Just back from... Oman by UTMB 2018

Alfie Pearce-Higgins, 31, competed in the inaugural Oman by UTMB race in November 2018, a trail race of 137 kilometres through the heart-pounding and jaw-droppingly spectacular landscape of Jebel Akhdar at the eastern edge of the Arabian peninsular. The course covered rock-strewn wadis (dry river beds), fertile clefts filled with date palms, massive stretches of bare rock and even cliffsides, where runners clipped in to a via ferrata. He completed the non-stop event in around 23 hours.

Oman by UTMB is one of a series of ultra-distance trail runs organised by UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc – their original race is approx 170km around Mont Blanc) and the 2019 edition of Oman by UTMB will take place in late November (this year with 50km, 140km and 160km courses). In 2020 they will also stage runs in Yunnan in China (March), Ushuaia in Argentina (April) and Val D’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees.

See more about UTMB by Oman, and more about UTMB World. Alfie Pearce-Higgins, CFO of a motorbike-hailing company in Uganda, SafeBoda, can be followed on Instagram @jogonalfie. Photos courtesy of Sail Oman / Franck Oddoux and /Anthony Lloyd

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What was Oman by UTMB 2019 like?
Alfie Pearce-Higgins:
Any inaugural race is a journey into the unknown. There are no veterans to ask for advice, results for reference or photos for inspiration. And as my plane touched down in Muscat I realised that it wasn’t just the race that was novel – my knowledge of the Sultanate of Oman itself was embarrassingly limited. On both counts I was in for a treat.

We had heard rumours that the course would be tough, but surely this was just pre-race hype? In truth nothing could have prepared us for this unforgiving terrain of the Jebel Akhdar. From the first ascent (of more than 7500m in total), it became clear that the race would be a battle of attrition – for 137km we scrambled in and out of wadis , over rocky mountains and around precarious cliff edges.

Fortunately the evening start meant that we tackled most of the more terrifying sections in darkness; innocuous luminous red dots being the only indication of potentially fatal precipices. As a nervous and clumsy runner, I was barely conscious of time as I searched for secure footing on the ever-changing ground in front of me.

c SailOmanFranck Oddoux

c SailOmanFranck Oddoux

By the time the sun came up we had been running for nearly 12 hours and my muscles were past the point of aching, but even in that state my mind could appreciate the panoramic views of jagged mountains bathed in golden light. It turned out to be a temporary relief - soon it was replaced by a desperate desire for shade as the midday sun beat down on us. It came as no surprise to discover that many runners didn’t last through the night.

In fact, the only reliable feature of the race was the organisation. UTMB’s proven formula of world-class race management intertwined with local culture was evident from the start. In Oman we were waved off by villagers in ankle-length white dishdasha with a combination of dancing and sword-fighting, along the way we were sustained by delicious local dates, and at the finish line we were welcomed home by an entire community of recently converted ultramarathon fans.

 

How did it go?
My own race was something of an experiment. Inspired by Professor Tim Noakes, the controversial South African sports scientist, I had spent two months before the event minimising carbs and attempting to switch my body to ‘fat-burning mode’. I enjoyed the experience and was surprised by the ease with which I ditched my sugar-heavy diet, but would it be enough to see me through a real physical challenge…?

I spent much of the race waiting for an energy ‘bonk’ that never came. Eating a fraction of my usual race fuel I was amazed to discover that I could sustain a steady pace. As the race wore on I had the satisfying experience of gradually reeling in many better, more qualified runners. I ended up around 23 hours as I recall, in 5th position, but a couple of hours behind the joint winners (Schlarb and Pazos).

C SailOman/Franck Oddoux

C SailOman/Franck Oddoux


Were you as well prepared as you could be?
UTMB Oman turned out to be even more of a psychological battle than other mountain ultramarathons I have done. The unparalleled difficulty of the terrain meant that Oman by UTMB was particularly brutal as a mental challenge and any forward planning was a mistake. Physical preparation was the easy part – the tough bit was learning to take one step at a time as the terrain is constantly surprising and punishes anyone who get carries away with planning the future. I fared well when I focussed in the moment. The time I nearly came unstuck was when I start calculating potential speeds, arrival times and final positions.

c SailOman/Lloyd Images

c SailOman/Lloyd Images

What was the most painful moment?
There are few places where one can fit 1100 metres of climbing into just three kilometres. Add to this the fact that we were more than 100km into the race and that the afternoon sun was merciless – well, you can imagine how it felt as I dragged my wretched legs up the cliff-face. The intermittent sight of a solitary runner ahead was all that kept me going.

 

And your favourite moment?
Set at more than 2000m above sea level and with superb views over spectacular cliffs, the Alila Hotel in Jabal Akhdar is a magnificent blend of architecture, luxury and nature. It also marks the 80km point in the race. We had been privileged to spend the night before the race as guests of the hotel, indulging ourselves and wondering if this running thing was really necessary.

Fast forward 24 hours and I was hooking in to a via ferrata to shimmy up the final sections of the very same cliffs. Much to the amusement of the staff I doused my head in the hotel’s ornate fountains before tucking into coffee and breakfast, and then heading back out onto the trail.


c Sail/Oman Lloyd Images

c Sail/Oman Lloyd Images


And for more details about via ferratas (used for pleasure rather than under race circumstances), see here.

c SailOman/ Franck Oddoux

c SailOman/ Franck Oddoux

Just back from… MdS 2019, Paul and Hector Skipworth

Father and son Paul and Hector Skipworth have just returned from Marathon des Sables 2019 in southern Morocco. Paul, 51, a businessman from Edinburgh, has now run 10 desert ultras (including the MdS 1999 and several Racing the Planet races). Hector celebrated his 17th birthday a few weeks before the event, making him one of the youngest people to enter the race. This was his first desert ultra.

The Marathon des Sables is the original desert ultra and competitors cover six stages over seven days, totalling roughly 250km. Runners must be self-sufficient in their food, bedding and other equipment – limited shelter, drinking water and medical care are provided at checkpoints. The course includes the full spectrum of desert terrain, from bedrock to gravel plain and mirage-inducing oases. And of course, ranges and ranges of energy-sapping sand dunes.

The Skipworths were running in aid of Overcoming MS and during the course of the event they managed to raise more than £3000 via their justgiving page. The Martha Thom Trust were particularly generous in their support. See more about the Marathon des Sables and see a photo essay about MdS 2019, and how it unfolded, including the appearance of Cactus the Dog.

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What was MdS 2019 like?
MdS 2019 was as hot as ever, though in fact it wasn’t quite as hot as it could have been. Temperatures reached around 35 degrees in the day (40 deg in the dunes). 

Doing the dunes on Day 2 was tough (as is sapped our strength early in the race), though it was good to know ‘Dune Day’ was done... until we discovered that there were more dunes to come. In all there were 13km of dunes on the Dune Day and quite a lot more on later stages. As brutal as they were in the heat of the day though, the dunes are also very scenic.

In fact there was more sand and less hard ground than in some of the other ultras and running over so much sand made it painful on the calves, especially in the dunes. Mentally it was also very tough, to crest a dune expecting to see a checkpoint coming up…. only to find miles and miles of dunes ahead, and not a checkpoint in sight.

 

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How did it go for you?
Our objectives were to finish the race, give Hector the experience of a desert ultra and to enjoy ourselves.  We didn’t plan to run together all the time, though we did on the long day and it helped us both.

Hector was very young and this was his first ultra run, so I had no idea how he would find it - good runners sometimes find the heat very hard and many good road runners can’t run with the weight of a backpack. Or they find the endurance hard – keeping going day after day as the effect of the difficult sleeping conditions and hygiene/food begins to tell. 

