A Scottish Love Affair: Cycling the North Coast 500

What an epic adventure!

Cycling 505miles, 10000m elevation, 39.5hrs moving time over 6 days with a 12.5mph average speed.

Day 1 Dingwall (just outside Inverness) to Sheildaig: 90miles, 2000m including the infamous Applecross / Bealach na Bà pass (pass of cattle in Gaelic). It has the steepest ascent of any road in the UK starting from sea level and rising to 2,054 feet (626 meters). It’s 5miles (9km) long with hairpin bends and gradients that approach 20%. It’s a single track road to has to be shared with car/ motorbikes travelling up and down which is hard when it’s windy and you’re being buffeted around on the road. At one stage I had 3 Ferrari’s behind me!

Applecross Pass
At the top

Day 2 Sheildaig to Ullapool: 95miles, 2000m

Day 3 Ullapool to Rhiconich: 75miles, 2100m. We did the detour around the coastal road to Lochinever which I highly recommend.

Day 4 Rhiconich to Thurso: 88miles, 2000m

Day 5 Thurso to Brora: 83miles, 1500m. This was a tough day because the head wind was relentless. It was push all day even standing up to cycle down hill sometimes, every pedal stroke counted!

Day 6 Brora to Dingwall via Inverness Castle (closed due to work on it to make it a tourist destination): 72miles, 773m

When Clare mentioned cycling in Scotland and would I want to go I suggested the NorthCoast 500 route. I had little time to prepare though. I had been bike touring before (in fact I have even done Lands End to John O’Groats but that was 25yrs ago) but everything has changed so much in terms of kit and technology. I had previously toured with panniers on a mountain bike. I no longer own a mountain bike so was looking to tour with my racer which I had bought on FaceBook Marketplace for £200 and currently resided on the indoor turbo trainer. Due to Covid it was impossible to buy a new bike (in an ideal world I would have liked a gravel/ cyclocross bike but a road bike was absolutely fine) or in fact any cycling accessory such as bike packs. Luckily a friend at work kindly let me his bike packs. They were the best- made by Apidura. I took a front pack, a saddle pack and a frame pack. Packing was easy- I always like to travel in a minimalist fashion. This was new to Clare and it was fair to say next time she may go lighter! Ha ha!

For those that are interested here is a Kit List:

Tent (Nordisk Halland 2 LW) shared between 2, sleeping bag, Thermarest sleeping mat, one set of cycling clothes (shorts, jersey, t-shirt, thermal), rain coat, windproof, 2 pairs of socks, gloves, buff, down jacket, 1 clean top for camping, cotton shorts to sleep in, sliders, toothbrush/ paste, midge repellant (although the wind did a great job at keeping them at bay), phone charger, LedLenser headlamp, bike tool kit, electrical tape, camping stove, plastic mug, metal bowl and spoon.

We tried to aim for a coffee shop mid morning most days but this wasn’t always possible because of Covid shut shops. Another essential was the regular application of chamois (premax) cream!

Wild camping every night was not a problem. Taking 10mins or so to find the perfect spot.

What was harder was to find food. On the first day I suggested whilst the weather was good and we were fresh (well ish…..after cycling up the Applecross pass) we cycle on a bit further as Applecross was due to be our end destination that day. On arriving in Sheildaig the restaurant was full booked and could not even accommodate takeaway requests. The shop shut at 5. We were left to eat the bag of peanuts for supper! After that we carried a lot more food and an emergency evening meal which we needed on day 3. We ate a lot fo fish suppers (as the Scots call fish ‘n’ chips).

The food I carried included coffee, peanuts, energy bar selection from Komfuel, noodles/ sauce (emergency evening meal) and 32Gi Race Pro energy drink powder.

The views were outstanding- in the cloud, sun or rain. It was a different scene every day. Truly breathtaking.

Get out there and enjoy it!

Categories: Cycling | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

My Nigel Jenkins Dartmoor Round

Nigel ran his Round in 1999, on the eve of the millennium. He covered 28 tors, 122km/ 76miles and 4000m/ 13000ft of vertical gain in 18hrs during the winter darkness. 

The Round gained interest during Lockdown when people looked closer to home for their challenges. I read about Patrick Devine- Wright and Tim Lenton doing it on the Summer Solstice and thought that is the challenge for me.

The map came out and the recce runs planned. Training had already incorporated long days on Dartmoor as my Lockdown focus was to really get to know the Moor. I arranged to run sections with friends and even got to run a Round section supporting Patrick as he had another go at it. I studied the map obsessively and soon it featured in my dreams!

Driving to the start it was really foggy, the sheep and cattle had all congregated on the road and so it was slalom driving in the dead of night- quite stressful as I was nervous. 

I set a date, 15th August, and then got on arranging to be fully supported. Jon, my husband, was my crew at various road junctions and I had company on each leg. I was praying for good weather and visibility!

Credit: Jon

The Meavy village church bell chimed 0400, my watch was started and we were off. The first section was with Siân where we started from The Royal Oak (tree and pub) and headed up to and around one end of Burrator reservoir and on up to Sheeps Tor (#1). In the dark, drizzle and fog, I was worried about navigating off the Tor using a worn path to hit the track rather than fighting through the head-height bracken but my recce’s paid off and we descended the Tor and on towards the other end of the reservoir. 

Climbing up to Sharpitor (#2) was ok but actually finding the peak was harder as the mist and rain obliterated any line of sight. Eventually we stumbled upon the rocks and then turned east  to get towards Inga Tor. It was here Paul Waldron had the ingenious thought of parking on the road with his head lights turned on so we had something to aim for in the distant darkness before he ran the next km with us. Inga Tor (#3) was climbed and descended before heading towards Sampford Spiney village and up to Pew Tor (#4). 

Credit: James Armstrong
Credit: James Armstrong

It  was getting lighter as we approached Cox Tor car park which was my first check point with Jon.

Credit: James Armstrong

I even had cheering support from Jane and Derek Jackson, from here and every checkpoint to the end, which was really appreciated. A smooth transition as rubbish was deposited, more energy taken on board, and my next support runner, Richard Best, collected. James Armstrong was out taking photos; impressively hill sprinting up Cox Tor to get ahead. 

