A different type of ultra
“So what’s your role?”
“I’m going to cover the race from an athlete perspective for social media, run as much as I can, stop when my legs hurt and have as much fun as possible.”
In my heart I was really not sure how this was going to go down, running in a race but not racing. Why you ask? Because two weeks earlier I had raced in Kenya and it’s simply not enough time to recover. However I love these races and in this one we were a group of 12 from InnerFight endurance so I was excited about being part of the race with those guys. Add to that the role that the Ultra X (link to their site) guys had trusted me with, running as much as I wanted with my Go Pro to capture content that we would post to their Instagram story.
I said to myself that I would start the stage everyday but not push myself. The simple measure of this was that “if it’s hurting I will stop”. Again quite different from my normal races as when it starts to hurt I normally get excited as I know something cool is going to happen.
Day 1 started with a major bang as all of these races do. The leaders went off at 3:30/3:45 per KM and of course this would make epic content so I went with them, camera in hand! I am not sure if anyone of you saw the video, if you did you would have certainly heard my breath….until I had to slow things down at 2km into the race. It was not only the leaders that went off on fire but most of the field. I was having the time of my life, watching and filming carnage from the get go. I knew this would be an amazing week.
Wadi Rum is a 300km drive from Amman and any words I use to describe it would probably not paint a true picture. Words I heard throughout the week from runners such as “Mars” or “another planet” summed it up super well. Once the tarmac ended and we were on the sand mobile signal was lost and we would see neither tarmac nor any mobile signal for the next 5 days, paradise for some but even on the day we entered Wadi Rum you could tell some people were not comfortable with this. Another reason why people need to do these races.
We would be spending the first 3 nights at the same camp which was on nice soft sand therefore within 2 minutes of arriving everything and everyone was covered in sand. I love it….welcome to the desert, welcome to your new normal, welcome to ultra for those who it was there first which on this race was around 50%. You obviously either adapt or die here in the desert or in life. Lots of people fight it at the start, complain, bottom lip out and all that but as the 4th massive gust of wind which near on uproots the very basic 15 man tents blows through you can tell by the look on peoples faces that they know this is their new normal if they like it or not.
Day 2 started out incredibly, 10km of easy hard packed trail and then a nice 10km steady climb up to check point 2 through varying beauty and terrain. I was loving every minute of it, whats there not to love! Although I could still feel my legs were not recovered I pushed on for a few more km until conveniently when the sand got super soft and the mercury started to rise the media vehicle was on hand and we headed to the front of the course to get some content from the leaders. Again a weird feeling for me but I was coming to terms with things and having fun.
It felt really awesome to be able to cover the race this way and give family and friends back home a glimpse of what their loved ones were going through especially as they had no contact with them. We were getting some awesome feedback on the Instagram story and where I could I was relaying some messages back to the runners.
The way we follow news and events is certainly changing with technology and I love seeing updates and chat from events on Instagram stories, this is what gave me the idea to pitch my role this week to the ultra X guys. I hope this is not the last time I will do something like this as I think it’s a key role for the people back home to be able to feel like they are with their mates during the race.
Day 3: “for some of you this will be the hardest day of your lives, do not give up.” were the words of the race director at 3:58am. My immediate reaction was very negative as I took his words in a negative way. I have since thought about these words and realized actually what a perfect pre race brief this was. I am always attempting to describe ultra to people but I am not sure there is a way to convey it without even doing it. Today many people were doing it for the very first time and I wholeheartedly agree that this day was the hardest day of some of the runners lives. Purely epic.
Of course I had my own goal for day 3 which was to run 40km. Stopping there was so hard. At 30km I said to myself I would run the full 67km and then immediately told myself that that was the wrong thing to do. I was just having an amazing day. 2 hours in pitch black to the 20km check point at 6am! Then another amazing 2 and a bit hours across insane terrain. I was having the best day of my life.
