The North Face Cappadocia Ultra Trail 110km

Fairy chimneys in Cappadocia
Fairy chimneys rock formation

This particular trail race in a region of spectacular surrounding that is a UNESCO heritage site has always been on my bucket list. 

Been blessed to have visited wonderful Turkey few times including the central Anatolia (where Cappadocia is), I was pretty confidence on travelling solo to participate in The North Face Cappadocia Ultra Trail 110km with a variation in altitude of 3,485 m. 

Origin of Cappadocia word took from Persian languange which means “land of beautiful horses.” From history point, it has been hub of many civilisations and empires namely Hittite, Persian, under Alexander The Great, Roman, Byzantine and Selcuk. 

“It is not a bad race. Not the toughest 110km” quoted from Devrim in an email exchanged with him part of my due diligence. My response  to him was rather around “scared of the dogs” in reference to his 2014 event note.

Getting There
Flight booked with Qatar Airways has been timed sufficiently to connect with internal local flight. Accommodation booked from Booking.Com. Flew from Dubai to Istanbul via Doha. A few hours transit at the Sabiha Gokcen airport, then flew via Pegasus to Kayseri. There are 2 airports  – the other is Nevsehir but Kayseri seems to have more daily airlines. Being picked up at the airport close to midnight as the local flight got delayed was just a bonus provided by this race organisation despite the waiting for other runners’ arrival. Safely arrived at accommodation in Urgup which took about 45 minutes from the airport. 

A Day Before
The next morning was filled with race pack collection, gear checking, and medical certificate clearance. The hall was a bit of a walk from the starting line.There I met Swiss Coraline who responsible for social media task. Later in the day, briefing was organised in a comfortable theatre – only the show was not of any film instead about the events itself: race day weather, course details and what to expect on the route. Great turn out from both camp of 30km, 50km and 110km. The organiser warned to be careful not to follow the red arrows marked on the rocks when running on National Park route.

After briefing, we feasted over the most lavish ‘pasta party’ of any races I’ve attended. Only not just pasta was served – there was rice with variety of dishes, dessert and fruits. I had a lovely chat with runner Maya from Bulgaria and then later met Nikola, another Bulgarian runner – whom I stumbled just few months back when he finished his UTMB. A group of Macedonian runners were there too. Meeting these familiar faces again whom I got acquaintance with from previous races in an unplanned manner and on a different land is very heart-warming indeed.

During dinner, Muazzez a doctor and local trail runner friend who came third female in 2014 emphasized about the second part of the race which will be the hardest as it will be during dark and involve steep climbs. I planted her advice firmly in my race strategy.

Cappadocia 110km course
Cappadocia  Ultra Trail 110km 2 different loops course.

Race Day
Runners of 50km and 100km started at the same time in Urgup. At the starting line, I stood just behind Caner Odabasoglu, Iznik Ultra Race Director who was a bit surprised to see me at first. He said ” This is a fast course. No stopping to take pictures despite the beautiful scenery”. I listened to his priceless words – so only managed to snap one selfie towards reaching 60km in Urgup just before the battery died on me.

The first few checkpoints I ran in drizzle and was not too enjoyable. Couple with accident where I hit my head against a tree branch and next minutes fell down on a wooden bridge as it was slippery – did not help either. Also a section with rope to come down from short steep slope took a bit time due to bottleneck. Otherwise, anything after Checkpoint 3 Goreme onwards have been smooth until Checkpoint 6 Urgup – where the drop bag is. I’ve kept a 2 hours buffers to save energy for the second half of the race.

 There were moments of running under low caves, passed by fruit trees, squeezing in narrow tunnels and climbed up metal stairs. The best part of all was running in the National Park at the edge of valley with stunning rock formation landscape of Rose Valley and Love Valley  between Chekpoint 2 Urchisar to Checkpoint 4 Cavusir

Cappadocia Ultra Trail 100km
Cappadocia Ultra Trail 100km elevation graph on bip number

After a quick rest and few cups of instant soup at Urgup, climbing to Checkpoint 7 Plateau at 1500m was a tough in the dark, as well as windy. On hindsight – this was ‘easier’ for someone like me with height issue as I focused a lot more on climbing to find the next reflector that mark the course rather than worry about the height by looking down if it was on day time.

Reached Checkpoint 8 Karlik with 2 hours buffer. There were 4 runners there. My heart beeped at higher rate. I was tired at that time, though my leg can still go on. “Had a quick rest” said a tall gentleman who also kindly helped me to adjust my headlamp. I did only for a bit longer as I know there is another big hill to climb.

Then him and a lovely girl walked me to the course up the hill. Making sure I have everything with me, he asked about my poles. “No pole“, I said. “You will make it. Only about 25k to go“, he said. I wondered who he was, wanted to thank him for his gesture and politely asked what was his name and he said “Aykut“.

