I hardly return for the same course. But Hajar 100 by Urban Ultra in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates is different. Could it be the surrounding rugged landscape soften with wild flowers, and patches of green grass? Could it be the camaraderie among participants and amazing people behind it? Could it be because it’s the only single-stage trail run in the country? Whatever it is, I could not deny the wonderful feeling to be back on this unique land I call home.
After a delicious homemade gourmet lunch prepared by Margot (vegetable risotto with goat cheese and pine nuts), I took a lift from a good friend, Stephen Turner who also participating in the 50km race. Journey was about an hour from Dubai to Marjan Island. Occasional wild camels were sighted along the journey.
Early Cracked of Dawn
I had an easy dinner (instant mashed potato bought from Carrefour) and went to bed very early. After a good night sleep of 6 hours and breakfast (a banana and Pure Nutrition Beetroot Endurance drink), I gathered for race check-in at 3am in Double Tree Hilton, Marjan Island. Exchanging hugs and friendly chat with runners from Dubai Trail Running (DTR) filled in the time quickly.
I got “hey I know you from somewhere” moment several times – related to Urban Ultra race video I was interviewed when finished the race last year. I chatted with few runners as they asked what to expect on the course.
After feeling confidence with shoe choice, I passed on my drop bags: one to be retrieved later in Checkpoint 5 and one for Finishing line. Race briefing was presented before runners being transported by bus to the starting line – about an hour journey.
START – Wadi Bih UAE side near Jebel Jais
This year, Urban Ultra received few International runners including notable runner from Jordan, Salameh Alaqra – a 2012 Marathon des Sables winner. As we lined up to start, I joked with Chad Lasater, asking if he will ‘try’ to chase Alaqra.
And just behind the front line-up was Clare Mullenger, favourite female ultra runner as she stood representing the women. “Enjoyed the course like you always do”, I said.
“I will stop at 50km if my injured foot could not carry any longer”.
“NO, you do NOT have any injury”, said Lee Harris. So, that’s it I don’t anymore, bizarre what a positive affirmation could do to the brain instantly. Benoit Rodriguez said he had better ‘excuse’ than me as he recently completed a tough desert race in Abu Dhabi (and won the 100km Liwa Challenge).
I looked back to find other runners. I saw Brendan Moloney as he is making a huge claps that provoked others to follow. 6am sharp we embarked the journey while it was still dark, not like last year as I recalled. This time, 100km runners accompanied by 50km runners.
A rather flat first 7.5km. As sun about to rise, the cobbled sky was in red and orange. No stop at Checkpoint (CP) 1, I carried on to climb 1000m Janas Mountain.
Enjoyed the winding climb till the top. I was glad to bump into Moustapha Mroueh (who finished 100km last year) as we did our first descent over rocky terrain. We then ran along the edge of stunning plateau.
Reached CP2, there was Servatius Palmans from Hopasports by the time mat. I then rushed off to the wide open road without stopping at CP2.
Going downhill put unpleasant impact to my left foot injury. This is where DTR gangs caught me: Gerard Foulkes, James Constable, Simon Williams, Tamaz Lorinz, and then Moustapha Mroueh (again). Great to see them just as when I needed some friendly familiar faces.
At this point, the heat was very strong on me as we came down from Janas Mountain. I finished the 2 bottles of 500ml electrolyte and filled them in at Checkpoint 3. Grabbed few oranges, I dashed off to climb the second hill, Jebel Yibir.
I enjoyed the steep climbing but the heat took a toll on me. “You have no excuse since you’ve done last year”, a voice came from a bunch of guys I never met before this race as they passed me. Not liking what they said, I replied “Why don’t you go first, then you can tell me all about it at the finishing line.”
I slowed my pace down when reaching the village at the top to save energy for the boulders section. The boulders were the prettiest part, very pleasant as the route was shaded by shrubs and paved with different shapes of rocks. There were thorny shrubs that put a tiny hole in my compression pant. Some parts require squeezing the body in between gap of rocks. At one part I got to stop for a bit to talk myself out of climbing up a huge rock by using upper body strength and correct feet placing. Akira Shibayama, Japanese runner who I finished together last year tried to help. “Calm down, you are not far just need a bit push and few steps away”, said Simon Williams. His magic words really work on me.
