It has been over a week since I returned from my trip to India – what an adventure I had!
Myself and 12 other people had been invited to participate in the new 161km race hosted by the Gujarat Commission of Tourism to promote the event to the trail running community. Unfortunately only 10 of use made it out to India as two of the invited runners didn’t manage to get their visas sorted in time.
Run the Rann took place for the first time last year with a 21km, 42km and 101km race, this year they added the 161km race to the event and completely changed the course for the 101km.
The races take place on the “island” of Khadir Bet in the Gujurat Province of western India, very close to the Pakistan boarder. All the competitors would start together then the 101km & 161km runners would head out to the North side which is the wildest and most remote side of the island. The North side has almost never been explored, except by Border Security Forces and our race explorers when selecting the route. Very few other human beings have been there, except some local shepherds from time to time.
As I have said many times before running for me is all about the adventure, location and of course the distance and this race covered all three and more!
After a long flight, “unusual” accommodation in Ahmedabad, a tuktuk ride to the coach where we would spend 10 plus hours getting to know one another before arriving safely at our destination.
On arrival at camp we were greeting by the most spectacular sight of our accommodation – pure Indian Magic.
As well as having fantastic accommodation the food was delicious which surprised me as I’m not a curry fan! I did however learn quite quickly that if they said “not spicy” it was still hot so I avoided anything that was “very spicy!”
After a bit of sightseeing we were all wondering when registration was going to take place – everyone kept giving us different times. The 10 international runners were taken on the back of motor bikes to where CP6 would be on the race to take a look at the views which were quite spectacular.
This was my first ride on the back of a motor bike so you can imagine I was a touch nervous (not the best place in the world to be taken for a ride!!) however my driver on the way there was OK, only occasionally going very fast in order to overtake people (I just closed my eyes)
The return trip didn’t go quite as smoothly. Firstly I had a different driver (someone obviously didn’t like theirs) and really didn’t feel very safe as he sped up, slowed down, skidded then sped up again. Everyone else had gone on a head when we stopped as one of his friends carrying Josh had a puncture – after about 10 minutes Josh and I thought it was would be a good idea to start walking towards the road as it was beginning to get dark. We were instantly called back and told to both get on the back of my bike. The driver then lost control of the bike going off the dirt track towards the undergrowth – I thought at this point we were going to fall off but he managed to get back on track again with us telling him to slow down.
Thankfully another bike appeared to rescue Josh and we both headed towards the road where we met up with the RD who asked if I was OK. At that point I was OK, he headed off down the road leaving Josh and myself remaining at a stand still. Eventually my bike followed the RD’s leaving Josh behind (this I wasn’t happy about) but about 10 minutes later he overtook me so all was well.
On the RD’s insistence my guy gave me his headscarf to wrap round my shoulders as I was freezing and by this stage it was dark. Suddenly I was alone, no lights or bikes in sight and my driver stopped at a shack on the side of the road to buy some petrol. I waited and waited feeling not frightened but extremely vulnerable. THEN my driver vomited not once, or twice but three times – I have never seen so much fluid come out of one body. Was he in any fit state to be driving a bike? Finally we arrived back in camp a good 10/15 minutes after everyone else and I felt really cross that I had been put in such a potentially dangerous situation.
Finally it was time to register – non of our compulsory kit was checked which I found extremely odd considering the remoteness of the areas we were racing, at the same time we were given our GPS units. Again, considering the only way to navigate both the 101km & 161km race I think we were all rather surprised to receive them so late. Thankfully mine worked and had the route install, others weren’t so lucky and had to go back to have them redone, not something you want to worry about hours before the race begins. Luckily the units were fairly easy to use so after a quick lesson from Linda and Damion I headed off to bed.
We were allowed one drop bag which was to be at CPAB8, I packed extra running kit (just in case I got a funny tummy or something) more food, batteries etc, with everything ready I went to bed hoping that the headache I had had since arriving in India would disappear (it wasn’t dehydration as I was well hydrated).
Up early, dressed & headed off for breakfast. I really didn’t want anything spicy for breakfast so opted for my own breakfast in the tent.
We were ready!
L to R: Josh, Linda Doke, Mimi Anderson, Tarmo Vannas, Justin Bowyer, Damian Stoy, Tom Caughlan
As I stood on the start line I really didn’t feel as though I was ready to run 161km but knew whatever happened I was going to give it all I had as I didn’t want to start 2015 with another DNF.