Siân & Me. Credit: James Armstrong
Richard Best & Me. Credit: James Armstrong

Cox Tor (#5) Trig point touched and then down and around to Standon Hill. Straight forward? Nope! In that one section I nearly overshot my crossing point to climb Standon and I lost both Sian and Richard behind me in the mist. I did shout and I did consider waiting but I knew they both had phones and knew the way as well as me as we’d all run that bit before (they were fine). I descended Standon (#6) by listening to where the River Tavy was- loud and in full spate. I missed my intended shallow crossing point and nice path to lead me across the leat up Ger Tor. The consequence meant navigating through the river at waist height, embracing the prickly gorse, crossing the leat, diving through the bracken field and then rock hopping up Ger Tor (#7). I was worried about the next bit because in the recce I had relied on line of sight. Error! I approached a Tor  and randomly shouted is anyone there? A miracle!

Credit: James Armstrong

It was Brat Tor (#8) but I couldn’t even see Widgery Cross a top it until I got really close.

Credit: James Armstrong
Credit: James Armstrong
Credit: James Armstrong
Jon & Me.

I got a second replen of food and was meant to meet Andy Valance here but I was ahead of schedule. So determinedly I headed off into the mist to Great Links on route to Branscombe Loaf.  A few minutes later I was back after realising I had run off in the wrong direction. Doh! Second attempt was in the right direction but not along the straight line route I had planned to take. I had a conversation with myself- you either get on with what you’ve got accepting this challenge wholeheartedly or you whinge and achieve nothing. I so wanted to complete it I cracked on into the fog. Eventually I was climbing Branscombe (#9) and like an apparition Andy appeared from the gloom. I was so happy! 

He took me up High Willhays (highest point on Dartmoor #10) superbly considering there is no track just bog and more bog, onto Oke Tor (#11) all the way to Cosdon Beacon (#12).

Andy Valance & Me. Credit: Clare Capper

There I was met by Jeremy Tandy and Clare Capper who replenned my energy levels and we all flew off Cosdon to Rippator (#13). I was feeling good despite the wet boggy terrain.

Clare & Me. Credit: Jeremy Tandy
Credit: Jeremy Tandy

We ran up Thornworthy (#14)

Credit: Jeremy Tandy

and rounded Fernworthy reservoir

Credit: Jeremy Tandy

before heading across to Bennetts Cross which was a road crossing and more food.

Through the Bronze Age settlement, Grimspound we continued up to Hameldown Tor (#15) and Beacon (#16) and then all the way down to Wind Tor (#17). This was my lull. I had been running for 8hrs and I knew it. 

The misty atmosphere was actually making me feel a bit dozy too, however, after Rowden Ball (#18) we hit some road for a bit and that bought a different focus of attention. Sharp Tor (#19) to climb before descending to Dartmeet.

Credit: Jeremy Tandy

I was now well up on schedule but still didn’t want to loose time so didn’t stop.

Jeremy & Me. Credit: Jane Jackson

On arrival at Dartmeet I thanked Jeremy and Clare as I swopped them for Paul Crease and Siân, and meet with Jon.

Jon, Siân, Derek, Jane & Paul Crease

We crossed the West Dart River as it flooded the stepping stones and began the climb up Ryders via Snowdon to Pupers Hill. False crest after false crest, ground that resembled a rice paddy field and rain that made me questioned if I could move fast enough to keep warm. 

After Pupers (#20) it was down and around Avon Dam and then I could look forward to another support stop at Shipley Bridge. We caught Jon unaware as I was 2hrs up on schedule.

However, it was all easily accessible as my geeky admin skills had packed it with military precision. The sun had revealed itself and so a nice glass of cool coke was perfect along with lots of friendly encouragement from Jane, Derek, Clare and Jeremy. I picked up all my food, of which Paul kindly carried a lot for me before handing it over to Tim, to take me to the end which was now only 4hrs away. My mouth pretty fed up with all the sweet sugary intake and at times I felt queasy but eating regularly was key and energy levels were good. 

We travelled up to Corringdon Gate through some imposing gate posts (from the former Brent Manor) and onto Corringdon Ball (#21) and it’s prehistoric stone row, chambered cairn and nearby burial/ ceremonial sites. Then on up to Butterdon Hill (#22) and Western Beacon which was my furthest point South and reached by an out and back on the Two Moors Way Track.

Arriving at Western Beacon (#23) Paul could hand me over to Patrick, Tim and Nigel Jenkins. We approached…no one….still no one….Paul graciously offered to run with me to the end….and then suddenly Tim emerged at high speed. Fantastic timing. His navigation and running skills over rough ground are absolutely superb and so although I knew the route I could essentially follow on.

Tim, Me & Paul. Credit: Siân Longthorpe

Head down back up the track and suddenly Patrick appeared which made me jump. Brilliantly he has recovered well from his Rounds and it was great to run with him again. Thanking Paul as he peeled off to run back to his car we cut down through the bracken, crossed the River Erme and up the steepest of hills, hands on knees, to Hilson’s House (#24) atop the hill. The weather from the morning vastly contrasted to the sun and subsequent views we were getting now. Glorious. I could see across to Penn Beacon but had some bogs and baby’s heads (unforgiving grass tussocks) to contend with first. Through an impressive stone row, past River Yealms’ waterfall, onto Penn Moor and finally reaching Penn Beacon (#25) and there was THE Nigel Jenkins. Hugs, enthusiastic smiles shared and he’d even bought me some cola. From here on in we essentially chased him the whole way back. Now only about 10km to go and all of it was to be in a straight line (no nice tracks!) Rock climbing up Great Trowlesworthy Tor (#26) with knees already scraped from falling over so much I felt like a kid. Down again and on to Gutter Tor (#27) through bogs and rivers. My shoes just about still contained my feet alongside all the sludge and river sediment. Amazingly no blisters or sore spots even after 14+hrs of running. 

I tried to pick up the pace as the track was good underfoot but I was beginning to feel heavy legged and my hip flexors were sore from the continued demand to lift my feet higher than usual to retrieve them from the boggy ground. 

Homeward bound chasing the group I tried to push. Sheeps Tor (again) (#28) gave me goose bumps especially as Andy Connor, the current holder of the Rounds fastest time (16hrs 11mins) was at the top. We shook hands in true sweaty runners style. The descent wasn’t rapid but as soon as we hit the track and road back to the pub and finish line I really tried to accelerate. The group were fantastic I didn’t even have to open or close a gate! 

