Sporting Life | 06/12/2018

Breaking 165 – Oman Desert Marathon

By Karen Gregory
Copywriter, SSSPORTS.COM

Multi-stage racing is not like your average 5k or 10k.

Oman Desert Marathon didn’t just take a few hours; it took me 28. There was no contact from the outside world apart from an email service that allowed friends and family to send one email per day to you, which was then printed and distributed to the runners.

The total distance was 165km (102 miles) over 6 days, each day running an allocated distance until you reached a camp site where you recovered, ate and slept; and did it all over again the following day. The only items available were the contents of your backpack, containing food, medical kit (and all-important toilet roll!) for the whole week. The race organisers provided only water and an open tent shared with nine others.

oman desert marathon camp

Photo: Daily camp life. Race kit drying in the sun.

The terrain was challenging. With 90% on sand (that was as soft and as difficult to run in as powdered snow) in the middle of an abnormal heatwave for November – 42 degrees Celsius in the shade on some days.

oman desert marathon dunes

Photo: Day 1, stage 1. Photo credit: Oman Desert Marathon.

A personal highlight for me was watching how the hard work, the months of training finally started to pay off. Consistent running, controlling hydration and nutrition gradually placed me at the front of the female pack. Winning a podium third place with my friend and training partner, Kat Leguin, who came second, was the best feeling I’ve experienced in just over 13 years of running.

second and third female oman desert marathon 2018

Photo: Kat Leguin, Second female, Karen Day, Third female.

ultra running middle east

Photo: Three friends and training partners finally at the start line, after months of training in Dubai.

The journey to any multi-stage race is the hardest part, and when you begin, your success depends on how well you prepared for every eventuality, including heatstroke, tummy issues, falling onto rocks and whether you’ve eaten enough, to name a few.

A training snapshot consisted of – and was by no means an exhaustive list:

  • 8-10 hours a week of training, 12-14 hours in peak weeks
  • Summer training in the UAE with 60-70% humidity that left you at risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke
  • Friday and Saturday morning wake up calls at 2.45am, a 1.5 hour drive to run 3-4.5 hours each day on pure sand or technical, rocky ascents and descents
  • Back to back training days, usually Tuesday night, 2 hour sand runs, home for 10pm and wake up at 5.15am for a one hour recovery run to simulate the constant running in a multi-stage race
  • Running with a weighted pack. 4.5kg dry weight (usually running with bags of rice and pasta) and 2kg worth of water to mimic the weight of my race pack (which was 7.4kg on race day)
  • No social life from July-November(!)

When I first came to the UAE, I was a road runner. But the beauty of the region, if you just go out that little bit further away from the city, pulls you in until don’t want to be anywhere else on your weekends. The hard training, often having many breakdowns at the top of sand dunes in Mleiha, Sharjah, wondering why I was putting myself through it, did not matter, when the scenery just made everything so worth it.

sand dunes day 6 oman desert marathon

Photo: Day 6, stage 6. Kat Leguin conquering sixteen high sand dunes.

The backdrop for Oman Desert Marathon was no different, with dunes over 250 metres high, completely baron landscapes with no civilization for miles, stars that were the clearest and brightest I’d ever seen and some of the best sunsets.

sunset at camp oman day 4

Photo: Sun setting on day 3 before the marathon night stage on day 4.

My advice to anyone who even has a vague interest of the outdoors, let alone running or trail running, is to get out there, and dream big. You never know where a simple activity, or a sport can take you and gift you with experiences that will last a lifetime.

  

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