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Challenger Programme

Across the desert

Every journey starts with a single step, or more specifically, 55 miles and 8 hours of training in this case


Kazakhstan is one of the most interesting countries I have ever visited. As large as the entirety of Western Europe, its secrets are largely overlooked in favour of expansive China to the southeast, the picturesque mountain landscapes of Kyrgyzstan to south, or the rich historical cities of Uzbekistan, also to the south.

I have been going to the country for nearly five years now, and it never ceases to amazes me just how much there is there left to explore. In 2013, I rode horses for two months nearly 800 miles across the eastern part of the country, whilst in 2014 I spent 8 days running back to back marathons across a largely unvisited desert called the Betpak Dala, or the Steppe of Misfortune.

This time, around the space that I want to explore is called the Saryesik-Atyrau Desert, which lies just south of one of the country’s most distinctive geological formations, Lake Balkash. As I mentioned in my last post, the plan here is to run 100 miles across the terrain – a likely first full crossing of the desert by foot – in under 24 hours.

It’s a tall order, especially considering that navigation across the terrain also has to be included in that timeframe, and that’s why the training for this adventure has already commenced. With less than half a year to go now, my base milage is at 50 miles a week, something which will rise over the coming months.

I will save the specifics of my training routine for an upcoming post, but for the moment, I wanted to finish this brief update with an interesting note about how I’m keeping a record of my running. For two years straight I have always worn a GPS watch, always eyeing up my pace, fretting if I dip into a preconceived notion of what my mind considers slow.

However, recently, I have been measuring my progress on a Trident Chronometer instead, a more generous device that – through the use of its bezel – gives me a better feel for how the time on my feet matches up against the passage of time in general; a handy facet on longer runs.I can also get my bearings off it very quickly by referencing it against the sun, a handy trick I will also go over in an upcoming update.

So, to conclude, for this week: 55 miles and 8 hours of training down—a good start to the expedition’s training!

Jamie Maddison is a Christopher Ward Challenger and wears a C60 Trident COSC 600. To find out more about the Challenger programme, click here: Challenger Programme.

A marathon, not a sprint
We catch up with Jamie in the aftermath of his ultra-marathon across the Kazakhstani desert, where he describes his toughest challenge yet; what he learned from it; and his advice for anyone who is contemplating an equally insane undertaking!

The journey so far: only 100 miles to go
Ahead of his 100 mile ultra-marathon across the Saryesik-Atyrau Desert in Eastern Kazakhstan, we spoke to Jamie about his training and the challenges ahead.

How to find your way with your watch
A simple way of telling which direction you’re traveling, just by using the humble wristwatch.

8 reasons why running is a top sport for adventurous people
From physical positives through to the spiritual, Jamie explains how running has improved his life (and could improve yours).

Across the desert
Every journey starts with a single step, or more specifically, 55 miles and 8 hours of training in this case.

Q&A with Jamie
Find out what makes Jamie tick – what it means to be an explorer, his love for horology and how the Challenger programme is supporting him through his epic journey.

A letter from an explorer
Introducing Jamie Maddison, our newest Challenger. Where he’s come from; the expedition he has in store; and how Christopher Ward are getting involved.