University experts prepare runner for toughest race on earth
Sports scientists at Leeds Metropolitan University are helping prepare a Harrogate businessman to take part in the 'toughest foot race on Earth'.
Duncan Read is training to take part in the Marathon des Sables in April, a 251km ultra-marathon which takes place in the Sahara Desert in Morocco over six days.
Duncan will be raising money for Yorkshire Cancer Research as he competes in the gruelling event, which involves carrying his own food and equipment in temperatures approaching 50 degrees Celsius.
Experts from the University's Centre for Sports Performance are providing Duncan with a range of sports science advice including physiological support, nutritional advice as well as helping with his psychological preparation.
Sports psychologist Dr Andrew Manley explains: ""The challenge facing Duncan is a fascinating one. Our team have been working closely with Duncan to ensure that he is able to respond effectively to the physiological, nutritional and psychological demands of such an unforgiving schedule and environment. We believe that by acknowledging the interactive role each of these scientific disciplines has to play in completing an event such as the Marathon Des Sables, Duncan has vastly enhanced his preparation for the challenges that await him in the desert."
The team have been working with Duncan in an Environmental Chamber to help reduce the perceived stress of exercising in the heat and to develop strategies to help his hydration and electrolyte levels.
Sports scientist Ben Jones explains: "The environmental chamber has allowed the support team to recreate the physiological responses of running in the dessert. During this process, using the latest biochemical analysis kit, we accurately measured fluid and sodium loss. Duncan drank as anticipated during his race, which then allowed calculations of fluid and sodium intake, alongside feedback on his current drinking strategies. We were then able to quantify the true biochemical disturbance, through measurements of blood sodium concentration at specific time points. Manipulations of running speed and rucksack weight allowed predications of fluid and sodium loss at specific stages of the race and as such, Duncan is now aware of his fluid and sodium requirements.
The Leeds Met team have also tested Duncan's blood lactate profile and maximal oxygen uptake as well as carrying out a full body composition assessment using the University's Duel Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) equipment. The DXA assessment uses very small amounts of X-rays to accurately measure the composition of the body. As a result of the testing, bone mineral density (BMD) can be accurately measured as well as lean body mass and fat mass.
The Centre's nutritionists have also helped Duncan with nutritional analysis and the development of nutritional advice to support his race feeding plan. Finally, sports psychologists have helped him to explore the psychological demands of the Marathon Des Sables as well as build in strategies to cope with the mental challenges of the race.
Duncan has taken part in numerous multi-sport endurance events over the last few years, including Olympic distance triathlons, half marathons,ultra marathons and a 70 mile race along Hadrian's Wall, but the Marathon des Sables will be his most gruelling test of fitness and endurance yet.
Speaking about the support he has received from Leeds Met, Duncan said: "The Centre for Sports Performance team helped me to prepare by giving me access to testing and advice usually reserved for the country's top elite athletes so I'm very grateful to them. As well as providing comprehensive scientific analysis of my fitness levels and strategies for nutrition, hydration and my psychological approach to the race, I've been able to use the environmental chamber at the university to re-create the Sahara desert conditions which has been invaluable to my training."
"I'm really looking forward to finishing day four of the race, which is the 55 mile double marathon stage - once that's behind me I know that it's 'downhill' from there on in, with just one marathon the following day and then the final day glory run!"
To sponsor Duncan, please visithttp://www.justgiving.com/henry-read