Marathon Des Sables 2021: Run Your Best in an Ultramarathon with Hazel Harrison

Marathon des Sables, also known as MdS or the Sahara Marathon, is a seven-day ultramarathon of 250 kilometres in the Sahara Desert. It’s one of the toughest foot races, and its 2021 edition is considered the toughest with around a 50% dropout!

In this episode, Hazel Harrison joins us to recount her experience leading to and during the marathon. Ultramarathons are already tough, but with people coming out of lockdowns, it became even more challenging! Hazel shares her success was in being able to ask for help, staying resilient and learning to listen to her body.

If you want to learn more about running your best in an ultramarathon, then this episode is for you!

Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:

  1. Discover Hazel’s journey to the Marathon des Sables and how she stayed firm in her decision despite the cancellations.
  2. Understand how the marathon was even more challenging since it took place during a pandemic.
  3. Learn valuable lessons from Hazel’s Marathon des Sables experience!

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Resources

Episode Highlights

[01:59] Hazel’s Experience with the Marathon des Sables

Hazel is a businesswoman running a dog daycare, business coaching, and run coaching. She is also a former army nurse. Hazel also shared that she first dreamed of joining the Marathon de Sables back in 1986. It was only in 2018 that she committed to join the 2020 marathon.

Six months before the marathon, she found out that she had stage 3 melanoma. Four weeks before the Marathon des Sables, it was cancelled and moved to September due to the pandemic. Hazel was losing motivation and was even over-trained from all the cancellations. 

[09:39] How to Help Your Body Perform at its Best 

Hazel shared that Lisa’s epigenetics program helped her mentally and physically by pinpointing the best time for her to exercise. Her routine was based on her time with the army. The program helped her adjust based on her body’s needs.

She also took NMN and PerfectAmino to help heal her hamstring.

[12:38] Hazel’s Journey to the Marathon

Travelling during the pandemic was a whole different story. The Marathon des Sables required full vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test for participants to join. There were only 672 participants since people were still hesitant to travel during the pandemic. 

The heat in the Sahara desert was oppressive and slowed down Hazel’s body. She even nearly ran out of water before the first checkpoint, and she was drinking faster than she should have. There is also the danger of hyponatremia in marathons.

[22:53] Day 2 and Day 3 

Day 2 and 3 were at 55.6 degrees, and people were dropping out due to hyperthermia. A runner also passed away on the second day. By the third day, Hazel was not feeling well and had gastro pains. 

She was reminded to not be afraid to reach out for help and asked to stay with 2 teammates for the long day.

[34:04] How Hazel Performed Beyond 50k

Hazel was able to get a second wind once she went past 50k. Around 50% dropped out, leaving only 351 people who finished the marathon. The Marathon des Sables was challenging due to the heat. People had to keep on adjusting their plans. 

The lockdowns also compromised the immune systems of many individuals.

[40:26] Learning from Experience

Fear can impact people’s stress levels, immune systems, and coping abilities. A 50% dropout is not typical in ultramarathons. For the Marathon de Sables, it was normally at 5%. 

Ultramarathons teach you to be self-sufficient and reliant.

[44:15] Hazel’s Transition After the Marathon

The Marathon des Sables forced people to live simple lives and appreciate the things we usually take for granted. Hazel ordered a spin bike upon returning. This exercise also helped her process the experience. 

She is also currently writing a book about the Marathon des Sables.

[52:47] Stay Focused

Running ultramarathons is a lot like dealing with diseases like cancer. You need to stay focused and resilient. After the third cancellation, Hazel needed to reset and rediscover the joy of running.

Training is not about being able to run 90k per week, Every run should have a purpose.

About Hazel

Hazel Harrison is an ultrarunner who recently participated in Marathon de Sables. She is also a certified breath coach and a certified professional transformational coach with over 30 years of experience. Hazel specialises in directional coaching, business coaching and mentoring teenager coaching, team coaching, bespoke leadership and team workshops.. She is also the owner of Nose2tail Doggy Daycare in New Zealand. 

Want to learn more about Hazel’s work? Check out her website

You can also connect with her through Facebook, LinkedIn, or email.

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To pushing the limits,

Lisa

Marathon Des Sables

Transcript

Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential, with your host Lisa Tamati, brought to you by lisatamati.com

Lisa Tamati: Hey everyone, welcome back to Pushing the Limits. Today, I have a good friend and longtime athlete of Running Hot Coaching, Hazel Harrison. Hazel has just come back from the Marathon des Sables, which is a famous, famous race. If you don't know, this is an ultra marathon that goes through Morocco, the Moroccan Sahara. 240 kilometres and Hazel's just come back from that. Doing it tough during the pandemic, obviously getting there. So we share Hazel's journey and contemplate a little bit what it's like to do something like this. So I hope you enjoy this conversation with the amazing Hazel Harrison. 

Before we head over to the show, just a reminder to check out our Epigenetics program. Hazel actually did the epigenetics with us as part of her build-up. This is all about understanding your own genetics, and how to optimise your environment for those genes. So Epi- means above and that means what actually influences your genes. Your genes are not a deterministic feature; you would’ve hear me say if you'd listened to the episode with Dr. Bruce Lipton, who is the father of epigenetics.

It's all about helping the genes express themselves in the optimal way with the right food, the right exercise, the right timings, the right hormonal balance, the right education as far as how your brain works and so on, and so forth. It's really like getting a user manual for your own body. So check it out on lisatamati.com, head over to the Work With Us button and you’ll see our Peak Epigenetics program. I hope you enjoy the show with Hazel Harrison. If you're a runner, you’ll really get something out of this. And now over to the show. 

Well, hey everyone, and welcome to Pushing the Limits. Today, I have a good friend and a crazy athlete, Hazel Harrison with me. Hazel, welcome to the show, mate.

Hazel: Hey. Thanks, Lisa. 