Over with boulders meant 1200m climb of Jebel Yibir came to an end, then reached CP 4 after few more short hills on open jeep track road. There were no sight of oranges cut. I’ve finished all my water supplies since last CP (unusual for a camel runner like me), but only refilled the 2 bottles of 500ml as I planned to refill the bladder on next CP.
Checkpoint 5 and 50km Finish
I left CP4 with Helmuth Raukuttis, who gave me a lift in the morning. Downhill run was enjoyable because it was on tarmac, though it tired my knees. Couple of cars came up and down the hill exerting rubber fume from braking too often. I bumped into one runner who was a bit injured but he seems strong in spirit to finish at CP5.
Did not expect CP5 to be at a different location than last year, so I ran down the hill for further 2km following Simon Williams. Hearing the bell and cheering put a special feeling. Seeing charming Kevin Bradford, lovely Zuzana Laukova and smiling Shaikh Mansoor – I was simply happy to sit and chat on a comfortable stool under canvas.
Within 15 minutes, other DTR finished their 50km race – amazing effort by Tamaz Lorinz and then Moustapha Mroueh. After a serving of very delicious homemade minestrone soup by Urban Ultra organiser (recipe please Pascal de Jong), 2 cans of cold Sprite and Red Bull, changed of sock and shoes, top up electrolyte in 500ml bottles, fill in bladder, iPod shuffle on, and head torch on – off I went as Simon Williams reminded me to stop chatting. Just when I left CP 5, I heard a name Jeremy being called on so I thought must have been Jeremy Grigg from DTR reaching the finishing line. Bravo!
Heading out for second part of race, I felt good and leg felt strong. When Simon Williams needed a bit rest to get the food down properly, I said to him to catch me ahead. “That’s what I did whole day didn’t I”, said Simon. With this promise, I ran the entire of 14km enjoying the last hour of sunlight to only reach a very dim CP and for once second, I though this was a self-service Checkpoint. Poor young volunteer who must be really tired from early morning had a nap in the car. I waked him up so he can jot down my bib number and suggested him to have a coffee.
Next run of 11.5km was pleasant because most of the trail route was parallel along the big road, so pretty much being lit up from the road light. I felt slight discomfort on my right heel, and few times tried to fix the socks. I stopped after realising a blister size of 2 tic tacs appeared on the heel. Oh, not a biggy – 2 bandages to cover it will do the trick. It’s just that I’m not a blister prone runner – so this was a first experience in any races.
CP 7 is the next best CP (after CP 5 that is). I was looked after by 2 young volunteers (Ahmad and Yusuf). Felt a bit hungry, but my tummy rejected the banana cut, so they offered a vegetable shawarma, which I took two bites – not much at all. This energized me so I dashed out for remaining half marathon.
Good 14km run towards CP 8 and I made the effort to enjoy the night run adorned with bright stars. Music in my iPod shuffled from Britney Spears to Rocky movie soundtrack as I ran in a rhythm following the beat.
Didn’t stop at CP8 except making sure I got the right direction. “Left on the road, then turn right after the tyre, no goat farm track”, said a friendly volunteer when I told that I lost last year on the way to finishing line. In packing mode at CP 8, I left it secretly wished other runners at the back to come along too.
FINISH 100km in Adhan
As I ran along the main road, I bumped into a group of Emiratis who was having a cruising Friday night walk. They pointed the direction to go straight ahead which I very much appreciated.
Just when I thought I was going to finish the race, the nausea kicked in and chances of throw up was high. Then, out of nowhere Jojo Olivar appeared whom I last saw him on top of Jebel Yibir. He said he rested at CP5 as he got a bit sick. As he wanted to do under 19 hours, I tried to move a bit faster but just couldn’t be fast enough in the condition I was in. The final route came with some rocks, a bit undulating terrain, and sandy toward the end – not so straight forward.
