The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 6

Leaving Tengboche the race retraces elements of stage-5 to Phakding but as opposed to previous year’s, at Sensa the runners did not go right to the Kumjung Valley. Instead they followed the main route Namche Bazaar the ETR then re-traces stage 5 all the way to Phakding and then as the trail heads back to Kharikhola, a left turn leads to the final climb and the swinish line in Lukla.

The stage is mostly downhill with 3183m of descent in comparison to 2105m of ascent over the 30km course. It’s a tough way to finish a race, but the rewards are worth it! After the high elevation from the previous day, the additional oxygen made the km’s easier.

Both Suman and Anna have been on fire all week and on the final day, it was no difference. The duo pushed and pushed but at all times looked in control and relaxed. Suman actually just looked to be having fun… Playing in the mountains. The pace of them both was quite ridiculous.

Behind Anna, Manuela and Nuria once again traded blows, pushing each other and in doing so, found greater individual performances.

For the men, it was a real battle with Hans, Miguel and Gerard not taking things easy and all fighting for the 2nd and 3rd places on the overall podium.

At the finish line, Manuela beat Nuria, 4:10:45 to 4:19:22 and in doing so, secured her overall 2nd place just as in 2018.

Hans was the first home after Suman, then Miguel and Gerard together. Suman crossed the tape in an incredible 2:46:25 and then the respective times were 3:01:24 and 3:06:39. 

Suman Kulung and Anna Comet are crowned the 2019 Elements Everest Trail Race champions but all credit goes to each and every finisher. At 170km, this race may not be the longest but it is surely one of the toughest! The combination of tough technical terrain, relentless climbing and descending and of course altitude, all combine to make the ETR a race to do!

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 6 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 2:46:25

Hans Smedsrod 3:01:24

Miguel Heras and Gerard Morales 3:06:39

Anna Comet 3:45:33

Nuria Dominguez 4:10:45

Manuela Vilaseca 4:19:22

The 2019 Elements Everest Trail Race final classification

Suman Kulung Rai 20:51:36

Gerard Morales 23:28:29

Hans Smedsrod 23:54:13

 

Anna Comet 26:20:56

Manuela Vilaseca 29:29:05

Nuria Dominguez 30:03:47

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 5

EPIC was all the runner’s had to say as they finished stage 5 of The Elements Everest Trail Race at  the Monastery at Tengboche, the Himalayan backdrop of Everest, Lohtse, Nuptse and Ama Dablam providing context to the journey undertaken.

For the first time in ETR history, the race went beyond Tengboche taking a stunning high route to Pangboche and return to the iconic Monastery finish line.

Starting in Phakding the runners climbed to Namche at 3402m, proceeded to Syangboche at 3760m passed through Kumjung, Mong La, Phortse and then took a high pass at 4000m to reach Pangboche at 4100m. Finally the finish 3875m, 32km later with 2850m of ascent and 1650m of descent – beyond epic!

It was a feared day, everyone was aware of the challenge and under taking!

It may sound a similar story, but Suman and Anna was at another level. The Nepali completing the journey in just over 4-hours….!

Racing was hard and relentless and today Miguel Heras placed 2nd fighting off injury with a stunning performance making the podium battle once again exciting.

Hans and Gerard once again battled each other hard and the duo were separated by just minutes.

 

Behind Anna in the women, Nuria Dominguez once again fought hard for 2nd ahead of Manuela.

 

Today though, the race was all about the route and the best of what the Himalayas have to offer. It was a brave move to re-vamp stage 5 of the ETR with added distance, a new route and extended period at elevation. It’s a decision that the runners loved despite how hard and difficult the journey was.

Tomorrow, the runners return to Lukla via Namche and Phading in the final finish line of the 2019 ETR.