So it was all new for him, but he thrived and he was pleased to finish in the middle of the field, placing around 440th in the 800 or so competitors, and beating his Dad!  He will go back again armed with this experience and will go for a higher place next time. 

My objective was to get round well, ensuring I didn’t do anything silly, like get heat stroke or an injury, and be there if he needed me – which he didn’t at all. In 1999 I placed 199th… Perhaps I have aged a bit - although some ultra-runners peak in their early 50s! The next ambition!

 

Were you as well prepared as you could be?
Based on previous race experience, we had the right kit and knew how to manage our body salts and look after our feet.  We could, as ever, have done more training, especially running with backpacks.  The temptation always is to get running fit first and only to run with your pack towards the end of your training, and even that is often neglected as time runs out...  It is totally different running with a pack.

We had lightweight sleeping mats to save weight, but I would recommend a light blow-up mattress as our weight-saving compromised our sleep on the stony ground.

In the MdS you need to use local twigs to cook with and these can become scarce as you have to search further and further from camp.  Some people avoided cooking and had dry food on some days, which saved time and weight, though of course you do need a cup of tea at the end of the day! I would probaby alternate dry and “wet” days next time.

 

With Cactus the Dog

With Cactus the Dog

What did you learn?
Hector learned patience in facing a challenge, and that there are no short cuts.  You have to get from A to B and it takes time.  He also learned what real determination means, that it is possible to keep going despite the many difficulties that you know are ahead – the many kilometres to run over several days, with feet in pain and injuries flaring.

He also saw the value in getting ready early (enough). The experienced runners got up at the right time before the start, not three hours too early, nor too late!  Quite a few people were up hours early, waking others in the process, and other runners still had kit spread all over the place as the Berber tents were lifted around us and taken off to the next campsite. They ended up hurrying to the start line shoving their gear into their packs at the last minute.

 

What was the toughest moment?
Hector, like almost everyone, found the long day tough, especially during the night - we were on our feet for 17 ½ hours. Time passed very slowly and near the end his legs went a bit wobbly on him.  Before the MdS he said he was expecting a tough physical challenge, but during the race he kept saying how it was more a mental challenge.  He had audio books to pass time and engage his brain.

 

And your favourite moment?
My favourite moment was crossing the start line of the long day with Hector as I knew that if we just pushed through the 75km it meant that we would basically have conquered the course, with just the marathon day to go - and whatever happened we could do that! As the sky turned red at sunset that day we were alone together in the desert and moving well. I won’t forget that.

Hector’s favourite moment was on Stage 4, when he found himself completely alone in the desert, without a single other person in sight – a surreal experience for a teenager on his first race.

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Alan Wilson and Ultra X Sri Lanka

Alan Wilson will be entering the Ultra X Sri Lanka in April 2019. He is a regular runner who has competed in marathons for many years, but made the switch to ultra-running relatively recently. He entered the Ultra X event in Wadi Rum Jordan and is now headed to their event in Sri Lanka. 

Ultra X Sri Lanka is a five-day, 250km ultra-run with five stages generally between 30 and 80 kilometres, one of a series organised by Ultra X. Races are partly supported: competitors must be self-sufficient for the event, but while they are actually running they carry only the gear needed for the stage. Luggage is carried forward by the organisers. Other races in the series are held in the Azores, Mexico and Jordan. See more about the Ultra X series. All images courtesy Ultra X.

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First a bit of form
Alan Wilson:
I have always tried to take care of myself. My father died of diabetes and related issues and if he had looked after himself better he might have had a much longer life.  Also I find that time spent running helps with work and life. It gives me a chance to reflect on issues and make plans.

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I didn’t really like running at school – certainly not cross country - though I did do ok at the 1500m.  But running is my main form of exercise now. After starting work I found I needed to do something physical, so I took it up again. This led to me taking part in the London and the British marathons a long time ago. Since then I have done the occasional Bath Marathon and a few others.

The impetus to start ultra running was a walk across Crete, where I have a house.  I was following the escape route of some of the British Forces during their retreat in May 1941.  It was 60 miles over two days and I felt good after it, even if my feet were a little damaged!  I decided: if I can walk it, then why can’t I run it?  Sri Lanka will make 11 ultra runs in all now.

To me running is freedom, fresh air and thinking time. If I won the lottery I’d be flying all over the world running. It’s just that life and work get in the way. 

 

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Why Ultra X Sri Lanka? Why now?
Being half Scottish, I am always open to a good offer... and I was a previous contestant.

Sri Lanka came off the back of Ultra X in Wadi-Rum, which I loved. I find that in the afterglow of competing and finishing we forget the pain and anguish that’s involved in the taking part. It’s funny how you remember all the good things – the people, the landscape and the nature that surrounds you - and yet the sore feet and exhaustion, you don’t remember them at all. 

In the background, I am conscious of my drive to live life to the full now. There will be plenty of opportunity to watch others getting the best out of life later on! 

 

Training
I have been getting in better shape to run rather than walk more of the event, by doing miles and miles of running, day after day, to get the body used to consecutive days. Also, it helps to get the weight off a bit.  I have a “running wife” who comes over to help me do some long distance slow running. I have slowed the speed I train at as its important to reflect the actual pace that I’ll be running during the race.  

I had a cold before Christmas and then another one after Christmas, so after that I did around 30 miles, up to 40 miles per week. I fitted in a few long runs and then tapered down. I have done more core strength training. Not that it was an issue in Wadi Rum, but I know it will help!  Generally the fitness feels in a better place - but ask me in late April!

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Planning
I’ll be taking less kit this time, only one of each item. Last time I overthought it.

I have also been working on nutrition and my body is now tuned to use fat as much as possible. Hitting the wall is about the change from using carbs to using body-fat, so if you haven’t been eating carbs and your body is used to training on protein and fat then you’re not going to go through the painful transition. It’s been lots of pulses, beans and plenty of meat… I just don’t eat the custards and puddings any more. 

 

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Most daunting aspect?
As it gets closer, I have been thinking about the terrain and what the climate will feel like. It’ll be hot humid rather than hot dry like Jordan, which I liked. It may rain. I hope it doesn’t as I am not too fond of running in the rain.

 And what are you most looking forward to?
Taking part in a challenging event with a load of like-minded people in a beautiful country.  Also the atmosphere of the event; we’re not so much competitors out there as people defeating a course together.

 

What constitutes success?
Completing the race and enjoying the memories, and crossing the finish line with a smile only face. And then, when I have finished, seeing how many days it takes before my mind starts thinking “what next…?” or “On to the next one… ”.

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John Mayock and the Marathon des Sables

John Mayock, an extremely accomplished middle-distance runner who competed at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games and several Athletics World Championships, will be running in the Marathon des Sables 2019. The race gathers in Morocco Friday 5th April, before heading out into the Sahara. The running stages start on Sunday 7th April.

Created by Patrick Bauer in 1984 after he walked across the Sahara, the Marathon des Sables is now in its 34th year. It is a 250km, six stage running race held over seven days. Medical care, (rationed) water and shelter from the sun are provided by the organisers, but otherwise participants must be self-sufficient, carrying their own bedding, equipment and food for the race. There will be around 1000 participants in 2019. See the Marathon des Sables website.

Image: Erik Sampers / Marathon des Sables

Image: Erik Sampers / Marathon des Sables

First a bit of form
John Mayock competed at the highest level as a middle-distance runner in the 1990s and early 2000s. He represented Britain at three Olympic Games (Atlanta, Sydney and Athens). Since then he has kept fit, but this is the first time that he has entered an endurance event like the Marathon des Sables. Read more about John Mayock.