Lisa: It's so cool to have you. We've sort of been working on and off together for a number of years with you, Neil, and me. I really love and respect what you do, you're amazing. And recently, you had the — god, I was jealous, too — the incredible opportunity to go and do the Marathon des Sables. So we're going to talk about that today. Welcome, Hazel, and tell us a little bit about yourself before we get on to the exciting stuff you've just been on.

Hazel: Alright, I'm on the wrong side of 50. I’m 56, crazy runner, businesswoman, and ex-army. So put all those together and I suppose you've got a bit of a nutter there. But yeah, that's about it really for me. I'm a businesswoman. I'm a runner. That's how I identify. 

Lisa: So what sort of business do you run? 

Hazel: So I run a doggy daycare, so a kinder for dogs and I'm a business coach. I'm also a run coach as well.

Lisa: Yeah, Brilliant. And you're an extremely driven and amazingly focused person. So if I put people in the picture of this journey that we've been on to get you to the Marathon des Sables, how many years did it take?

Hazel: Okay, so it first went on the bucket list in 1986, I think, which was the first year it was run. And I thought, ‘Okay, one day, I'm going to do that.’ And then I tucked it away. And then it was probably in 2018; I actually decided I was going to do it in 2020. And I think that's when you and I first connected because I'd obviously read your great books. And I got on the phone and I said “Hey, I need to have a chat about this.” So it's probably 2018 that we first connected, and yeah, what a journey it has been.

Lisa: Some ups and downs on the way, huh?

Hazel: Yeah, some huge ups and downs. So everything was going to carry on. Everything was ticking along nicely with the training, and I was doing really well. It was October 2019. So six months out from the marathon to start, which was supposed to be April 2020. Training was going so well. I was really good. And I went to the doctor because I got a little mole I wanted to have a look at so we took that off and we thought nothing of it. I went to (unintelligible) as part of my training and came back had the stitches out and the results were back. 

Then I got that dreaded phone call from the doctor like a couple of hours later. Say, ‘Hey, Hazel, it's not good. It's melanoma.’ and so it was like ‘oh shit’ and he said ‘It's not melanoma just in situ. It's pretty deep. Can you come down to the doctors practice this afternoon?’ So I was sat in the car, I remember it so vividly, Lisa. I answered the phone, it was a withheld number and I thought I'll answer it and I'll just finally go for a run. I was in the car. I change into my running gear. I’m all happy, and he said, ‘Can you come down this afternoon?’ I pop the phone down and I thought, ‘Okay, what do I do?’ I know I go for my run. 

Yeah. So I did 15Ks along the base of Wellington in between bawling my eyes out. Because this is not in the plan. That was what I kept saying to myself, ‘This is not supposed to be happening.”  I've got the MDS in six months and this is not supposed to be happening. We went down to the clinic and spoke to the doctor, and he got the diagnosis. He said, ‘It looks like it's probably a stage three, but we won't know fully until you go to the specialist.’ And thankfully, New Zealand Health System is really good when it comes to melanoma. Literally, everything happens in two-week blocks. Two weeks after seeing my GP, I was in front of the consultant. Two weeks after that, I was having my operation. 

So it was amazingly quick. And yeah, it was a stage three. So I got a scar from top of my shoulder to under my armpit.. Luckily, it hadn’t gone into my lymph nodes. So that was really good. So that meant no further treatment, didn't need to have a skin graft, which is really good. So that the surgeon managed to knit the skin together nicely. And obviously, for me, it was like, I've got this scar on my wound on my shoulder. I'm carrying a backpack across the bloody desert in six months. How's that gonna work? So for me, it was negotiating with the surgeon how long I could have to have a rest of running. So we negotiated she wanted a month, that we got down to two weeks in the end. So it kept me sane being on the cross trainer, listening to Pushing the Limits was how… That was all sweet. And the training got back on track in December. January, February, great and then the world started to go crazy. Coronavirus in China and I started to watch it and I was like, ‘Oh, gosh, okay’, so I kept looking at the numbers thinking, “Okay, let's see what's happening in the end.” Literally, it was probably four weeks from the MDS and got an email saying the MDS had been cancelled.

Lisa: There's crashing when you've been training so long.

Hazel: It was peak week, it was like it was—everything was on track, everything had healed up nicely. I was getting the case in and all the rest of it. And then that happens. And I remember getting a few — I think you've phoned me actually, and you set up commiserations saying, ‘Look you need to do something, get those legs going about the ultra…’ So that's when I went down.

Hazel: Yeah, there was nine of us that did it. So that was really good and that literally was the last event in New Zealand, I think before the country went into lockdown. Yeah. So the MDS had been moved from the April 2020. And they said, we'll do it in September 2020. So it's like okay, I've got to keep training because it's still six months to go and got to keep on the game. Country was in lockdown, I overtrained. I overtrained, got a tendinopathy, hamstring tendon, really, really bad, was feeling really quite despondent and managed to get back on it. And then in the August, they cancelled it for the September

Lisa: For the second time. So one cancel, two cancel.

Hazel: Yeah, that's right. And they said, ‘Okay, so we're going to move it to April 2021.’ So I said, ‘Okay, fine. All right. Gotta keep training.’

Lisa: What's another six months when you've been going for three years?

Hazel: So because it was a quite away, I actually packed all my MDS stuff in a box, Lisa, and popped it in the garage and wanted to forget about it for a while. Yeah, this has been this continued thing in my head for years, really on and off. And then I got it at the garage in the January and then they canceled the April one in January.

Lisa: Like at that point, I was like, ‘Hazel, maybe this isn't meant to happen. Maybe we just give up on this idea.’ But you're like, ‘No, no, we'll just keep going.’

Hazel: I mean, every point I could have deferred. Any point the MDS allowed you to defer until 2022, 2023, 2024. You'll get this I said, I was doing the 35th Marathon des Sables. So when that was happening, I was doing it. So it was like, No, I'm not deferring. So January got cancelled. And they said, Okay, it's going to be October 2021. And so by this point, my hamstring was still a bit niggly. I'd been self-coaching, and I was feeling really despondent about this. So I reached out to you and Neil and said, ‘Hey, guys, I need some motivation. I need some external stuff. And I need some help.’ And that's when you and Neil, we had a chat, and we came up with a plan. That's when I signed up for the epigenetics, as well, which was amazing. As far out, made such a difference to many aspects, many, many aspects for me. Understanding the best time to exercise for me mentally and physically was a game changer. 

