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Geoparktrail, Iran

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.

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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.

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The top rock layer is really soft and so when it rains it cuts the landscape into these unique gorges.

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📷: 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.

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As a gift I was bought some Harim trousers so went native on arrival!

I was staying in a rural guest house called Sharifi and everyone was so welcoming

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📷 Moritz

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.

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Breakfast was traditional- flat breads, date juice, chickpeas, salad, cheese and tea.

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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!

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📷 Moritz

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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📷 Leah

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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📷 Moritz

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📷 Moritz

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📷 Moritz

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.

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📷 Davood

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.

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📷 Leah

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.
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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.

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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!

 

 

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El Cruce

El Cruce means The Crossing in Spanish but the race is not in Spain; it is in Argentina briefly crossing into Chile.

The travel time over here took over 27hrs eventually arriving in Bariloche. It’s a town next to the most enormous lake and has a back drop of mountains all around which is incredible scenic.
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We then travelled up to Villa Catedral with the awesome Cerro Catedral Mountain as the vista. It’s Argentina’s most popular ski resort. However, no snow now so the mountains were full of runners and crazy mountain bikers.

The first day was one of registration, packing, meeting new people (thanks Jorge Maravilla for your friendship and help) and a flag ceremony!

Jon with the GB flag

The race was over 3 days covering just under 100km. On Wednesday 1st February we got up at 3am to start. Thank you Intrepid Baboon for the Expresso boost to wake me up. The start was unusual. First there was a coach trip of 2.5hrs to a Argentina/ Chile border crossing point. We got of the coach all bleary eyed got our passports stamped exiting Argentina raced 3km and got our passports stamped returning.

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Then got back in the bus and transported another 1.5hrs before we raced 32km. The race took us through woodlands, rivers, up nearly 1000m and finally ending at the campsite next to a beautiful lake.

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All we had to carry was the compulsory kit. The volunteers were brilliant…tents up and great BBQ’d meat to eat.

 

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Mass BBQing

The lake was the place to wash and freshen up from all the sandy tracks and sun; it was so clear and blue.

The first day was like a time trial because as you got off the coach you started to race and with 500 runners we all arrived at different times. So the 3km and the 32km times were added together for the end of stage 1 result. I was lying in 3rd (3hrs 20mins) 7minutes behind two very strong Argentine runners (Tania Diaz Slater & Luciana Urioste).

Day 2 was a toughie. 35km and 1583m. The first 20 runners started together so I tried to keep up with the local ladies but as soon as we hit the technical single track I began to loose them. We started off along the beach, up through some woods and then a single track climb which peaked with a scree scramble to the ridge. Up and down along the ridge before an gnarly technical descent, then a sandy one and then back along another lake side. I never saw 1st & 2nd again but I raced and raced to make sure 4th could not catch me (4hrs 44mins).

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Over night it started to rain and remained on and off all morning as we raced the final stage. I stayed with the lady lying in 2nd for a good hour only again losing her on sections of rocky technical single track. My legs and breathing for the first time felt less strained. Just as well as I was fed up sounding like I was enjoying myself when I was actually hurting! I think I was finally getting used to the altitude and terrain. The race of about 27km went up and up (1582m) to Cerro Catedral and then dropped down for the last 10km (3hrs 9mins). It was much more runnable today and certainly tested the legs, heart and lungs!

Amazingly I only fell over 3 times. For all the variation in terrain I could not fault the SCOTT Kinabalu Supertrac RC. I fell because I tripped not slipped or lost my footing. I used poles on day 2 which helped my quads but, goodness, my poor non- existant triceps were taken to task! My nutrition worked well. I had a Bounce Ball for breakfast and then alternated a 32Gi gel & chew bar every hour during the race. I Rocktaped my ankles to prevent me spraining them.

Finishing is always a good feeling .

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I waited for Jon to finish so we could have a sandy sweaty- rain-damp celebratory hug. He came 5th in his age group despite really struggling with the heat and resultant cramps on day 1. He never ceases to amaze me!

 

I finished in 3rd in the end delighted to make the podium (11hrs 32mins).

Now for the long journey home. It always means so much so THANK YOU everyone for all your support and kind words on FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Transvulcania 74km

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The race took 9hrs 41mins and I came 11th. In hindsight I am pleased but I am left with a few nagging questions. I (a runner from a the flat lands of South England) took on the a race (technical and at altitude) against the best mountain runners in the world and survived but I wanted to do more than that, to be honest my pride is a little dented .