The End!

My finish was special – claps and cheers- my mum, Jon, crew, supporters and fellow runners!  

Finish Time: 14hrs 39mins 28secs. 129km. 3720m of elevation.

The pub at the end was bathed in lovely sunshine as we all had a drink and chips. The end was special as I was surrounded by most of the team who’d helped me achieve my ultimate goal of running as fast as I could around The Nigel Jenkins Dartmoor Round. THANK YOU SO MUCH as none of this would have been as possible or half as enjoyable without each and everyone of you. 

Jeremy, THE Nigel Jenkins, Clare, Jon, Paul Waldron, Me, Richard Best, Tim Lenton, Siân, Derek, Jane, Patrick. Missing: Andy & Paul Crease

Kit used:

A massive thank you to all my sponsors for your support and the products above.

Categories: Ultra races | 7 Comments

Lockdown Love. More and Moor: Dartmoor.

Lockdown, in theory, meant less but living in Dartmoor National Park it meant more and moor. With races cancelled I had no goals or aims. I was recovering from a tendon injury and was determined to rehab properly which meant building up slowly.

As I recovered I turned my attention to exploring my own backyard. Dartmoor is a wild open moorland with deep river valleys, a rich history and rare wildlife. It’s 368 square miles or 954 square kilometres. It’s about 20 miles from North to South and 20 miles from East to West. There is a book called the Dartmoor 365 which covers every square mile and explores what’s in them. I’m working my way through it.

The highest point on Dartmoor is High Willhays Tor at 621m or 2,039ft above sea level. The lowest point on Dartmoor is Doghole Bridge. It’s 30m or 98ft above sea level. Dartmoor is made up of 65% granite; rock which was created around 295 million years ago. Where the granite rock shows through they create Tors. Tors are landforms created by the erosion and weathering of rock. There are over 160 tors on Dartmoor. The shapes they make are all different and unusual.

I love the history and the scenery. I wanted to really get to know it!

The first run planned was South to North. Jon and I ran the 30mile route based on the reverse of the route the Royal Marines used to run (in Jon’s day!). The Royal Marine recruits must complete it in 8hrs (7hrs for Officers) carrying 40Ilbs of kit (18kg) and rifles; impressive. We did Buckfastleigh to South Zeal so detoured off it at the start and the end for logistical reasons.

The second run we did was East to West; Moretonhampstead to Tavistock. It was 25miles with 1300m of elevation. The next day we ran back. I was on route selection map reading duties- some good, some bad – but essentially we Tor hopped as the crow flies. The sun shone and it was glorious to run cross Dartmoor, eat cake and not get wet feet.

The third run we did was Moretonhampstead to Lydford. It was 25miles with 1200m of elevation. It was a glorious route stepped in history; passing through a stone hut circle from the Bronze Age- around 1200BC. 

I wanted to link up to the Lych Way which started near Postbridge and finished in Lydford. The Lych Way, ‘way of the dead’, history is set deep in the medieval days when every person on the moor was expected to attend their church for burials. This involved a walk of about 12 miles in good conditions and about 17miles in bad weather.

The fourth run was from Okehampton camp to Shaugh Prior, North to South; the current Royal Marines 30miler; the final Commando test before they get the infamous green beret.

The fifth run, on my birthday, was along the 23miles of the Abbots Way following the route taken by monks in the 11th century when they walked from Tavistock Abbey (974AD) to Buckfast Abbey (1018AD).

The sixth run I did was the Dartmoor half of the Two Moors Way (30 miles, 1330m). I did it with a friend, Siân Longthorpe. We started from Ivybridge and headed to Hameldown before veering off to Moretonhampstead.

Then other routes became apparent off the back of my developing fitness, strength and Dartmoor knowledge.

One such route being the Dartmoor Perambulation: In 1240 King Henry III ordered a writ, dated the June 13th, that the lands of his brother, Richard of Cornwall, should confirmed by a boundary perambulation. The lands in question were the Forest of Dartmoor and the Manor of Lydford which he had previously granted to Richard in 1239. It was decreed that the Sheriff of Devon and 12 “lawful knights of the country” should undertake the mission. Over two days Jon and I undertook the mission. 48miles, 2200m elevation and about 11hrs of run- walking, navigating and trampling across ground with some paths sometimes!

Day 1 South: Rundlestone, near Princetown, Siward’s Cross, Erme Head ford, Eastern White barrow (burial mound), Ryders Hill, Dartmeet, King’s Oven (near to the Warren House Inn).

Day 2 North: Watern Tor, Hound Tor, Cosdon, Cullever Steps, Yes Tor, Steng-a Tor, Rattle Brook, Lynch Tor, Great Mis Tor and back to Rundlestone.

Another such route was the Dartmoor 600’s which encompasses all 5 peaks over 600m (Cut Hill, Whitehorse Hill, Hangingstone Hill, High Wilhays, Yes Tor). It was 18miles and took 3hrs 11mins setting a new female Fastest Known Time (FKT). I did it in mizzly rain and fog but was accompanied by Jeremy Tandy who helped with the navigation- thanks.

Now I have one more challenge I want to do before the summer ends and racing resumes again. There is a route set by Nigel Jenkins in 1999 called the Dartmoor Round which he did on New Years Eve to celebrate the millennium making sure he got back to the pub before last orders. It’s 75miles around the Moor covering 28 Tors.

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As I write this I am busy recceing it when I can.

I aim to do it mid August, in a good weather window! Watch this space…..

Categories: Dartmoor, Sponsors | Leave a comment

Black Canyon 100km

Sweaty stinky armpits. Why does one produce such a thing when adjusting to a different time zone? It’s 0200 MST (US) time (0900 GMT) and I was wide awake drinking a morning coffee. I made the decision to stay on UK time when travelling to Phoenix, Arizona because I didn’t want jet lag to effect my race. My do or die (don’t) mission.

It was peaceful as everyone slept. Well, not everyone….the nearest highway hums all night. I was staying with Miguel. I got in contact with him via a Facebook group – the Aravaipa Trail running group- on which I asked for accommodation help. The response was really generous but Miguel and his offer of a room in The Ultrahouse was too good to be true. As I look through the visitors book I can see I follow in many other ultra runners footsteps who have also passed through Phoenix.

