UTMB Oman: The Beast From The Middle East

Written By Sam Heward

Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)

9 December 2018

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

It is now one week on from what was undoubtedly the toughest race that I have ever participated in.

UTMB Oman has been called the “Beast from the Middle East”. However, it is difficult to truly describe to anyone who has not attempted to traverse the rocky terrain around Jebel Akhdar what this means.

Out of the 329 athletes who toed the start line there were only 142 who finished and of these almost half took over 40 hours. I think it is fair to say that no-one had expected the course they were given.

An ultramarathon with 8,000 metres of ascent and 137km is by no means insignificant but what made the course so tough was the continuing technicality of the terrain. This meant that every step had to be carefully placed and the majority was an enforced hike.

The route itself was as magnificent as it was challenging. The views from the mountain ledges were endless and some of the drops into the canyons would make your stomach turn.

I was taught a serious lesson in pre-race admin. Having quaffed at the mandatory kit list requiring two headtorches as well as extra batteries I didn’t properly check any, and so when both headtorches ran out 10 miles in and my spares turned out to be water damaged from my last race, I could have been in serious trouble. Reflective markings work well if you have a light but if you don’t it means you are completely blind.

After several hours of stumbling after any light that could be found, I was saved by a French gentleman donating his backup. The light wasn’t as bright as some, but kept me moving through night one, and then night two…

Unfortunately, the headtorch situation meant that for me it was no longer a race and rather a question of getting to the end.

The mental challenge of being unable to move at more than 5km an hour made it incredibly tough, but the idea of quitting was simply not an option. At checkpoint 18 a big group of participants became a small one when we were told that the leaders had taken five hours to cover the final section and we would most likely take seven. The three vertical kilometres that followed (1,000 metres of climbing) contributed to my crew spending all night camped at the finish and the last 25km taking a whopping eight hours!

Finishing in 34 hours and 50 minutes meant finishing 43rd overall, 7th in age category, and 5th Brit so I will take it.

This was definitely not the perfect race (or even close) for me but I gained invaluable experience. The organization behind the occasion was exceptional and I am looking forward to the main event in Chamonix next August, where Ultra X are going to be all week.

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