I turned my head towards him while my leg continued the hike, ” You mean THE Aykut?” Like there’s no best place to meet someone who’ve inspired me to run the Iznik run (also in Turkey) simply just by reading his race story – and there he was right beside me. My heavy leg forced me to carry on – otherwise I would be chatting with him on his recent outstanding race at the Spartathlon. 

A very slow pace coming down the last hill as it was very rocky. Then later I got lost for about 30 to 45 minutes that nearly got me panicked. I calmed myself down, eliminated all the possible routes available until I discovered the correct path which was on hidden left side with a reflector that’s not just unclear but a lot far away from the last one .

Towards Checkpoint 9 Mustafapasa, I was slowing down due to tiredness.Two runners from Bulgaria managed to catch me. They pushed my pace a bit quicker. As it was raining during the day some of the routes were flowing with water. Otherwise, it was relative easy run on the final stretch. We carried our legs together to the finish line. 

As for me, I’ve achieved what I came for yet with improvements as takeaway to be better ultra-runner. I’ve encouraged myself to stay motivated throughout the course. During night hike of the 2 big hills, I constantly reminded myself on the latest ‘Everest‘ movie – that my ‘climb’ is nothing compared to the amazing mountaineers, so I had NO acceptable excuse not to finish this race.

Finishing post with lovely Bulgarian runners. Picture courtesy of Boris Ivanov
Finishing post with lovely Bulgarian runners. Picture courtesy of Boris Ivanov

 Nutrition 
I refueled well at the checkpoints. There were selection of food and snack provided. The instant soup (at Checkpoint 6) was better for tummy than usual fresh soup that been out there for a whole day like in other races. Consumed GU Hydration Drink Tab for electrolyte. I suspected that I might drink  too much electrolyte than required by my body. Need to relook at the right balance of water intake, electrolyte and carbohydrate during the race. Also relook at electrolyte brand that suits my body better for an ultra race.

Equipment 

Salomon SLab backpack with shoulder pads

  • Shoes – Saucony Peregrine 5, Salomon trail gaiter (low)
  • Clothing –  my usual Asics running top, Compression CEP tight,  Headgear, Compressport trail racing sock.  For night; a running glove, and a lightweight jacket. 
  • Backpack – Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin 12SET with shoulder pad that I’ve creatively Velcro to minimise pain on shoulder which work well.
  • Watch – Garmin Forerunner 110
  • Poles – none. Though maybe handy at descending the rocky downhill section.

Fee
60 Euro late registration (even cheaper if registered earlier) included race bip with elevation graph, race t-shirt, a finisher medal, finisher vest, pick up between Airport and accommodation of choice (to and fro), the wide variety of ‘pasta’ party prior to race, fueling during the race, refreshment after the race, massage at the local hamam Turkish bath, and complimentary taxi from finishing line to accommodation upon completion of race. 

Race Organisation 
Overall good organisation in the 2nd year of running at an international standard. There are many other international runners I encountered such as from Romania, Latvia, Iran, Greece, Indonesia, Ukraine and Belgium. Couple of points as feedback below:

  • A slight disorganized at the award ceremony and late taxi pick-up to the airport due country delayed in adopting the winter time. Perhaps with English speakers as well at the award ceremony?
  • Would be nice to have more photographers on the course.
  • I asked around, other runners got lost too – some in the same area and some different areas.  This is an important  point not to be taken lightly as it risking participants to meet precious cut-off time and may compromise safety measure.

Other 
No barking or chasing dog incident, thankfully. Though one dog came passed me from the top of the last hill. Tried to accompany me, but I was rather too slow for him. So he left me to find for other runners at the front.

As I thought I was the only runner from Dubai, I was introduced to Yonca Tokbas a Turkish journalist residing in Dubai the day after the race – what a great pleasure to know another runner from the sandpit.

Will I return? Yes in a heartbeat – for the breathtaking panorama that is unique, Turkish hospitality, and the familiar faces of running acquaintances and runner friends: numerous factors that make it not just about a race. Oh, need I mention on the delicious Anatolian cuisine that can be enjoyed after the race to replenish? 

More details about the race, flight and accommodation arrangement please visit here. Should it be your first trip to Cappadocia, suggest to extend few more days to discover the magnificent areas. There are many tourist activities such as hiking, hot-air balloon, museum, castle, monasteries as well as Seljuk and Ottoman architecture buildings.  Or if you need additional hill training, why not hike Mount Erciyes (3,917m) just 25km south of Kayseri – which is what the great Macedonian runners did few days after the race.

Urgup town as I farewell in early morning to the airport
Urgup town as I farewell in the early morning to Kayseri airport.

Gürüşürüz. (See you later in Turkish). And thank you for making me feel at ‘home’ and yet another memorable running experience.

SOTG.x