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I arrive Thursday late afternoon. I have one day before the Black Canyon 100km.

The historic trail is of national significance, following a route used since the times of pre-historic Native American travelers and traders.  The Department of the Interior officially established the route as a livestock driveway in 1919, when it was used by woolgrowers from the Phoenix area to herd sheep to and from their summer ranges in the Bradshaw and Mingus Mountains.  Many segments of the trail roughly parallel the old Black Canyon stagecoach road between Phoenix and Prescott.

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The Black Canyon 100km features a 55 mile stretch of this trail beginning at in Spring Valley and ending at the Emery Henderson Trailhead near New River.

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Along the way we ran through Black Canyon and the Agua Fria river many times- so refreshing!

The day before I go for a 30min run to stretch out my legs. The sunrise is really beautiful

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We drive with Miguel to Black Canyon City so we can collect our bib number. I’m slightly unnerved to find it’s no 13!

I say we because Steph Austen, the Australia athlete, is also staying at The Ultrahouse.img_0191

The race starts at 0700 MST. I slept well and I felt ready. It takes just over an hour to get to the start. I was so nervous but felt positive. I had managed to arrange to meet a friend who said she would crew for me. I waited at the start for her- thank you Sarah in joining me for some of it. The logistics of the race seemed distortedly amplified way before race day. I was getting overly anxious about where I’d stay (until I found the Facebook group), how I’d manage the jet lag, how I’d get to the start etc. Obviously it all worked out perfectly thanks to the generosity of Miguel. Thank you so much! I did not feel it was detrimental in the end but not pleasant in the days preceding. I wonder if my anxiety was a byproduct of the pressure I was putting on myself for the race- win or lose essentially!

The race started in 1°C. I was freezing in my vest and shorts but knew I would warm up pretty quick when the sun rose. I had 100km to run with 1580m of height gain and 2150m of loss after all!

It was a fast start. The first 20miles to the first crewed aid station, Bumble Bee, was essentially all down hill. I purposely hung back from the front pack of woman but still got dragged along in order to remain competitive. It was single track the whole way: weaving up and down and side to side. Really well marked. I hated to admit it but at this aid station my legs were already feeling it. You need speed and agility to excel in this race. As I begin to analyse it I can see all the front runners had good fast recent marathon times- 2.40 something- a good cadence and fast leg turnover was essential.

My stomach was beginning to rumble (not in a good way!). I stopped at the Portaloos and got disconnected from the group of women I was with but I remained focused on trying to catch them back up.

I reached Black Canyon City aid station (mile 37.4) and got to see how far the other ladies were in front of me. It was only minutes but I really struggled in the climb out. I was thirsty- it was topping 31°C now. I had flasks of energy drink and craved ice cold water not sticky sweet fluids.

I began to trip more over the rocky single track. I was tiring but with 25miles to go I couldn’t let go of a possibility. I was 4th. I never stopped trying. I ran the whole day albeit some bits much slower than others. I didn’t look up much for fear of falling over. However, I never failed to be impressed by the height of the surrounding Saguaro cacti which can grow up to 12m tall.

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But they could inflict serious skin wounds!

This was a result of running past a prickly pear cactus as I tried to overtake on the single track.

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At Table Mesa aid station (mile 51) station I drank a lot of water which probably wasn’t the best idea as I set off again with my stomach completely overloaded. After this I struggled to eat/ consume my gels but I knew I’d had enough prior so wasn’t too worried. I sucked and crunched my way through ice cubes which felt amazingly refreshing. The aid stations were well stocked with encouraging volunteers.

The race went on and the horrible sinking feeling of failure crept in. I had a long time to think it through. I had come out to this race with the one goal of getting a golden ticket for a 100mile race in America called Western States. I had (and have over the previous years) failed to get in through the lottery and so rose to the challenge of seeing if I could enter one of their golden ticket races. Could I run faster? I kept asking myself and the answer confirmed I was working my hardest.

I was pleased to finish in 9hrs 49mins. 5th woman. I was pleased to finish full stop! My legs were sore, I felt sick, I had blisters on my feet from the greek crossings and my forehead was burnt! Time for a rest.

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Better to have tried and failed then never have tried at all. Here’s to taking risks!

 

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Geoparktrail, Iran

Two years ago I did this race…..my blog is a great memory of a fantastic event in a beautiful place.
Qeshm Island is located a few miles off the southern coast of Iran in the Persian Gulf opposite the port cities of Bhandar Abbas and Khamir.
It has a long history with people inhabiting the Island well BC. It has been the site of defence and fighting and the Portuguese even built a fort on it. It is used for navigation and trade as it’s at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
It is quite small measuring 130km long and 40km wide and had a population of about 120,000.
It is famous for a few things. It is supposed site of the Garden of Eden (as described in the Book of Genesis) but who knows.
It’s mangrove nature park is a bird watchers haven where pelicans and many others species, native to Iran or just passing through, stop.

It is a breeding site for Hawksbill turtles which are now heavily protected as their numbers are dangerously low.

It hand builds ships with wood.
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Finally it has this amazing Geo Park. They are trying to establish as a UNESCO world site. The top rock layer is really soft and so when it rains it cuts the landscape into these uniques gorges.
This was the second time the race had been run. Iranian runner, Davood is the race director and has done an amazing thing organising such an event when time keeping and local reliability is not good to stay the least. Last year was just a 28km race and this year was a 30km and 60km (well actually 66km). I heard about it online from a German runner called Moritz and knew it was the adventure for me. I checked the FCO and it was far from any dangerous conflicts. The borders of Iran (Iraq and Afghanistan) are basically the only out of bounds areas. To get a visa I needed o travel to London and get my biometric data taken. Then I could fly to Tehran but I would need a escort for the whole trip because I’m British (same for Americans and Canadians). For this I was quoted £1000 so I looked into flying from Dubai. The trip was looking off.
However, I found out Queshm Island hosts a 300-square-kilometre free trade jurisdiction so it meant if I flew from Dubai straight to the Island then I would not need a visa a guide. Trip was back on! Yes!
I fly to Dubai and then 12hrs later flew to Queshm Island. On arrival I had to wait to have my fingers print taken but on the whole entry was smooth. Immediately I noticed two things; the people are so friendly; and time keeping is very chilled. The flight took off whenever and I had offers of accommodation and car travel before even boarding.
I had to wear a hijab, and full length clothing for the trip and luckily had bought a head scarf in this was so.
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I was staying in a rural guest house called Sharifi and everyone was so welcoming.
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I was given a bike and lead out of on a quite tour of the village. This might have seemed the last thing I wanted to do after 24hrs of travel but actually it was quite invigorating. Seeing the stars in the warmish evening air was refreshing.

