Set in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments, the Marathon des Sables leads determined entrants through the barren and dry Sahara Desert. An unimaginable feat for some, not for Nicky Chrascina, she battled the self-sufficient and water-rationed race and came out the other side with a thirst for more.
30 years running, countless ultramarathons and her own activewear brand, what’s next for Nicky?
How did you get into running?
I started running around 30 years ago in South Africa….as a bet.
I brazenly said marathon running looked easy to my Dad, he bet me R100 on the spot that I wouldn’t run a marathon. That was it, I was off and one year later after completing the London Marathon I was hooked. Never did get paid my R100 though!
I didn’t have structured training and no decent technical running kit, I just entered some local races and tried my best. Came flat last several times but didn’t mind, I enjoyed it all the same.
Life started to get in the way and I stopped running for a couple of years but found my weight started to creep up. I picked up the odd 10k and half marathon again, more seriously this time and with improved knowledge of nutrition and wearing the ‘proper’ kit.
But it wasn’t until 10 years ago that I really upped my game, I saw a documentary about the notoriously tough Marathon des Sables, excitement fizzed as I managed to secure a place on the 2-year waiting list. But I couldn’t get enough, the MdS bug had taken hold spurring me on to enter more ultramarathons.
What is your favourite running story?
Taking on the challenge of the MdS, which was my first self supported multi-dayer.
I trained hard, running 16 marathons in the year prior to the event and taking up power Pilates. But I hadn’t banked on my feet suffering as badly as they did, we landed in Morocco 2 days before the race and my feet had swelled on the flight over. This made running excruciating, after day one they were covered in blisters and I resorted to cutting holes in my shoes to get them back on.
I was determined not to be beaten by the race. I persevered on to the finish line and have got the medal to prove it.
What’s your motivation?
I crave challenges. I also find it hard to say NO when presented with them. I think the kids call it FOMO – fear of missing out!
Running has become ingrained into my social life, which makes it enjoyable on two levels. I’m constantly booking races so that I have to physically have to keep training.
What has been your biggest achievement?
The first time I ran for 1 mile non-stop. I remember it vividly as it was my first milestone. It took 3 weeks to reach it and I was so proud of myself. Other than that, completing Marathon des Sables while I was in so much pain was a massive achievement.
Both feet were infected and I literally hobbled the last 2 days.
What has been your biggest challenge/barrier to success?
Probably my intense dislike of hills!
I know I should do hill training but I don’t do enough. I battle through races dragging my sorry self up heavy inclines. You’d think I’d learnt to have love hills by now…
How important is it for you personally to push beyond comfort zones?
Ultrarunning is painful and tiring. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. For me that’s part of the challenge that I crave so much. I live my life by the mantra ‘No Pain No Gain’, even when every fibre in my body is screaming to give up, I’m determined to push on.
My friend Eve was told she’d never walk again after suffering a bad accident, she didn’t let that stop her so why would I? I think about Eve when I’m struggling and it gives me an injection of much-needed motivation.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
You’ve got to expect some BIG hills for ultra trails so start early.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
Just to keep going, I recently launched FLANCI, a colourful activewear brand. I could have given it up so many times over the last 18 months. It’s stressful starting a business from scratch, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, just like there’s always a finish line at the end of a race.
How has running changed you as a person?
It’s definitely made me more determined, adventurous and competitive.
This year I’m running the Devon Coast to Coast Ultra which is 117 miles over 4 days. However, my most significant challenge is in September, when Eve (my intrepid & strong friend) and I are attempting the King Offas Dyke Ultra, that’s 185 miles in 90 hours.
Nicky Chrascina is a living testament to facing challenges head on. Bored by the limited choice of ‘funky’ running gear, she started FLANCI and a fight against drab kit, all while continuing to take on some of the world’s toughest ultra-marathons.
Follow Nicky’s adventures on Instagram.