The next morning we packed the car with camping gear (Tent, Thermarests, 2 x 4 season sleeping bags, jetboil, etc etc) and embarked on a 180 mile journey through the United Arab Emirates and across the border to Oman. Shirley drove!! safest idea really! (they all drive on the wrong side of the road ;0) )
Several hours of motorway driving later we turned off inland and saw the beautiful Sandy mountains of Oman.
We eventually arrived in Dibba, Dibba was beautiful with golden sands, rich blue sea and mountains quivering in the haze of the sun. After passing through border control we arrived close to the 'Golden Tullip' Hotel and the race start. We where pretty early, so we had a walk over to a hive of activity where the race organisers where setting up the registration table, we chatted for a bit and met the Race Director, John Young. We pitched the tent and set the thermarests up ready for an early night. The solo runners start was 0430.We pitched the tent a good distance away from the race start on the beach close to the sea. Some runners where stopping at the Golden Tulip, we had tried to book a night but by then all the rooms had gone (I was secretly quite pleased, I liked the idea of camping on the beach, even if it meant carting extra weight all the way from the U.K ) On the evening there was to be a barbecue and with over 200 relay teams competing (5 runners to each team) and 40 plus Solo runners there would be quite an atmosphere.
We drove out to a local store and bought some supplies including some gas for the jetboil so we could make a cup of tea at least, by the time we got back the beach was full of tents and vehicles everywhere you looked. The area was buzzing with excitement. We sorted our running kit out and placed it strategically on the car seats (easier to find in the early hours of the morning ) and prepared 2 drop bags each. (Solo Runners are allowed 2 drop bags for the race, One for the 12 & 33 mile checkpoint and one for half way, 22.5 miles) Our drop bags were filled with crisps, gels, water and a can of Coke each. We would also leave our headtorch and any other items we didn't need anymore in them as they would be then returned to the start after the race had finished) After an age of faffing about we registered and received our Wadi Bih mug, T-shirt and race numbers (solo runners race numbers were coloured black while relay teams numbers were red).
With all the admin sorted we went about filling our bellies on barbecued chicken Kebabs, boiled rice (cooked to perfection by me and the jetboil ;0)). We chatted to a real nice guy (only to find out later he was John Gregory the originator of the race. He introduced us to a great bunch of people and I got chatting about ultra-running to a relay runner who was racing the next day in a red cat suit which in his words resembled more of a grandad thermal underwear suit thingy with a hood, he was Heinz Tomato soup, the rest of the team would be Heinz Salad cream, Heinz Baked beans....you get the picture..
We retired to bed at about 2200hrs as the Solo runners would start the race at 0430, this would mean a 0330 rise, to change, faff about some more and eat, drop our drop bags off and wait for the start. Shirley was pretty cold while outside and I had noticed alot of competitors wearing jumpers etc while I was lovely and warm in a T-Shirt! mind you when I had left the U.K it was -7. We found the tent in a swamp of other vehicles and tents and guessed we weren't going to have a quiet night. I had brought 4 season sleeping bags as I had been told numerous times how cold it gets on a night and I sleep really cold! Well we stayed warm, but we probably slept in total 2 hours each as the nearby tents all seemed to have party's going on until 1 in the morning, and there is always someone, usually a man, who likes to hear the sound of his own voice. I wasn't sure of the punishment for GBH or manslaughter in Oman, so decided to keep my fists to myself . (The noise would of been from Relay runners all excited about the race after a few drinks and not such an early rise to contend with as us they would of been making the best of the evening, and the race is as much about the BBQ and the social aspect as actually running and probably more so for some people, its all about fun , and that's the reason we do it! do we as ultrarunners??? is pain fun??mm?? )
We gathered at the start line and a few group pictures were taken. Everyone looked fit and healthy and pretty tanned, apart from me with my Lilly white legs!! after a race brief, which in tradition goes in one ear and goes out of the other, I found myself nervous and pretty apprehensive, unsure what the course would bring and without any acclimatisation to heat being my biggest worry, I knew Id get around but what time?? 7hrs-10hrs??
0440 and we were off, I ran alongside Shirley and tried to control my breathing and adjust my mind into running mode not crawling back to bed mode. The first few miles where through the local neighbourhood streets, eventually I got into the stride of things (no pun intended) and began to increase my speed. Over 2 miles or so passing over a dozen people not intentionally just running at a pace I felt comfortable. The Road started to become more of a dirt trail and the odd couple of climbs began to appear. I felt pretty strong and was sticking to my 500ml of water/ 1 gel per hour formula. the terrain underfoot became much more rugged and the Wadi began to make its first appearance, imitating a canyon but in a much smaller scale, it had become much lighter and I could see how beautiful the Wadi was. 12 miles in and I had arrived at the first checkpoint. I ditched my headtorch into my drop bag, grabbed my Oakley's and some more gels and filled up with water from the race marshalls supply. The Oakley's proved to be a godsend later keeping all the dust kicked up by all the 4 wheel drives from going into my eyes.
My pace seemed to slow down yet I was still putting the same effort in, I looked behind and then realised why, I had been climbing uphill steadily for awhile, the gradual ascent seemed to go on for miles until I turned a corner and there in front of me was quite a long steep dirt track up to I guess the1000m summit of the mountain and the 22.5 mile turning point. I could just make out a 4 wheel drive climbing up the track. Eventually I reached the start of the climb and made the transition from running to walking. As I climbed another solo runner walked by me at speed disappearing round one of many of the switchbacks. I was putting effort in but without running there was no way I could match that speed and running up this, at close to half way point with a further 22.5 miles to go would be bloody foolish, well for me it would!! I consoled myself with the thought of descending this at speed. The top of the climb appeared, no checkpoint, I continued on for a while and 3 solo-runners who where on the return leg flew by me, and then a couple more. At last the Checkpoint was in view, my pace quickened and minutes later I was delving into my dropbag for crisps and gels, I filled my water bottles up and helped myself to a can of coke followed by a can of Mountain Dew! As well as admiring the views I had the welcome sight of a donkey that was receiving huge amounts of attention from Relay support teams.
