“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself – expanding and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.”
Dean Karnazes – Ultra Marathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner
And what an extraordinary trip it was. After 11 months of planning, training, stressing, talking, blogging, tweeting and generally going on about it, I finally got to line up at the start line for, and (spoiler alert) complete, the Cappadocia Trail 60km.
It’s taken me a couple of weeks to write this as I wanted to do it justice, and to be honest I’ve been struggling to find the words to describe the experience. I think that I’ve also been putting it off because the reason for starting the blog in the first place has now gone, so this post is an ending of sorts, and I hate saying goodbye.
This is a bit silly really, as I’m going to keep the blog going, and am already planning what I am going to do next, including looking at races in exotic locations like Patagonia, Andorra, the Canary Islands and, er, Evesham. but they all seem very far away now.
Anyway, back to Cappadocia. The weekend started very well, if not a little dauntingly, as I met two Brits that were hoping to win the 110km Ultra Trail – Robbie Britton (@ultrabritton, pictured below) and Paul Radford (@PaulJRadford), together with seasoned trail runner Ben Cox (aka Papa Ferret, @trailferret) and potential winner of the 60km Natalie White (@natsmountain). A great thing about participating in a niche sport like ultra running is that you get to rub shoulders with, and get tips from, seasoned pros, and rather than looking down on newbies, experienced competitors always seem genuinely pleased that another person has found the sport. There also appears to be wonderful camaraderie among ultra runners, perhaps because of the difficulty of the challenge ahead, with professionals in most cases finding the race as tough as first-timers.
So, with my head filled with sage advice, and belly filled with carbs from the pasta party laid on by the organisers the night before, and the breakfast laid on by the hotel at 5am, I set off for the race of my life, thankfully avoiding the spectacular, and probably very expensive drone crash just after the start line.
The first few miles were fairly gentle, particularly as I stuck with some 110km runners (the 110km Ultra Trail started at the same time and followed the same course as my race) to avoid the temptation to go off too fast. Things got a lot tougher about 45 minutes into to the race though, in large part because it started tipping it down. The course got progressively more difficult too, with wide open plains turning to tight wooded trails. That said, it would have been nowhere near as challenging as Mont Blanc, had it not been for the rain, which turned parts of the course into fast running streams and put many a better runner than me on their arse.
Unlike many such better runners, I actually really enjoyed the rain, and definitely now understand why kids, and Peppa Pig, love splashing in muddy puddles (still don’t get me started on Daddy Pig though). I also felt very smug that I took the organisers’ advice and wore proper trail shoes (Salomon Speedcross 3, in case you’re interested). The terrain during this part of the race also made it interesting, with the odd cave to crouch through, fallen tree to climb over, ladder to climb up or down or crying dog to avoid.
Before I knew it I was past the third checkpoint at 35km and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I couldn’t work out whether I was pleasantly surprised by the relative lack of ascent and descent, or missing the up & down of Mont Blanc. By this time it had stopped raining though, my thoughts were diverted by the breathtaking and other-worldly scenery. Although the internet tells me that it is not the case, and the internet is always right, I still can’t quite believe that Tatooine is not Cappadocia (Tatooine being Luke Skywalker’s home planet, in case you’re not a Star Wars fan).
Shortly after checkpoint 4 I definitely was not missing uphills, as they had kindly laid on a monster hill for us. Thankfully, I met another experienced and inspiring ultra runner, Lucja Leonard (aka Running Dutch, @Runningdutchie), who took my mind off my aching legs and kindly took the photo on the right.
Once the climb was over with there was a fairly long but stunning stretch along a ridgeline, and then an uninspiring few kilometres into Urgup. The finish line somewhat crept up on me, so I barely had time to look for Camilla and make my sprint finish.
I completed the race in 8 hours and 22 minutes, well under my 9 hour estimate, which I am incredibly proud of. More importantly, I can now properly call myself an ultra runner. Perhaps I am not so much of a fraud after all…