Falafel wraps for dinner and then bed.
On Wednesday many more runners arrived from Tehran including Moritz. Everyone was so kind, genuine and talkative. We all got taken to the Mangrove area and I had got a chance to swim. The average temperature is 27 °C (81 °F) but actually it was quite windy by the sea so felt colder.
That night we collected out bib numbers and listened to the race brief is Farsi so none the wiser really!
Food was in 30mins we waited an 1 hour and then 15mins and we waited 2hours so in the end bought was wraps at a street stall. Eventually we got to bed only to be up in 5hrs. The race was supposed to start at 6.30 am but in Iran that meant closer to 7am!
The atmosphere was jovial and it was amazing to see how many women were running. Everyone wanted to say hello and get a photo.
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The race started on the beach.
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A little bit of road soon took us out into the geopark. I managed to fall over on the road after tripping over something but only skin wounds thankfully. What an idiot!
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The route was through hard desert sand, along rocky outcrops and up through valleys taking in some outstanding landscape.
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I ran slowly to start as the sun really came out on race day. I wanted to be respectful but obviously not enough and a fat lot of good my best intentions were! The first 30km I was cruising. 3hrs of running and so I thought 6.5hrs to finish. I wondered why people kept telling me I was in second overall and then realised some of the front men had gone wrong. I had started to get a blister so stopped for some vaseline application and then headed into the gorges. The heat and lack of any air flow was tremendous.
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I started to feel sick and thought perhaps it was my nutrition but then even when I stopped eating I continued to puke. I suddenly remembered a pearl of wisdom from a great physiologist, Joe Layden: If someone overheats their core temperature then cool their forearms down. I was running in arm warmers (and full length leggings) for the cultural prerequisite. I pulled them down (my arm warmers not my leggings!) and at about aid station 44km I got some coke on board and this saved me my race. I could continue to put one foot in front of the other and not be sick but I didn’t dare try any food. I slowed up so much but never wanted to stop. The winning men who took the detour started to pass me. Moritz passed me and I told him I felt terrible but wished him good luck so he could catch the leading chap infront (and he did!). At the end he told me he was surprised I finished when I did (I must have looked pretty rubbish!). I crossed the finish line in 7hrs 15mins, 1st female and 4th overall.
I was so hot and then so cold and then so sick for 24hrs.2018-02-13-PHOTO-00000038
I spent so much time in the toilet I can tell you it’s made in Iran but the biday hose is made in Italy, what the grouting is like etc..
The doctor visited me- I was so embarrassed- and to be honest it was more from saying I think it’s just heat stroke. I feels like I’ve made an error but I definitely drunk enough. I honestly think being fully covered was my downfall in 30+ hear in the gorges.
I was desperate not to miss out on exploring the island so when everyone went out to the beach I dragged my sorry arse along too. They had to drive to a remote beach so the women could undress and swim in a bikini or costume.
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It is illegal so a local may have reported us otherwise. It was lovely despite feeling ill and I witnessed a beautiful sunset.IMG_3646
The morning I was due to fly the opportunity to visit one of the gorges came up.IMG_3649
I was worried I would miss my flight due to ‘Iranian time keeping’ but I risked it and it was totally worth it.
At the end I got given a gift of local clothing and it was so kind. I love my new harem trousers.
I have gained so much from this experience. The people made it for me with their generosity and hospitality
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I would like to thank Davood and Kiana for hosting me and all the others runners I got to share sometime with. I’m now travelling home but I would love to visit Tehran and Sharah one day.

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Ultra X Sri Lanka stage race preview

Here is a video clip of what is to come 21st- 29th March. Pure escapism!~ Tempted?

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Cappodocia 64km

Cappadocia lies in Central Anatolia, largely in Nevsehir Province of central Turkey. The ground consists of a high plateau over 1000 m in altitude that is pierced by volcanic peaks. Ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago underlie the Cappadocia region. Eruption and erosion created the spectacular pillars and chimney-like forms. Fire, wind and rain!

However, it was also human ingenuity that has given Cappadocia its magical aesthetic. Cappadocia was on the historic Silk Road trading route. Century after century, the area was raided and invaded by expanding European empire builders; The Hittites, the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans.

After bringing the Persian Empire to an end, Alexander the Great tried to rule the area through one of his military commanders. Around 60 BC, Cappadocia became a Roman province. During this Roman period, persecuted Christians fled to the town of Göreme in Cappadocia.  They soon discovered the soft tuff  rock could easily be excavated and they built homes and churches and entire underground cities, with up to 10 storeys, in the chimneys.

The region became a monastic centre in 300–1200 AD.

Now the region is a tourist haven. The transfer from the airport was 45mins to arriving in Ürgüp.

Our hotel was amazing.

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We had a day before the race so I did a little jog out but sprinted back followed closely by some dogs. They were actually being more friendly than aggressive but at the time instinct prevailed. We then got our race bibs.

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It was so well organised. In the compulsory kit check was trainers and I had flipflops on. I said you’ll have to believe me when I say I have them.

It got dark about 7pm and so as we headed to the pasta party the stars where coming out.

The race started at 7am. We got up at 5am and had a coffee and a homemade flapjack. We were all set. Nervous smiles!

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I carried the compulsory kit and a selection of gels from Komfuel and 32Gi. My energy levels were spot on. Although my stomach began to cave in towards the end….

Me (before the race): ‘Do you need a final poo?’

My stomach: ‘No’

Me: ‘Ok good lets go and race’

My stomach (10km from the end): ‘I think I need to go now’

Me: ‘What? Are you telling me we’ve carried an extra kilo around this whole time? Typical I race for 6hrs and then you say I do need that poo!’

The conversations you have as a runner!

