are the tallest in the world, often reaching 400m high. How did you find the terrain there and specifically how was it compared to the other desert running you’ve experienced?

A. Easily the hardest desert to run through. The Devil’s Workshop made both of us feel like a roast dinner. Very hot, boiling alive, in a massive, massive dune system. But the reward was there. Unsurpassed beauty.

Photo credit: Johnny Graham.

Q. Talk to us about gear! A basic rundown of your kit? What was your carrying system? Any very specialist items? And anything that really stood out in the desert or you ended up regretting bringing along?

A. Merrell sorted out all my kit, I wore Merrell All Out Rush shoes, a size too big as I realised my feet would swell with the heat and exertion. Sand gaiters over the top of these avoid blisters. Do not run in a desert without sand gaiters. The best ones are the parachute silk ones made by Sandbaggers. Bert Jukes and Lyprinol backed the trip wholeheartedly, and thus we had a superb support crew led by Jurgens from Live the Journey, so we only had to carry a bit of water and food.

Q. What was your nutrition plan? Did you modify it during the run? How much water were you drinking per day? And were there any opportunities to replenish food/water supplies en route?

A. The plan was simple. Drink when thirsty, and eat every 30 minutes. Eat like crazy when finished, particularly within the golden hour after finishing. I used Lyprinol Sport to help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Q. This was a ground breaking run and I’m sure you experienced some enormous highs and lows. Any that stand out?

A. I thought I wouldn’t make it after day 3. I had volcanic blisters and was pretty tired. But Dave and Donnie got me through. The high, if I am being honest was exiting the Devil’s Workshop - I was so relieved to get through.

Q. Finally what’s next on the cards for Andrew Murray!?

A. The Genghis Khan Ice Marathon. In January 2016, a hardy crew of experienced athletes will take on a marathon in minus 40, in the wilds of outer Mongolia. Support will be provided by huskies, as Dave Scott has said the roads are very difficult to get vehicles down, and the local wolf population are discouraged from getting too close by the huskies.

I know a lot of the competitors - it’s a great mix. Doug Wilson (Australia) and Shona Thomson (Scotland) have done incredibly well at the North Pole, and Antarctica before, whilst Lenka Istanova (Slovakia), and fellow Brits Marina Ranger and Lucja Leonard are ridiculously tough mentally. Maurice Donoghue has never done a marathon before, and this will be an amazing effort to make this his first.

There are a load of other elements to the challenge - a wee video, and a link to the excellent Scottish Association for Mental Health, and Riding for the Disabled Virgin Giving sites.

I’ll be sharing blogs via my website and on Twitter.

Q. Genghis Khan Ice Marathon sounds great! I noticed you’ve run the 6633 Ultra, how do you think it will compare to that?

A. The 6633 was an incredible challenge - and in many ways similar in temperature. I think that outer Mongolia offers a richer history and diversity of scenery, but not the northern lights. The Genghis Khan is a genuine wilderness experience - hence the use of huskies etc.

Q. We hear great things about your books - what are they about?

A. You are too kind - Running Your Best- Some Science and Medicine offers lots of top tips and nuggets on sorting out any illness or injury in runners, and helping prevent them. “Running Beyond Limits” tells the story of my running 2660 miles from north Scotland to the Sahara, and other stories.
 

Many thanks Andrew, great to chat again and good luck for the Genghis Khan Ice Ultra!

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