The highlight of day or so I thought was the interview I got with race leader Salameh as he passed me at 39km. Only to download the video later and find out the screen of my Go Pro was covered in sweat. That’s a mistake I will only make once if I want to get any more gigs running with my camera.
I’m incredibly proud of every single person from InnerFight that did the training to step foot on the start line. However we don’t train people just to get to the start line, yes we prepare them physically and mentally for what’s to come but our objective is to have people complete these races and race themselves as hard as they possibly can. That’s where the magic happens. So far we have 100% success rate and that speaks volumes of the individuals and the hard work they put in.
I knew this week would put pretty much all of our runners on the brink of collapse be it mental or physical at some stage. It’s just the nature of these races and the roller coaster that they are. That excites me massively, not in a sick way but in a way that I know they will benefit from and quite literally their lives will change for the better, maybe not immediately but in time.
Some of our guys took 14-16 hours to complete day 3 (67km) and were literally in pieces at the finish line as they faced just 10 hours to recover and be ready for another marathon on day 4. Sadly we lost one today at checkpoint 1 which took away our 100% record which is by the by but also took away the full experience that this race offered and that’s a massive shame, but it does happen and as the sport grows and we take more people to these races this “may” happen.
Just 90km to go across the next two days and the race is over. This is where things get funky. The impact of living in this huge calorie deficit starts to kick in to various areas of people’s lives. Everything starts to become increasingly challenging, even things like making a cup of coffee. This is where the real test starts. Anyone can run on fresh legs with a full tank of petrol but few can run well on poor food, poor sleep and increasing fatigue. I was of course excited as it was a chance to get more awesome content of people and share it with those now glued to the Ultra X IG story which for the geeks out there had seen a 300% increase in the number of views and a 15% increase in the number of followers in the last few days. (For next level stats and to see the content give me a shout)
Day 4 I think was the most beautiful course we ran which obviously meant I ran more than I should and took my week total to 130km. I was able to spend a nice 10km with Haysam today as we reflected on the first marathon he ran with me just under a year ago and was now sat in 8th place in the race! A natural runner you are probably saying? We no not at all. Just a guy who did the work and in his words (which I can verify) “never missed a session”. That’s how you get better at things in life.
I always think day 4 of these races is when the real race begins. Runners are fatigued in all areas they could be but the strong ones start to get stronger the the leader boards start to change. This was the case today and impressively for our team it was looking like we would go into the final day with 3 runners at or just outside the top 10. Rob has been having battles each day for 4th place, Haysam as mentioned had come back from a baptism of fire on day 1 to be well within the top 10 and Abdel just smiled more and more with each step as he closed in on the top ten.
The end of day 4 on a 5 day race brings mixed emotions to the camp. Some people have “had enough” and can’t wait for it all to be over and then the others are pumped for the final day. As I have said ultra grinds people down, funnily the least amount of complaints are about legs….hence why when someone comes to talk to me about signing up for a race I always tell them that although the running is important it is one of the least important factors.
Our tent with 10 InnerFight Endurance runners is buzzing. Rob and I have of course fired them all up from the day they started to run with us that day 5 is “the day.” The day to show themselves how strong they are, to prove the hard work they have put in during their training and really to display for themselves what No Weakness means to them. I was pumped as I knew what tomorrow would bring.
The start line on the final day is literally like a rave, 7:50, music pumping, people dancing, screaming and whistling in a desert in the middle of nowhere with 36km still to run through sand. Another concept that I just ask you to sit and think about for a second and what makes this sport so wild. The energy is just off the charts and I can’t remove from my head two of my favorite phrases in “this is living” and “this is the best day of my life.”