Lisa: It’s a pretty amazing program, eh?

Hazel: Yeah, because I'm an activator. Because I like to research everything. It took me a while to sign up to it, because you gave me books to read. For 18 months, I think, until I finally went, ‘okay now I'm ready.’ And yeah, and I find it absolutely amazing.

Lisa: That’s great. Because it does, it just opens up different parts of your life that you—like what time of the day to train, what type of exercise to be doing, what type of food, all of that sort of aspects. It's really just sort of key that you otherwise you’re guessing it and doing what you think is healthy or right.

Hazel: What's funny, I found that the epigenetics was that there were things that I thought were I should be doing because I'd always done them. Because I'd had many years in the armed forces, and many years nursing. So getting up early and doing stuff was what I thought my body wanted. But actually, no, the mid-afternoon was the best time to exercise. And that's a whole different thing, isn't it, in epigenetics.

Lisa: That makes so much difference to your performance levels and what you can actually achieve when you get the combination. Put your genes in the right environment, then boom. 

Hazel: So that's when I signed up to their epigenetics. Obviously, I'm still on that at the moment. And I signed up with you and Neil to coach me through to the MDS. So, yeah, that went on and off because of this tendon, and that's another thing. That's when I started taking NMN.

Lisa: Yeah, our longevity supplement. Anti-aging supplement

Hazel: Absolutely. And the PerfectAmino and all of that sort of… I think that really helped my hamstring. Then in June, I saw, ‘Okay, oh, shit, looks like the MDS is happening.’ Yeah, so it was like, ‘Oh, wow,’ although I've kept really focused about it, it was always in the back of my mind, ‘its going to be cancelled again.’ So it was in June that I decided to see if I could secure my place in MIQ, which was so important, it's so key to me, that I would not have gone if I couldn't have done that. So I managed to get a place in MIQ and I booked my flights. And knowing that the worst thing that had happened is I cancel my flight. And now I lose and then the money goes into credit.

Then started the process of looking at the logistics of travelling during a pandemic. The different COVID tests needed for different legs of my journey, and all of that. So that was way back in June. And then in August, the MDS announced that everybody had to be double vaccinated and have a negative COVID Test to be on the start line. They said that you had to have that. If you didn't have that, whether you were media, volunteers, or competitors, you would not be allowed on the startline.

So yeah, which was fine, because I was double vaxxed. Just sorting out the logistics of the COVID test. I had to have a COVID test in New Zealand before I got on my plane because I needed it for transfer in LA. And then I needed another one to be able to go out and about in Paris because I went to Paris for four days. And then I needed another one to land in Morocco. And then another one to come home. Then obviously face masks everywhere. It was just, it was really weird travel. Really, really weird to do that. So landing in Paris and spending four days in Paris before I actually flew to Morocco was really crucial. Because it was just time to get rid of the jetlag.

Lisa: I did that too actually when I went to the Sahara, in Paris. So that was the best part of it. Sahara was tough.

Hazel: So Paris was quiet. It was really bizarre. Yeah and then flew to Morocco on the first of October to start the Marathon des Sables. The first day running was the third of October

Lisa: Third of October. Okay, so now we're at remember Morocco? Yeah, you're going out in the desert? Because I mean, I've done it a couple times, obviously. And you land inland in Morocco, then you have to go and do another internal flight, and then you're out on buses. And then in tracks. Did you have to do all of them as well? 

Hazel: Yes, we were quite—they change the airport, we landed in an airport called Errachidia, which is only an hour and a half from the first, right start. So it was really cool. So we literally, because I travelled with the French, so I was one of the first lot there. So we got off the plane. Four people who have a full IPA, checking your temperature as you go into the airport. The masks are all on, get on the coaches and then travelling to the first tent, their first start, the first day really.

And the atmosphere is really weird because most of the people taking part at least we're doing it in 2020. Yeah, so we’ve all been on this journey together from all these different countries that had all these different variety, different lockdowns. So the atmosphere on the coach was really quite tense until people saw the iconic black logo —

Lisa: They actually made it.

Hazel: And then it was all this chatter and all the different languages and people going, oh, we’re here, there's the tents. And so it's really bizarre, first of all, being in the middle of the Sahara Desert, are on the edge of it, in a coach that you then get off and you pull your little travel case across the sands. Your case with you for the first two days, because you can make a change since you did it. You can make last minute decisions about.

Lisa: Yeah, we did all that. Which is really helpful.

Hazel: Yeah which is so helpful. And so I got there and found my way to where my tent was. So I was in tent 60 and I was the first one there and I remember putting my bag down and sliding on the carpet looking out to this shimmering redness of the heat and the sands, thinking,’I’m here’, it's been on the bucket list for 34 years. Far out, and I couldn't, I had to pinch myself. It was like,this is so unreal, you know?

Lisa: Yeah, it's so cool to hold the gold when you’ve waited for that long. All those ups and downs and now you're sitting in the Sahara.

Hazel: So it was really bizarre. Then the rest of my teammates, rest of the 10 days were Brits because normally they put us with the Aussies. But there was no Australians going because of the lockdowns. So I'd luckily connected with some of these on Zoom. So I knew what they looked like and knew a bit about them. So there's eight of us in the tent. Only six of us by the end of it.

Lisa: Wow. Okay, lost two. Hopefully not lost, lost. 

Hazel: They just overcooked it on the first few days. 

Lisa: You see the first day like we go to the first day. And you're starting out and you just all ramped up, you're still jet-lagged. You store like sort of, like half on, half their half sort of still travelling. How was the first day for you? Because I remember the first days, and I was only coming from Europe when I was coming. But absolute brutal. I always found the first day, almost the toughest day. I mean, the long day is probably the toughest day. First day’s like a shock. The body hasn't been moving for a week when you've been travelling and getting ready and so on and tapering. How did you find that first day?

