Desert V Cash Prize?

This weekend was somewhat productive on the running front…but probably not the best way to taper for an imminent marathon – like in a week’s time!

Sometimes however, you just have to let loose and go for it – the weather was cool and we’re on the countdown to summer and rising temps now. Every non-scorching day is a bonus.

Other half, Steve, has been organising a series of trail races in the desert, culminating in what would be (we think) the first ever official, unofficial, 50km challenge – which as all ultra-bods know is the entry-level ultra-run distance.

Gradually building up the challenge kms over a couple of months, 10 hardy souls put their names forward to tackle the 50km distance, and with us sadly losing women runners I decided I’d run the course so that at least their was one female name on such an auspicious occasion. But with a marathon exactly one week later, this was never going to be the best taper plan (plus my right hip has been up to its old antics threatening to rip my hamstrings from my knee. Seriously, if anyone wants my right leg they are welcome to it!).

Sleep-deprived 50km runner! (Thanks to Stephen Blows for this photo)

Sleep-deprived 50km runner! (Thanks to Stephen Blows for this photo)

In organising the events, we end up camping in the desert. Now I can generally do camping, I have girl-guiding in my genes but I struggle with the desert. Firstly, Qatar’s deserts are as flat so there’s nothing to stop sound travelling and boy is it noisy…all night long! Secondly, it’s sandy, which gets everywhere. And thirdly, we seem to have acquired a plastic bag for a tent, which crinkles at every breathe of wind and turns into condensation tank when it’s colder outside.

I first woke at about 1am (after falling asleep at midnight) to a feel a few spots of water dripping on my head. Okay, I could cover my head. I then woke at 2am to find my feet getting wet, at 3.00am with an increasingly soggy sleeping bag, I called it best and decamped to try to sleep in the van. We had to get up at 4:45am to prepare the course markings and ready for the first runners to arrive.

So it was with a sleepy head I lined up on the 50km start-line. This was never going to be a race, I would run to heart rate and plod my way along – to be fair I got a bit carried away in the latter stages.

The course headed out through the nearby village, up a pipe line for 6km turned and came back. It’s super easy to lose people in a desert so we try to keep the track easy to follow. We’d even managed to find a few lumps and bumps to challenge those legs in this first 12km loop.

The main field of 25km distance runners started an hour after us 50km runners. This meant we could see them ahead as we followed in their footsteps towards the Sera statues and along the peninsula towards the nature reserve.

Our volunteer checkpoint crews had surpassed themselves adding to the water, kindly donated from a local water company for the race, with fruit, jelly sweet, nuts, chocolate bars…a veritable buffet.

Trying not to get distracted and stopping for too long, I pootled on passing 25km runners and shouting hellos to others already heading back.

It wasn’t long before I was returning, taking the shortest route, point to point – one of the beauties of the desert is that you can cut across country. I was finding the running easier, albeit softer and sandier, than sticking to the rutted 4X4 trail.

Heading back from the 25km, I started to see the red helium filled balloon I was heading towards drop from view. The runner to my right started shouting, I started shouting…someone was stealing our marker! I broke into a sprint, heart rate up, shouting! Luckily the balloon popped up again, and with a few more rocks piled at its base I hotfooted it after the school-kids (DofE training) who’d nearly dislodged it. Explaining (politely) not to touch any of the balloons again please since there were runners depending on them not going awol to escape a certain fate in the desert, I carried on back to the start/finish point where I was to complete another loop of the 12km route to finish the full 50km.

Star trail runner and 50km winner Tim was already back (serious machine there) I’d passed Rommil pretty recently and I wasn’t sure where David was as I set out on the final loop. It seemed like I was the only person out there so had a crafty walk and munch on some dark chocolate before deciding I really ought to get the darn thing finished and trotting onwards – my hip/hammy had been nagging since 7km (nice to know it was still there) – and I felt as okay as I have done for the last month.

Spotting David just before the 6km turn, heading towards me, it was apparent he had run out of water (miscommunication between his wife and him as to who had it). I gave him about a third of a bottle, I still had a full one and carried on. Heading back I caught him, topped up the bottle and trotted past. That’s the challenge of the desert. It’s cold when you start running at 7am but by 10/11am the sun is hot, even in mid January and dehydration is never far away.

Finishing a steady 50km I was back in second place and over an hour behind Tim, the winner 😉

Following Friday’s 50km jaunt, I was to pick up the pace on Saturday. Hot-footing it from teaching my lunchtime spin class I made it to the Doha Bank Al Dana Bank run in time for the start. The 3km race (actual distance 2.5) is always chaotic at best, but as a female runner, of which there aren’t as many of us, the chance to pick up some prize-money.

Waiting for the start, with Lily (thanks to Lily for the photo)

Waiting for the start, with Lily (thanks to Lily for the photo).

Us over-35 ladies aren’t as copious in number but pretty competitive. I won this group a couple of years ago, but with 50km in my legs and my errant right one, I certainly wasn’t a dead cert. Eyeing up the competition, I knew Nikki would be a threat. She’s a short-course runner and well, I’m definitely a long-course runner. I wasn’t sure how quick I could run; the last time I tried a fast 10 interval pyramid session a weeks previous my watch and right leg went nuts so I lost the data.

As we set out, I wanted to get away fast and around the kids, which the organisers in their wisdom think should start before the quicker women. Manhandling a few and downright barging into the back of several I-can-sprint-no-I-can’t-as-this-is-the-only-time-I-ever-run-men suddenly stopping in front of me, I thought I was hitting the pace hard. I wasn’t really sure, as again, my watch wasn’t performing (to be fair this was my fault since I’d set the screen on time not pace). Rugby scrum style runs bring out the worst in me. I’m physically strongly built and if someone gets in my way, well, I literally lift them aside and as a result get quicker and quicker and angrier and angrier. Think Amazonian meets Braveheart and you’ve got the idea!

Little did I realise, I was clearing the way for Nikki, who as we ran into the last 400m went flying past, with me trailing behind. She beat me fair and square, I’d reached max pace. I could have kept going at that speed but their was no quicker gear left. Tractor V sports car…sports car wins.

A tidy 2nd place and QR4,000 pay out for just under 10 minutes work, to add to a neat 2nd place 50km the day before with no pay out whatsoever, no medal, no t-shirt – nada – just great camaraderie.

And which did I prefer? There’s no question – the desert 🙂

Let’s just hope the hip settles after my kill it or cure it attitude.

Check out Davy Muller’s cool ultra trail video which makes Qatar’s desert look kind of cool (nice to know his HR was higher than mine):


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