As Head of Sport/Charities at Ineos, the British chemicals company, John Mayock deals with many events and activities. Particularly close to his heart, however, is The Daily Mile, a programme designed to improve physical, emotional, social health and well-being among primary school-children.  The campaign encourages children to run for 15 minutes in the fresh air each day, during which time they cover approximately a mile. Started by Elaine Wyllie in 2016, it has reached 8,000 schools in 64 countries. See more about The Daily Mile.
 

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How different will the MdS be from what you’ve done before?
John Mayock: It’s different, an event like this, there’s no doubt. However, I know some things will remain from my sporting career. I’ve still got the determination and endurance isn’t something you lose – as long as you respect your body and the conditions. I channel my competitive energy through business nowadays, mostly, but I haven’t lost that part of my nature.

I know that if I push myself too hard then my body breaks down a bit, so I will need to slow the pace and the heart rate in order to sustain over the longer distance. However, I also know how far I can push my body in different conditions, and I know I still have mental ability to push myself through the difficult moments where others with less experience might fade.

 

Why the Marathon des Sables? Why now?
I work at Ineos, where we have an active culture (I am also trustee of a number of charities concerned with exercise and activity), and anyway I like challenges in my own life.

The idea of the Marathon des Sables came from colleagues in the company. It has been on their bucket list for a while and they asked if I would like to join them. I have known about the event for a long time, and seen films about it. I wasn’t sure about going at first, but they badgered me and six months ago I found myself signing up without really thinking it through. Obviously I knew that it would be fun, meeting people and pushing boundaries out in the desert. We’re only on the earth once, so you should be prepared to do these things.

I like the fact that it’s a race for all sorts too, with high achievers from the sports world running with people who you would never think would make it.

Image - Josuefphoto / Marathon des Sables

Image - Josuefphoto / Marathon des Sables


Training

My time has been limited with everything going on at home and at work, where I have been super-busy, so I have had to fit the training in around that. I have been going out two or three times during the week, but then I have made sure to get out for two good runs at the weekend, once over marathon distance and the other a shorter run. I have been careful not to injure myself by overtraining.

I follow the same principles as I always have in my training, which is all about consistency, keeping the right speed, not too fast or too slow, and respecting the conditions. It’s all about not getting injured.

Image - Josuefphoto / Marathon des Sables

Image - Josuefphoto / Marathon des Sables

Planning
Planning has been the most difficult thing, deciding what to take and not to take, particularly when it comes to food. This is where there’s a real difference between middle-distance running and ultra-running; my calorie intake is a worry. I have spoken to plenty of people, and while they all have good advice, it is often conflicting…

Is there anything daunting about the event?
I have always been a free runner, getting out there in just a t-shirt and shorts, so I am slightly concerned about having to run with a backpack with all my gear in it. Back-packing and camping are not really my favourite things in life.

What constitutes success?
First completing it, and then enjoying it every step of the way. This is completely unknown to me, so there is a sense of discovery. Also, I know I will feel competitive, so I am sorry not to be a bit younger, as I would love to have been able to go out there and win it.

John Mayock in the Rome Marathon

John Mayock in the Rome Marathon

Ragna Debats enters the Marathon des Sables

Ragna Debats, from the Netherlands, will be entering the 34th Marathon des Sables in Morocco in April 2019. She is an extremely accomplished ultra-runner who in the past few years has won a number of world and other championship titles in trail running and sky running. She is also a champion snow-shoe runner. This is her first multi-day race in a desert.

The Marathon des Sables, the original multi-day desert run, has been staged since 1984. Set in the south of Morocco, the race sees six stages over seven days, including a full marathon of 42 kilometres and a ‘long day’ of around 75km, covering approximately 250 kilometres in total. This year the event will be held from 5th-15th April. There will be approximately 1000 runners.

You can follow Ragna - @ragnadebats See more information about the Marathon des Sables.

Ragna Debats - photo: Jose Miguel Munoz

Ragna Debats - photo: Jose Miguel Munoz

First a bit of form
Ragna Debats has a crop of world and other ultra-running championship titles to her name. In 2017 she won the European ultra distance Skyrunning champion, at Val d’Isere’s Ultra SkyRace, and in 2018 she took the International Skyrunning Federation world championship at the Ben Nevis Ultra. As a trail runner she won gold at the Trail Running World Championships in Penyalogosa in 2018 in Spain, which involved an 85km course with nearly 5000 metres of elevation gain, and the overall World Series. She has made a change for this year in entering the a staged desert run.

She did not take up running seriously until 2009. She was a sportswoman, but grew up with horses and became a professional horse trainer. Running began as a hobby, but then in 2009 she ran her first real race. Some mates offered her the bib number and the rest is history.

Why the Marathon des Sables? Why now?
Ragna Debats: I like changes and new things. I have known about the MdS for a long time and I’ve always wanted to participate. And then in 2018 I achieved everything that I set out to accomplish in my running and so I began to look around for something else. I can only imagine what it’ll be like out in the Sahara, but it is definitely exciting to be involved.

Photo: tucutunfotografia

Photo: tucutunfotografia

Usually I run something around marathon distance, or marathon plus, say 30 to 60 kilometres, so the distances are not dissimilar.  There are other similarities too, in that the MdS is run off-road, over stony and sandy terrain, and of course I am used to being out in nature, exposed to the weather and climate.

But there are many differences too. I am used to running up and downhill, whereas the MdS will be flatter and faster. And another big difference is that normally I do not have to carry all my gear, so I am not used to running with weight on my back.

 
Will there be a compound effect in racing over many days?
It may not make a difference, so I don’t think it will be a problem, though it can suit all types of runners anyway. I have run plenty of stage races and I’ll be ready for it.

Training
I wanted to turn my focus to the Marathon des Sables right at the beginning of the year, but then I had flu and an infection, so I wasn’t able to get going as early as I wanted. In February I raced the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica (230km over six days with nearly 9000 metres of elevation and a similar amount of descent). It was great, and not too dissimilar to the Marathon des Sables, although I wasn’t as race fit as I needed to be.

Photo: Kameliya Atanasova

Photo: Kameliya Atanasova

In the last three weeks I have been doing fast training sessions and have started to train in specific terrain, which I hope will be similar to what we will find in the desert: I have been running along rocky beaches and a sandy dry riverbed.

I have also been working on my strength, so I have been running with a 5kg weight, which I will increase before the event.  I was expecting it to be harder to run with weight, but in fact it hasn’t been too bad.

And Planning?
Nutrition for multi-stage events of this sort is new to me, so I have been discovering a lot. I haven’t tested my food fully yet or made my final decisions – that’s the job for the next few days – but I am confident that I am close to the final plan.

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What is the most daunting aspect?
The only thing I hope is that I won’t end up with a back problem. I have been training with weight, but I have not run with the full equipment that I’ll need for the whole six stages. And I can’t run the equivalent of the whole 7 days to test it.

 
And what are you most looking forward to?
I am really looking forward to running and camping out in the desert, exploring it, and being with other people in the tents in the evening. I am sure it’s going to be a really good experience.

What constitutes success?
Ultimately I am looking for a win. Of course there will be other people out there thinking the same thing, but that’s competition, and if you want to be competitive you have to want first place, not 3rd or 4th. 

The other thing that counts as success is if I am happy with my race. I hope that when I arrive I will feel prepared, and that during the run I turn out to do as well as I have prepared for. Hopefully both of these things will happen, both a win and that I am satisfied with my race.

