Race Review: Wadi Rum Ultra 2017

Written By Marina Ranger

Marina Ranger is a GB Age Group Triathlete, ultra runner, and all-round endurance challenge enthusiast. In 2016, she ran 500km in 5 days to raise money for the Pink Ribbon Foundation. Marina has also completed several Ultra X events, including winning the inaugural Ultra X Mexico in 2019.

27 September 2018

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

The Wadi Rum desert is a protected wilderness in the south of Jordan. Its dramatic landscape spans over 720 sq km and features deep red valleys of sandstone jebels, natural arches and pre-historic carvings that date back to 7700 BC. It’s no surprise that this incredible scenery has been the backdrop to a number of films including: The Martian, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and The Last Days on Mars.

Wadi Rum Ultra is the only race in this part of the world and that is one of many things that make this race so special. The race covers 250km over five days. Runners are required to bring all their nutrition to the race but transport is provided for overnight bags from camp to camp so you only need to run with your daily provisions.

This is the second year the race has been running so the field was small with just 20 participants, the majority of which were from the UK. It was nice to experience a more intimate race where you have the opportunity to build relationships with all the runners and organisers. I feel lucky to have done it this year and think that over the next few years it has the potential to grow substantially.

Preparation

A good example of testing ALL your kit before race day was my water bottles, which started leaking after about 20 seconds from the start line day one! So I had a wet right knee for the whole five days.

I had just eight weeks to train but knew I was working off a solid base of fitness having just completed my first Ironman in July. My weekly mileage only peaked at 100km but I also swam twice a week, had one strength and conditioning session and sometimes also a spin on my turbo. I’ve also found much more benefit in quality over quantity in terms of mileage as I’ve gained more experience in endurance sports. All my runs have some sort of focus; whether it be a tempo session or long run to test out my nutrition strategy.

Preparing for a race like this requires much more than just physical training. There are many other elements to consider, such as the sand, the heat, your hydration, nutrition and kit. Preparing for these factors requires hours of research, analysis and documenting in mega spreadsheets. As with any race, I try to replicate the conditions of the race in training. This meant bikram yoga classes in the two weeks leading up to the race to acclimatise to hotter temperatures, long trail runs on the weekends and testing kit and nutrition in training sessions.

The race

Day 1 of the race started on Monday so everyone flew out on Saturday to arrive at the crack of dawn on Sunday for the kit check and race briefing day. On entering the desert, we were driven on the back of trucks to our first camp where we stayed for the first three nights. Sleeping arrangements consisted of tents of 3-8 people, each with mattresses, which felt like luxury and made the world of difference in getting a decent night’s sleep. Between the tents was a fire and lounge area which became the communal spot for eating, stretching and chatting to the rest of the group after each day’s running.

My goals for the race were to run close to the whole race, enjoy myself, push hard, keep consistent throughout the week and use Day 1 to judge where I should aim to finish in the field.

The distances for the five days were split out as follows:

Day 1 – 47km
Day 2 – 53km
Day 3 – 70km
Day 4 – 55km
Day 5 – 35km

Man and Woman Running Through Desert at Ultra X Jordan

On the morning of Day 1, I was feeling excited and nervous. My race strategy is always to run to how I feel and I wanted this to be at a comfortable pace that I could maintain throughout the day.

Day 1 can be a game changer in a multi-stage race. If you go out too hard, you will pay the price for the rest of the week. I knew I shouldn’t get carried away with the initial rush and ended up finishing Day 1 in 3rd position after starting out in 7th. My tactic soon became known to most of the other runners: that I enjoyed hunting people down all the way to the finish, so I got given the nickname ‘The Black Widow’ or ‘The Terminator.’

This of course, did not apply to Salameh al Aqra or Sam Hayward who led the race from the front of the pack all week. Salameh al Aqra, a local Jordanese professional runner is a truly humble and inspirational guy and Sam Heward, equally as humble and inspirational has the potential to wow us all in his running future.