My training went well but it wasn’t in the mountains. I sought out some hilly places to run

     
but these were absolutely nothing compared to the race mountains. I even trained in the heat chamber because it was supposed to be hot but to be honest it wasn’t.


I did not feel that good even from the start at sea level, Faro de Fuencliente, but this is hard to quantify.

I could not go off with the pace of the lead women but then when I saw Anna (Cometi Pascua) and Uxue (Fraile) appear from behind me 2hrs later I thought maybe my start was not too bad. I climbed and climbed and climbed. Much of this was walking and I’m a runner not a walker so this was not great for me. Course knowledge would have been good here because then I would have known when to push and when to have expected a hill but I was not fazed at all as I knew it would be a long day for me anyway. The course was in the dark initially up soft black sand but as the sun came up the course wound around alpine trees.

The first aid station was at El Pilar and it meant I could drop off the head torch. The trail was good leaving the checkpoint and I felt as though I could finally run but I wasn’t sure how hard I should push on. We soon climbed again (total climbing in the race was 4000m) through the National Park of La Caldera de Taburiente and emerged above the cloud and I could see it lying in the valley below. Truly breathtaking.

            

I stuck with Anna and Uxue for 2hours but then they ultimately got the better of me and were stronger on the ascents. The next aid station was Pico de La Nieve and once I had left there I ran the rest of the race on my own.

Jon met me at Roque de Los Muchachos which sat at 2426m and just under 52km before the final descent.


He had also been up since 3.30am and then drove the 2hours up to this feed station. His support was fantastic.

My descending was abysmal. There can be no doubt about that. I tried to just let my pace and legs go but I was too cautious for this to be significant. I fell over twice showing my lack of experience on the rocky descents.

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The final descent was down the Vertical KM course and I could see Tazacorte Port at the bottom. I knew we still had to run up to Los Llanos de Aridane though so despite it feeling like a finish line I knew it wasn’t which definitely helped as I ran through the cheering crowds.

I was embarrassed as I ran through Tazacorte and was met by the Scott Running team- “I’m so sorry I’m running so slowly…..I’ve let you down….. It was too technical for me….I’m so sorry….”

So that was it really I trained well, I felt good racing in terms of nutrition, endurance, muscle fatigue but I could not go any faster. It wasn’t quite the result I had hoped for, however, I got to share a week with new friends in a new place and had an amazing day out running through spectacular countryside.

Thank you to all those you supported me- SCOTT running32GiBounce BallsThe House of CoffeeRockTapeLED Lenser head torch & SPRU.

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Everest Trail Race 2015

My introduction to Nepal was Kathmandu. A populated busy city full of history….

IMG_6038Patan– an ancient fortified town. Now a suburb of Kathmandu.

Unesco World Heritage Site of Swayambhunath    Swayambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple   The Unesco World Heritage Site of Swayambhunath. Also known as the Monkey Temple.

religion

Prayer flags- as the wind blows through them the prayers are offered.Prayer flags– as the wind blows through them the prayers are offered.

IMG_1391Prayer wheels to be spun.

people (and extreme cabling!)

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….& culture

Coloured powders for sale

The race was just apart of the whole experience. It was a race I was set to have a challenge with. I’m no mountain goat and this race is all about the ascending and descending mountains. I determinedly faced the start line.

Day 1 Jiri to Bhandar 21.5km, 1.975m up 1.820m down, 3hrs 1min.

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I had two battles this day; one with the ultimate, awesome, winner, Anna Comet from Catalonia; and two with my Mountain King poles. I had never used them before and having four legs instead of two was hard for someone with no coordination (at all!) but I was determined to win that battle and I’m glad I did as they proved invaluable as the race went on.

The sun shone and that afternoon the local village folk came out and danced. We got presented marigold flower garland chains which I soon learnt was very significant in Nepalese culture.

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Day 2 Bhandar to Jase Bhanjyang. 23.9km, 3.486m up 1.796m down, 5hrs 26mins.

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This was tough up hill day. We camped at 3600m so fairly chilly at night but thanks to my  PHD Sleeping bag and booties I was really comfortable. Everyone was jealous of my booties!

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Waking up in the morning was incredible as we were above the clouds and the horizon seemed endless reaching towards the highest peaks.

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Day 3 Jase Bhanjyang to Kharikhola. 37.4km, 2.521m up 4110m down, 5hrs 46mins.

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My descending skills got slightly better in this stage but it was the last few km’s that really got the legs as we ascended up to our campsite outside a monastery. We even got the opportunity to listen to the ceremony inside which admittedly did sound like band practise at school but was none the less another opportunity to learn about the local culture.