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Just back from.... Cambodia

Kirsty Oliver has just returned from The Ancient Khmer Path, a 220km stage race held each November in Cambodia. Organised by GlobalLimits, the race has six stages between 29 and 62 kilometres long and it has a very strong local character. There is lots of contact with the Cambodian people and the nightly camping locations are often near sites of cultural interest, including Buddhist temples. The race finishes at the heritage site of Angkor Wat.

The Ancient Khmer Path is a partially supported race, in that the runners, while they are out on the course, carry only mandatory gear and what they need for that stage. Water is supplied at checkpoints. Competitors’ equipment and food is transported forward by the race organisation to the next night’s camp. GlobalLimits also stages races in Albania and Bhutan. See more information about their races.

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Why Cambodia? Why now?
Kirsty Oliver: Why did I enter? Well, I entered with a friend who subsequently pulled out and left me to go alone, but it was around the time I got divorced and I wanted to do something for myself, so I went anyway. At that stage my ideal was to run the Global Limits race in Bhutan - it’s been a dream to be over there and climb the Crow’s Nest and it’s on my 50th Birthday bucket list for 2019 - but Cambodia fitted the diary for 2018 and so I entered. I was in the race… I was on my way to achieving a goal.


What were Cambodia and the race like?
Cambodia is an amazing place, truly stunning, with very changeable scenery, jungly, dusty, dry… When I entered I didn’t really think much about how it would feel to be there, but honestly I can gush about it now I’m home. I didn’t research the country much either, so there were many things I hadn’t expected: I hadn’t expected my feet to be on fire most of the day. Nor that I would be soaked all day… the heat was so intense and the humidity so intense... sweat just dripped off us day and night. It was 38 degrees and the sun was relentless – does Cambodia not have trees? Hell no, no cover, no respite, and on some days there were just dusty orange roads that went on and on and on...

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On other days the race took us through paddy fields, flat lands and small communities, where children lined the streets and called “Hello” – they are adorable and they love you taking their photos. They want for nothing and I think they are amazed by us: Who are these crazy crazy people running!? I do have one thought on a slightly negative side: although it is so beautiful, Cambodia is a scruffy place. And by that I mean do they drop litter…?! It’s filthy! Such a stunning place and just littered with plastic...

Stefan (the race organiser) and his crew were amazing and really did look after us. We started running early each day and therefore finished early, so we had time to really get to know them all and they just couldn’t do enough. In bigger races it’s easy to get lost in the numbers, it’s easy to not eat properly, not look after yourself, not hydrate, not sleep etc. But Stefan and his crew would get you water, help you to your bed, and make sure you wanted to get up in the morning and continue. They added the wow factor, the family friendly factor and that meant a lot to me. Their website can be a tad annoying to navigate, but the organisation is very professional and well organised.

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Stefan was also very funny. On the pre-race briefing he introduced us to the team, who was who etc. He became our Pied Piper - we followed him wherever he told us to go... And then he mentioned the ‘Red Box… ‘ What on earth was that? And what was in it? You could see runners crossing the road to have a look. It made me chuckle, but it kept us all sane in the incredible heat. The box contained, each for 1 dollar, cold drinks - water, beer and cola. And for me it contained ice, which became part of my race kit. I used to put a chunk down my sports bra and let is slowly melt, to keep my core cool, though I did look pretty odd with lumps sticking out of my top.

The night stops were amazing. Staying in local houses was an eye opener, you realise how poor the people are, with no electricity, no running water, certainly no internet! What would the kids do if the UK was like that? The toilets were holes in the ground and we used rain water to wash, fully clothed, from a bucket. We didn’t mind, it was how they lived; so how could we object? They had moved out so we could move in. We also stayed by waterfalls and historic sites – some truly outstanding places of natural beauty. The whole thing was really well thought out, exclusive and remote. For me it was simply perfect, my little family for 6 days of running.

Again, I chuckle, Stefan was very strict on water... “Do Not… don’t even think about drinking the water or get anywhere near to the point of ingesting it!” Of course it was so hot that water was the one thing that everyone craved... And honestly, I didn’t go near it, but I dreamed about nothing else!!

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There was some… interesting… wildlife. Mosquitoes we saw only on the last day, but spiders….? Yup, there was a massive one - and I mean massive - in the toilet! Funny thing was, next day when we were getting our water, we found we had a stowaway - the very same spider was in among the water bottles. It jumped across the floor towards the tents, landed in a rucksack before being tempted out and shown the door! Oooh, that was creepy. You know the ones in “I’m a Celebrity”. Ha ha, that’s the sort we had.

Finally I can’t leave this section without talking about dogs… You move, they bark… and once one barks the rest start, and keep going until the entire village is barking. So if you can, please, don’t pee at night or you will awaken the dog. The demon barking dog.


What training did you do?
In 2016 I had a crazy New Year resolution of running a minimum two miles every day, so after each day at work I would change shoes and get out for a run. I even kept it up while I cycled LEJOG (Lands End to John O’Groats), so after cycling 100 miles each day I made myself get out there and run the two miles…

I don’t run half as much as I know others do, which makes me look a bit of a lazy runner... Instead I spend a lot of time on low impact training, keeping the pressure off my legs by not pounding the streets. I prefer to do Spin, Combat and Weights, with running thrown in. It hasn’t held me back as I’m more than capable of sitting in the rankings of some races. In Cambodia I was happy to be 4th Lady home and 9th overall, which for a ‘lazy’ runner is not a bad effort - I jest though, as I train two hours each evening.

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Were you as prepared as you needed to be?
If you buy good quality, lightweight kit it means you can get more running kit in your 10kg weight limit. I had new running clothes for each day and I really needed it. Definitely take a silk liner as it was way too hot to use a sleeping bag. On the other hand, do take a sleeping bag as each year the weather is different. Take snacks for along the route, as you can’t get any in country. Take thin socks as your feet will burn in the heat. Otherwise, I followed the kit list to the letter and it was spot on - there wasn’t anything I needed. Do take some US Dollars in the smallest notes you can get. Everything is priced at one dollar in the race and in the villages: anything over a 5 dollar note and they can’t change it.


What was the course like?
The race course is well thought out and we were never far from a check point, 12k being the longest one. It meant that in the heat you shouldn’t ever run out of water, though I do know some of us were pretty close on many occasions, which kind of shows how hot it was. The course was well marked, with signs literally every 100 metres, so you shouldn’t/couldn’t miss anything (although I did rescue 2 runners at one point – how on earth they missed the signage I will never know… perhaps they were drawn in by the shade and passed the obvious signs on the ground. Luckily I was within sight and got them back on track). It’s a very safe race – and as a female I was very much at ease on my own. The locals were all friendly and very welcoming and I never felt I should be concerned, even on the forest climbs. In fact, my main concern on the climbs were the pesky ants! Boy they can bite and they stick to you like glue.

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What was the lowest moment?
Highs and lows? Now that’s really difficult to answer as I don’t like to think of things as lows, just challenging moments, and I had so many highs and so many laughs with the guys, even when the medic stuck a pin in my blister and almost got a kick in the face! Aargh! Yes that hurt. Three millilitres later and all the fluid was out. I did get lazy though as I got tired, starting on Day 4 and 5 - school girl error? I didn’t hydrate properly before going to bed and hence I think I suffered on the later days, feeling sick, and weak. So reminder to myself, make sure you hydrate at night as it goes a long way in extreme heat and humidity.


And the best?
I survived it, yes, I survived and loved it!! With my feet in tatters, tearful, emotional and exhilarated… It was an amazing experience! It’s a bizarre thing to write about the race when you look back at photos of running down dusty paths, the children, the barking (annoying barking dogs), the houses and people we stayed with. I would say to anyone – yes, it’s great to run in bigger races but you know what? - stay small, you can’t beat the smaller race whether it be running, cycling or anything sporty. I simply loved the whole experience and can’t wait to go run with them all in Albania in 2019.

