Race review: The race formally known as Wadi Rum Ultra

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Photo by Ben Tufnell
I never thought I would complete a race that was longer than a marathon.  (In face it wasn't  too long ago that I thought I would  never run a marathon).  Rather than do things half-ass, I decided my first ultra should be a multi-stage race abroad and be in the desert. For this who don't know, any ultra marathon is anything over 26.2 miles (although some say over 30 miles).  Since I completed the race in October 2018, the Wadi Rum Ultra has re-branded to be Ultra X Jordan as part of the Ultra X Co's strategy to become the World Championship of Ultra running. This year they are hosting races in Sri Lanka, Mexico and Jordan.  Next year, new locations (Bolivia and Azores) will be added.

There is no way my normal race review format can cover the complexity of this race.  I am working on a vblog to show you the landscape and also have lots of kit to tell you about.  To hold you over until then, here is a brief overview of the race.

What you will see along the route
Entries and fees: In 2018, Ultra X Jordan registration fee was £895 for accommodation in Amman and during race, transport to/from race plus Petra and race entry, Jordan visa, a celebratory BBQ and beer on day of finish. In addition, there were three doctors on the team to administer medication and treat wounds (mostly foot blisters) and two osteopaths to offer daily treatments such as massages, assisted stretching and foot wound care.  The 2019 registration fee is £995 for individuals or £890/pp for teams of three or more.

Course and bogs: The course was 250km through Jordan's Wadi Rum valley.  It varied from day to day (and slightly year to year) with multiple campsites along the way.  We ran: 40km, 55km, 70km, 50km and then 37km over the five days.  No toilets along the course but two of the three camps had toilets and showers.  Nights one and two were at the first camp which offered canvas shelters, light bulbs (but no outlets to charge anything) and running water in the bathroom and showers. The next camp was affectionately called 'Rock Camp' because we slept on a giant boulder without electricity, water or toilets.  There were blankets and cushions to sleep on but it was quite windy and therefore chilly.  Camp three was a magical 1980's oasis.  Proper beds (two per canvas cabin), tables, chairs, a cash bar, and running water in toilets and showers.  I have never been so happy to see a can of full fat Coke in my life.

Day 1 start line
Location:  The idea behind Ultra X races is to offer an amazing five day race experience so you only have to take one week off of work.  Jordan's desert valley did not disappointment.  Many of the other runners added a few days to their itinerary to explore the country further.  Temperature were 30 degrees plus during the day.

Atmosphere: Due to the location, there isn't anyone to cheer for you along the course but the crew made up for this. It was ace seeing a friendly face every 10km. You also would occasionally get a 4x4 Toyota truck with tourists shout at you as they drove by.

Kieron, an osteopath from Just One Body, at work on a runner
Race bling and goody bag: Sadly, no medal this year but we did get a branded cotton t-shirt.  I had lots of time to think along the way and will probably get a custom necklace off of Etsy that says "Grit".  Everyone was sad there was no medal and I sure  Ultra X has taken that feedback on board.  No goody bag either but we did get cold beers and dinner after the race.

Sunset stretch class after Day 1

Tips if you want to take part next time:

  • Learn about the local culture and what to wear: It is a conservative Muslim country and you need to be aware of that.  When we were in the desert, we were a bit isolated, which allowed the cultural rules to be relaxed but in Amman and Petra, we were Amman, we needed to be respectful.
  • Learn about how the toilets work and carry your own toilet paper: I am still not exactly sure what the 'bum gun' was officially for but I do know not to flush the toilet paper. Be prepared and keep some toilet paper or tissues on your any time you leave the hotel.
  • Make sure to strength train to combat the shifting sand effectively: It was extremely hard to train for running in shifting sand while living in London.  The best thing to do is to strength train and make sure you have strong ankles and supportive shoes.
Photo by Ben Tufnell
  • Wear sweat-proof sunscreen: I was shocked to spend £13 for 77g of sunscreen at My Race Kit (It is special stuff that the sand won't stick to). However, I didn't get a sunburn, nor did I have to carry around a sunscreen bottle to re-apply so it was worth every scent.
  • Book a few extra days if you can: It is a beautiful part of the world and there is lots to see (think Petra and the Red Sea).  It will also get you time to acclimatize or recover.
  • Come with a plan B: Not many of the participant's races seemed to go to plan.  There were injuries, food poisoning, muscle pulls, and blisters galore.  Approach the race with the flexibility of a Plan B in case your situation changes so you won't be too disappointed.
Fueling with Lucho Dillitos (gifted)
  • Pack a variety of food.  Nutella is a good chocolate substitute:  I met Steven via a Whatsapp group as five of us were arriving one night early.  The day before we set off for the desert, Steven and I were discussing our concern for the lack of chocolate in the desert (chocolate and high temps don't mix).  We soon discovered that Nutella is an excellent compromise.
  • Don't drink the water but don't be wasteful either:  If you are not a local, it is not advisable to drink the tap water in Jordan.   During the race, you are provided with bottled water.  There are a lot of resources that goes into bottling the water, transporting it to the race camps, and then disposing of the bottles that I encourage you to drink what you need in a eco-conscious and responsible way.
Photo by Ben Tufnell
The Ultra-X Jordan race wasn't like anything I had every experienced before- either in my travels or in a race.  Registration for 5-13th October 2019 race is now open.  Let me know if you have any additional questions in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them.  A short vlog will be up on my YouTube channel soon.

Thanks to Simplyhealth for sponsoring my 4x4 Challenge. This race was number three of four. 

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