When I first moved to Oman just over a year ago, I joined the Muscat Road Runners as a way to meet new people, and mostly as a way to make sure I got myself out of the house to do some exercise. Niall’s housemate was already a member of MMR, and she told me about a relay race that the club was organising to celebrate its 30th anniversary. The run was going to be a 30km (1km for each year the club had been running) trail run up a mountain road, finishing at the highest point in teams of 5 runners. So I put a post on the group’s facebook page about a week before the race to see if anyone still needed a runner for their team; fortunately for me, the rules were that each team had to have at least one female, and at least one veteran (over 50 in this case). I got a very cheery response from a guy called Suleiman saying that they needed a girl for their team, as they had 4 men including an over 50 already. Perfect. So I met Suleiman, Sulaiyam and Randy at a petrol station early in the morning, and off we trundled to the start of the race and to meet up with our other team member Robert. To cut a long story short, it was an epic day, our team strategy worked fantastically, Suleiman’s car broke down half way (something I have later learnt is a common theme with his cars…. Something to do with his love of old Land Rovers!), we hitched a lift in the back of a pickup as our support car for the rest of the race, we finished second and I definitely did not provide enough food for the picnic at the top. I’d offered to do food, without realising that at the finish of the race, there was to be a big picnic at the top of the mountain, so I’d only bought some slightly skanky sandwiches, a few bunches of bananas and some energy drinks. Fortunately everyone else had brought plenty of food with them so we manged to scrounge some yummy food.
Fast forward a year and the club decided the event had been such a resounding success that they would try to continue running it. This year it was to be an extra 1km to mark 31 years of Muscat Road Runners, starting 1km further back along the tarmac stretch at the beginning of the route. After our success of 2013 and the fact that all but one of us was still around and running with MRR, we ended up with the same team, this time with Bill replacing Robert and acting as our team veteran. Not only was I substantially more prepared on the food front this time, we elected to use Bill’s little 4×4 as our race car rather than Suleiman’s Range Rover. We also went for a slightly different strategy which can be summarized by the phrase “hard and fast”. Hard running (aka sprinting) with very fast (and often) changeovers. Although the exact changeover distances will remain a secret ;) as they proved such a success! This was a bit of a shock to the system having had most of the week trying to recover from very slow running through the Oman desert!
Suleiman started off on the first leg and fairly soon we’d managed to get into the lead (after a bit of stress when our car got stuck behind other team cars who were going more slowly than us!) and slowly started making some headway into the route, trying to increase the distance between us and the following team. No opportunity to take it easy, as after a while the second team appeared in our rear-view mirrors, a little too close for comfort. Then we started climbing. When this road climbs, it climbs steeply, with sharp corners and a lot of dust. We knew from last year how beneficial it is to be one of the first few teams up the road, so you’re not constantly running through clouds of dust that the cars kick up. We were in our running order nicely; Suleiman, Sulaiyam, Randy, Me then Bill, with frequent (and loud) shouts of “Don’t close the door!!” In order to facilitate effective changeovers, we’d leave the door open that we just got out of, so that the incoming runner knew which seat was empty. You try remembering to leave the door open when you’ve been brought up to close the door when you get out of the car and you’re doing things in a hurry! It quickly became our new team name.
Wadi Bani Auf is an epic, epic mountain road. It leads up high into the mountains, before dropping down to the start of Snake Gorge – a fantastic canyoning trip that is full of pools, jumps and slides. The road then climbs again out of the other side of the canyon before dropping down past the entrance to La Gorgette (where there is some good – but high skill – climbing to be had) and the entrance to the gorge hike into the beautiful village of Bilad Sayt. After that the road climbs again and carries on climbing relentlessly, through hairpin bend after hairpin bend until you reach the start of the tarmac road 100m before the carpark that marks our finish line. On this last stretch we passed the solo runners – very brave souls who had started off a few hours before us and were running the entire route on their own. At every bend we were looking down at the road below us, trying to gauge whether the second team were closing in on us, staying the same distance away, or whether we were extending our lead. In the end they finished a little over 3 minutes behind us, with our finish time of 2 hours and 12 minutes. When you think about it, that’s actually a pretty impressive time for an offroad 30km-ish run with a huge elevation (that I cannot for the life of me manage to work out, as I didn’t have my Garmin on!).
This year the picnic food was well received, not least because I took homemade quiche, chicken skewers, a giant salad AND a chocolate and cherry courgette cake (which disappeared at a tremendous speed!). All in all, another awesome day of running with Muscat Road Runners!