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How did you get on in the race?
The long day was my initial nemesis…  And it was only Day 3 of 6… I ran really well the first 2 days, but 20km in on Day 3 and I was in trouble! We were told that we just had to get to 30km as there was no way to get us out: we were running through plantations and access for vehicles was restricted. So it was very much “man up and run on”. I walked the last 5km of this stretch as it was way too hot in the midday sun, and bless, then there’s a heart wrenching moment when three young boys about one kilometres from the check point came up and gave me a cuddle.. ! Totally off the wall and totally unexpected – though I did wonder “Why on earth would you want to cuddle my sweaty, stinky body!” But hey, they made me cry and I stumbled in to the check point. Day 3 was a long day, 11 hours of running and boy, did I know it. It came down to a stomp in the end. Days 4 and 5 were also hard days… Very different terrain! Hill climbs, long dusty roads, water crossings. The climbs were really interesting and one led us to the Elephant ruins, such a beautiful sight to see after a very technical climb in the forest.

The last day was a real highlight. Not just because it was the last day, but because we were running through the most beautiful places, temple after temple. The finish at Angkor Wat Temple was a real tear jerker. It is the most amazing place.

One last thing to mention: when we were in the temples we had to walk. It’s not often you are told to walk in a race. We even had to walk to the finish line, about ½ mile through the Angkor Wat grounds! It made it so funny, but hey, it’s their culture, so we all walked. We were only allowed to run the last 20/10m metres to the finish line and then it had to be a silent cheer, almost like a silent disco! We had literally 20 seconds to take a photo with the banner at the finish line? So we all lined up for a group photo before the Police came over to ask what we were doing. The rules seem to be getting stricter and stricter, so if you do want to run the Ancient Khmer Path then I would sign up now. Stefan is limited to 30 runners each year because of the hoops he has to jump through to put the race on.


Final thoughts?
I loved the race. I achieved everything I wanted to and it more than filled my expectations. I really miss the people I met – race blues kicked in - but I’m pleased I’m going back this year to Albania, besides all the other races I have booked in.

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Just Back from.... Wadi Rum Ultra 2018

C Benedict Tufnell, Ultra X

C Benedict Tufnell, Ultra X

Charlie Henson, Julien Anani-isaac and Toby Free have just returned from the Wadi Rum Ultra in Jordan. The 5-day running race covers some 250km over the gravel, compacted earth and sand of the famous Wadi Rum, which is known for its spectacular landscape of vast granite and sandstone outcrops.

The race has a slightly different format from many of the other multi-day staged runs in that it is partly supported. Runners are required to carry their gear for the day’s run – energy bars and basic medical and emergency equipment (water and medical care is provided in checkpoints) - however organisers move other equipment (bedding, general food, spare clothes) forward to the next camp.

The three ran as a Team, The Royal Lancers, in aid of Help for Heroes, the military charity that works to help injured servicemen and their families – if you would like to donate, you can do so through his link here. They were also supported by Ember Biltong.

The Wadi Rum Ultra has been rebranded as the Ultra X Jordan and in 2019 it will take place from 5th-13th October. To find out more about Ultra X Jordan and other races in their calendar, see their website. Photorgaphs credit Benedict Tufnell.

 

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What is the Wadi Rum Ultra like?
Charlie Henson
: What makes the Wadi Rum Ultra so special is the scale. There are less than 50 runners, which makes it so intimate and very quickly you feel like a family.  The group that run it are wonderful people and they really make it special.  There is a Bedouin feeling to the event which is both charming and welcoming.  

Temperatures were between 30-40 degrees and the course is run over flat open plains among stunning rock formations and features.  The terrain underfoot is mixed; about half and half between shifting loose sand and firmer, gritty terrain.  Stages vary from 70km at the half way point, to 30km on the final day. 

Another variation from other similar events is that you do not have to carry all of your equipment, only what you require for the day.  This is offset however by comparatively faster cut-off times.

 

How did it go?
The race went really well, a lot better than expected, in fact.  I was just hoping I had done enough to complete the course.  My main priorities were to not get injured and to finish, in that order.  My teammates Julien, Toby and I were fortunate to be living in Cyprus in the build-up to the event, so during training  we managed to get some good miles in with high temperatures. 

We started off very naively in terms of strategy, setting off far too quickly on the first two days.  We let the excitement and competition cloud our better judgement – which then made for very painful final stages and probably slower times overall.  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.  We were delighted to finish 2nd, 5th and 13th, something we would never have believed it possible at the start.

 

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Did the race organisation live up to expectations?
Absolutely.  The race organisation was slick and professional.  The routes had been selected really well to give a balance of different terrain and to take us through the most stunning scenery.  The fourth day in particular was incredible, taking us through an amazing ravine that you almost had to climb down to proceed.  In terms of route selection, I found the second day particularly tough.  It was almost exclusively on soft, shifting sand which sapped so much energy - and it was one of the hottest days. 

The real-life support was also excellent.  There were three doctors and two physios, all working to keep us in the best shape possible.  There was even a study being conducted by a Cambridge University PHD student, his data making very interesting reading on the energetics of prolonged physical exertion in stressful conditions.

 

Were you as well prepared as you could be?
With hindsight I feel that I was about as well prepared as I could have been, though this was due more to blind luck and circumstance than anything! I started training about 6 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 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 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. 

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I took 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, whatever that might be.  Two weeks before the event 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 to focus our minds for the big event.  For the two weeks before the race I did very little, just a couple of short runs, stretching and eating plenty.

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

In terms of kit I found that poles worked really well for me.  They allowed me to take the weight and strain off my legs and helped 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.  One thing I would change would be to get the longer straw attachments for my water bottles.  They looked much easier and comfortable to use than the normal lower ones.

 

What was the most painful moment?
Physically the hardest part was the last 10km of the 70km day.  This was a long run home down a dried-up riverbed in the full heat of the midday sun.  We had been running for 7 hours by that point and the legs and engine were really starting to feel the strain.  For the study mentioned above we had swallowed thermometer pills to record our bodies core temperature that day.  Mine recorded a (thankfully brief) peak of 40.1 degrees.  This was the only time that I felt truly awful, slowing down to a walk (or drunken-like stumble!) to take on some water and cool down.  Thankfully this worked and I was then able to continue a bit more strongly.

 

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And your favourite moment?
The long day as mentioned above was particularly really special.  It starts at 4am under the stars.  It is cold and clear and there is a real buzz among the runners.  You run as the sun comes up and it was just stunning.  Finishing that day was probably my favourite moment, the sense of achievement and relief combined with the fun of sleeping out in the open on an amazing shelf of rock overlooking the valley.  Julien, Toby and I also huddled around an iPad to watch a couple of episodes of Friends.  While not at all the sort of thing we were there to enjoy, howling with laughter at some 90s humour is a strong tonic for sore legs.

 

Overall impressions?
A very special event that is entirely achievable and 100% the best way to see one of the most stunning places on the planet.

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Just back from… the Grand to Grand 2018

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Jax Mariash took part in the Grand to Grand Ultra 2018, a 270km stage run held among the mesas and canyons of Arizona and Utah. An accomplished ultra-runner, she had an exceptional race, finishing as first woman and seventh overall in a field of 135. She was also first American overall.