I set off on the return journey happy in the knowledge there was less than a marathon to cover and a decent amount of downhill (my favourite) I reached the hill and this time the road was packed with 4 wheel drives and relay runners. I took the hill at speed and after the first switchback I ran into Shirley who was doing brilliantly (Shirley had had an ankle operation in October and had been out of action for several months, the longest run since September she had run was 10k and with great pain to her ankle, for her to have got to this point of the race in the time she had was inspirational) We kissed and took photos of each other, said our goodbyes and I continued to fly down the steep descent.
As I passed Relay runners who were running up the hill, there faces steeped with pain while gasping for air they still managed to give me words of encouragement and 'well done's' In my mind it was them that deserved the praise with the pace they were running up a pretty steep climb. 4 wheel drives passed by, beeping there horns and cheering as they passed me, I reached the bottom of the hill and running was a little bit harder then it had been on the descent, I was drenched in sweat and started to feel like I was overheating, a short period of flat followed and then back to descending. As I let gravity have its way and pull me down the descents while dodging the odd vehicle I started to feel pretty rough, a strong desire to walk came over me. The temperature had increased to what felt like 30 degrees to me (Just a cool day to the locals) to me after minus figures it felt like a sauna! I started to slow and a couple of Solo runners passed me, then I started to walk until the next descent appeared again, using gravityI began to run again, this system of walking and running seemed to last me to the 32 mile stage where I had managed to pass the runner who had earlier strode up the hill as if it wasn't there. Another can of Mountain Dew a refill of the water bottles and I was off, feeling like death warmed up and spaced out. I knew it was the heat, my nutrition had been bang on, and my pace had been good, deliberately leaving plenty in the legs for the final few miles. It wasn't the distance, I was a veteran of half a dozen 100 mile races and at least a dozen 50 milers. It wasn't the climb, compared to some races I had run in over the last couple of years the climb was pretty small. So by elimination and how I felt it had to be the temperature. My pulse was sky high and I felt as sick as a dog with nothing left in my legs. Quitting wasn't an option, I only had 12 miles to go, if I walked every step I would still arrive several hours before the cut off time was reached.
I seemed to be playing a leapfrog game with a fellow solo runner, I wasn't intentionally trying to pass him but he would stop to walk and I would run by him, then I would walk for a bit and vice versa (eventually he kept his pace and I slowed down, half a mile before the finish he vanished out of sight and I had no intention of trying to catch him up.) Still relay runners were passing by me and shouting words of encouragement. The same 4 wheel drives would pass by me over and over again cheering and waving giving me a huge boost and bringing a smile to my face each time!,
I ran out of water and by some grace of God, a man jumped out of his jeep and gave me a bottle of water, I thanked him and polished the water off and he proceeded to give me an ice cold bottle of Gatorade, it was like nectar, instantly giving me a boost and taking my temperature down several notches. This guy was a saviour and a true Gentleman!! I carried the empty Gatorade bottle for a mile or so and decided to get rid of it at the next opportunity. There it was in front of me, a relay changeover point, several Team vehicles cluttered the road while anxious looking relay runners waited for the baton to be passed to them. In my delirious state :0) I passed my bottle over to a relay runner to disperse of, only did it occur to me several hours after the race that the runner was just about to receive the baton and I had passed him some rubbish which I imagined would of left him running round in circles trying to ditch the bottle before being passed the baton seconds later...
After coming into Dibba I was a mile or so away from the finish, still taking walking breaks and when running or should I say shuffling my legs screamed out to me in pain. (looking back dehydration had caused this not the climbs or distance, my body had adopted well to the onslaught I had placed on my legs over the last few months) The famous 'Pink Ladies' (Relay Team ) offered me kind words of encouragement as they went past me. Minutes later I was cutting through the deep sand seconds away from the finish and then it was over I heard my name mentioned on the microphone.."Jonathan Steele, Solo Runner!!" I was given a bottle of water and a handful of ice by one of the race staff, still dazed and slightly delirious I headed through the many seated people and past the buffet until I got to the bar and asked for a can of coke, I found a wall to sit down on the floor and rest my back against, the Coke was finished in under a minute, I tried to drink the water but to me it tasted foul, I must of sat there for 20 or so minutes feeling very rough and tired. I dragged myself to my feet and noticed a shower on the beach, I stripped to my waist and stood under the heavenly cold water for awhile.
I finished the race in 16th place in a time of 8hrs 28mins. Shirley did incredibly well and finished the race even with a dodgy ankle and no distance training for 6 months. On returning back to the Hotel on the same night I weighed myself an discovered I had lost over 5kg of body weight even after drinking 5 litres of water and taking electrolytes throughout the race.This was what had made me feel so weak and rough as well as the pains in my legs and the high pulse rate
The race was fantastic, the course, the scenery, the camaraderie, the relay teams were fantastic and offered so much support. What I saw of Oman was beautiful and the whole event had a party feel to it. I hope I can return to this event sometime and with a few days of acclimatisation do the course some justice.
Our adventure didn't stop at the race but continued on our journey back to the hotel...but that's another story......
The break with Shirley in Abhu Dhabi was fantastic and what a city!! We both limped around the city with incredibly sore legs for a few days after...