As the race started as I have done for the previous 4 days I run at the front of the field with my Go Pro to ensure I capture this amazing energy and deliver it to those watching. Salameh comes to the front, winks at me and points forward. We have developed an amazing relationship in the two races we have done together. He has very limited English and I have a similar amount of Arabic but I guess what we both speak is the language of running and the connection is strong. His wink and point means he wants to go and wants me with him. This guy is relentless, he is winning the race by almost two hours but wants to crucify everyone again on the last day. 2km in I say to myself I will do 1 more KM and then back off but he seems to have this knack of shouting out “London ok?” just as I am about to back off to a more sustainable pace. Today was special and we both ran and smiled all the way to 10km together. I was having a great time and I could tell he was. A few hundred meters out of CP1 he told me we needed to step it up, I smiled shook his hand and told him to enjoy the day as he took off. For the next 12km I tried my hardest to chase him down but the guy is another level and there is a reason he has never lost a stage of this race and won Marathon Des Sables in his hay day confirming he is one of the Kings of the sand!
With 30km in my legs and probably one of the best days of my life so far the media vehicle picks me up to get me to the end in time for Salamehs arrival. Everyday it was weird jumping in the back of the van and getting driven to the end of the course. However today it felt right, I by no means deserved to run over the finish line having only completed 65% of this course.
The rave was back on at the finish line and as Salameh crossed it the local crew went wild. I just wonder when someone will come to Wadi Rum and take this man down but for now it’s his moment.
Finish lines of any race are wild places, you experience emotions like never before and no matter how many races you do it always seems like there is a new emotion that pops up. For me today, even though I had not run to the end I was experiencing emotions that I had never felt before as 5 InnerFight runners (Rob, Haysam, Nabeel, Abdel, Joao) crossed the line in the top 20 for the day, closely followed by Alejandro, Ben, Max, Alise and Hannah and our adopted Ollie. I was so incredibly proud having coached a number of these guys or watched Rob coach them. I knew how much training they had done. How hard they had trained and the sacrifices they had made and to see everyone of them come across that finish line so strong and with such big smiles on my face made me the happiest person on the planet. As icing on the cake so to speak the amount of comments from other runners and crew about how strong our runners looked and how happy they were at the end and then asking me “how do you make them so strong” made me even more proud and is a credit to the work ethic and the true understanding of “No Weakness” that these guys have. It’s hard for me to describe but I hope you follow.
Every single one of them had highs and lows during the week. I was sometimes on hand to help them with the lows and at times left them to figure it out for themselves as that’s what ultra serves up and sometimes you have to figure it out. However every single one of our runners and every single runner that crossed that finish line on the final day (some without even knowing it) just changed their lives for the better. They will return to their countries, families, jobs and lives slightly different, better humans, with a different outlook on life. For some it will take time but for others it’s immediate. To be honest I think that’s what gave me all the feels seeing them come over that finish line, knowing that with their final step of the race they had just changed their life for the better through ultra. It’s just amazing.
So did I enjoy my role this week? Hell yes! As I said at the start I was apprehensive but having lived with our runners and being able to help them the “job satisfaction” is epic. Being in that unique position of taking the race to the world of social media so friends and family could get a feeling of what was going on in the middle of nowhere was super cool. Thanks for all the positive feedback so far and if you are a real nerd and want to hear some of the social media stats let me know, they are pretty cool.
It wouldn’t be right to close out this piece without mentioning 3 other people. First up Jamie and Sam, the founders of Ultra X. Whilst we were having lunch in Dubai in May I (as normal) very directly told them that their social media of the Sri Lanka race was awful but I would fix that for Jordan. They took a risk on me and in doing so enabled me to have a wild time in Jordan and for that I am super thankful.
The final and of course most important person is as always my wife Holly. In the last 30 days I have spent 9 nights in my own bed, the remainder have either been under the stars or in hotel rooms away from her. Not once does she ever complain, she just keeps sending me messages of encouragement no matter if I am running, coaching or making Instagram videos. I love you so much Holly and am eternally grateful for your support of my crazy vision of helping people getting better at life.
Thanks for reading guys and for those of you that are thinking this Ultra stuff may be for you, give me a shout and come to one of our camps and see what it’s all about and how it really is “living”.