Anyway back to the start. It was a steep uphill and I was definitely blowing out backwards. My lack of leg speed after practicing going slow and long all summer was showing through. I lost the girl who won here! Anyway with 64km and 2000m of elevation to go I thought I still had a chance obviously! We started with the runners who were doing the 119km route. It was a great atmosphere.

The first aid station was at Ibrahimpasa 11km. I felt as though I still hadn’t really got going. It was a real effort but then the terrain never changed and I realised it was actually a pretty punishing course. Rollercoaster hills constantly up and down wore the legs down. The profile didn’t really depict this.

I was running with many people. I got the opportunity to catch up with people I raced with in Iran at the Geopark trail, in Kazakhstan at the TengriUltra and in Russia at the Golden Ring Ultra. It was so good.

I had the goal to break the course record so I was trying to stick to a set pace and not go off too fast but I also didn’t want to leave anything on the course. I wanted to push hard so it was tough finding a rhythm. The next check point was at 28km so the 10miles between checkpoints took us through the Zemi Valley, Goreme and the Pigeon Valley, before reaching Uchisar. If you didn’t look up it was easy to detour off the trail because it wound through caves and down narrow river beds. The next stage was 8km of sandy tracks to Goreme and I felt I could push on through the Love Valley (honestly it was really called that!). Then the hills returned – 500m in 12km to Cavusin (checkpoint 4). I got stuck behind a dog who seemed to want to join the runners on their route. The problem was as I bent over to put my hands on my thighs to climb my head was at the corresponding height of his anus! It was no good…I had to push passed him which he conceded to. I then imagined he wasn’t that amused as I bent over to continue climbing (although knowing dogs he probably didn’t mind at all! 😂).

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A nice downhill to checkpoint 5, Akdag, which was very welcome after what felt like 400m in 4miles but wasn’t quite as bad as that. My legs didn’t really want to pick up much pace but I kept pushing on in case the leading lady could be caught. I had no idea how far in front she was.

The last stage only had 122m of height gain in 9km but it was in the form of a gradual ascent to quite unrelenting. I was pleased to be finishing but did spare a thought for those runners doing the long course who had to head out to do another loop somewhere. The finish was down the cobbled streets into Ürgüp.

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2nd woman. 6hrs 22min.

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Thank you to the race organisers for having me. It was an incredible venue with superb organisation and such a friendly atmosphere meeting old and new friends alike.

 

 

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Golden Ring Ultra Trail 108km

The journey to Russia could not have gone better. I got upgraded! Amazing luxury! Champagne, choice of meals and space to incline the chair back. On landing in Moscow I was picked up and driven for 5hours to Suzdal. The road surfaces were relatively poor so it took a while to cover the distance. It was interesting to see the stark contrast between the city and the rural towns. All the money is in the city. However the culture extends far beyond the city.  I loved the colourful display of window frames.

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On arriving in Suzdal it was buzzing. It was founded in the 11th century, Suzdal is one of the oldest towns in Russia and home to more than 300 unique historical sites and monuments from ancient Russia, including several that have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

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Awarded federally protected status in 1967 and surrounded by expansive forests and fields which I learnt I would be running through.

My first priority was finding some food some a menu that was complete gobbledygook. I opted for pike!

I had a day before my race to register and get my bib number. I used the day to eat a lot. The men’s course record was 10hrs which is not that fast for a flat course- only 800m of elevation (don’t get me wrong it’s fast!). I figured then the course had some hidden difficulties so I was eating to prepare my energy stores!

The race started at 0500 so I got up at 0345 for a coffee and some oats. Compulsory kit check, bag drop for 68km and then I lined up. The music was rousing- we were started by Michael the race director and his mini axe!

I thought if it was flat I could sustain 9min/ mile pace on runnable trails for 108km so I started off with that pace in mind. However the first few miles were around the ancient sites on the road so my pace was slightly quicker. However, we soon hit single track through fields and adjacent to the river which meant frequent river crossings (good wee opportunities!), boggy, muddy slippery trails and lots of river rushes to battle through.

The river crossings were deep- I had to swim. It was hard to overtake so my pace was kept pretty conservative.

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I caught the first two women about 2hrs into the race. I swept past the first one but the leading woman was a class runner- a real match! On and on the miles went and we essentially remained together. The trail changed from single track to technical forest. They called it the Russian jungle.  We had to battle through young trees, old fallen trunks and slippery mossy stacked logs.

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I had the odd sense of humour failure as my foot got sucked into yet another bog but in the end I told myself to not fight it so much and just go with what the trail threw at me and this helped. I got ahead after an aid station but lost the markers temporarily and she caught me. It coincided with me leaping a trunk and wacking my knee on a sticking out branch. It was like I’d hit my elbow funny bone- my leg felt slightly dead.

She was much more fluid and relaxed running through this undergrowth and I was happy to follow especially whilst my knee throbbed. There were periods were I felt she was stronger than me but I knew I couldn’t let her go. It was only 25miles or so into the race and with 42miles to go I knew this race was going to be tough physically and mentally. There were certain points when I pulled away and tried to increase my pace to put some distance between us but these were usually on runnable tracks and by the time we returned into the ‘jungle’ I could hear her salt tablets rattling away in their container in her pack as she closed in on me. I used these solo times to good effect- obligatory toilet stops and shoe lace malfunctions.

We then hit a long stretch of sandy track. I didn’t know exactly how long it was but every time we turned a corner the track disappeared to the horizon. We worked well together- clacking along at a pace where I could only manage a few words. She was more loquacious and from what I could gather was looking forward to the chicken soup at check point 68km making a chicken impression and the word ‘soup’. I on the other had this awful realisation that I was developing a blister on the sole of my foot. 

All the water crossings and soggy forest floor, swamp land, had taken its toll. By the time 68km came I knew I needed to address it with tape. She on the other would sail through and gain the advantage. I had to remain focused. I stopped at the check point refuelled from my drop bag ad sat down to take my shoe and sock off.  I demonstrated my need for tape and vaseline and the staff at the check point were brilliant. Really on the ball and were able to provide me with both. All the checkpoints were really good- fruits, food, coke and lots of encouragement. I taped my foot and then put a very gritty soggy sock back on and my shoe.