I was pleased to feel strong from Day 1 and finishing in 3rd overall gave me confidence in my ability and the drive to perform well for the rest of the week. Feeling strong meant I could enjoy myself for the most part and push hard when times got tough. And boy did they… the heat was relentless, particularly on Day 4 that was spent predominantly on salt flats. In times like this, I’d dig deep and focus on not letting it get the better of me, taking one checkpoint at a time and thinking of how good crossing the finish line feels.

Most of the course was runnable and even where it wasn’t, I’d shuffle through the sand or up the hills, keeping a decent pace so I could get to the finish line each day as early as possible, usually by lunchtime. This meant I’d have the afternoon to rest and recover in the form of re-fuelling, putting the legs up and getting massages from Kieran (Just One Body), our race osteopath and Lucy, the physiotherapist, both of whom did a tremendous job in taking care of all of us.

I managed to maintain my position of 3rd overall and 1st lady till the end of the race, which surpassed my performance expectations and I couldn’t be happier.

My final times for each stage were as below:

Day 1 – 47km, 5hrs 15mins (6’58min/km), 340m of ascent
Day 2 – 53km, 5hrs 57mins (7’05min/km), 480m of ascent
Day 3 – 70km, 8hrs 17mins (7’23min/km), 503m of ascent
Day 4 – 55km, 6hrs 01mins (6’44min/km), 114m of ascent
Day 5 – 35km, 3hrs 54mins (6’36min/km), 206m of ascent

We were treated to a hotel room on the Friday night with beers, a buffet dinner and celebrations throughout the night. Before heading home, we had the opportunity to spend a day in Petra seeing one of the seven wonders of the world! A recovery day soon turned into a 15km trek but it was well worth the experience… even if it did give me an infected blister! We were later taken to the caves for a BBQ dinner around a fire before being shipped back to the airport for a sad flight home.

Nutrition

I was pleased with the majority of my nutrition for the week. I ate just short of 3,000 calories per day; 500 for breakfast: 500 for supper, 800-1,000 during running and another 800-1,000 for a recovery shake and snacks while recovering in camp. My nutrition strategy whilst running was structured around taking on fuel every 45 minutes. This varied between solids, gels and powdered sachets to reduce the chances of my stomach being overwhelmed by just one type of fuel. Each provided me with roughly 30g of carbs, which might be too little or too much for others but worked well for me as I never felt low on energy or sluggish in comparison.

I tried LYO dehydrated meals for the first time and won’t be looking back for any future desert races. All their ingredients are natural and you get much better macronutrients in comparison to other brands. The beef stroganoff and coconut porridge were a personal favourite! I also tried TentMeals for extra variety and both their breakfasts and main meals were delicious. The only thing I would have changed for my nutrition would be replacing some of my afternoon snacks with another 500 calorie meal as I often had a long time to wait till dinner by the time I had finished running.

Hydration wise, I drank close to 1.5L every 10km, 750ml of which had Elete electrolytes in and the other 750ml was plain water. A hydration strategy is very personal but I know how much I sweat so ensured I drank frequently in small quantities.

My kit also worked perfectly so I don’t think I would change anything there. Here is a list of my main items:

 

  • X-Bionic Trick top – my desert go-to that I cannot fault
  • X-Bionic Marathon shorts – again, so comfy and simply cannot fault
  • HokaOneOne Challenge ATRs (one size up with elastic laces) – comfy, spacious and breathable with a good sole surface area for the sand
  • Desert AR gaiters – didn’t get one sand granule in my shoes!
  • Injinji socks – prevented all but one blister between my toes!
  • X-Bionic Metal socks – kept my feet cool and added an extra layer of cushioning
  • Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Trail pack – amazing bag with perfect storage and hydration facilities. Fit perfectly, looked good and once again cannot fault
  • SunGod PaceBreakers – love love love!

Conclusion

There is so much I have taken away from this race. One highlight being sleeping under the stars in camp on Day 3 and another being watching Flora, who suffered from knee issues from Day 1, finish on the last day after 10 hours. It ran shivers through me thinking what she went through and just to be standing there with everyone else cheering her in.

Aside from my position or performance in the race, the most valuable thing I will take away from the week are the memories that will be forever ingrained in me and the friendships made that I know will last a lifetime. The foundation of friendships made in the desert are like no other and I consider myself lucky to have shared such a special experience with my fellow competitors.

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