The first section of the race was on the salt flats which was fantastic as it gave me time to get my chest warmed up and breathing in control. Considering how minutes before I really wasn’t feeling prepared to run I was feeling great and looking forward to the challenge ahead.
Just before the first CP I felt a very sharp pain on the bottom of my foot but paid no attention to it as it seemed to disappear but once passed the CP I could feel a sharp pain every so often so found a nice rock to sit on and took my trainer off to discover the BIGGEST thorn that had gone right through my Hokas and my insoles. Luckily for me Abhishek who was also doing the 161km race stopped to see if he could help. We remained together until CPAB6.
I believe at the 3rd CP the 21km runners went off in one direction, marathon runners in another and the 101km & 161km runners were to turn left. We were told that someone would be there to point us in the right direction. After filling my water bottles Abhishek and I went left.
We continued following the red flags and I kept saying that we weren’t on course but was told we were going the right way – perhaps my GPS was playing tricks. We both then realised that we had gone the wrong way so we had to go cross country to get back on track again.
Back on course we got to CP4 where I filled up my bottles and told A that I would go on ahead as I knew he would catch me up (lots of rocks!!!) Here we were joined by Amar who was doing the 101km race. Two turned into three.
Everything so far was good, I felt I had the hang of my GPS and was becoming steadily better at rock hopping (there’s hope for me yet) The thorns however was a different story they grew like weeds. Flat ones on the ground that caught your shoelaces, large bushes that intertwined with other thorn bushes, they were everywhere. Sometimes we could go round them but most of the time there was no option but to go straight through – they attached themselves to everything, legs, arms, pack, hair, hat nothing was left “unthorned” My skin was ripped to shreds. We had been warned that there would be lots of thorns but I didn’t quite expect them in this quantity. On occasion we found ourselves going through thick clumps – but no time to worry this was a race and when racing you just get on with it as it’s the only way to the finish.
The temperature had by now heated up nicely to 36 degrees. Remarkably I seemed to be coping with the heat quite well considering it had been minus 3 in the UK when we left.
We were heading towards CP5 and according the GPS we were less than a km away so of course you drink more water as you know you can refill – WRONG! There was no CP5, we looked and look, blew our whistles shouted but nothing, you can imagine we felt a bit dishearten at this stage, we had virtually no water between us (I had a very small amount in my camelbak which was quickly used up). We kept going thinking that perhaps the next CP might be closer than it said on the GPS unit (11km away as far as I can remember)
At this point I was slightly ahead of the boys (not by much) when the GPS told us that we need to head down. I looked and looked but couldn’t find a way down so I sat on the ledge waiting for the boys to catch up with me.
After a lot of searching we eventually found what we thought was the way down the cliff – I wasn’t feeling very happy at this stage but knew I had no choice but to go down. I followed Abhishek down, it was difficult holding onto the rocks as they were sandstone so if you held on too tightly (like I did) they broke off. After about 10 minutes we decided that this was most definitely not the way down so now I had to get back up this vertical slop – SHIT If I hadn’t been with the boys I wouldn’t have been able to get up on my own so was very relieved when we got back to the top.
A bit further on we discovered another way down that lead to some sort of a path down into thorn bushes, so down we went (slowly) and continued bushwacking our way down until eventually reaching the salt flats at the bottom. (I also found a porcupine quill, I didn’t realise they inhabited this area of India)
By now we had been without water for sometime, even eating was difficult as my mouth was so dry but we remained moving forward and upbeat. Amar and I were slightly ahead of Abhishek who I think was struggling so we made sure we kept him in our sights. Further along the salt flats before heading back up the rocks we spotted a man asleep onto of a large rock. Amar woke him up asking if he had any water, thankfully he ran down towards us clutching a large bag full of water – PHEW. I have never been so pleased to see a 500ml bottle of water in my life. The first one was consumed very quickly and the other one was put in my bottle. We were very conscious that we didn’t want to take too much as there were people behind us who would need it.
We continued our journey up towards CPAB6 where the boys ate some food. I didn’t fancy any rice so filled up my bottles, ate some of my food and then Amar and I headed off knowing the Abhishek would catch us up.