Hazel: Well, because first of all, there was only 672 starters.That's because of people not wanting to risk travelling or their country won't let them or whatever. But there was only 672 of us starting. So the first day, it was all about getting used to the heat. And this was the game plan that Neil and I came up with. The first three days, I was just going to take it steady, get used to the terrain, see what the desert threw at me and just not go off silly. To be fair, I did that. I find that the terrain was harder on the feet than I thought it was going to be, a lot rockier than I thought it was going to be. 

The heat at first I didn't feel too bad. Didn't feel too bad, it was about 45 degrees dry , but I think I'd expected it to be like that. So from my point of view that was okay. But what was really, really frustrating me at the end of the first day was when you get into that ultra mode when you can go all day long, and your brain tells you to stop and, ‘No, shut up. It's only–and I'm just going to carry on.’ But my brain was talking quite loudly and it kept telling me to walk. So I was like okay, I'll walk and I'll trick you and now start running again. And it kept telling me to walk. And it was like what's going on here? And it was until I got back and reflected on it on the first night. And I was going I know because it's going on Hazel, you've got another five days

Lisa: And your brain was right really. Because you're in this heat. The heat. People don't quite understand when you're watching a movie you have or something like that. You can't feel the absolute oppression of the heat and what it does to you to your physiology. Like it slows you down. We’re running through Death Valley and I remember someone saying to me after watching, ‘Oh, doesn't look very athletic.’ And I'm like, ‘you've got no frickin idea man.’ I can't even walk around the car, probably. And I'm running 217ks. So like, the intensity of the heat just slows the whole body down. Your brain is going, ‘I'm going to die if I go any higher’, like, it's up. So your brain was probably on point really.

Hazel: Oh, absolutely. It was on point. It's funny when you say about the heat, like when you're gone holiday somewhere and it's a nice heat that warms your skin up. I found the heat in the Sahara. It felt like it was warming me up from the inside out. I felt like it was so hot my lungs—and the first day, I have to be honest, I nearly ran out of water to the first checkpoint. Because I've got nearly three litres of water for it for 13k. Normally it's perfectly fine. So like you sip sip munch munch sip sip munch munch.  But I was sip sipping too much because it was this dry heat was drying off my lips. Yep. 

So I thought I was thirstier than I really was. And it wasn't until I got about 2k from checkpoint. I thought, ‘fuck, my bottles.’ And I thought, ‘they don't feel very full.’  They don't have much in there. And then I started to look at how often I was drinking. And I was like drinking every 10 minutes rather than like every 15. So it was like, yeah, so it really made me go okay, so I really need to get, dial this in and get on top of it.

Lisa: And hypernatremia is a thing. I just did an interview with Professor Tim Noakes. He wrote Waterlogged and some athletes can actually over and die. You can die from overdrinking.

Hazel: Yes, that balance. Because one of the days I drank 13 litres.

Lisa: Holy shit, really? That’s insane. And you weren’t waterlogged?

Hazel: This is on the second day, which was the dune day, and I drank 13 litres and take my salt tablets, and only had two pees during the day. And it was until I got back to camp at night and lie  there, and then the osmosis happens. So your body goes, ‘Okay, let's just bring all this water around to where it's supposed to be.’ And then and then I needed lots of pees in the night. But yeah, my muscles were really full of water.

Lisa: Yeah, you didn’t get hyponatremia, good. Yeah, we were only allowed nine litres a day when we were doing it. So did you have no limit on the water?

Hazel: So at the end of the first day, because it was quite hot. And because we then there was this Moroccan heatwave coming through. So day two, and day three were 55.6 degrees. Because of the heat and people drinking more, they gave us more. Because the people that dropped out would normally were due to I think Hyperthermia. Too hot.

Lisa: And you die.

Hazel: Yeah. I picked up a bit of gastro because of the sanitation there. They weren’t so good on the sanitation. And dehydration and cramps. It was the biggest thing. I mean, checkpoint one on day two was like walking into an Army Field ambulance Hospital, there were drips everywhere. Wow, there were people holding their own drips. It was so hot and people just not adjusted their plan.

Lisa: Yeah, it is. I mean, when it's your first time and even when it's your 10th time to be honest, you can get it so wrong so easily because it doesn't take much of a shift when you get your water out of whack or your electrolytes down. I remember on the second Marathon Des Sables. The second time I did it, and I ended up having an infusion after the long day. But they just keep pumping me full like they didn't because they were so busy. Changing people's infusions they just kept changing mine and I didn't know to stop. 

I ended up like five kilos of water extra my body that I wasn't made to have so hypernatremia as I want to know about now and I didn't lose it the next two days either. So what was I actually remember coming out of the Sahara looking like the Michelin Man. Waved me at the end and I'd put on five kilos while running the Sahara, and I'm going, ‘well, that's really shit’. This is fluid. So they gave me diuretics. And then for the next 24 hours, pretty much every 20 minutes, I hit a full bladder, it was just came pouring out. These are all the things that you don't really know about. And if you have because I was given seven bloody bottles of fluids.

Hazel: I mean somebody died on the second day. 

Lisa: So yeah, so what happened there? 

Hazel: So the second day is called Dune day, and that's the day that we did 13 kilometres through the Merzouga Dunes, which is the tallest biggest dunes in the Sahara. So there's a checkpoint at the beginning of them as a checkpoint at the end. But all the way through, you're never really alone, because there's the helicopter whizzing around and there's four by fours and sand dune buggies etc. So we didn't find out until we all got back to camp and it was after dinner at about seven o'clock. Patrick, the organiser, wanted to see everybody in the centre bivouac area, and to tell us that Pierre, who was a 53-year-old French Ultra runner had passed away in the gym.