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 5 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 4:04:35

Miguel Heras 4:27:03

Hans Smedsrod 4:43:01

 

Anna Comet 5:17:11

Nuria Dominguez 5:47:42

Manuela Vilaseca 5:50:23

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 4

Day 4 of the 2019 The Elements Everest Trail Race was the same as all previous editions, starting at the stunning Kharikola Monastery and concluding in Phakding 27.5km away and in the process gaining 2423m of positive incline and losing 1907m.

Along the route, runners pass through Kari La (2820m), Paiya, Choutok La, Surke (2310m), Chaurikharka, Cheplung and finally Phakding.

In comparison to the previous day’s, day-4 is a low altitude day allowing the runner’s some recovery from the intense 3000m+ day’s. However, the course is relentless with a rollercoaster of up and downs on mostly technical rocky trail. Here the route now has Yak’s and Mules and that in itself brings its own challenges.

It is a stunning day that finally leaves the remoteness of the first three day’s and slowly introduces the competitors the main trekking routes that lead people to Namche, Tengboche and the EBC routes.

It may come as no surprise that once again, Suman and Anna showed the race a clean pair of heels as they both set a pace that could not be followed. In the early stages, Miguel Heras fought hard to the first highpoint at Kari La, he was only seconds behind the Nepali. But when the descending started, Miguel could not maintain the pace with his injury and relinquished his place to Gerard Morales and Hans Smedsrod.

Gerard was pushing hard and looked motivated to gain time and secure his top podium place. Hans in comparison to the previous three days looked a little more tired and this was reflected at the finish line with Gerard 2nd and Hans 3rd.

 

Anna as in the previous day placed 4th overall. Her performance this year has been off the scale! Manuela ran a solid day no doubt using her 2018 experience to run a smart day, she placed 2nd but the 1st place of Anna was well out of her reach.

Nuria Dominguez showed great consistency placing 3rd once again.

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 4 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 3:32:20

Gerard (Blacky) Morales 3:56:04

Hans Smedsrod 4:10:50

 

Anna Comet 4:13:09 (4th overall)

Manuela Vilaseca 4:44:09

Nuria Dominguez 4:59:52

Day 5 Preview

What an epic day lies ahead. For the first time in ETR history, the race will go beyond Tengboche with a stunning loop of 32km reaching a highpoint of 4100m at Pangboche and stunning views of Ama Dablam. With 2850m of positive gain and 1650m of negative gain, day-5 will be a stunning and tough day.

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 3

At 30km with 2232m of vertical gain and 3164m of vertical loss, the day was all be about energy management. The relentless downhill today pounding tired legs. Technical and relentless as one runner said on the finish line.

After the start in 5km the runners reached 3400m, from here they drop down and climb to Taksindu La at 3071m. Chhulemu follows, Hewa, Jubing and then the final tough climb to Kharikola at 2100m.

The day was all about Suman Kulung Rai and Anna Comet who today put on masterclass performances. 

Suman covered the distance in a ridiculous 3:49:53, 25-minutes quicker than Hans Smedsrod who ran a great race to close the gap on the overall podium places and place himself in contention for a top-3 at the finish line in Lukla.

Gerard Morales realised the risk and marked the move finishing in 4:17:46 to Hans’ 4:15:58.

Unfortunately, the injury woes of Miguel Heras plagued him today and he finished in 6th losing his grasp on the top-3 overall.

Anna Comet is relentless and strong this year. She finished the stage in 4:41:54 and placed 4th on the stage. Manuela Vilaseca once again fought hard today to finish 2nd woman in 5:17:29 to Nuria Domguez who placed 3rd in 5:28:43.

With the three stages covered and three to go, although nothing is guaranteed, it certainly looks like Suman and Anna have leads that will be impossible to beat. However, the 2nd and 3rd placed for both women and men is all to fight for.

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 2 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 3:49:53

Hans Smedsrod 4:15:58

Gerard Morales4:17:46

 

Anna Comet 4:41:54

Manuela Vilaseca 45:17:29

Nuria Dominguez 5:28:43

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 2

At 26km with 1916m of vertical gain and 1819m of vertical loss, day 2 of The Elements Everest Trail Race was a tough one.

