Army Officer Shares How To Succeed In The Desert

Written By Charles Henson

Charlie is a keen runner and member of the Royal Lancers regiment of the British Army. Despite it being his first ultramarathon, he finished second overall in Wadi Rum Ultra 2018.

19 November 2018

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Charlie Henson exploded into the ultra-running scene in this year’s Wadi Rum Ultra (Ultra X Jordan).

Having never ran further than a marathon before he surprised even himself to get stronger each day and finish the race in second place, and the fifth day only two minutes behind the great Salameh al Aqra. Ultra X caught up with Charles to find out a little about how he went about preparing for the event, why he thought it went so well and his plans for the future.

Charles was raising money for Help for Heroes along with fellow teammates and Royal Lancers Julien Anani-Isaac and Toby Free.

Army Officer Celebrating at Finish of Wadi Rum Ultra

Tell us a little about your sporting background? Have you always been a runner?

I ran the London Marathon back in 2012 but other than that have not really done any distance running. That said I have always enjoyed it to keep fit. Otherwise I love playing hockey and pretty much anything on the back of a horse.

Describe your training in the run up to the event?

I started training about six months out. I was not particularly scientific about it but just followed a few golden rules. I always ran at least 53 miles a week (10 miles, 10 miles, 20 miles, 13 miles), rising to around 60 miles in the last few weeks. This distance was chosen fairly arbitrarily; it was just what I was able to fit in around my work schedule at that time. I always ran during the hottest part of the day wherever possible, and was lucky to be living in a hot country at the time.

I stretched and foam-rolled for 30 minutes every morning and evening. I took my nutrition seriously for the first time in my life, eating as healthily as I could. I actually did a ketosis type plan with low carbs and high levels of healthy fat. I found this worked well but would urge others just to find what works and makes you feel strong and healthy to go and run week in week out, what ever that might be.

Two weeks out I ran a 50k ultra marathon in the mountains in Cyprus with my teammates Julien and Toby. This was a great way to see how far we had come and focus our minds for the big event. For the two weeks before I did very little, just a couple of short runs, stretching and eating plenty.

What equipment worked well for you during the race?

Poles worked really well for me. I found they allowed me to take the weight and strain off my legs and help me through the more painful periods. My trainers and gaiters (Hoka One One Challenger ATRs, Raidlight Desert Gaiters) were awesome throughout. I did not get a single grain of sand inside and only a couple of blisters.

What was your nutrition strategy during the race?

I had learnt in training that I really do not like gels. I nibbled on Droewars and Ember biltong in the early miles which I adore and keeps me feeling strong. Then later I would have Bounce Protein Balls and Velaforte Energy Cubes. Everything pretty natural which I found prevented me feeling unwell or having to ride an energy rollercoaster. Electrolyte solution and salt tablets throughout seemed to keep me feeling relatively human.

If you were to go back six months is there anything you would change about your approach to and strategy during the event?

Without doubt the speed I set off on the first two days. I let the excitement and competition cloud my better judgement and it just made for very painful final stages and probably slower times anyway. Over the course of the race I found that the best way for me was to find a nice slow rhythm that I felt I could maintain all day. I would relax and enjoy the view until the last 10km. At that point I would put my headphones in, play my heavy metal playlist and see what was left in the tank.

Are there any bits of advice you would give to people doing an Ultra X event in the future?

I think having good admin is really key. When racing and when you finish each day it is so important to be able to grab everything you need readily and easily. Going through a set routine when you finish too; knowing exactly what you are going to eat, drink and do to get yourself the best possible recovery. This is not just about performing the next day, it makes it easier to relax, stay calm and enjoy the down time having a plan in place.

Other than crossing the finish line, what where the main highlights of the week for you?

Without doubt enjoying the company of my fellow competitors and the Ultra X team. Both in camp and during the race. Through the amazing experience shared we quickly became like a family and they were all such interesting and inspirational people. Setting off in the dark for the long day with the stars out and seeing the sun rise was also really special.

What’s the next challenge?

Ultra X Mexico. A mate is getting married on 20th April or I would be there in Sri Lanka!

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