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 Bhandar Khamir. Qeshm means Long in Arabic and the island is long and thin measuring 130km long and 40km wide.
The oldest settlement on it is about 40,000 years old and now about 120,000 people populate it. It has a long history; with navigation and trade as it’s located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf; with defence and fighting (The Portuguese built a fortress there in the late 16th century); with fishing, salt mining and making hand built ships.
It is famous for a few things:
It is the supposed site of the Garden of Eden (as described in the Book of Genesis) but who knows for sure.
Its mangrove forest is a bird watchers haven where pelicans and many others species (can you tell I’m not into bird watching as I can’t remember other names!) native to Iran, or migratory, rest. Apparently it hosts 20% of Irans’ birds.
It is a breeding site (between March and July) for Hawksbill turtles which are now being carefully protected by the locals.
And finally it has this amazing Geo Park. They are trying to establish it as a UNESCO world site.
The top rock layer is really soft and so when it rains it cuts the landscape into these unique gorges.
📷: Davood Shirkhani , race director.
This was the second time the race has been run. Iranian runner, Davood has done an amazing job organising such an event when time keeping and local reliability is not that great. Last year was just a 28km race and this year the format changed to a 30km and 60km (well actually 66km). I heard about it online from a German runner called Moritz (Instagram: @run.travel.grow) and knew it was the adventure for me. I checked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice 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 to apply and then 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. The trip was looking dubious but then I looked into flying from Dubai. I had found out Qeshm 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 or a guide. Trip was back on! Yes!
I flew to Dubai on Monday 5th Feb and then 12hrs later flew to Qeshm Island.
On arrival I had to wait to have my finger prints taken but on the whole entry was smooth. Immediately I noticed two things; the people are so friendly and time keeping is very chilled- 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 thought to pack a head scarf in.
I was staying in a rural guest house called Sharifi and everyone was so welcoming
Immediately on arrival I was given a bike and lead out of on a quick 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. The average temperature is 27 °C (81 °F) but actually it was quite windy by the sea so felt colder.
Falafel wraps for dinner and then bed.
Breakfast was traditional- flat breads, date juice, chickpeas, salad, cheese and tea.
On Wednesday many more runners arrived from Tehran including Moritz- we were the only runners to come from outside of Iran. Everyone was so kind, genuine and talkative. The day was spent visiting the Mangrove forest and just chatting.
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…. food was coming in 15mins and we waited 2hours so in the end headed off and bought some food at a local street vendor. Eventually we got to bed only to be up in 5hrs. The race, starting on the beach, 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.
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!
The route was through hard desert sand, along rocky outcrops and up through valleys taking in some outstanding landscape.
I ran slowly to start with as the sun really came out on race day. I wanted to be respectful but obviously it was 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 the route headed into the gorges.
The heat and lack of any air flow was tremendous. 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 I know, 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 the next 48hrs. 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. It 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 because I’m sure it wasn’t a bug.
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. It is illegal so a local may have reported us otherwise. It was lovely despite feeling ill and I witnessed a beautiful sunset.
The morning I was due to fly the opportunity to visit one of the gorges came up. I was worried I would miss my flight due to ‘Iranian time keeping’ but I risked it and it was totally worth it.
I have gained so much from this experience. The people made it for me with their generosity and hospitality. 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 the country again. Thank you too for all your lovely messages of well done!