In this story we interview Jack and his story from couch to 250km. It’s 38°C and you’re with a few friends out on holiday in Jordan. Sounds like a dreamy way to spend a week doesn’t it? Add in 258km and you’ve got the 2018 Wadi Rum Ultra, an epic seven days and oneJack had the great privilege to be a part of, and smash, earlier this year.
What motivates you to take part in an event like this? Running 250km across the desert is nuts…
One reason is as simple as for now I can, and one day I don’t know if I’ll be able to say that. To really understand what that means it’s worth adding that my journey to running started rather late in life and this was the ultimate goal in a “couch to 250km” five year plan. At times, remembering how it is not being able to run even a couple of miles is all the motivation you need.
There was also a much more personal reason to do this, in that I have wanted to support two charities close to my heart and this was a great way to fundraise for them. One of these charities, St Michael’s Hospice, supported my grandparents for years, while the second, Street Child, has a huge impact on the lives of some of the youngest and most vulnerable children across two continents. (Quick plug, you can still donate through the link here)
Ultras have exploded in popularity recently and now there are hundreds out there. Why the Wadi Rum Ultra?
Ultras are usually in impressive locations, but just look at this one, epic is barely doing it justice. The week also ended with a trip to Petra which must be on everyone’s bucket list to visit?
Much less exciting, but no less salient was the cost of the event. Unlike similar races where entry alone can be £4,000, this race cost less than £1,000. To a twenty-something living in London that’s quite significant
And I think most important of all was the character of the race. With a small field and relaxed nature, it was the perfect introduction to the multi-day scene. This year, with only 35 runners and 15 volunteers, I got the chance to know everyone at the race and you practically become family for the week. We had previous MdS champion & local legend Salameh Al-Aqra through to first time ultra-runners. I wasn’t the only Midnight Runner either as Mara Avhezari was there as part of Team Like a Girl .
So go on then - we all want to know: What was it like?
With the rose-tinted spectacles of hindsight, it was an unparalleled adventure and one in which we had a lot of Type 2 fun. Like any race there were times when it was pretty bleak, thankfully though, they were fewer and further between than the positives. No day illustrated this better than day three, the “long run” of 70km.
I had really been suffering in the heat, effectively reduced to walking by 11am the previous two days to avoid head exhaustion. This day we started at 4am, so I knew I’d have seven hours in a race against the clock to see how far I could get before blowing up in the heat (an unfortunate inevitability).
The first 20km was under moonlight, the path illuminated by glows sticks every 30m, and as we descended each valley you would catch the sunrise momentarily before losing it behind another ridge. There aren't the words in the English language to describe that morning!
By 50km though I knew the game was up, and promptly had the toughest 5km of the entire race at 55-60km. Trudging through deep sand dunes, and low on water & energy that 5k took 1hr15 (another record, this one less wanted). Stumbling into the checkpoint at 60km, there was no sweeter sensation all week than having a bottle of water poured over my head.
The WRU was all the more special for having my parents come out on the final day. Being safely a mid-packer by this point, the aim was solely to finish and so a few of us ran the course together, laughing the entire way round to such an extent I did have to explain to Mum & Dad that it hadn't all been this much fun.
Crossing the line was the culmination of years of work in pursuit of goal that had once seemed totally unobtainable. And as the achievement (fatigue and dehydration too) sunk in, there were a few tears shed.
Running long distances is very often a huge self discovery process as much as it is about the running. What did you learn?
Brace yourself for a few SOBs:
The whole process may have taken me several years, but it taught me to trust in the journey. With hard work there a few results that won’t come, especially if you can break them down. Going straight to an ultra was never going to happen, but approaching it a year at a time, focusing first on 10kms, next half marathons, then after a couple of years going to marathons & ultimately single day ultras meant at each stage I was seeing progress and at each level the next step seems a lot more attainable.
When I came to London the Wadi Rum Ultra was a pipe-dream, and if I’m honest to myself one that I was losing sight off. It was sheer luck (or targeted facebook advertising) that brought me to Midnight Runners, and the impact of this community on my time in London cannot be understated. I would never have been in a place to go to Wadi without the cumulative support of two years at Midnight Runners. All I can say is once you find your tribe, don’t let them go.
Finally I also learnt that the desert is not a sensible place to run, but could probably have told you that beforehand. Perhaps I’ll have more luck in the Sri Lankan rainforests on the next Ultra X adventure...
A Final Word
And so I leave you with a parting thought that you might recognize from my fundraising page: “Find a dream so big you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can”. Don’t stop dreaming ;)
Ps If you want to see the highlight video of the event, follow this link to get there