Ultra X JORDAN 2019

How can so much hap­pen in one week?

A part of me feels like no words or pic­tures will ever do justice to the actu­al exper­i­ence had by those who were out in the desert for those few days of Ultra X Jordan 2019. The only way to truly real­ise it, is to come out and exper­i­ence it for your­self; but it is import­ant to tell the story of the race and the indi­vidu­als who made it.

Brief­ing Day- Sunday 3rd Novem­ber

Just get­ting to the start of this event is an adven­ture in itself, both for the run­ners and the crew, this marks the cul­min­a­tion of months of hard work, research and pre­par­a­tion.

The race brief­ing wel­comed 73 com­pet­it­ors from 23 dif­fer­ent coun­tries with an aver­age age of 37 and four com­pet­it­ors over the age of 60 prov­ing with cer­tainty, that age is just a num­ber. Dur­ing this, the race reg­u­la­tions were high­lighted and the itin­er­ary reit­er­ated. It was stressed that, whilst this is a race, it is also a hol­i­day. Our main goal as organ­isers, is to ensure that par­ti­cipants get as much as pos­sible out of the exper­i­ence.

This field included a few famil­i­ar faces, loc­al Salameh al Aqra, the former Mara­thon Des Sables Cham­pi­on, three time win­ner of the race and course record hold­er was back to defend his title. Salameh has nev­er lost a stage in this race, but there were plenty fancy­ing their chances in this record break­ing edi­tion. We were delighted to also wel­come back Alise Miksta in the ladies field (3rd female in Ultra X Sri Lanka 2019) and Mat­teo Pedrini who has run this course before back in 2017.

To cope with this record break­ing field, the Ultra X team had a crew of 40+, which included 10 doc­tors from Exile Med­ics, 7 osteo­paths from Osteo Adven­tures, vari­ous amaz­ing volun­teers plus Jord­ani­an logist­ics staff to assist with camp­site setup, take down and route mark­ing.

At 11 am, coaches col­lec­ted the par­ti­cipants and crew and drove in con­voy down the King Hus­sein High­way to Rum Vil­lage, where the coach can go no fur­ther. Here, run­ners dis­em­barked onto a batch of pickup trucks to trans­port them to their camp­site for the very first night in the desert. They arrived into the Wadi Rum Nation­al Park just as the sun was set­ting. Every­one was in bed by 8pm. It is obvi­ous that the chal­lenge was deep in their minds, many of whom have nev­er run a mara­thon before, let alone more than five in as many days.

Where the asphalt stops is also where com­pet­it­ors must bid farewell to phone sig­nal, Ins­tagram and emails — for the next 5 days they live in the bubble that a desert race cre­ates.

Ultra X Jordan 2019 Directors Report Ultra X

STAGE 1

Day one is a time where the race can­not be won, but it can def­in­itely be lost. Hav­ing seen com­pet­it­ors in the past, high on adren­aline, with tapered legs  fly out too hard at the det­ri­ment to the rest of the week, we were hop­ing that this would not be the case for any of this year’s group. The first 10 km are on fairly hard packed ground tempt­ing the tapered ath­letes to stretch their legs. It was good to get star­ted. Salameh, Tommy Chen, from Taiwan and Brit­ish Rahil Sachak-Pat­wa came through first as the lead pack, in just under 50 minutes. All com­pet­it­ors passed through the 10 km mark in under 1 hour 20. This was the usu­al unsus­tain­able fast start, which we have come to expect in these events. For many, this would be the fast­est 10 km of the week!

The final 35 km of the stage are tough­er with the heat rising and sand get­ting softer. The final check­point is situ­ated with­in view­point of the fin­ish line and camp, but it’s a good hours run­ning in the heat to get there. If run­ners needed a remind­er of how tough this week was going to be, this day gave it to them.

Stage 1 res­ults

Ladies

  1. Jordan Foster
  2. Estelle Geerkens
  3. Alise Miksta

Men

  1. Salameh Al Aqrah
  2. Tommy Chen
  3. Rahil Sachak- Pat­wa

STAGE 2

Day two starts a little earli­er than the first stage. A 0630 am kick off, as the sun rises and first light falls on the desert. The first 10 km is a gentle down­hill stretch, mean­der­ing over some soft sand before drop­ping into a vast val­ley. It’s obvi­ous that some people went too quick yes­ter­day and are pay­ing the price now, with the field becom­ing much more staggered. Out of check­point one there is a steady long climb up to around 32 km before an undu­lat­ing sec­tion in the heat as com­pet­it­ors come back to camp.

