Meet the Midnight Runners. In 2019 Vega teamed up with the London-based running crew for their most remarkable run to date: a 400km cross country expedition of Tajikistan from the border of Afghanistan to the border of China. The expedition has now been made into an award-winning documentary being released later this year. In anticipation we caught up with some of the crew to learn more about this trip of epic proportions. In this article we talk to Jody Bragger, CEO of Midnight Runners and expedition leader to learn about his nutrition, training and discover what motivates him to run these impossible distances.
Jody Bragger - Expedition leader and runner
Like all good stories, this one begins with a late night dare. Three friends, bonded by a love of running, we were desperate to ditch our desks and go on an adventure. We spun a globe and wherever our finger landed, we would run. It landed on Tajikistan.
If we were honest Tajikistan was a part of the world few have heard of let alone travelled to. A region shrouded in a reputation of war and danger. A place of extreme heat during the day, dropping to dangerously cold temperatures at night. Where the altitude is so high, it feels like you’re breathing through a straw. It wasn’t going to be exactly prime conditions for running.
However a challenge is a challenge and after a little bit of planning we now accepted that we would run across the country from the border of Afghanistan to the border of China, covering 400km in just 7 days - about a marathon a day, every day, for a week. We would run through the Bartang Valley, a place of spectacular proportions, so much so that the locals call it ‘the roof of the world’.
This really is a story without finish lines or medals. Rather what happens when you trust in nothing but your own two feet, to carry you across one of the last truly wild landscapes on earth. Self-doubt, self-discovery and a whole lot of mountains. However, like all long runs there is a lot of preparation to get to the start line - never believe that the pretty pictures you see on social media do not have a lot of sacrifice behind them!
Realistically we had a year to train for the expedition. If, like me, you are excellent at putting things off to the last minute this long period of time is dangerous! There is nothing like a deadline to get motivated! However, I knew that I needed to break down the training into manageable and understandable goals to keep motivated. This is how I did it:
Months 1-3 - Train for your best half marathon time.
Month 3-6 - Train for your best marathon time
Months 6-11 - Train for your best trail Ultra Marathon time.
Month 12 - Nutrition, prep, recovery and taper
The last month of training, in particular, really put a lot of strain on my body and nutrition became crucial. To help support my diet I would take a Vega Essentials Chocolate Nutrition Shake every morning. It really helped to get the key nutrition in such as calcium for my muscles (cramp anyone) as well as B12 and Iron for energy levels. I know I need Iron as an individual and it was a tasty and rewarding way of increasing my intake.
It goes without saying that with running, it is so important to build up your training over time. And whilst, as a runner, I was used to running ultra marathons I used the expedition as a way of ‘resetting’ my running and goals. It was really a back to basics for me, building up strength again in the shorter distances and ensuring that any small injuries (or niggles as runners like to call them) are ironed out.
Luckily, I had a place at CCC at Ultra Trail Mont Blanc around 5 weeks before the expedition. The race is a 100km, one day event around Mont Blanc in the Alps and I used this race as my last ‘long run’ before the trip. It was also a great way of a final test for all my equipment as well as being a huge motivation to put in some serious distance on the training schedule.
Whilst there are many, many marathon training schedules out there, those covering ultra races are few and far between. This was my general take on it. I had roughly 20 weeks between a decent marathon and the ultra. I would start by running 45km a week and build it up to 130km a week over the period. My main focus would be on running at weekends (I was super busy at work during the period) and I would try to do back to back long runs at weekends to get my legs used to multi day running.
Ultimately my last weeks of running looked something like this:
Monday - Rest
Tuesday - 18km
Wednesday - 18km
Thursday - 18km
Friday - Rest
Saturday - 40km
Sunday - 35km
As you can see, I took two days off which I really liked but I know a lot of people prefer to spread the distance over more days.
"Tajikistan sounded wild but we didn’t realise just how wild it was. A landlocked post-Soviet nation that is barely known about let alone travelled to - the idea of making a trip there caught our imagination and set it on fire. Tajikistan is known as the roof of the world, a nod to the fact that most of the country is dominated by a mountain range of epic proportions. The whole eastern part of the nation, the Pamir Mountains, is part of the Hindu Kush. The path of the silk route, the centre of the Great Game and the crossroads of empires and dynasties. Not only is this place wild, remote and beautiful but the wide valleys and roaring rivers tell a story of our humanity and of our place in our modern world.
How do we do justice to a place of such proportion? An epic place requires an epic adventure and we decided that the best way to appreciate this wilderness was to run across it. For those of you that hike, mountaineer or trail run - you will know that the speed at which you cross a place allows you to understand it, appreciate it and mostly respect it in a way that faster modes than two legs don’t allow. It allows you to connect with a land one on one, to feel the weather of the mountain, to understand the way the sun rises and falls.
After some pretty heavy research we discovered the Bartang Valley. The geographical feature connects the border with Afghanistan with the border of Kyrgyzstan and seemed like a microcosm of everything that we had discovered about this country: valleys, glaciers, mountain passes and endless high altitude plateaus. It would be a privilege to run it.
So tomorrow we set off, supported by Vega, on this adventure of a lifetime. 12 months is a long time to plan something but we feel like we are now ready to treat this valley with the respect that it deserves. We can’t wait to update you from the other side."