After a steep climb up to the top of the ridge we continued running for a couple of km’s (by now we had our head torches on) and I knew that there was another decent coming up. Eventually we arrived at the point where the GPS said we should be going down – we looked and looked and to be quite honest all I could see was a drop off a cliff edge; I had a good head torch but try as I might I just couldn’t see a safe way down; to me going down in the dark seemed to be very unsafe so we opted to stay on the top and follow parallel to the track. (I did think from something that had been said when we had gone there on the motor bikes that we would come back onto the ridge again – I was wrong) .
Having been badly dehydrated you can imagine my delight when I needed a pee, however I was rather shocked to see that my pee was bright red, I had blood in my urine. I remember once someone saying that if they ever had blood in their urine in a race they would stop, so I decided that I would continue to the next CP where I might find someone medical and could ask the question.
The two of us kept going thinking that we could find our way down safely to CPAB7 but unfortunately there was no way down. We had been followed by another competitor and his pacer who called for help. I was feeling really hacked off at this stage, with myself and I’m sure Amar was feeling the same. We decided that we were going to continue and make our way to a CP. So off we went heading in the right direction but it was taking forever. Amar then sat down for a rest, I continued to stand as I just wanted to keep going when I spotted a couple of head torches and people shouting. I flashed my torch and shouted back. It turned out it was the boarder patrol and a guy from the race who had been sent out to find the guys we had left behind – so with all of us in tow we were taken to the Boarder guards Station where they gave us water and told us that in the morning they we could continue our journey.
I told Amar that I wanted to continue now, not wait until morning so he translated and all of us were directed all 4 to CPB9 (A CP for the 101km race) I kept trying to tell them I wanted to go to CPAB7 as I was running the 161km race but this appeared to go on deaf ears. We walked down a sandy track for approx 2km to CPB9 where we had been told we could easily get to CPAB8 (I still wanted to go to AB7 NOT 8)
On arrival at the CP I was told that I had to go back to where I had come from in order to get to CP7 – good grief, what a waste of time that was!!!
Feeling determined I turned around (followed by the other two doing the 161km) and headed back towards the Boarder Guards station, went past and headed to CPAB7 where we managed to catch them as they were closing up. They had been told that we were going straight to the next CP but I didn’t want to miss any out so was really pleased.
Now I had time to make up. I went off on my own running along the salt flats towards CPAB8 feeling fantastic.
The guys at this CP were fantastic. They were standing round a large fire which looked lovely. My water bottles were filled and they also gave me a lovely cold coke – heaven. After a couple of sips I headed off down the road towards the next CP.
I arrived at the next CP feeling marvellous, filled my water bottles but unfortunately there was no food so continue on my way. I was making up good time and although the temperature had dropped I felt very comfortable with my arm warmers on.
Onwards and upwards to the next CP where I bumped into Abhishek and Francoise who were having a rest, after a quick chat I was off again.
Coming up to the next CP I was hallucinating quite badly. I saw a lady dressed in a black burka and weirdly she followed me. Sounds silly but this was quite a creepy moment why would someone be out here in the middle of nowhere. The figure continued to follow me but suddenly the head became larger looking more like a metal helmet but still had the opening for the eyes. At this point I turned my back on the metal helmet as it was giving me the willies and when I turned round I discovered it was the check point! ha, the joy of ultra running.
I continued through the night on my own, quite happy and didn’t seem to go too badly wrong although the salt flats seemed to have rocks on them – they were in fact just softer & darker areas of salt. My pee was still bright red but I was drinking enough and had no pain anywhere so continued. To be quite honest each time I arrived at a CP no one understood me (which was fine and understandable) so trying to explain that I wanted to talk to someone about blood in my urine seemed an impossible task, it was easier to continue.
Between 4-6am I had to work hard to keep my eyes open and the hallucinations continued, I had to keep telling myself that they weren’t real.
The following day I went behind a building to discover Walter fiddling around with his GPS as it had stopped working. Between us we got it working again and continued together. It was lovely having some company and someone to chat to.
Walter and I were running well together and at one point we were followed by a dog for over 10km and each time we came to a CP she would be well ahead of us!
Running along the salt flats towards a CP we spotted the RD walking towards us, I had a massive trip and landed on the salt – a bit of an ouch moment as it was rather like falling on gravel but my bravery was rewarded with a can of coke – marvellous!
We were told that the next CP was only 4km away and should be stocked with hot and salty food so I opted not to eat anything, sadly however at the next CP 5.5km away there was virtually no food and certainly no hot food so we shared an orange, filled our water and continued.