Jordan Foster once again puts in an impress­ive per­form­ance to fin­ish 20 minutes ahead of second placed woman Toni Met­calfe, whilst in the men’s race Tommy Chen, new­comer to the Wadi Rum, is tak­ing the fight to the undefeated Salameh Al Aqra. Two days in and there is only six minutes in it. Tomor­row is the “long day” how­ever, which is the real defin­ing point in the race. It is this day which will make or break peoples weeks. Start­ing in the early hours of the morn­ing, led by noth­ing but the light of the moon, head torches and a line of glow sticks as far as the eye can see. Run­ning below the stars in Wadi Rum is a truly unique exper­i­ence and the 70km stage will fin­ish in rock camp; a huge, elev­ated cliff ledge sur­roun­ded by tower­ing moun­tain faces.

The long day in multi-stage racing is all about endur­ance, per­sever­ance and men­tal strength. Sur­viv­ing the longest stage means break­ing the back of the whole race; so nerve levels in camp were prob­ably at their highest since arriv­ing in the desert. The sens­ible com­pet­it­ors have spent the first 2 days hold­ing off for this chal­lenge. How­ever, such is the com­pet­it­ive nature of this field, there are already bod­ies that are hav­ing to be pieced togeth­er by the incred­ible team of osteo­paths and doc­tors who are work­ing around the clock to get the run­ners to that fin­ish line.

Stage 2 res­ults

Ladies

  1. Jordan Foster
  2. Toni Met­calfe
  3. Giulia Ran­zuglia

Men

  1. Salameh Al Aqrah
  2. Tommy Chen
  3. Rahil Sachak- Pat­wa

STAGE 3

 

The com­pet­it­ors set off in two waves today, the first at 04:00 and the elite wave, includ­ing only the top three over­all, at 05:00. The early start allows par­ti­cipants to make as much head­way before the sun rises and the heat creeps up, whilst also allow­ing all to have the once in a life­time exper­i­ence of run­ning through the night in the Wadi Rum.

 

The first 20 km takes run­ners wind­ing up sandy tracks with a few hun­dred metres of soft sand before drop­ping into a series of val­leys and dried up river beds, where the sand is harder packed and more run­nable. The last stretch into base camp “Rock Camp” where the stage cul­min­ates, is with­in sight from the last check point 10km out. It entails a hor­rible gradu­al incline in heavy sand to the fin­ish. By this point, even the top end of the field have been slowed to a march as they come in.

 

Rock Camp is an enorm­ous ledge over­hanging a vast val­ley, which is sur­roun­ded by moun­tains and jebels. Com­pet­it­ors sleep in the open and can enjoy a night with the stars above them, which are unlike any­thing any­where else. It’s the per­fect reward for a massive effort.

 

There were a few com­pet­it­ors who were forced to drop out dur­ing the day, but the vast major­ity made it through and the reac­tions upon arriv­ing were phe­nom­en­al. Last home was Tess Montagna, hav­ing star­ted and fin­ished in the dark, with an epic 17 hour effort. She was walked in by a troop of Ultra X crew and received the hero’s cel­eb­ra­tion that she deserved upon arrival at base camp.

 

In the battle for pos­i­tions on the podi­um, it was the sim­il­ar faces mak­ing up the top spots. Hav­ing battled it out with Tommy over the first couple of days, Salameh was intent on put­ting a mark­er down on this stage. By the mid­way point he had built an hour lead, and whilst the pace couldn’t be sus­tained over the whole 70 km, the final gap was 30 minutes. As such it looks like the king of the desert had once again built up a lead that was going to be dif­fi­cult to come back from with just two short­er days to go.

 

Stage 3 Res­ults

 

Ladies

 

  1. Jordan Foster
  2. Toni Met­calfe and Estelle Geerkens

 

Men

 

  1. Salameh Al Aqrah
  2. Tommy Chen
  3. Rahil Sachak- Pat­wa

 

STAGE 4

Day four is a funny one. Des­pite start­ing at 7 am, only a mat­ter of hours hav­ing crossed the fin­ish line of what was undoubtedly one of the hard­est days of many of the com­pet­it­ors lives, run­ners begin with high spir­its, buoyed by the fact that they broke the back of this race yes­ter­day and it is (at least men­tally) the home straight. People are hob­bling and limp­ing with cumu­lat­ive blisters, strap­ping up the calves and aching muscles, how­ever they are mov­ing, and that is what is import­ant at this stage. If they have made it this far, they know that they can make it to the end.

Day four’s route offers up some of the most beau­ti­ful val­leys and canyons of the region made fam­ous by Lawrence of Ara­bia as com­pet­it­ors fol­low the Pil­grim Cara­van Trail, going through some canyons so nar­row that vehicles must go around, mean­while com­pet­it­ors had to clam­ber.