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Day 4 Kharikhola to Phakding 27.5km 2.479m up 1.975m down 4hrs 52mins

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More bridges and yaks to contend with…

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Day 5 Phakding to Tyangboche 20km 2.224m up 1.022m down 3hrs 51mins.

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The location we stayed in this night was spectacular in terms of surrounding scenery with the mountains of Tawache, Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam in the background.

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Day 6 Tyangboche to Lukla 29.5km 2.105m up 3.138m down 4hrs 22mins.

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and to the finish 12-IMG_9973-3 where Julia Boettger and I finished together. That night we stayed in Lukla ready to fly out in the morning.

The race was incredibly well organised and the camaraderie that evolved amongst the Spanish, Catalan, French, German and British runners was a real highlight.

The prize giving ceremony was back in Kathmandu.

IMG_1435Me, Jon, Tony, Sue, Ignacio, Julia, Rachel and Louis on one table.

IMG_1449 Jon getting the first vet 50 prize #proud

IMG_1444 Me getting 2nd female.

It was a race full of swollen sprained ankles, rocks and stones to be travelled over, tender quadricep muscles, emotions on a roller coaster, being humbled, meeting people, yak shit, tears, funny tummy’s, dust and at the end a stinking cold and chest infection but the challenge had been met and success was triumphant.

Thank you to everyone I met for making the race a true experience, my husband for sharing the highs and lows, my Mum for looking after Rufus whilst we were away, Scott kit and the KinabaluBounce balls energy32Gi Sports fuel and recoveryRock tapePHD Sleeping bags and clothingMountain King Aluminium Trail Blaze polesSporting Edge Simulated Altitude trainingLED Lenser head torchZeropoint Compression for Recovery, and lastly but not least my old buddy Hectic Hamster.

 

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Big Smile

A big smile because I am back to running. 6months off wasn’t so bad was it? Hell yes! but I realise now it was inevitable and non-optional. Progress back as been cautious and very sensibly gradual. As my husband, Jon raced around the UTMB I strung my first full week of training together without any problems (mind you if Jon could do such an incredibly hard event and remain in one piece the least I could was proudly support him before, during and after which definitely required remaining in one piece). I guess the beauty of running in the mountains for me is that I had no option but to run slowly and without pace/ speed I was less likely to get injured.

However, three things happened this weekend on my Saturday run to make me realise I really was back into training as these things only tend to happen when I’m running.

  1. I got caught having a quick wee in our local woods by another early morning runner.
  2. A bus accelerated past me and the puddle it went through absolutely covered me.
  3. I was enjoying the luxury of a bath and mud- face mask after the run and the door bell rung. Everyone was apparently too busy to answer it so I had to present myself in a towel with bubbles still on my feet and shoulder and a mud pack on my face to the shock of the postman!

I am now back running on consecutive days but it’s taken me 3months. My injury was because I have essentially over cooked it and as a result my body was going to find any excuse to get me to stop and so my knee pain was a bit of an anomaly and essentially just a time game but once paid my penance it should not come back….I run in fear though I must admit. Every run to be enjoyed. I have been in the position where I’ve been allowed to take my time or rather not rush the natural loading process.  All my sponsors have been really supportive and I can’t thank them enough so they definitely are worthy of a mention and a big THANK YOU- Scott Running ,Get In The Mood coffee, Bounce Balls, 32Gi Sports Nutrition and Rocktape.

My next race is the Everest Trail Race, in Nepal which I am training for with the help of Sporting Edge.

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I want to be fit and also to be ready for such an epic race. Jon and I have invested a lot into being able to go (the sale of our camper van- sad face!) and we would hate to get out there and not be prepared for such an environment. I am to be a case study for the Simulated Altitude Training Company so they can collect my training data in order to see my physiological, and my perceptional, benefits to promote their systems to other athletes. I have to do a VO2max test pre and post using the altitude system for one month. I did a VO2max last month and…well…I have zero inherent talent in me so the less said about the test the better as training required! I have to combine using the the altitude system when sleeping and also when running (obviously not at the same time!) so just working out the logistics of that now.

The next 7 weeks will be spent  steadily building miles and preparing kit…warm kit!

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Angry Squirrel Coffee- a pre race must.

James Haskell's Angry Squirrel Coffee

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Angry Squirrel Coffee

James Haskell’s coffee company Angry Squirrel deems me nutty enough to sponsor me. Thank you so much for your support. Check out https://twitter.com/JHAngrySquirrel or http://www.thehouseofcoffee.co.uk/coffee/angry-squirrel

It’s brilliant pre race to get you focused and ready for action

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