In previous year’s Pikey Peak at 4100mm had appeared late in stage 2 with a loom and relentless climb to its summit. This year, with the course changes, the high summit would occupy the first 8km of the day – a tough way to start any day!

The change in direction brought the runners from the complete opposite direction and the usual magical vista visible at the summit and on the way to the summit was even more spectacular. Everest was mo longer hidden and clearly visible.

From the summit a technical descent that twists and turns to Jase Bhanjyang, here in previous editions, camp 2 would be located. Not today, the runners split to the left and then encountered new terrain that few people visit. It was technical with relentless boulder fields not allowing any opportunity to relax.

From Lamjura La and 8km decsnt, again technical until the final km would lead to Jumbesi and the final checkpoint. With just 4km left, the runners I am sure they were home and dry with just 4km to go… It was all uphill on steep narrow trails all the way to Pungmucheat at just over 3000m.

With two starts, 0700 and 0800 (faster runners starting later) the ascent to Pikey Peak was littered with runners of varying ability, but Suman Kulung Rai  and Miguel Heras made easy work of the climb arriving at CP1 in under 50-minutes. Suman taking time to point out the mountains to Miguel. They left at pace make the altitude and gradient look easy. Gerard Morales followed and then Hans from Norway.

For the women, once again Anna Comet set the pace chased by Manuela Vilaseca and then Nuria Dominguez.

At the summit it was all to fight for with 18km’s still to go, considerable technical trail, long hard descents and tough climbs.

Unfortunately disaster struck for Miguel with an injury forcing hime to ease off the pace opening the door for Gerard and Hans. Miguel would eventually finish 4th. Suman though was relentless making a tough stage look easy.

The women’s race took a twist from the previous day with Anna winning once again and Nuria finishing ahead of Manuela.

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 2 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 3:34:03

Gerard (Blacky) Morales 4:09:46

Hans Smedsrod 4:21:44

 

Anna Comet 4:37:46

Nuria Dominguez 5:13:04

Manuela Vilaseca 4:15:57

Day 3 Preview

At 30km with 2232m of vertical gain and 3164m of vertical loss, the day will all be about management. In 5km the runners reach 3400m then drop and climb to Taksindu La at 3071m.m From here Chhulemu follows. Hewa, Jubing and then the final tough climb to Kharikola at 2100m

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 1

A damp and chilly night soon passed to greet the runners with spectacular views of the Himalayas – Everest and so many more completely visible from camp.

Day 1 of The Elements 2019 Everest Trail Race was a new route after eaving Patale, the journey would encompass Lakap, Kerung, Chyangsar, Meranding, Bhittakharaka, Khoriya, Kunikhop and conclude at Dimise. The distance of 24.9km starts at 2800m, drops to just above 2000m and then climbs again over 14km to 2906m. 

For the runners it was a day of excitement and nervous anticipation. Kathmandu is located just over 1300m, so, to suddenly be at 2800 and have to run is a big ask. Gladly, the runners dropped down to 2000m after a slightly uphill start. However, the long final climb to the finish was a real test.

Sumun Kulung Rai, a previous participant of the Everest Trail Race set the early pace pulling away over the early km’s. However, Spain’s Miguel Heras was not allowing the Nepali to gain any advantage and the duo marked each other throughout the day. It was Sumun who took the tape with a late charge to beat Miguel with a handful of seconds.

Gerard ‘Blacky’ Morales placed third with a solid race and pacing.

Anna Comet, also a previous finisher of the Everest Trail Race ran a strong and solid race pulling away from Mauela Vilaseca who placed 2nd at the 2018 ETR. Anna was very strong, and even in the closing km’s looked well in control with plenty of energy left.

Manuela knows how challenging the ETR is and was no doubt respecting the race, the distance and the altitude on day 1 finishing a very strong second ahead of Nuria Dominguez.

Day 1 will no doubt be remembered for the new track, the isolation, the complete lack of any tourists and local life that seems unaffected by the crazy world around it. One got a feeling that for some, we were the first non Nepali people they had seen.