I set off and thought ‘oh god the tape…it’s too tight’. I felt like a Chinese lady with a bound foot (although I’m well aware they would have suffered a lot more than me!). However I couldn’t feel my blister so focused in on establishing a consistent pace. It was runnable and I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose the course markers. My hamstrings felt really uncomfortable (which makes a change from my quads which tend to suffer in mountain races!) but the more normally I ran the better they responded. The only problem with this was running normally was hard work! Normally I develop more of an ultra- shuffle saving energy. I was desperate to catch her so I pushed on and on under the midday sun. It was hot but luckily the morning had been relatively shaded and cooler. I kept thinking I can’t lose this race because of a blister. 

I hit check point 82km and looked round and saw her behind me. Now I was confused. She must have stopped for something. This was my  only opportunity to take his lead and go. I had 15miles or so to go and I headed off like I had stolen something. I flew through ‘nettle’ fields, along wiggly single track and through farm land.

At 10miles I suddenly felt spent. My legs were really complaining. All I could do was keep trying to eat and push. Coke helped!

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I turned around at certain vantage points and could still see her white cap bobbing along. Men passed me and I passed them. I tried to use them to drag me along but they could obviously smell home earlier than me and were really picking up the pace whereas I was just trying to maintain my current one. We had one final swim crossing where it was highlighted to me I forgot to apply anti-chafe cream to a delicate area and it stung like crazy! 

I climbed the bank and weaved through the muddy trails to eventually emerge on a road. Now I could smell home. My blisters and chafing were nothing compared to my effort in pushing to the finish. That finish line was so welcome. 

I hugged the race director with my stinky sweaty body and sticky gel hands. 

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I waited for Elena. It was lovely to see her finish (although obviously lovelier because she was behind me!). 

It was all quite overwhelming.

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The prize giving was immediately post 3rd finishing. The race sponsors had been incredibly generous with gifts from local suppliers, Suunto, Compress-sport and rubles! The medals were selected and then branded with your race distance. There was also a belt buckle for fishing in under 13hrs. 

 

(Oh I almost forgot I won a sofa! I gave it to Vladimir, the chap who met me at the airport and drove me to Suzdal).

After the race I decided to leave Suzdal by bus and travel back to Moscow through the night. I hadn’t seen the city yet. Two friends, Fergy and Anna, from the UK were also racing and they were planning to head back so we caught the last bus back. It was 4hrs of cramping and being squashed, we all needed to stretch our legs out flat, but we made it. 

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Arriving at the hotel at 0400 meant little sleep before we headed out sight seeing to Red Square but it was worth it.

The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed (aka St Basil’s Cathedral) is a church (now a museum) in Red Square built in 1555- 61 on orders form Ivan the Terrible.

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Kremlin wall

The Kremlin is a fortified complex including 5 palaces and 4 cathedrals! It was formally the Tsar’s residence, and now belongs to the President.

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Kremlin (I did not take this photo)

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Memorial to Marshal Zhukov. He was the most decorated Russian soldier, who received many international awards in addition to Russian awards.The statue shows him in the act of inspecting the troops on the Moscow Victory day parade in 1945

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State Historical Museum

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (WWII memorial)

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GUM (their department store)

I only managed to get a visa for 3 days in Russia (that was an ultra in itself) but I would love to go back; the history, the splendid buildings and the culture are all a draw.  Through the race the people I met were incredibly welcoming, the race was well organised with a great atmosphere. It was runnable but with some technical forest trails to challenge your pace (and patience)!  I was the first European to win an ultra out there and in doing so set a new female course record. Thank you for having me! 

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Spasibo 🙏🏻

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Olympus Ultra 71km

Leaving at 0230 to drive to Gatwick for a 0555 flight was perfect preparation for race day. The race started at 0200BST (0400 local).

I landed around midday to be greeted by Dimitrios. I love Dimitrios- he said I looked 32years old!

The journey from Thessaloniki to Litochoro took just over an hour.

I could watch Mount Olympus rising before me. The village was red tiles and white washed walls.

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The temperature was 35degrees. I could see the Aegean ocean in the distance. It was all glorious. Just the matter of a small run to do! The distance of which has grown since I registered. It was 65km but I have since learnt it’s 71km with 5500+m of elevation.

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I spent the afternoon walking up to see the valley of the Mountain of the Gods.

 

 

 

Blackout blinds turned out to be a winning formula as my room mate (Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn) and I slept in until 0800. I had a small jog before a greek breakfast awaited. Lots of yoghurt, cakes and delicacies.

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Not wanting to underestimate the race I had an easy day.

Up at 0230, flapjack and coffee, bus at 0315 and start 0400.

Not many starters- 65. The main event was definitely the marathon as it was part of the Skyrunning series. I did not enter the marathon knowing my skill set was not best placed to tackle such Skyrunning courses which is defined as ‘running in the mountains above 2,000m altitude where the climbing difficulty does not exceed II° grade and the incline is over 30%’.

Oh how I laugh now! I should have done the marathon. It was far more runnable by all accounts.

I spent 14hrs 9mins working on my weaknesses. The first 5km or so was up a road from Dion, past the archeological site and so I made sure I started conservatively. These pictures were taken the day after the race when Katie and I headed out for some sight seeing. They are from the ancient city of Dion dating from 5th century BC. In the Hellenistic period (which covers the period of Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt the following year). Dion became the religious center of Macedonia, gaining importance and entirely developing into a city. Zeus, the King of Gods, was worshipped here, and the Olympic games were held in honour of Zeus and the Muses, goddesses.  Alexander the Great sacrificed to Zeus in Dion before he began his campaign against the Persians. 

 

 

Then the Romans arrived, in 169BC and added to it. Just amazing!

 

 

 

In 1806, Dion was rediscovered by the English explorer William Leake and the site is still under excavation. Anyway back to the boring bit…..

The course then hit the trail from Koromilia to Petrostrough which was steep single track and rocky but runnable on and off. There was a small water fountain “Itamos” next to the path which provided lovely cold spring water. We climbed from about 300m to just 1900-something-m in 10km. After an hour the poles came out and pretty much stayed out for all day.

The trail ran uphill in varying angles of slopes, through all sorts of vegetation, with the sound of the river coming from the deep ravine of the Orlias gorge below. The route guide remarked…’the dense vegetation creates the feeling that a little further it is lost but that does not happen‘. This was true I often felt I was cutting my own trail but never felt lost as such. 

At Koromilia there was a refuge which held an aid station. It was about this time I was waiting for the sunrise but typically it was slightly cloudy so I missed out but the views were immense down to the ocean.