So it was that this was the 13 Ks, middle 13 ks of a 33k. So this was just the bit where you're in the middle of this big Dune. So he collapsed. Luckily, there was two medics, two doctors running at the MDS as well that were behind him. So they managed to start work on him and set off his SOS on his tracker. And the helicopter came and picked him up. And they worked on him for 45 minutes. But unfortunately, he does cardiac episode. So not not something he had before because they check all our ECGs on date, the technical day anyway, so nothing, nothing was shown on his ECG was just a cardiac episode because of the heat that. So he passed, and somebody else had a cardiac arrest but they got that person revived and went to hospital into cardiac

Lisa: Two cardiac arrest. Wonderful thing to do with vaccines, actually. A lot of athletes dropping dead from well, that's another big discussion. But it can be the heat too. But we had one and like, we were in the Gobi Desert, we lost Nicholas and it was on day three, and that was only 36k stage as well. Like, it wasn't even the longest stage. But when you had these extreme, because we had extreme heat on that day. And we were in the sand dunes. And then we were in slot canyons, and the slots just magnified the hate because you had the heat coming from both sides, as well as being sort of like a magnifying glass. And, and he was inexperienced, and not taking on enough water. And he passed away, too. And he was only 30, I think 30-31 or something like that. So these are the dangers.

Hazel: And it's an ultra runner,  and there are dangers that come with it. And so when Patrick was telling us all this, and there was that, obviously, that really tense and really sombre vibe within the group. And that almost that bit of a wake up call, I think for some people that, this is real because it was 55 point whatever degrees is the same the next day as well. 

So, when we started off on the third day, when we did a minute silence for Pierre, and then his tent mates were set off, we all walked the first 100 metres  in remembrance of him early, which was really sombre, and really a really fitting thing to do. So that was the start of day three. And day three was the day I felt a bit poorly. I got back to camp. It was a funny old day for me.  I was on top of everything. I dialled everything in. And I had a really strict routine at the checkpoints, which was so crucial. But when I got back to camp, I felt just a bit hot and I just felt slightly nauseous, just not quite 100%.

So I managed to force down my recovery shake, but it wasn't it wasn't going to go down. Because it was hard

Lisa:  Digestion just goes down  

Hazel: Not a chance and I went and sent my email home and I went and got my feet sorted. And I went back to the tend and I said, “I'm gonna just go, I just need to go to bed.” And I went to bed and I woke up about two o'clock and I had really bad gastro pain. So because a few people have been picked up some gastro bug as well. 

Lisa: On top of the running and the heat.

Hazel: On top of the running and the heat exactly. You can Imagine that the sounds in the camp, people were retching. And it was awful. So I remember, I woke up and I thought ‘I hope I could sort myself out,’ because it's the double day next, whatever, its a big one. And I thought, ‘Okay, you've only had like, probably 200 calories. Since you finished running in, you need to have some breakfast in the morning.’ So I perfectly woke up earlier than the rest of the tent trying to force some food down because I knew it wasn't going to be easy. But it was no chance I couldn't get anything in. 

So I really had this dilemma, Lisa, about going on the start line, because it was like, “What happens if I crash in the middle of the desert?”  How irresponsible is that of me? And although I set it a target of coming fifth  in the age group, and at this point, I was sixth in the age group. So I have this 20 year old Hazel on the shoulder going “You gotta do it.” But the sensible one’s going, I Actually, I don't know if I can.’

And my partner had given me notes to open at the end of every day. And I hadn't opened the night before, because I've been pulling. So I opened up the night, I thought, I read my notes. So this is like 6am. And the note said, ‘okay, so it's a double day today, and it will be what it will be. And don't be afraid to reach out for help because you would help anybody else you would, you would be there to support anybody.’ So okay.

So two other tent mates who have been quite friendly with, I said, Hey, because I knew they were walking, walking and running most a day. And I said, ‘Hey, I don't think I'm going to make it on my own. I’m really concerned. Can I come with you guys?’ And they said, absolutely. 

Lisa: Yeah, that's a nice thing to do on the long day. 

Hazel: Far out, so yeah, we just the three of us, we just work together all the way through the long day you made a pact not— we didn't want to sleep because some people stop and sleep, no, like now this just keep on going keep on going. And I think we stopped at one heckpoint at about 6, just before we went up the mountain… We stopped for 20 minutes. And I said, I'm just going to close my eyes for 15 minutes. and I had a sleep and then off we went. 

But and I think it was when we came down from there. They said to me, “You go on. you're fine. Now go on and do it.” And I said, “No, we started together and we finish together.

Lisa: It's brilliant. Isn’t it lovely that camaraderie somehow you discover.

Hazel: Yeah. And it just draws you together just that, when you've experienced —-

Lisa: like over the second half, because doing 80 plus Ks is a frickin mission. And it's going to take all day and all night or half the night depending on how fast you're going. 
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How did you find once you start getting over that 50k sort of zone when you're really starting to hurt what's how have you? Yeah,

Hazel: So it's funny so for me when I got over 50k I got a second wind. Alrighty, so yeah, we were just chatting and keeping each other going. We played this silly games, like you'd be like, you know, top three adventure films or just keeping each other going because in the night in the Sahara Desert, it's scary. There's no noise and It's vast, but it's oppressive at the same time and it's a really weird feeling. And although we had glow sticks on us, sometimes you couldn't see a glow stick ahead of you to follow and it's like, Are we going the right way? Yeah, so yeah, pretty scary for that. 

And we were coming in and the Sun was just starting to come up. So we finished at 6am Just before 6am. So it took 21 hours and 21 minutes. And I was like we could see the last the finish point for like, I don't know three bloody K. And its just going on and on and on. I said to ollie and Kim, I said we've got to run the last 200 metres we got to be running that last bit. Because Kim's back saw with her pack, she was really suffering a little bit. But yeah, the three of us managed to run in that last last little bit. Just as the sun's coming up in the Sahara, it was pretty special.