News in the local area had got out about the race and some had walked up to an hour to experience the start – the buzz of the helicopter not doubt adding to the fascination.

One cannot emphasise enough, that no matter how majestic the trails are, no matter how stunning the mountains are, that without the people, Nepal would miss a really integral element that makes this place so special. This new route once again introduced us to a raw people who were only too welcome to open their arms and welcome us in to their home – now that is special.

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 1 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 3:03:40

Miguel Heras 3:03:56

Gerard (Blacky) Morales 4:15:04

 

Anna Comet 3:45:23

Manuela Vilaseca 4:10:22

Nuria Dominguez 4:24:18

Please check online via the Everest Trail Race Facebook page for full Results.

Day 2 Preview

At 26km with 1916m of vertical gain and 1819m of vertical loss, it will be a tough day, particularly in the first 7km the runners will pass over Pikey Peak at 4100m. Passing through Jase Bhanjyang, Lamjura La, Jumbesi, the route will conclude at Pungmucheat just over 3000m.

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Registration and Travel

Collect bib numbers, receive road book, kit check and leave ones luggage at Hotel Shanker and now, The Elements ETR 2019 became a reality for all the runners.

Jordi Abad provided a detailed briefing to the runners and this was followed with a group meal. One runner said, ‘It feels like the last supper!’

An 0500 call and then 0600 departure on Sunday and suddenly the whole ETR was on the road to camp 1.

It was quite the journey, 9-hours of winding dusty roads, loud Indian music and the repeated sound of car horns to warn on coming traffic that you are coming around the bend at speed. Many were daunted by the journey but in reality it was quite an adventure showing all of us a new area of Nepal. 

We experience village life, workmen and women in the fields, impromptu shops created from scraps of wood and the on occasion, one passes through a small village.

A lunch break by the river with the Sunkoshi Bridge as a backdrop and by 1600 hrs everyone was in camp 1 receiving Spot Trackers, rationed water and an allocated tent to spend the night.

Camp is made up the runners section and staff section. Nepali Porters and Sherpas are on hand to look after everyone and cook in a makeshift/ mobile kitchen. The planning of the ETR always amazes me.

The Elements Everest Trail Race is now underway and tomorrow, at the stroke of 0830 Monday 11th, the 40+ runners will be released on to a new route and a new adventure.

Leaving Patale, the journey will encompass Lakap, Kerung, Chyangsar, Meranding, Bhittakharaka, Khoriya, Kunikhop and conclude at Dimise. The distance of 24.9km starts at 2800m, drops to just above 2000m and then climbs again over 14km to 2906m.

It’s an exciting time for the race – a new route, new adventure and new experience.

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Mount Toubkal, Morocco – Embrace the highest peak in North Africa

Located in the Toubkal National Park, Morocco, at 4167m, Jebel Toubkal is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is also, the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World.

Located just 75-minutes drive from Marrakech (approximately 40-miles) the National Park and the Toubkal summit has long been an excellent opportunity for those looking for a challenge, either for a specific purpose or as an add-on to an active holiday. As ultra-running, mountain running and the desire to explore new places grows. Morocco and Toubkal is a great place to adventure. Toubkal is considered by many as a great entry level mountain and it’s altitude is a great allure.

Toubkal has two-seasons, Winter and Summer. In winter, summiting the peak brings different challenges as it is completely covered in snow and ice. Winter mountain skills are required and the use of crampons are essential.

So, in this article, we look at Toubkal as a summer adventure and in due course, I will follow up with a Winter article.

PRACTICALITIES

Flights to Marrakech are in abundance and if you plan ahead, you can get very good deals, particularly from some of the budget airlines.