It was obvi­ous that even the meas­ured par­ti­cipants over the first few stages, were look­ing to let loose and empty the tank. Chris Taylor, a con­sist­ent per­former over the first couple of days, showed us what he is cap­able of with an out­stand­ing per­form­ance to fin­ish 2nd over­all just five minutes behind men’s lead­er Al Aqra.

In the women’s field Jordan Foster has all but wrapped up first place with anoth­er out­stand­ing run. Behind her is fel­low Brit Toni Met­calfe with Estelle Geerkens round­ing up the top three.

STAGE

Today is no stroll in the park, there is lots of soft track, the biggest dune sec­tion in the Wadi Rum and after clam­ber­ing through a rocky canyon, com­pet­it­ors must still wind through sev­er­al sandy val­leys towards camp and the last fin­ish line.

The final day is the shortest of the race and involves a loop from base­camp. The end is in sight and this day is just a mat­ter of get­ting home and cel­eb­rat­ing for most. Bar­ring a huge upset on the final stage, the podi­um pos­i­tions look to be sewn up. How­ever, for six guys there is an oppor­tun­ity to grab a “sub 30” white rib­bon medal which means that there is no relax­ing just yet! 

Wheth­er stim­u­lated by the idea of a medal, cold beers, or the last fin­ish line, many showed their strongest per­form­ances of the week today, pick­ing up the pace to charge through the fin­ish line.

Beers and soft drinks were provided at the fin­ish line to all com­pet­it­ors, the first chilled drinks avail­able all week. As the run­ners come in, every­one remains cheer­ing fin­ish­ers until the last few were home safely. Each per­son home was wel­comed with open arms to the extent that dir­ect­ors and staff were often amongst the last to be able to con­grat­u­late those cross­ing the line.

Every final stage at an Ultra X race is spe­cial, how­ever this one was even more so. Hav­ing run the last 10 kilo­metres togeth­er, Shaun Hop­per dropped to one knee at the fin­ish line and Kayte said yes! Our first Ultra X pro­pos­al!

It was won­der­ful to see, after some drop outs early in the week (just under 20% of the field), every­one who had made it through the long stage crossed the fin­ish line on Fri­day. 6 white rib­bon medals were awar­ded; Salameh Al Aqra, Tommy Chen, Rahil Sachak-Pat­wa, Rob Jones, Rob Wen­zel and Chris Taylor.

Stage 5 res­ults

Ladies

  1. Jordan Foster
  2. Toni Met­calfe and Estelle Geerkens

Men

  1. Salameh Al Aqrah
  2. Rahil Sachak-Pat­wa
  3. Chris Taylor

AFTERTHOUGHT

Once the fin­ish line fest­iv­it­ies have con­cluded, the Ultra X team host an intim­ate prize giv­ing cere­mony announ­cing the top female and male fin­ish­ers, whilst a Bedouin bar­be­cue feast and after­party is pre­pared at the desert camp. The fol­low­ing morn­ing every­one was picked up in 4*4’s to trans­port them to the edge of the sand, into coaches and on to Petra — one of the remain­ing won­ders of the world.

It was genu­inely a pleas­ure to wit­ness such an inspir­ing group go through such lows and come out on top. Hav­ing been at check­point one each day of the week and see­ing the run­ners come through, know­ing how far they had to go and then see­ing them cross the fin­ish line hours and hours later was truly remark­able.

Whilst ultra run­ning can be seen as a sol­it­ary sport any­one who was a part of Ultra X Jordan 2019 will bear wit­ness to the fact that this is not an  ‘indi­vidu­al’ endur­ance chal­lenge. 103 indi­vidu­als arrived into Amman on Sat­urday 5th Octo­ber and returned a fam­ily only one week later. My abid­ing memory of week was one of teams, com­pan­ion­ship and com­munity between crew and com­pet­it­ors, embra­cing the hos­tile envir­on­ment and com­ing through it togeth­er. Each indi­vidu­al, wheth­er com­pet­ing, or simply look­ing to com­plete became a part of some­thing big­ger than them­selves in the week, and it was evid­ent in the emo­tion­al farewells, that this was much more than a race, or even a hol­i­day, this was an exhib­i­tion of human poten­tial and abil­ity. As one com­pet­it­or beau­ti­fully put it:

Whilst the remark­able wil­ful­ness of my fel­low com­pet­it­ors made a long-last­ing impres­sion, now that the chaf­ing and blisters have all but dis­ap­peared, the memor­ies that remain most vivid are those of self­less, indefatig­able volun­teers, work­ing day and night to ensure the afore­men­tioned crazy bunch of strangers could con­tin­ue their self-destruct­ive pur­suit as health­ily and hap­pily as pos­sible.”

I would like to take this oppor­tun­ity to thank every­one who played a part in cre­at­ing Ultra X Jordan 2019, Osteo­paths, doc­tors, volun­teers and run­ners, this truly could not have happened without you.