Back in 2014 I set myself the aim of running a full, standalone, road marathon. I’ve run marathons before; my first was as part of Ironman UK back in 2012, an Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series marathon on the North York Moors left me rehabbing an ITB problem for 6 months following the race it was so hilly, with the long stage of the Oman Desert Marathon 2014 just falling short of a full marathon (40.8km) in the desert heat and sand. Like most amateur club runners, I’d always thought that getting a sub-4 hour marathon time would be a good goal, although it never really seemed hugely do-able. I ran 4:27 in my Ironman marathon, off the back of a 7 hour bike ride, so in theory it should have been possible to take 27 minutes off my time by focussing just on the running, resting well and preparing properly.
Back in September, a friend came out to stay with us in Oman and over a pizza I interrogated her about some recent photos I’d seen on her Facebook page……. Something about her rowing the Atlantic?! Yes, it turns out that Sarah (along with 3 others) had signed up to row in the 2015 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge; labelled as the World’s Toughest Rowing Race. Starting in La Gomera in the Canaries, the crews row 3,000 nautical miles to reach English Harbour in Antigua. The crossing time varies from around 40 days to 90 days, depending on (amongst other things) the weather. They were entering an all-girls crew; team Atlantic Endeavour, with the aim of trying to break 2 world records and raise money for the mental health charity Mind in the process. Obviously I told Sarah that I was very jealous; what an awesome adventure!
Fast-forward a month or so, and I get an email from Sarah, asking if I would be interested in joining the crew; there was now a space in their team that needed filling. So I jumped at the chance….. who wouldn’t?! The first thing I did was Google “Has anyone died rowing the Atlantic”. Watching videos of previous years’ entrants battling waves and capsizes did not do anything to calm my fears. Over the next month I had a ‘trial’ period with the rest of the Atlantic Endeavour crew; being able to work as a team and getting on with each other were going to be very important further down the line when we’re stuck on a very small ocean rowing boat together, thousands of miles away from land. Regular crew meetings (thank goodness for Skype!) and admin sessions (and a lot of whatsapp banter) became the norm; before we knew it December had rolled around and we were organising where and when we were going to have our photoshoot. Continue reading
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.
Back in the summer I signed up to do my first multi-stage desert race; the Oman Desert Marathon. I figured I needed something epic that would scare me enough to keep me training through the hot, humid summer in Oman. As the weeks and months progressed, I realised that it was actually quite an epic undertaking that I’d let myself in for; 165km through the Oman Desert (the Wahiba sands) over the course of 6 days. This included carrying all the food I would need for these six days in my rucksack (to a minimum of 2000kcal per day) in addition to certain mandatory items of safety kit (venom pump, 1st aid kit, safety blanket, whistle, compass etc.).
I met the other competitors at the airport on the Friday morning and after a bit of a wait (which we later found out was to wait for other flights coming in), we headed off on the coach towards the Wahiba sands and the Arabian Oryx Camp; our home for the first night (and last 2 nights after the race). We were greeted with a traditional Omani welcome; dancing, drums and music, followed by dates, coffee and Halwa (an Omani sweet dish made with tapioca starch, ghee, sugar, rosewater, saffron, cardamom and nuts). After a buffet lunch, it was chill-out time, or for those people who had flown in, time to pack their race bags and sort out kit. We had a kit/registration/medical check before dinner, with a chance to weigh our bags. After being told we didn’t need to carry our sleeping bags in the end (they would provide desert bags for us), my rucksack weighed in at bang on 6.0kg without water. If I was to do it again, I reckon I could get it down to about 5.0kg based on what I learnt from this race. Another attack on the buffet, then time to settle down for the night, ready for a 7am depart to the local village of Wasil which is where Stage 1 of the race was to start and finish. Continue reading