If you have not been to Marrakech before, I would say it is essential to soak up the atmosphere of the place by staying in the Medina (souk) in a typical Riad. Riad’s are standard Moroccan accommodation and like anywhere, you can go cheap or expensive. I have several favourites. My all time favourite, the ‘Dixneuf La Ksour’ (http://www.dixneuf-la-ksour.com ) which has only 6-rooms, excellent staff and they serve wonderful local food in the evenings and they have a licence to serve alcohol, if that is your thing!

My advice would be, arrive Marrakech and then spend two days sightseeing. Visit the Medina, get lost and haggle for a bargain. On the following day you could visit the Yves-Saint-Laurent Museum (https://www.museeyslmarrakech.com/fr/ ) and the Jardin de Marjorelle (https://www.jardinmajorelle.com)  both worth the effort. There are many other things that one can do, but this is a good starting point. You could then go to Imlil/ Toubkal for your adventure and the return back to Marrakech for another day or two before returning home.

TOUBKAL

Depending on your budget, you can either get a taxi or a private car to the village of Imlil. This is the starting place for all summit attempts. A taxi will be 35-40 euro and private car 80 euro.

OPTION ONE:

This is a standard option for Toubkal, and what most people do on a first attempt.

They leave Marrakech after breakfast, looking to arrive Imlil, say for 11am. You then meet your *guide, have tea (nearly always compulsory) and then leave for the refuge.

*A guide is now compulsory in the National Park and you cannot enter without one. There are currently three checkpoints that you go through and on each occasion your guide must provide your passport and the details are logged.

Imlil to the refuge is designed to introduce you to the terrain and slowly adapt you to the altitude. Imlil is at 1800m and the ‘Les Mouflons’ refuge is at 3207m. Depending on experience and adaptation, Imlil to the refuge can take 3-6 hours. 

Leaving Imlil, you have a narrow trail that rises quickly to a road and then the village of Aroumd. Here you will meet the first passport control and then you cross a floodplain before starting the climb to the refuge. The terrain is rocky and rough but not dangerous.

Chamharouch is the next passport control and here you will see a large white rock that is a Muslim Shrine. Here it is possible to get water, food if required and soft-drinks such as Coke.

The path now climbs steeply and gently reaches upwards, once again the terrain is rocky. You will arrive at two disused building that now sell drinks and here is the 3rd and final passport check. Before you know it, you will arrive at the refuge located at 3207m.

Depending on what you have arranged with your guide, you will have a meal at the refuge and then you will stay in a shared dorm with all the other climbers. These dorms are often unisex, so be prepared. You also need to be self-sufficient in terms of sleeping bag, additional clothes and warm layers. Everyone usually sleeps by 8/9pm.

The summit day will typically start at 0400 with breakfast and the intention will be to start the climb asap. Sunrise is approximately 0700, so, depending on your projected speed, the guide will advise on a departure time so you can climb from 3207m to 4167m.

In summer, the trail is very dry and although not a technical climb, Toubkal does have a great deal of loose scree and rocks. With the addition of the demands of altitude, the climb can provide an excellent challenge for someone new to experiences like this. Or, experienced runners and climbers can use it as a form of training. The trail goes straight up often zig-zagging to ease the gradient. Once at the saddle, the trail goes left and right. Here you go left for a final push to the summit. On a clear day, the views are magnificent and if you time it correctly, the sunrise can be truly magical.

Importantly, be prepared for the cold. It may be 30-40 degrees in Marrakech but the summit can be very cold and windy. Make sure you have wind proof jacket/ trousers, warm layer, hat and gloves as a minimum.

Most arrive at the summit between 0700 and 0900, you spend time soaking the views and taking photos and then return via the path you came. (There is another way down, more on that later!)

Descending becomes easier from an altitude perspective, with every meter you go down, the easier it will become to breathe. However, I think many find the descent harder and more challenging than the climb. This is due to the loose scree and rocky terrain. If experienced, one can drop from the summit to the refuge in 60-75 minutes. However, many eek their way down and falling/ slipping is a very real possibility. To clarify, there are no exposed ridges or real danger. It will just be a slip and a slide.