We arrived the finishing line with a good final sprint. I wanted to sit down right there and then, but was told to get a check in the ambulance. After 30 minutes lied down and few pukings, I felt better. My heart rate at 80bps was normal – though I felt too high. The friendly ambulance staff told me that apart from myself, they looked after Sami Alsaidi, the 1st winner with his cramping issue.
Few other runners arrived later including DTR’s Simon Williams. Bid farewell to Urban Ultra organisers, we then transported by bus back to Marjan Island.
Gears, Fueling and Performance
All in all, very grateful to have finished a race without making the left foot injury any worse: 5th Female and 18th overall. No fancy race watch to compare speed CP by CP, year on year. The below is for my record. Certainly enjoyed 2016 race more than 2015 even though not getting a PB. Plus, my legs could still run further – despite the nausea.
|Training plan||Self coach||Provided by coach|
|A week before||sub 4 hours at Malaysian Women Marathon||Slowly came out from injury. 3 days of slow run (30 minutes, 1 hour, and 2 hours).|
|3 weeks before||Running, RPM classes and boot-camp as per training plan||No running due to injury. Stairs climb and cycling as cross-training. Injury management was part of training.|
|Shoes||Saucony Peregrine 5, Salomon trail gaiter (low)||First Half: North Face Ultra Cardiac (lightweight when climbing and Vibram sole for good gripping).
Second Half: Saucony Peregrine 5 (for more protective and cushioning)
|Clothing||Asics running top, CEP Compression tight, Headgear, Compressport trail racing sock||Asics running top, CEP Compression tight, Buff Headgear, Compressport trail racing sock|
|Backpack||Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin 12SET||Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin 12SET|
|Watch||Garmin Forerunner 110||Garmin Forerunner 110|
|Fueling||GU Hydration Drink Tab, CLIF Bar||PURE Sports Nutrition – Endurance Hydration. Homemade oat cashew raisin cookies. Asian dried plums.|
|Time||19:10 including 45 minutes lost time towards CP9/Finish||19:18|
Do this again? Absolutely. No explanation or justification requires here. I felt happy on the trail and had a great fun. Except the puking incidents though!
There are few options on and off Marjan Island. Off the island offer cheaper rates like Bin Majid Hotels & Resorts (right on main road) and Acacia Hotel. I chose the earlier which was a great stay and was given a room 100 metres away from the beautiful beach. Stay at the Double Tree Hilton (where the race check-in took place) for convenience sake. Or if you fancy a bit of weekend treat, stay at Banyan Tree Al Wadi – not far off from Marjan Island.
It is a concerted collaborative effort from organiser Urban Ultra, volunteers, timekeepers, ambulance and other crews involved. They also had an ultra-day. So, thank you everyone for making this a successful race.
I rated this event very highly on scale of 10 and it’s worth an international standard. The race also granted the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) qualifying points of 2 for Hajar 100. It’s a race that test willpower, grit and mental strength.
Big congratulations to every runners who participated in 50km and 100km who tackled the tough course – you are victorious. For DNF runners – it wasn’t your day and you learnt to return stronger.
To my elite runners’ friends – you are forever inspiring me to be a better ultra-runner.
Credit to my coach Lee Harris from Lifesyle Fitness Management for huge motivation, heaps of positive vibe and keeping me discipline with personalised training despite my injury. It was very special to have a coach who finished his race 6 hours earlier in the day and spent his hours not in comfort of hotel bed but waiting for other apprentices to arrive. What a classy act.
My personal thanks to Stephen Turner and wife Margot – for generosity, wonderful hospitality and kindness making the trip a memorable one.
Last but not least thanks to Mohamed Alswaiti from Jordan (1st in 50km) who gave me a T-shirt as token to a race he organised in Wadi Rum: Rum International Marathon.
About Ras Al Khaimah region click here. It is the most stunning emirates in United Arab Emirates that pride for beaches, mountain, and desert.
Will you sign up next year? If you are mostly fit physically, determined and well prepared – Hajar 50 and 100 will fix your crave for adventure running.
Till the next race.
Live to thrive.