The Grand to Grand has six stages over seven days and in 2018 included two full marathons and a double marathon. It is unsupported except in water and medical care, so competitors must carry all the own food, bedding and other equipment for the week of the race. In 2018 there was a lot of sand on the course and temperatures were high, making the race even tougher the usual. See more about the Grand to Grand Ultra here.


The illustration above is by Diane Shearer, an artist from South Africa who specialises in the outdoors. She is an adventure racer herself, having competed in Expedition Africa 2018. She is available for commissions. See more of her paintings here.

 

Photos courtesy of Grand to Grand Ultra

Photos courtesy of Grand to Grand Ultra

What was the Grand to Grand like?
Jax Mariash: Grand To Grand Ultra was the most difficult self-supported ultra running race I have accomplished to date - with eight now on my record and five victories. It tested all my physical and mental limits.

The 171 mile course was a great mix of terrain and very challenging, and it never gave you a break. Every single stage had difficult terrain. We crossed rugged desert, sand dunes, rocky washes, slot canyons, sandy roads and a couple of trails. Also, the temperature was 90+ degrees, so the high heat and lack of moisture along with the most sand ever, made for significantly slower times than usual.

Although the terrain was brutal throughout, it was also spectacular. The views in southern Utah are mind blowing. So when it really hurts, you can just look around and enjoy the scenery.

 

How did it go?
Very early on I slipped away from the women and as my lead over them grew I decided to start racing the men, and with a 7th overall finish and first American of either gender, I am stoked with the accomplishment. This is even more exciting due to adversity during this year’s training. Medical issues leading to inconsistent bouts and an ankle sprain just three weeks prior to the race made it extra special to take the victory by 3 hours and 20 minutes. 

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The hardest day of the race was the long stage, which took me took me two hours longer than in other stage races. It was held on the third day, so we still had quite a load on our backs still. In addition, the race was heavily front loaded, so we had already completed 58 miles with heavy packs before the start of the long day. Then add the 53 miles on the long day. IT was exhausting. The top ten did start 2 hours later, which made it a hot start, but also fun to chase down the entire field. 

Personally I was thrilled to jump out of the gate and feel strong and hustle with the boys – it was a strong pack to run with and stay motivated. I had an extremely hard 4th and 5th stage due to an error in my calorie planning. I felt bonky and struggled to recover. I kept eating at my accidentally saved food, but it just never bounced back fully.

Beyond that, I smashed my toe on day two and that caused a huge blood blister and a nagging issue through the entire race. There are always equipment failures too, such as blown sleeping pads etc, but it is funny when you write a recap they seem very minimal compared to the daunting terrain and your body literally falling apart more and more each day as you race. 

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Did the race organisation live up to expectations?
You know you’re in a really well run event when you don’t ever think about the race structure and you can just run and focus on your race. Colin and Tess did an incredible job as race directors and I cannot wait to participate in the Mauna to Mauna stage race next year with them. Every element of the organization was seamless, from volunteers through the camp crew, course marshals and medics to the course directors.

  

Were you as well prepared as you could be?
Due to a really hard year with figuring out some nausea and chronic fatigue, I was really nervous about whether I had what I needed. We didn’t dial in the issue health wise until July, so my final preparations were a hustle. Then to top it all, I sprained my ankle at UMTB three weeks before the race, so I had an obsessive recovery schedule. I was so excited when it all worked out. In a perfect world my training would have been super spot on and consistent, but in this case I had to dig a lot deeper into my grit, thousands of miles on my feet through history and my veteran know-how mentally for these races. It was a massive relief when it all worked out. 

 

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What was the most painful moment?
The most painful moment of Grand To Grand was my toe. Smashing it on day two lead to a massive blood blister that was out of control on the long stage. My toe nail was literally floating around. At Checkpoint 3 we taped it and I screamed in pain and then I just strapped my shoes on and pushed on. Shortly after that I smashed my leg in a cactus. And to finish up the painful set of three issues, I fell into a thorny bush and spent the horrendous climb to follow pulling hundreds of thorns out of my arm and legs. At this point the physical bouts discontinued and it became a new project to deal with the rugged terrain and long hours out there.

Day 4 was really hard because I didn’t eat and drink enough on the rest day, so I became bonky and malnourished. You are already starving out there but you need to know your limit and I was so afraid of not having enough calories left during bag checks that I accidentally miscalculated and paid the price. I kept falling apart emotionally at every checkpoint and struggled to continue. Thanks to the volunteers for pushing me. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and pushed through. 


And your favourite moment?
My favorite moment always seems to be the tent life, camp life, seeing folks achieve their daily goals and enjoying the epic views. My tent was particularly fun, with old friends from the 4 Deserts race series and new friends. We had a blast which always makes the racing portion easier. 

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What did you learn?
You learn something about yourself on every stage. You can learn new tricks every time with your pack, food etc, but you have a lot of time alone to think out there and the real fun in stage racing comes in the life lessons you dig through. I tend to evaluate my life and strategize new goals for my business STOKED ROASTERS®. I always strive to try to be the best that I can be and in the Grand to Grand I spent a lot of time thinking about my personal life, looking at my past and relationships and how can I be the best boss, wife, friend and family member to others, working to really open up my mind, body and spirit for a new gentleman to step on into my life.

The Wave rock formation, Arizona by Diane Shearer.  See more outdoors illustrations by Diane Shearer .

The Wave rock formation, Arizona by Diane Shearer. See more outdoors illustrations by Diane Shearer.

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Just back from... Albania Hidden Treasure ultra 2018

Oliver Waugh has just returned from the 220km Albania Hidden Treasure 2018, a six-day, staged ultra-run through Albania’s rural and mountainous countryside. The race is supported, with overnight gear and food transported between nightly camps, but with temperatures of 35 degrees and higher, daily stages of between 38 and 55 kilometres and a total 8000m of ascent, it is hot and hard work. The event was organised by GlobalLimits, who also stage running events in Cambodia and Bhutan. See more about GlobalLimits

Here Oliver Waugh gives his impressions of the event.

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Why Albania Hidden Treasure? Why now?
A number of things drew me to the event.  First I was keen to do a first multi stage race.  Going supported would gently introduce me into the disciplines of administering myself over the week. I have also wanted to visit Albania and the reviews of the past GlobalLimits events were all very positive.

I am not an experienced or frequent ultra runner.  I am 55 and completed a few long single stage events (100km to 100 miles) in the early 2000s, after which I stopped running. I started again in 2016, so Hidden Treasure Albania was my first multi stage event.

 

What is the race like?
The race uses the best of the Albanian countryside: we started in Berat, the UNESCO world heritage site, and finished in an amphitheatre in Butrint, another UNESCO site. Evidence of Roman occupation was frequent, from amphitheatres to bridges, and most overnight camps were in interesting places too: one night we stayed with an Albanian family in a mountain village. The scenery was spectacular throughout - mountainous and unspoilt. The Albanian people were extremely friendly and supportive, though no-one spoke any English or indeed a language that one could interpret.  It is a very rural economy, almost subsistence in places, and aggressive sheep dogs were a notable hazard, causing frequent detours.  Infrastructure is very basic, whether it is the roads, electricity or plumbing.  Yet everyone we met was very friendly, happy and smiling.

Oliver Waugh pounding the path

Oliver Waugh pounding the path

There were 48 runners, half of whom had run a previous GlobalLimits event.  Some knew one another already and clearly enjoyed catching up. Many also had experience of Racing the Planet events (which allowed me some useful comparisons for the future). 