Once back at the refuge, many take a break for lunch and they will look to descend back to Imlil in the afternoon via the exact same route they went up the previous day. The out and back route is approximately 22 miles.

Once back in Imlil, it makes sense to book a local Riad, they are very inexpensive and serve great Tagine. The following morning you can arrange for a taxi/ car to collect you and you will be back in Marrakech for lunch.

OPTION TWO:

If you are experienced or want a challenge. Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil can be done in one day. I have done this twice now, once in Winter and once in Summer.

Most recently (August) I left Marrakech at 0530. I met my guide at 0700. We summited at midday and I was back in Imlil before 4pm in the afternoon. I had a car collect me and I was back in Marrakech before 7pm.

The above is not for everyone, but for me, it was an ideal opportunity to fit an action packed day between holiday days, before and after in Marrakech.

OPTION THREE:

As option two, but from the summit it is possible to take another route down. This is a more challenging descent with some exposure, very loose scree and lots of technical rocks. In terms of distance, it is maybe a little less than the standard up and down route but it does offer more excitement! I took this route down on my first trip to Toubkal. It rejoins the path up to the refuge below Les Mouflons.

EQUIPMENT:

During the day, shorts and t-shirt is ideal for the climb to the refuge. Shoes should be good trail running shoes with toe protection. Hikers will probably use walking shoes, approach shoes or boots. I used VJ Sport MAXx shoes which were perfect on these trails. You will need a pack and in that pack a change of clothes, warm layers, a sleeping bag and the capacity to carry liquid and some snacks. Refuge to the summit and back can be cold and windy. Be prepared with a Primaloft warm layer, gloves, hat and wind proof pants and jacket. It is recommended to have waterproof (just in case!)

I think poles for most people are an essential item. They will considerably help on the climb up and on the descent, they will add a security blanket.

TIME OF YEAR:

August for me is perfect. Marrakech is hot but has less tourists. Expect 30-40 degrees during the day. Imlil to the refuge, temperatures will be somewhere between 15 degs at 0700 and 30 deg in the afternoon. May can still have snow, so, be careful.

BOOKING:

The refuge at Toubkal is a great place to liaise with in regard to booking. 

refugetoubkal@gmail.com  – Liaise with Hamid.

Refuge Tariffs:

34.5 euro per person per night full board ( Dinner, breakfast and lunch )

29.5 euro per person per night half board ( Dinner and breakfast  )

19.5 euros per person per night ( without meals )

The refuge can also arrange the following for you:

Transport from and back to Marrakech

Accommodation in Imlil

Mountain Guide – A guide will be approximately 80 euro per day and is payable in cash only.

IMLIL HOTEL:

The Riad Atlas Prestige is located on the climb out of Imlil. It’s cozy, provides an excellent service and the food is great. It also very inexpensive at typically 30 euros a night for 2-people.

The hotel is on booking.com or you can contact directly +212 666 494954

SAFETY:

Morocco is safe. I have been travelling in different areas for over 7-years and I have always had a great time with wonderful experiences. Of course, there are cultural differences and as a tourist, it is we that must adapt. Women in particular should consider ‘covering up’ a little more, particular if running. But, in Marrakech, there are so many tourists that pretty much anything goes. Taking photographs, one should be careful. The locals really do not like it, and this I know from first hand experience.

Unfortunately, in December 2018 two girls were murdered between Imlil and Toubkal and this created a stir worldwide and locally. Hence the need for a guide and three passport controls now. I cannot emphasise enough that this incident was a one-off and to clarify, I have been back to Morocco and Imlil twice since this incident and at no point was I worried.

CONCLUSION:

An active weekend away or part of a longer trip to Morocco, Imlil and Toubkal is a real adventure and is highly recommended. For example, it would be quite feasible to fly from the UK (for example) on a Friday and return on Monday having visited Imlil and summited Toubkal over the weekend.

For those with more time Imlil is also a great place for a longer stay. There are many trails to explore in the area and the place is a hidden gem.