Walter was suffering at this point, he was overcome with tiredness and feeling hot. He kept telling me to go on without him but I was worried about leaving him when he was feeling the way he was, plus he was struggling with heat – not a good time to be left alone. I put water on my buff which he put round his neck that I hope helped him.
At the next CP Walter said that he needed a 15 minute sleep and that I should go on without him. I was happier to leave him now as it was cooling down plus he was safe at a check point, so once my bottles were filled I headed off on my own.
It was on this next section that my GPS played tricks on me and had me going in all different directions. It was getting dark and was worrying that I was lost, I wasn’t even sure if I was heading in the right direction. At this point I stopped and gave myself a good talking too. Relax, stay calm and look at your GPS properly. After a couple of minutes I worked out which way to go and was heading in the right direction.
Darkness had now fallen on the 2nd night and I was alone once more. Quite relaxed to be on my own as at that particular moment I knew where I was!!!
Quite happy in my own little torchlight world I spotted another head torch ahead of me and could hear voices – it was too early for the CP but must be someone to do with the race (why else would people be out in the middle of nowhere?) I continued towards them to be greeted by a Security guy and a friend. They told me to sit down – so I did, then I asked for some water and they replied “no water, water at CP” REALLY! So I got up and started to head towards the CP but bless the boys they took me to the check point – how marvellous was that, no need to look at my GPS (although I did have a little look just to check they were taking me in the right direction!)
I thanked them profusely (I could have actually give them a big hug for helping me, but I don’t think they would have liked that!) and I headed off into the night.
As I neared the next CP my GPS stopped working so I was wondering around trying to find where I should be. On my right was a house with three guys standing outside who were shouting at me and kept saying “come here” well, if you are in the middle of nowhere and don’t think you are anywhere near a CP you don’t “come here” so I shouted back “no thank you” they kept shouting and I kept thinking I really wish my GPS would tell me where I was, eventually I turned it off and on again. As I was doing this one of the guys from the house came out and said “CP here” – PHEW, but I wish they had said that in the first place (according to my GPS I wasn’t anywhere near the CP.)
Onwards and upward. I got chased and growled at by a pack of dogs which was rather scary so I turned round, faced them, made myself look really big and growled back – seemed to work!
The last section to the final CP I felt as though I was going round in circles. At this point I was back on the route that the marathon runners had taken so in theory it should have been easy to follow red ribbons. Although there were a few ribbons a lot of them seemed to have disappeared. Once again I was convinced I was going in the wrong direction so had to keep checking my GPS, then had doubts, was the finish the white flag on the map or the checkered flag? Sounds easy now but at the time it took ages to work out that the checkered flag was always the finish (silly me!)
Suddenly I was confronted with a wall or thorns – there was no way forward or left but I knew I was heading in the right direction. I spotted a possible route under the trees to my right that I took ducking under the thorns until eventually coming out on a dried river bed. I could hear guys on motor bikes just ahead of me with torches and I wondered whether I should hide, go in another direction so they didn’t see me or just keep going in the same direction. I opted for the third option. Getting out of the dried river bed I was greeted by a guy saying “Mimi” – Oh thank goodness they knew me! marvellous.
As I had taken me longer than they thought it should have done for me to get to them from the last CP they were worried about me and had started searching for me. I could have hugged them both (very nearly did); it was wonderful being guided into the final check point of the race. Now I only had about 4km to go.
As I ran through the narrow streets towards the finish I began talking to myself thanking my family for their support and for everyone who knew me for their love – Perhaps the salt flats had turned me mad but I arrived safely into the finish in an appalling time of 39 plus hours (actually very nearly 40 hrs) but I had finished.
At no point was I going to give up but there were points during the race that I felt “uncomfortable”. During my running career I have raced in some extremely inhospitable locations so I’m definitely not afraid to put myself out there for an adventure – I actually consider myself to be a relatively “brave” person.
This race has the potential to be a great event but first there are some serious things that need to be sorted and put in place in order to make it safe. I’m delighted that I was lucky enough to have taken part in the inaugural race and it certainly was an adventure but there are adventures and adventures!
Thank you to my fellow runners, it was an absolute joy to meet you and spend time in a beautiful location, I hope we meet again.
I was relieved that by Monday mid-morning there was no blood in my Urine.