The track at its beginning was hardly visible it did exist and too us up to a wooded ridge before passing through a large plateau lying in a dense beech forest. I seem to remember an infinite about of pine cones on the floor throughout the whole course. They conveniently acted like roller skates under my feet which was useful until I was fed up of slipping over on them!

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Eventually the pine trees with the white trunk emerged and these grow at high altitudes so I knew I was nearing the top, 1940m at Petrostrouga . The path then descended – well I got have slid down on my arse the whole way if it wasn’t for the dense pine trees.

Again we headed back up which took us up to a ridge line with sheer drops on both sides. I couldn’t look down so missed on the views. I had to just keep moving forward. Heights are my most favourite thing! The descent was steep shale and I actually enjoyed skidding down.

I knew now it was just one more up and down. The journey up to 2917m Mount Olympus was so long but so beautiful. We crossed snow fields, colourful wild flower meadows and wild horses. The mountain itself has many peaks and felt like a horse-shoe shape as I climbed up through the centre of it.

The descent was again comprised of loose shale before reaching more boulders and rocky type terrain and finally technical forest paths with roots and rocks. We wound our way down from 2900 to 300m over about 16hrs and it took me hours- about 4 I think! I was so lame at the descent!

We past the most glorious springs of the river Enipeas which looked to tempting but on reaching the water my legs were not terribly co-operative at flexing to let me get to it. The was still 400m of climbing to do in the last 10km and this was in the form of steps- 840 to be precise. It was a tough finish on sore legs. To my memory there was about 10km in total of runnable trails. The course truly tested me in all aspects of my trail running weaknesses- hiking, descending and ridge-line crossing with confidence. I have to say it was a great days training, I nailed my nutrition and I got no blisters or felt any injuries returning, but a slightly empty finish as it was not a very competitive field. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Greece and exploring these new trails but the event to do was probably the marathon distance for that real race experience

 

 

 

I finished in 14hrs 9mins. I was first women and 8th overall.

 

Thank you to the Olympus Marathon race organisers for having me and for hosting such a well organised weekend.

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Tengri Ultra 70km

I can’t actually believe I’ve been to Kazakhstan. I had been nervously apprehensive about the trip in the days leading up to it. I flew from Heathrow to Moscow. Then raced through the airport to make my connecting flight as we landed late only to find the next flight delayed so I just people watched. The Russians are a serious lot; there is no smiling upon making eye contact, no awareness of personal space, no stranger politeness and limited helpfulness. I soon learnt though than on a one to one basis once you’ve been introduced they are friendly and do smile!

I boarded, ate, slept and then woke to witness a beautiful sunrise.

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This trip was going to be special.

I got to the bustling airport and tried to use Uber but was directed to Yandex, a Russian Taxi service app. I got a lift with Miras, who obviously supported wholeheartedly Arsenal Football team!

Almaty was just coming to life. The word ‘Almaty’ in Kazakh language means ‘grown with apple trees’ and it’s known as a garden city. I only really travelled through but noticed lots of trees and parks just no real city centre only blocks of buildings.

In 1997 Astana replaced Almaty as the capital city. Astana is now called Nur- Sultan after a former president and is located in the geographical centre of the country.

I boarded the bus with my fellow runners. Despite the fact we were all heading to the same place there was still no smiling on eye contact. It made me laugh! 

After 2 hours on a bus we arrived at the Tamgaly Gorge area.

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The fast flowing River Ile swept through the landscape which was sandwiched between rocky hills. The sun shone; it was baking. Poppies were growing in the long grass. It was beautiful. The camp was setting up and the race atmosphere was building.

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I had to collect a roll mat and a sleeping bag before finding a tent and settling in.

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As horse is a traditional meal here I thought I may be getting some for dinner so unsure of what the meat was I stuck to the pasta and salad. A disco rolled on in the background but I managed to fall asleep.

Up at 4.30 ready to race at 6am. I felt ok considering the UK was 5hrs behind. Some oats and a coffee for breakfast and I was ready!

I wanted to try out a different nutrition strategy for this race because I’m fed up of feeling so nauseous during ultras. I had a feeling a lot of that was contributable to the amount of sweet things and gels I consume. Obviously the rest of it is down to working so hard!! 😉

The race started on time and it was light and cool. Even before 1km had lapsed I had almost lost sight of the two women in front of me; a Russian and a Ukrainian. I knew I had not done the training appropriate to start at that pace, since returning from injury, so didn’t head off and pursue them.

The course was comprised of two different loops with 1325m of ascent.

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We ran up through steep rocky gorges for 20km before heading back to the river and running along side it. I saw wild horses in the pastures, a tortoise crossing the trail, a scorpion (dead! Phew!) and an eagle souring above. Amazing!

We continued through the start still following the river. The aid stations were really regular and so getting water was no problem which was just as well because when the sun came out it peaked 34degs (considering last year it rained I’ll take the sun and its heat!). The next section was steep initially, as we left the river, with loose rock but then on reaching the Steppe grassland it was a long stretch of green pasture.

The descent was pretty technical as we followed the course through dried river beds and the Tas gorge; loose rocks and big slabs. Spiky scrub and tall bamboo I particularly remember fighting my way through. My legs and arms are scratched from the battles.

I continually gained on runners but never saw the other two women again. My results show I moved from 22nd position to 6th overall. I finished feeling pretty pleased. My savoury nutrition plan worked and I didn’t feel sick. I finished in 7hrs 17mins which was the target- the female course record. Unfortunately this year the Russian girl who set it went for a new one and completely kicked my arse!

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That evening there was some fire dancing, music and some Shamanic traditions: he was acting as a messenger between the human world and the sport world! Tengrism is a central Asian religion characterised by shamanism amongst other things such as animism, totesmism and ancestor worship. The word ‘Tengri’ literally means sky.

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The next day I explored the Tamgaly Tas area with Oksana (the Ukrainian lady who came 2nd). There are old rock carvings, petroglyphs, dating back to the 11-12th century- possibly an old outdoor worshipping site. It was fascinating. The petroglyph below shows a Buddha.img_7527

The views from the top were spectacular as well…

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……with Steppe eagles circling overhead. Wow- just wow!

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Thank you Tengri Ultra for having me!

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