Catching up with James Le Gallez on his Marathon des Sables Training

Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

James Le Gallez is five months into his training for the gruelling Marathon des Sables (MDS) challenge in aid of Jersey Hospice Care. To mark the occasion, we caught up with him to talk about his latest training achievements – including midnight racing and altitude training in South America, what lies ahead, and how we can all get behind him in the push to April!

So, how have the last few months of training been?

Well, it’s been pretty full on, with a few highs and lows. To put it into numbers – through November, December, and January – I’ve racked up a combined total of 430 kilometres, 74 hours on my feet, and managed an elevation of 8,485 metres – but I’ll elaborate more on that later! Safe to say, it’s been a busy time.

What kind of challenges have you had along the way?

November definitely stands out as a difficult month for me. It signalled the half-way mark of my training and I’d signed up for the inimitable GUN31 – an out and back 31-mile run of Guernsey's cliffs in the middle of the night. I'd done it once before (and finished last!), so I knew what was in store for me.

How did it go for you this time?

I was making good time (or I thought I was) and something went wrong with my pacing plan on my watch - I'd missed off about 2-3 miles on my pre-planned timer somehow and I ended up at the half way mark with THREE MINUTES to spare. Knowing I'd be running the second half slower due to fatigue, I gave it my all and went flat out but got completely burnt out. To top it off, I went headfirst down a flight of steps and rolled my ankle so I could barely walk and had to pull out.

So sorry to hear that, but hopefully you’ve recovered?

Yes, thanks, and other than my route planning, I’ve learned not to go out in a fresh pair of shoes! My new trail shoes for MDS can't handle wet terrain, I learned that the hard way. And I need to do strength training, I've been so stubborn about this and neglected to do any, so I'm back on this twice a week.

How did you handle the Christmas break when most people are relaxing and enjoying the festivities?

There were certainly fewer mince pies for me! December saw the second phase of my training, reducing mileage and incorporating running with a weighted bag to build up core strength and simulate the MDS run and WOW what a difference it makes! It slows you down so much, it's... humbling, to say the least.

We hear you headed to sunnier climes for your training, how was that?

I did indeed, 22nd December brought around my trip to South America and some high-altitude training, which was definitely a learning curve! Trying to knock out a 15-miler at 1,500m altitude in Medellín after 20 hours of travelling… that turned into a walk!

I stuck to hiking and walking in Medellín, including climbing El Peñón de Guatapé on Christmas Day (very festive!) It was safe to say I couldn't hack the altitude, so I was thrilled to hit sea-level the following week in Cartagena – where it's 32 degrees by 7am and the humidity makes Guernsey look like the Atacama Desert! I managed a very paltry 5km at 8pm, looking like something out of Aquaman!

What about the New Year? We heard rumours you took on the Inca Trail?

That’s true! In January, I made my way south to Lima in Peru for some lovely sea-level running in the high 20s. We were back in business, a cruisy 10k to start the New Year before heading to Puno, which is more than 4,000m above sea level.

After a couple of days off, the real work started. The classic Inca Trail – 45km of high-altitude hiking over four days. I knew I was miles off target, so I had to really up the ante and decided to carry a large proportion of my belongings; averaging a 10-12kg pack weight each day was some tough grafting, but it got me back on the right path.

On Friday 12th January, we made it to the infamous Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu – and wow, what an experience! I added an extra hike, Huayna Picchu (that's the big mountain you see in the background of all the Machu Picchu pictures), repeatedly ranked among some of the most dangerous hikes in the world, and they're not wrong.

How are you acclimatising to being back in Guernsey?

After 31 days, over 100km of hiking, 21 flights, and one flight delay later, I got back to Guernsey and straight back into it with a 40km week on week one.

What’s in store for February?

More than 350km of running is on the agenda for February (and 400km in March), so I'll be spending some time in Jersey to change up the scenery! Maybe I’ll pop by for a visit!

Please do! We’d love to see you – and good luck with the training!

James is raising funds for three incredible local charities, including Jersey Hospice Care. To donate, visit the link here.

Alternatively, you can sponsor some kit on his Amazon wishlist, or just give him some support by following his Instagram @fromtidestotrails.