Lisa: It's just so amazing. And to get through that long day, because the whole time I know the first three days are just sort of like a year, but it hasn't started yet. The real day is day four, that's when we you get people dying already on day two. And what else gonna happen? I remember being in the Gobi Desert and Nicholas was still alive at that stage, but he was in a coma. And and it was day three, and it was extreme heat. So it was 50 plus degrees. And this place as well. And we're all facing the next day, 111 kilometres. And it was meant to be 100. But it ended up 111 because they miscalculate it. It was brilliant for Broadway. 

And it was just absolutely, I remember like because, filming because I was doing a doco so I doing a diary cam and just actually cry my eyes out. “How the hell am I going to get through this? I have no idea how I'm going to get through it.” And we were going through something called the Turpan Depression, which was really the second hottest place on earth… And it was just terrifying. Everybody in the camps just going “How the hell are we going to survive?” And it took me to two o'clock in the morning. So we did it pretty fast.

I was doing it with Sam Gish and we ended up doing it and what was it 19 hours or something like that? Can't remember the exact–in the last 36 Ks we were in sand dunes. So that was just brutal in the middle of the night and we got lost as well. Because we had no—there's only 200 runners in this race. And so you spread out for miles and we're going through some villages before the sand dunes we got completely lost in there. You got people dangerous to hang around in the bloody desert. 

But the sand dunes were just— it was pitch black. And did you have a time where you're in the sand dunes in the night and you just crash into the central thing? You don't know where to put your feet? You don't know. Because when you, during the day, you can pick a line. Right? Sort of a line to go up and down. But in the night, you just

Hazel: It was interesting that you say you could pick a line during the day you got used to what sands you could go on without sinking. Yeah. And then where you actually had to find somebody else's footsteps to go up? Yeah, it's very interesting. But in the night, you're like, oh no.

So to finish the double day was really good, because then you go, ‘just a marathon.’ It's just a marathon to go. And then there's what they called the solidarity, the charity stage. So by the time we got to the marathon day, I think we were down to something like 300 just 380-90 people.

Lisa: Wow 45% or something of the time? Wow, that's massive

Hazel: In the end, three and only 351 of us completed it and there was 135 women started and the 70 finished. 50% drop out. So it was really it was—

Lisa: The heat must have been something else. 

Hazel: The heat was something else and people—on a good year, the Marathon des Sables in April, I think that the temperatures are not too bad. And if you're a solid marathon runner, and you've done a few back to backs, you'll do it, you'll complete it really reasonably well. But if you add the temperatures, and you add the fact that we've been in lockdown, so people's immune systems, I think, were compromised because people are not bern mixing as much.

Then you've got to make smarter decisions. And I think that if your longest distance you've done is a marathon. You haven't got the skill set of an ultra runner who's used to changing our plan on the road. Literally, you go off for an 80k or 100k, you're changing your plan continually depending on how your body feels and the terrain, etc. So you've got that skill. And I think that because the temperature was so high, you had to adapt your plan. And you had to be confident in your decision making. And I think that, that some people just hadn't got that skill because they've not been used to. 

Lisa: Yeah. And they've been sort of if you've been in lockdown, and not been able to do what you were planning to do, and go to the places that you're planning to go to and the whole fear thing, because fear, I think when you're when you're faced with fear for long periods of time to you, that hurts your stress levels, your immune system and your ability to cope with it. This is one of the issues I have now, like let's stop scaremongering people because that will kill them faster than anything. We need to be really, really strong. 

So that’s a hell off a dropout rate. That's way more than most ultramarathons, like, you've got a 20 to 30% dropout rate. Yeah, not a 50% dropout.

Hazel: The MDS is normally 5%. I think when they look back on previous years, and there's people who tried to blame the organisation. So there was some people in some of the countries saying, when they got back that it was hot, and they should have cancelled it. It's the Sahara Desert. 

Lisa: You can't blame them for the freakin weather you go to the Sahara, you get what you're given. It's not the organiser.

Hazel: And also, it was called the legendary Marathon Des Sables for a reason. Yes it's a self sufficient, you know, this. So therefore, don't don't rely l medical team all the time. It's self sufficient. So I just, for me, I just really struggled with some people's mentality on the fact that they felt that the organisation let them down, whereas I at no point did I feel uncertain, unsafe. And at no point did I feel the organisation weren’t looking after me. They were very clear at the start of every day, don't forget your salt tablets, put your sunscreen on, drink the water that is given to you and listen to your body. So I just find that it's pretty rough that some people were trying to blame the organisation. 

Lisa: They've been doing it for a long, long, long, long time. Like they know stuff, other organisations, not so much. Yeah. When we ran across Niger, which was a 333k, non-stop, like that's, in the most, one of the most dangerous poorest countries on earth called Niger. We had 17 runners, and the organisation was non-existent. Like we didn't have enough water. They were in enough tents, they weren’t enough—there was nothing. We had no food. So local food, and it was meant to come with them, right? Because there's no food anyway. That was the organisation. They just took our money basically and ran. But I know the Marathon des Sables is super well organised.

Hazel:  Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. 36 years, I think it’s been going so yeah. But yeah, so end of the marathon day, a great achievement to come across and get given the medal by Patrick and shake his hand and go, yes.

Lisa: He's still  killing it, man. It's crazy, [unintelligible]

Hazel: So in the get back, wait till everybody else got back and get back to the tent. The tent was a big part of it, living that basic lifestyle for like 10 days, sleeping on a carpet on your sleeping bag, or whatever. And just the camaraderie of us all, as I say, was unfortunate, only six of us  left by the end, but we were so tight and look after each other and just those basic needs you just want food, you want to feel supported and loved

Lisa: And that's the beautiful thing I think about doing this type of thing, it completely changes your perspective again. It gives you a bit of a wake up call because we live in these houses and showers and kitchens and running water and all that sort of stuff. And then all of a sudden it's not easy, and you're just suddenly like without all of that stuff, and then you're on your own and it is a cleansing in a way I found it very cleansing and very much a humbling experience because you know that nature is stronger than you. You're there by the grace of whatever God whatever you believe in. You know that you're going to come through and it really makes you grateful for what you have when you come home like that. So shower, you hit that first like the sheets, clean sheets, the bed, real food, all these things just like, ah,

Hazel: Yeah, something said to be to be said about the simple life. And I definitely, definitely missed that when you first get back and I find it really overwhelming being along with other people and the noise and you know it took a long time to to come back to come right?