For those combining holiday and adventure, Imlil and Toubkal is a great active outlet amidst a more relaxed time in Marrakech. If you are planning to be in Morocco for longer than 7-days, also consider heading to the coast to visit Essaouira which is a 4-hour drive. It’s an old place with a very different feel to Marrakech. Of course, the options are only limited by your imagination and budget – it is also possible to go and stay overnight in the desert and have a bivouac experience.

As destinations go, Morocco is a magical place.

Ultra Mirage© El Djerid #UMED 2018 Race Summary and Images

Backed by the space port of Mos Espa (Star Wars Episode 1) the 2nd edition of UMED ( Ultra Mirage© El Djerid) got underway with the morning glow of a strong orange sun after it had tipped over the summits of the surrounding high dunes.  

Over 130 runners from 23 nations stepped forward to undertake a circular 100km route through the Tunisian desert. Heat, sand, mixed terrain, palm groves, oasis all providing a stunning backdrop to an ultimate running challenge. The calm and quiet of the Sahara broken only by the sound of birds. 

Any running journey can be a lonely one, but the desert really does provide isolation, only a snake or a camel providing any company. Of course, the sun only leaves the runner with darkness and as the rest from intense heat may be welcome, the complete darkness of the desert provides its own challenges as the runners navigate via reflective strips all the way back to where they started, the lunar landscape of Mos Espa and the bulbous film set village made famous by Star Wars.

The 2017 champion, Mohamed El Morabity had returned to defend his title, however, the desert king (Mohamed’s elder brother) Rachid El Morabity was also on the start line looking to upset the 2017 champions dreams. In the women’s field, two-time MDS champion, Elisabet Barnes was returning to racing after an almost year-long hiatus – what would the day hold for all of them? 

On the stroke of 0700 the runners were released. They had 20-hours to complete the desert journey via marked route and 5 checkpoints placed at 20km, 35km, 50km, 65km, 80km and the finish providing an end to an epic journey.

With no wind, the 30-degree temperatures seemed intense. From the start, the experienced runners reigned in their pace but at the front, Marwen Kahil from Tunisia dictated the pace followed by fellow Tunisian, Mohamed Mnsari – the duo no doubt wanting to put on a good show on home ground. All the main contenders followed some way back, they were in no rush to push the pace and Rachid, Mohamed and Sondre Amdahl maintained a close eye on each other.

In the women’s race, Elisabet Barnes dictated the pace, shadowed by Tunisian, Shefia Hendaoui. Behind, Orianne Dujardin from France followed looking relaxed and in control.

At 20km, the positions had hardly changed. However, Elisabet had broken away from her shadow and was now dictating the pace at the front. With 80km to go, it was a brave move, but she looked strong and in control. For the men, there was little but the front of the race was starting to fragment with runners either forming small groups or running alone seconds and minutes apart.

By CP2, it was all change. The desert king Rachid had gently pressed on his accelerator pedal and in doing so he had split the men’s race apart. The early protagonists were left to struggle with the only runners able to follow the Moroccan’s pace coming from his brother, Mohamed and Tunisian, Emir Grairi. The duo looked strong and in control and then minutes later it was the arrival of Sondre Amdahl.

For the women, Elisabet was now pulling away from Shefia and Oriane and her pace was starting to impact on the men’s race with the Swedish runner placing well in the top 10.

With 50% of the race covered and the arrival of the first Oasis the race was taking shape. Rachid and Elisabet had opened huge gaps and were looking strong for victory, but behind them both the race was changing.

The 2nd male to arrive was the Tunisian Emir looking strong. Then Sondre arrived. What had happened to the 2017 champion Mohamed? He finally arrived walking, looking broken and explaining that he had hurt his ankle. He looked set to drop out but at the 3rd CP he pushed on.

 For the women, the early pace had impacted on Shefia and now Oriane was running in 2nd. It was all to fight for though, the duo was only separated by minutes!