The run itself was split into 6 stages, mostly between 38 and 45km, with one day of 55km and the last day of 15km, and all, except the final day, were very hilly and of similar intensity.  Water was provided at the checkpoints every 10-15 kilometres and the route was well marked, so there was no need for a map and compass or GPS, though the trails were always rocky underfoot and most people took a nasty tumble at some stage.  There was also very little shade, which was an issue as the temperature averaged 35 c in the middle of the day.  Everyone agreed that this was the toughest race that GlobalLimits stages. It was a challenge even for the hardened racers.

 

Were you as well prepared as you needed to be?
As I trained for the race I was reminded of the challenge that Londoners face in preparing for overseas ultras.  It is easy to get the miles in: we have parks, rivers and canals.  It was quite easy, by combining runs with travelling to and from work, to run 40 to 60 miles a week.  The problem is that we have few hills, and those we have are not steep nor long enough - hill reps are no substitute for a steep 6km non-stop, uphill stretch.  Running with a weighted pack went some way to building the strength in my legs, but in retrospect I should have trained in some mountains as well as doing my long flat runs.

I also wish I had entered a couple more races before Albania. I only ran a couple of 60km races in the preceding 12 months. I should have done a 100km race and maybe some more 60km races.

 

The other racers?
We were a complete mix of abilities, experience and ambitions.  There were a group of serious athletes who live and breathe ultra running; others enter one or two races each year; and then there was me, the newbie.  The youngest runner was 25 and the oldest 67.  Racers came from all over the globe.  France was well represented, as was Asia.  There were teams from both Albania and Kosovo, representing the Balkans; their live podcasts during and post each run seemed to be enthusiastically followed at home.  

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Notable personalities included Dan, a veteran ultra runner (more about him later), Kev who was running to raise awareness for prostate cancer whilst slowly dying of the condition – a truly inspirational person - and there was Joe, who drank beer before, during and after each stage. He even wore a beer belt, like Duffman from the Simpsons. I was fortunate to be teamed up with Dan from the US as my room and tent mate.  He is 67 and started ultra running at 50.  In the last eighteen years he seems to have run an event about every two weeks, specialising in 100 mile runs.  He has run two Trans 333s, one Trans 555 and Badwater, and he holds the record for the most Grand Slam 100s ever.  His support and advice was invaluable.

 

Did the race organisation live up to expectations?
The organisation was better than expected.  GlobalLimits is run by Stefan, a German, so everything was very efficient, right from the initial application to post race debriefs and photos. Stefan is very relaxed about the race itself.  You can stop and have a can of coke en route and use social media in the evening.  If you cannot do a day, due to injury or sickness, there is no walk of shame.  You can rejoin the race the next day, though you do not receive a placing at the end.

The overnight camps supplied tents, hot water, medical support, toilets and electricity for recharging phones.  There was a communal dining area and this, along with the layout of the tents, encouraged people to mix and chat.  I got to know everyone on the event and the socialising and subsequent friendships were an unexpected benefit of the trip.

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Each participant was restricted to one overnight bag weighing no more than 10kgs, which may sound spartan, but in reality was quite generous.  Indeed most runners finished the event with meals and snacks left over.

The staff were excellent and I should make special mention of the medical team, whose administration, advice and care was of the highest order.  They were selected for their experience in hot weather and mountains and I do not think that I could have been better cared for. 

 

How did you get on?
I did better than I thought I would.  The alpha male in me came out a bit and I found myself racing.  I teamed up with a great Frenchman called Damien who was a bit fitter than me and we helped each other around the course.  I finished between 6th and 9th place each day.  However I was quite sick after the longest day from electrolyte imbalance and needed to take it easy on the subsequent day, which impacted my overall place.  My final position was 9th. 

 

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What was the most painful moment?
For me the most painful moment was on the shortest leg at the end.  We finished on a long uphill stretch on a very hot day.  The route twisted around the contours of the hillside and I hoped and expected the finish line to appear around each corner.  Six long corners later it finally arrived….

 

And your favourite moment?
I think the best moments were when you found a runner going at your pace, allowing you to talk as you ran.  I enjoyed some great chats with so many different people from so many different countries and backgrounds.  They were the best moments.

 

Preparation and tip top tips
A lot has changed in the ultra world in the 15 years since I last ran.  Firstly there are so many more events, but there is also lots of specialist, expensive kit nowadays. The winners are a lot faster too.  

I would use poles for this event.  There was so much steep uphill that it made it worthwhile.  I managed to get some poles for one day and it made all the difference.

Get a good vest, especially one that is breathable and has straps for poles.  It was so hot that a vest does heat you up. Get a smaller vest, say 5l, with good breathability.

Use trail shoes with a good grip. I went for grip over cushioning and it stood me in good stead.

I would rethink my strategy on food and calories.  I would take less freeze dried food and then only Lyo, which is the only company I have found who make edible freeze dried meals.  I also took cous cous premixed with stock powder, raisins, cut up dried apricots, crushed garlic clove and some ginger - add hot water, a squeeze of a lemon quarter, a small tin of sardines in olive oil and you have calorie heaven.  Some runners were sceptical of my slightly extravagant food choice at the start, but by day three were very envious, especially those who were only eating freeze dried food.  Other ideas, take raitha bread or tortillas with peanut butter already spread on it.  Also go to a Japanese store and get high quality rice and egg noodles pre-cooked and vacuum packed, then just add a sachet of miso soup

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Just back from the Grand to Grand Ultra - Jeremy Goddard

Jeremy Goddard has just returned from the Grand to Grand Ultra, a seven-day, 270 kilometre running race from the lip of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to a section of the Grand Staircase, a mountain range in Utah. Competitors are self-supporting over the six stages in their food and equipment - water and medical care are provided by the organisers. Stages very from 12km to 85 km, a full double marathon and the ‘Long Day’.

He did well and despite a low moment on Day 2, he placed 20th overall and managed to fulfil his goals. Here he describes the pleasures and the pain of the race.

See more about the Grand to Grand Ultra here.

At the start on the lip of the Grand Canyon, photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

At the start on the lip of the Grand Canyon, photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

What was Grand to Grand 2018 like?
From registration to race-end the G2G is well organised and very welcoming, and this really makes the race. The welcome dinner on the Friday evening and then the great meal on the Saturday evening at Camp One on the rim of the Grand Canyon really help you to get to know your fellow runners and it develops a great spirit in the camp. Also it’s your last chance to stock up on real food!

In 2018 there was really good weather, which for me meant that it was warm, despite all the training I did in the great UK summer. I hadn’t managed to arrive early and acclimatise, so I felt myself overheating and had to slow down Day One; thankfully there was some cloud cover as it was really hot in direct sun.

There was a lot more sand than I anticipated, though apart from the dunes on the long day the majority wasn’t deep enough to sink into -  just soft enough to make running hard.

 

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

How did it go?
I have several goals going into any race, and with something like G2G, my primary goal is to finish. Further ambitions were to do well in my age group, and ultimately to see if I could finish within the top 20. With Day One being slower for me and then also a slower Day Two aswell because of some hip pain /ITB issues, I did wonder if I would achieve my goals. However, I knew that if I had a good run on the long day, it was still possible.

I managed to stretch and recover after Day Two, so I was able to perform well on the long day, and I was really pleased to finished it in 11th place. After that I felt I was running and pacing myself well, finishing strongly each day. In the end I managed to finish in 20th place overall which I was so happy with. And in my age group I placed 4th, which just shows how competitive the V50 category is!


Did the race organisation live up to expectations? 
The organisation and course really did live up to expectations. The scenery is as impressive as you could hope for. There is a good mix of terrain and although sometimes it did feel like there was too much on sandy tracks, that is just a necessity of getting from A to B. There were so many great spots – the Grand Canyon, Grand Staircase, slot canyons - too many to list, really. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t stop and take in the view.