Lisa: Yeah. How did you transition back so you get back in you got it you're in MIQ for two whole weeks. That would drive me absolutely bonkers. I reckon nothing survived that. I think I'd rather run in the Sahara than two weeks in MIQ. You've gone through this big emotional upheaval, this massive life changing experience, how did you come back into life and find your way back to your relationship and your business and things like that.

Hazel: I'm still doing it. It's the first night when you go back to a hotel, and you have a shower, and everything is really good. And then it was really busy. And that was too much for me. And the two weeks in MIQ, what I really enjoyed, first of all, I had a spin cycle delivered on day one,

Lisa: because you didn't do enough.

Hazel: Because I knew like you just said I want to survive. In two weeks of not being able to do any exercise, walking around in circles on a little exercise yard ain't gonna do it for me. So it was like, “Okay, I hate treadmills. I'll get a spin bike.” Because it's different movements in my legs, etc. So that was for that side was really cool. And it gave me a chance to start a process. So I started to—I got messages sent from people all over the world that I didn't know, because every night you got messages printed off and brought round to you, which was amazing. And I sat and started to read through those. And I started to process each and every day that I'd been through in the desert and it was really hard to unpack it all sometimes.

Because it just was traumatic, it really was at times. And then I remember the day before I left MIQ feeling–I'm going back into the real world now. And I was excited coming home, the sort of interacting in the real wider world was quite overwhelming. I really was loose, it was like really, really overwhelming. And, for the first couple of weeks, I didn't really want to do much. And then obviously everybody wants to talk to me about the MDS and you're unpacking it again, which is good in some ways, because it's cathartic. And then in other ways, you also want to let it just be, just and just soak and absorb. 

Lisa: What the hell happened? 

Hazel: I think I've been home now, six weeks, something like that. So it's fine. And then for a couple of weeks, I felt fine. And then I'd have a wobble, and I can't explain it, it would be like everything was just too much or something was missing. Or the thing that's missing is that for two and a half years, the only thing I've been thinking about and obsessing about and every run I've done, and every holiday I've been on, and ever since thought is about being the MDS and how am I going to do in the MDS? And what's it going to be like, and we live in that.

Then now it's like, alright, it's all gone, which is a double edged sword. You know, the good part is I'm sleeping 10 hours a night, which I've never done, because I've not got a pot a thought that pops into my head about the MDS. But also, it's that feeling– I don't know. I used to say I'm Hazel, I'm running the Marathon Des Sables in 2022

Lisa: Its your identity

Hazel: So what am I now? So it's like, what am I? And so going through that, go through that, you know, yes, I'm still an ultra runner. I'm still Hazel, but it's about for me. It's just finding something that sets and I just feel like something's missing. Yeah, but I don't want to sign it. I'm not going to sign up for another big, hairy, scary goal. I've got another one in 12 months, but this is—

Lisa: You just contradicted yourself. 

Hazel: But not now. Six months. Yeah. Which is, which is a long time in.

Lisa: Because when you've lost your big goal, because this is what we tend to do, right? We do these big things. You're emotionally all over the show and then you come back and you go it's the start. You're like, “I'm never doing that again.” That was Yeah. And then you're like, “I've got nothing to focus on.”

 Dive into the next project. I actually think that— so what you're doing is not diving straight into the next project is really important. Because you need to be able to—because when you do get to the–like when you finish you're like– I've stopped doing ultramarathons. 

We all know why mom and life have gotten away and end my house, that transition is even more brutal, because I was doing like back to back to back for basically 20 plus years doing one of these races somewhere, and that leaves left a massive hole that are filled with cancer research building, Brain Injury Research, all the stuff that I do now, but it's still very much it's still. I remember the first couple of years where I was like, if I'm not an ultra runner, who the hell am I in on nothing, and I'm nobody, all that inner self. And you were old enough, you and I to go, that's not quite true. Come on. But yeah at the moment.

Hazel: Absolutely and it creeps up on your way. So what I'm doing is I'm writing a book, which is about what we've just seen about the journey, really about it,, which has been good. And it's been cathartic and all the rest of it. So that's my project from that point of view, which so still keeps the MDS alive a little bit,which is very important.

Lisa: When you need help with the book, let me know. I’ve done it both ways with publishers without publishers. I can pretty much tell you every portfolio has to find, and that is an ultramarathon in itself.That's gonna be great when it comes out there. It is a really cathartic process. Yes it's something that you've—when you do a book, it's sort of closes the chapter on things like it's in a good way. Not like it's all past in history, but like, “Oh, I've actually done something, and I've stuck it in a book.” And, it's just in awe. I did it, you know? 

Hazel: And it doesn't matter if only people read it, my family and friends, the process of getting it out there is really important.

Lisa: I really encourage it, because it is very cathartic. And that whole writing process, and it helps you go through what you've been through, because this is a traumatic experience and in a lot of ways. You've had such a long run up to it in the cancer journey in the middle of it, you know, all of that trauma in a short period of time now needs to be worked through really.

 Exactly. Because with the melanoma is still on three months with checks and I was all the way through so it's, it's like, are they gonna find something that's gonna not let me do the MDS? 

Lisa: Living in this state of fear. I mean, I'm living like that with Mum now with lymphoma. And just to forgive to interrupt like briefly she's, because people are sort of catching up at this point. So we're in December, so this will come out a bit later. But we've just had an MRI done prior to the chemo as a baseline to screen and I've been doing intravenous vitamin C, massive high doses, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and been following Jane McClelland's cancer, How to Starve Cancer Protocol, combination of off label drugs, 100 different supplements, like seriously 100 different pills a day. 