50-65km were the most challenging of the race with relentless soft sand that slowed the front runners to a walk at times. Behind, this section would eventually take its toll with over 30% of the UMED field not progressing past this section. Rachid and Elisabet took it in their stride but the impact on Emir was noticeable and he relinquished 2nd place to an in-form Sondre. Mohamed was somehow rejuvenated, and he now ran with the Tunisian, the duo looking for the final podium place. 

Rachid arrived at the 80km checkpoint looking tired and exhausted. The day was taking its toll. He searched for food and drink, but the fatigue was obviously confusing him, he was undecided what he needed. Sitting down he consumed two cartons of juice only to vomit them back up. He left for arguably the toughest 20km’s he would ever run. The gap Rachid had accumulated was crumbling and Sondre arrived just 3-minutes later. The fight was on!

 Sondre hunted the Moroccan down slowly pursuing but Rachid despite chronic fatigue never gave in, he arrived at the finish broken. He crossed the line and collapsed into the arms of the RD, Amir Ben Gacem. Moments later he was in the medic’s hands with an IV in his arm. Sondre finished a stunning 2nd just 6-minutes later. It had been an epic battle. The fight for 3rd came to an easy conclusion for the 2017 champion Mohamed when Emir dropped from the race with severe cramps just 5/6km from the line.

 Elisabet was the next to arrive, the new female champion and 4th overall – she was back! This was a stunning world-class performance and her time was just 9-minutes slower than the 2017 champion, Mohamed. 

“UMED was a really great experience. It was good to be back in a desert race after a break this year. I enjoyed the varying terrain, the heat, and the perfect mix of friendly atmosphere and hard racing.” – Elisabet Barnes

Behind, Oriane secured her 2nd place ahead of the local woman, Shefia.

With the arrival of darkness, the race took on a new challenge as the participants battled the terrain, darkness and the 0300 cut-off. As with all races, the dream of medals evaporated like water in a Mirage. Blisters, fatigue, dehydration, missing cut-off times, each runner had a story to tell.

“I did not dream of medal. I wanted to run strong and run well. That was my UMED goal. At half way I felt very unwell and I knew it was the beginning of heatstroke. I also had damaged feet with blisters… We had been advised that gaiters were not necessary, they were! I was mentally and emotionally strong, but I knew it was time to be kind to myself and I allowed myself to call it quits. I had done what I set out to do, I had run well, I had run strong, and that was for 50km. Next year’s goal will be to run well, run strong and get that medal.” – Sue Ding from Malaysia who had completed the 2018 Marathon des Sables.


As Roosevelt rightly said:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 Racing does not give guarantees. It is why we test ourselves. Pain eases, memories fade, skin heals and soon, often the next day, the desire to return and put the demons to rest is what motivates everyone. The desert is magic and leaves only one desire: to come back and tame it! 

Post-race, RD Amir Ben Gacem was proud of the race, “Last year, we had just 60 runners, this year we had over 130 and I am proud to say, over 30 women. That is stunning. The race will evolve, and we learnt some lessons this year that will be applied for 2019 only to make the UMED bigger and better!”

“Wow, I am really happy with that,” Sondre exclaimed. “I am the first ‘human’ – to place 2nd behind the desert king Rachid and to have his brother behind me is a true honour.”

 RESULTS

  1. Elisabet Barnes 10:26:06
  2. Oriane Dujardin 12:58:57
  3. Shefia Hendaoui 13:35:57

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 9:11:47
  2. Sondre Amdahl 9:18:12
  3. Mohamed El Morabity 10:17:33

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Trofeo Kima 2018 on IRUN4ULTRA

“For over twenty years, ‘Kima’ as it is affectionately known, has blown the minds and the legs of all those lucky enough to toe the line. This is a race that one aspires too; you need to earn a place on the entry line. The challenge comes no greater. The race is like a precious jewel, hidden away for fear of someone stealing it. Kima is not for everyone, but if you have the experience and the courage, the Sentiero Roma rewards each who ventures on to its tough and technical terrain.” – Ian Corless

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