So you want to know what it’s really like to run an ultra marathon? Meet Haydn Elliott, one third of the Trail Blazers, who recently ran the Wadi Rum Run, a 260km run across the Jordanian Desert.
A month ago today I started the most challenging week of my life. An experience that I am so thankful I went through.
On Sunday the 8th of October myself, Josh and Tom turned up in the Jordan desert to take place in the Wadi Rum Ultra. This is an ultra-marathon footrace that covers 260km in the space of five days in heaviest of sand and in temperatures that can force the human body into all kinds of dangerous states.
As an individual who had openly expressed my dislike of long distance running in the past, the 6 month training build up prior to the race was an awakening experience in itself… However nothing could have prepared myself, Josh and Tom for the challenge ahead of us. The first two days were a separate race all together, 47km and 51km, where four competitors dropped out of the race for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps the most memorable experience for all of the team was seeing another competitor come into the checkpoint with full body cramps. Hyponatremia is a condition that occurs when the level of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. The competitor could not sit down and whatever position he contorted his body into another area would cramp. This was sadly the end of his race and he was placed onto a drip in the ambulance. This was very awakening for myself and the team because it proved that the kilometres ahead of us weren’t the only challenge. What we put into our bodies was equally as important as putting one foot in front of the other. The food sachets from Expedition Foods were pretty enjoyable on the whole but most importantly they provided us with exactly what our bodies needed. However I must say eating during this week was a big challenge for me, on more than one occasion I had to eat close to 2000 kcals post run which was far from enjoyable. For Josh this was not the case, he was determined to be the only man in history to put weight on during an ultra-marathon.
The mental phase of the race were days 3 and 4. Pushing 70km and 55km consecutively my mind really hovered between periods of unreal focus, boredom and elation as each 10km checkpoint came and went. One thing I had on my side was time…. And Tom constantly singing next to me like a drag queen. Both were equally difficult to keep composure towards.
On day 3 (70km) the team started very well, we made some very good time across the first 30km. The last 40km were most definitely the hardest of the race. My hips on both sides started to give way, on several occasions I had spasms going through both sides which was fairly worrying. When we reached the checkpoint at 50km we all had a second wind… only 20km left! This was swiftly wiped away when we got around the bend 500 metres down the track to see an extremely steep and sandy uphill ahead of us. F**K! was the first word that went through my head…. And out loud…multiple times! Just to add insult to injury it was the hottest it had been for the whole week during that 10km (32 degrees).
The last 2 km of this third day was a very bizarre experience. The team went through a variety of emotions. At this point all three of us were completely miserable… each step was a marathon in itself. After 15 hours we were nearly there but it didn’t feel like it. As I turn to my right I see Josh far left pulling his walking sticks along behind him like a sloth and Tom with his head down just praying it would end. I burst out laughing and then they both followed. Nothing was particularly funny but we had just completely lost the will to live. For at least 10 minutes it was just hysterical laughter and then something happened that I couldn’t have foreseen 20 minutes previously. All of us together started sprinting towards the finish line. In the dark at around 7 o’clock we stormed up the steep and sandy hill to the new camp to the applause to the competitors who had already finished.
That evening with the major bulk of the race done the mind-set shifted. As a group we all camped under the stars, I must admit not comfortably, and realised we only had one more long run to go. Day 4 was 55km and the only thing on my mind was getting the calories and salt back into my body after the most depleting physical experience of my life.
Day four came and went. It was a very business-like experience and I think it was our best days work in regard to the running. The ground was very firm which I much preferred as I struggled in the heavy sand the day before. As we crossed the finish line we all had one thought – One day to go!
On the morning of the last day the mood once again in the camp was outstanding. Such a positive and uplifting atmosphere. 35 kilometres is still a long way but everyone there considered it to be a ‘rookie’ amount of kilometres. From the off we absolutely smashed it. The first 10km went rapidly. The second 20km ticked over. The last 15km were a bloody struggle. After 4 long days of huge strain our bodies were all shutting down. I got to 30km feeling okay but the last 5km were extremely tough. The team left everything out there… none of us could have given any more effort.
Running the last 1km of the race was a very emotional moment for all of us. Gratitude was in my mind as I crossed the finish line hand in hand with two special friends. The amount of money we had raised for charity was exceptional and the feeling of completing a challenge like that is one that I will never be able to forget.
For anyone who is thinking of doing a challenge like the Wadi Rum Ultra I advise only a few things. Train as hard as you can beforehand and do not try and short-change your food and running gear. Getting the best food, shoes, running shorts and t-shirts, running poles etc… was a huge factor in our completion. Not only did they help us complete it but they also made it a highly enjoyable experience.
Don’t think about doing something. A thought is not an action. Just sign up to something and get going!