And that's why I'm waiting for conventional or to get their gear and do something which took a long time. In my case. We just got the MRI back and the tumours of all shrunk and gone, there's only two tiny spots left in this, someone that was meant to be terminal very, very fast. So I don't know—but again, like this is early days, and I'm not like leading up anytime soon. And we are letting the chemo in as well. Because we need that part of the puzzle as well. 

It's just like, because I've had three doctors in the last month tell me that she's terminal and she's not going to, giving her the standard of care, which is high dose, methotrexate would probably kill her. And so I've been on this mission to find what can I give her and so doing all this other stuff in there finding a couple of chemoimmunotherapy drugs to put into the mix that aren't as toxic and just gone harder. Like, hence, loving this constant,where you wake up in the middle of the night in this turmoil of that research that you'll stop mixing it up in your head and like I've spent like, 1000s of hours already in the last three months.

But the doctors are now saying “How the hell did you do that? How did you shrink those tumours in?” Well, I've got a very I've got amazing team of doctors around me. So when you're when you're faced with something like this in doing ultramarathons, it's the same process in a way. Different, you’re researching and stuff. So it's got to go go go go, go stay focused, you got to go through the ups and the downs, and you got to keep going. And then you get people telling you it's off and it's not happening, or she's dying or whatever. You got to ride all that out and just keep focus stay.

Hazel: Yeah, I think yeah, that's part of the why it's taken so long to recover from it. It's because it was sustained for such a long period of time. The mental resilience, the physical resilience, trying to keep focus and trying to find events to run to remote year to get there was really tough as well. But so too, yeah. So to actually be able to do it, and to finish it was amazing. But then it's like, yeah, it's like, yeah.

Lisa: I think you're amazing, because you have this incredible determination and focus to do what you set out to do to finish the job that needs to be finished, no matter how long things take, and this resilience ot ride through these ups and downs. And I just think you're an absolutely amazing person and role model. And you're a couple of years ahead of me in age. Then again, there's another flight for me like, well, that's a good role model too. Because I mean, you look amazing. 

You look like 20 years younger than you are. So obviously doing something right. And you're really experiencing your life and you're really living it's with, with all that comes with it. I mean, I just had Haze, husband, he was training for the 100 miler. And that got pulled out from under him. And he hasn't found his mojo back. He's and then we've had COVID come along, and all the jobs that this has bought and job losses and starting new businesses, but those runnings just and I'm hoping that he can pick it up within a few months time and get back on that bandwagon.

But you still have a tick that box. Under to tick the 100 mile box. You only need to do it once, you know. And it was so close, like weeks away, like you. It really really crushes your eye a little bit.

Hazel: It does. Yeah, it does. And I think that's why when it was after the third cancellation, I had to put every single way, my box of MDS stuff away. And for literally a month, I just ran for the joy of running and bringing that joy back in and did whatever I felt like doing and then sort of reset myself and went “Okay, now focus and now get on with the job you've got to do.” I think it's just, you've just reset. You just got to find that 100 miler that ticks the box for him. And then you can the universe. 

Lisa: The thing is you don't need to keep going. He's all you don't need to do one after the other. Listen, this is where I went wrong. I didn't listen to my body. I slept bulletproof and go harder, and go more and more and more into my body said, absolutely that’s enough. I don't want people to get to that point.

Hazel: No, I think that's why the running hot the coaching, is that —for me, it's my mindset anyway, don't do junk coils, gone are the days when we used to think we had to do 90k a week to, to be an ultra runner in our training. It’s a load of rubbish, it's a load of rubbish, just got to have good quality kilometres. And, every run has got to have a purpose, say whether its the speeds, or it's the hills or it's working on your insurance. And I think otherwise, it's a treadmill A, and I think, as we get older, we can't–our body can't take all that I don't need to be doing all those K's in training.

Lisa: I just had Professor Tim Noakes on the podcast. He's like the running, you know, Guru, God wrote the Bible The Law of Running. And he too said, “Yeah, used to think we could just keep running huge miles. And now not so much, now that I've given to you and I've actually worked it out more and done more.” This is more, you can still go and do those answers and you build up to them that you don't need to be doing this origin. I got hit in the seat. I got all the nutrition wrong back in the early days with the high carbs now it's high fats, low carbs. That was a really interesting conversation.

Hazel: Yeah. Will listen to that one. Yeah, definitely.

Lisa: Hazel, you've been absolutely amazing today and I just want to congratulate you on being for hanging in there through the highs and lows. I think your book will be fascinating. I'm looking forward to reading that book and I think that you were such a role model for people. I'd love you to do more in the public eye. I think you are such a powerful woman and a good role model for so many. And so, keep sharing your story, getting it out there because it's really got some important messages on it. I think so. Thanks so much for being on the show today.

Hazel: Thanks, Lisa. Thanks for having me. And thanks for being such a good mate.

Lisa: Anytime, where can people find if they want to reach out to you want to eventually read your book? Where can they do that?

Hazel: So I've got a Facebook page called Run Hazel Run. Yep. And I've got a website called Hazel. It's called Your.Sidekick. I'll just put the links through to you, Lisa, and you can put on the notes.

Lisa: Okay, brilliant. Okay, and if you [unintelligible]...

Hazel: Absolutely right. Cheers.
 
That's it this week for Pushing The Limits. Be sure to write, review and share with your friends and head over and visit Lisa and her team at lisatamati.com

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Motivational and Inspirational ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I am getting my mojo back with regards to my health and running after treatment for breast cancer, I connected with Lisa as I was looking for positive influences from people who are long distance runners and understand our mindset. Lisa’s podcasts have been a key factor in getting me out of a negative space where I allowed others limiting beliefs to stop me from following my heart and what I believe is right for me. After 18 months of being in cancer recovery mode I wanted to get out of the cancer mindset and back to achieving goals that had been put aside. Listening to Pushing The Limits has put me onto other great podcasts, and in the process I have learnt so much and am on a pathway to a much better place with my mindset and health. Thanks so much Lisa for doing what you do and always being you.
L.Faire 





 

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