The long stage was the hardest day – not just because of distance but also the variety of terrain. There were steep climbs and some technical descents. And then the sand dunes (twenty four of them!), which started around mile forty. They were big, steep and the sand was really soft! It was a case of crawl up as best you could, catch your breath at the top, jog down and repeat! As hard as that section was, I went through it in the dark with the stars out and the moon rising, so it was incredibly inspiring.

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra


Were you as well prepared as you could be?
The only slight change I would make would be to carry slightly more food because by the end of the week as I was starving! I had about 2700 calories a day which was mostly fine but an extra meal and a treat near the end of the week would have been fantastic! Everything else I planned, practised and prepared for in great detail.

The big difference for me in this race was that I also included my feet and blister prevention/care in my training and I practised taping my feet from the start – my toes and the balls of both feet. This worked really well and I finished the race with one small blister on one toe. Not only did it mean I could run with no issues, but after each stage I could rest and recover instead of having to queue for the medical tent with feet issues. 

One worry I had before heading out to the race was snakes, but this was needless. I did see a few, but it was generally their tails disappearing (thankfully none with rattles on!). It still got your heart beat up though! More concerning was coming across the remains of a deer and wondering whether something big enough to eat a deer would be interested in a runner!


What was the most painful moment?
The most painful thing for me was the second half of Day Two when I was experiencing hip/ITB pain. Psychologically you start to have doubts as to whether you will be able to finish the whole race. Thankfully, for the last part of the stage I had some great company; Neil, another runner from the UK. It really helps to take your mind off things while you’re out there. Once I was back in camp I focussed on rest and recovery and I was relieved it didn’t develop into a major issue.

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra


And your favourite moment?
My favourite moment is always crossing the finish line! During the long training and preparation this is something I visualise, so when the reality arrives it is a really emotional moment. However, there were special moments throughout the week. They make great memories and I will treasure them for years.


What did you learn?
I learnt a lot about what I am capable of on a personal level, but also what we are all capable of. It was inspiring to see everyone else and the way that all the different nationalities and backgrounds come together to support one another, all with the same goal of finishing the race.

In a slot canyon - Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

In a slot canyon - Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Jax Mariash and the Grand to Grand Ultra

Jax Mariash will be competing in the Grand to Grand Ultra 2018, a staged running race that takes place in  the US states of Arizona and Utah. She has been very successful in the discipline since she started ultra running in 2013 and in 2016 she became the 4 Deserts female champion, winning all four of the main events and placing second in an additional fifth race in Sri Lanka. This is her first Grand to Grand Ultra. 

The Grand to Grand Ultra is a 270km ultra run, which starts at the rim of the Grand Canyon and culminates at the Grand Staircase, a mountain range in Utah. There are six stages over seven days, including a double marathon, and the race is self-supported in terms of food, equipment and bedding.

©  Omni Cao / 4 Deserts

© Omni Cao / 4 Deserts

First a bit of form
I have been a runner since I was five years old, but I got into ultra running in 2013 when I was living in Hood River and looking for a new purpose for my running. I signed up for an ultra to jump into trail running and exploring and I placed 2nd in my first race. I was hooked on a new adventure.

I am the first woman in the world to complete the 4 Deserts Race Series Grand Slam Plus. I won all four of the main 4 Deserts races - Sahara/Namibia, the Gobi March, the Atacama Crossing and The Last Desert in Antarctica - and then I placed second in their roving fifth race in Sri Lanka. This led to being crowned the 2016 4 Deserts Female World Champion.

See more about Jax Mariash and see more about the Grand to Grand Ultra here.


How did you come across the Grand to Grand? Why now?
A group of us that ran the 4 Deserts races in 2016 have chosen to meet up for a reunion at the G2G in 2018. We are really excited to participate in a stage race again and to have the support of our 4 Deserts family – the camaraderie is one of the best parts of these races.  

© Myke Hemsmeyer /4 Deserts   ©

© Myke Hemsmeyer /4 Deserts ©


Why the G2G? Why now?
My passion is to inspire people to get into the outdoors. I love stage racing because it takes you to the depths of your mental core, showing you your potential as you touch your limits in mind, body and spirit. I love seeing how I and the other runners evolve from the experience, so if I can show this to people outside the sport it might inspire them to get outside and explore.

Secondly I would like to raise awareness of self-supported stage racing in the United States, where it is not as well known as elsewhere in the world. Finally, I hope to win the race.


Training
Training for self-supported stage races is its own recipe compared to a single day ultra. It involves enduring multiple days of long mileage with 18+ pounds on your back. A perfect recipe of strength and endurance. During my work, where I walk around a lot, I wear a 40lb vest for general strength training.

In a big volume week, my running program would look like this:

Monday: rest / strength training
Tuesday: interval session am / easy pack run PM
Wednesday: medium long day (15+ miles) / strength training
Thursday: interval session am / easy pack run PM
Friday: easy day / strength train
Saturday: long run on trail or road (20-40mi)
Sunday: long run on trail or road with pack (16-25mi)

©   Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts

©  Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts

My race schedule for this year is a major one. I have already completed the Marathon Des Sables and finished 6th female. Then I worked on a project to inspire the next generation by training and pacing a girl named Hannah Lutzker to become the first female in her group to run 42.2 miles. She is now the youngest female ultra runner. Next up for me is Leadville 100, UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc) in Chamonix and then G2G. 


Planning
Planning for a stage race is a bit of a project. Unlike a single day race, it involves many steps to get everything just right. Before the specific training starts, I wear my weighted vest at work and I run in another weighted vest a few times a week. The next big step in my preparation is strength training, which is often overlooked in high volume running programs. However, it is essential if you are to stay to stay strong, fast and injury free.

If I am on a mission to win, then I get super picky with everything about three months out. That means nutrition, hydration, strength, massage, run schedule etc. You have to do everything perfectly if you want to be on the top of the podium. 

A month before the event I start to build the pack and I train with it as I intend to race. That way any pack runs in the last month are done with the actual pack – with a little extra weight- helping my back muscles to get used to it.

©   Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts

©  Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts


Most daunting aspect?
Consistency and staying injury free are critical in the few months before a race. This is why strength training is essential. Also I have to have a perfect life balance to get all of my work done for my coffee business at the same time as training. In a nut shell, my personal life begins to suffer. This year I am actually taking my time after an off year to get back in that regimented routine, so I am a little nervous as I go into this race.


And what are you most looking forward to?
I am looking forward to seeing my friends from all over the world who participated in the 4 Deserts Grand Slam or Grand Slam Plus. We will be staying in the same tent together.

It is also a really neat opportunity to be at one with nature and to check out of the real world. For me, it becomes a place of peace and simplicity because at home I am so busy, connected to social media and working so much. Life in the race becomes simple and reduces to - race fast, survive, recover – those three things and spending quality time with friends. In a messed up way, it feels like a vacation of sorts.

I am so excited also that my friends will be there to meet me at the finish line of the G2G. I live in Park City, so my friends are driving to the finish to cheer me in. It makes me want to win that much more. From there our 4 Deserts family is all meeting up for a reunion in Vegas to celebrate. 


What does success look like?
Success is about inspiring folks to get outside and move their bodies and explore. When you see folks fall in love with sport or running because of something you did it is amazing. I love to inspire. 

Winning the race is the icing on the cake. I hope I can place first woman in the G2G. Also to get as close as I can to the top guys. In Chile I was 2nd overall up until the long day and ended up in 4th place. I was right up there with them in all of the 4 deserts races. It was fun. 

 

©   Omni Cao / 4 Deserts

©  Omni Cao / 4 Deserts