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

ALL IMAGES AVAILABLE TO PURCHASE HERE

UMED RACE WEBSITE

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Ultra Mirage El Djerid 100k 2018 Preview #UMED

The Ultra Mirage El Djerid 100k #UMED rolls closer. Now in its 2nd edition, this 100km desert race based in Tozeur, Tunisia, North Africa looks set to be a great edition of the race.

The 1st edition had just 60 runners from 12 countries, for 2018, these numbers have escalated to over 150 and a remarkable 20+ countries.

Tozeur is the main city of the Djerid, it is very well known for its stunning surroundings with a mixture of rocky mountains, valleys, salt lakes and desert dunes. The Ultra Mirage© El Djerid (UMED) is the first 100km Ultra Trail taking place in the stunning Tunisian Sahara Desert.

The diversity and the beauty of the Djerid makes it a major attraction for tourists from all around the world. In particular, its connection with the movie industry. The race starts at the location of Luke Skywalker’s home in the original Star Wars movie (more HERE).

 A single stage race that takes runners across a wide diversity of terrains, ranging from soft sand, small dunes, rocks, dried river beds and oasis. Runners will have 20 hours to finish the race with very specific deadlines to reach each of the five checkpoints which will be between 15-20km apart. Starting at 0700 on Saturday September 29th, the race concludes at 0300 on Sunday September 30th. 

Offering 4 ITRA points and equal price money for the top female and male athletes, the 2018 edition of UMED looks set to be a great race.

 

Heading up the male field are the El Morabity brothers, Rachid and Mohamed. They need no introduction to any runner or fan interested in desert running. Rachid is the king of the desert having won the iconic Marathon des Sables multiple times. He recently won Marathon des Sables Peru and once again retained victory at the 2018 MDS in Morocco. He is the key favourite for victory at UMED.

However, Rachid’s brother, Mohamed, won the 2017 edition of UMED and therefore has experience and knowledge under his built. Mohamed has been learning the desert craft from his elder brother and we will certainly see the duo battle for the 2018 win.

 Sondre Amdahl from Norway will also take part. He has raced at Marathon des Sables Morocco where he placed in the top-10. Certainly, the single-stage format and 100km distance will suit the Norwegian who specializes in long-distance races. However, Sondre would be the first to admit, he would like some mountains and elevation gain on the course to allow him a chance of victory… No doubt it will be an exciting race.

Two-time Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes, will head up the women’s race. Elisabet has a had a quiet 2018 after relentless racing in 2016 and 2017. With time to rest, re-build and plan ahead, UMED will see the specialist desert runner return to racing. The 100km distance and flat course is definitely something that Elisabet will relish, don’t be surprised if she impacts on the male GC.

The competition will be very aggressive so make sure you tune in and connect to social media to follow the action as it unfolds.

Runners will start to arrive in Tunisia from Thursday 27th with many runners arriving in Tozeur on Friday 28th.

You can obtain more specific information from the race website, HERE

Running a desert or multi-day race? Why not join our 2019 Multi Day Training Camp in Lanzarote taking place January 17th to 24th. More information HERE

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Ultra Trail Mont Blanc #UTMB 2018 Preview

UTMB is upon us and the hype just keeps on building and building. The 2018 edition looks set to be another great race and the year when the chances of an American at the top of the podium, have probably never been higher!

The 170km loop that starts in France, passes through Italy, then Switzerland and once again returns to France with 10,000m of vert is considered the pinnacle of 100-mile mountain running.

 UTMB LIVE HERE

MEN

It is easy to look at UTMB and the presence of Kilian Jornet on the start line and say, ‘we know who has won!’ To be honest, I think Kilian is the odds-on favourite to win the 2018 edition, particularly with Francoise D’Haene missing the race. What Kilian has achieved in 2018 after a very serious injury has been quite remarkable. What is most impressive is the range of his skill, he can break an almost unbreakable FKT in the UK (Bob Graham Round), win a super-fast and competitive Sierre-Zinal and then win and set a course record at the most technical and pinnacle skyrunning event there is, Trofeo Kima, just 5-days before toeing the line at UTMB. Without doubt, Kilian is the one to beat, however, the one thing he has against him is the lack of specific 100-mile training. For anyone else, that would be a huge problem, for Kilian, no!

Many will say that Jim Walmsley is the prime contender to beat KJ but let’s give a nod and respect to Tim Tollefson who has placed 3rd twice and now knows the race like the back of his hand. He prepares specifically and respects the race and the distance. His form seems a little off based on results in 2018, but, I am sure Tim has only ever had his eye on one prize.

Luis Alberto Hernando is for me one of the greatest and most underrated mountain runners in the world. He is pure class. He is a multiple world champ, has placed 2nd at UTMB before and missed the race in 2017 because he knew he didn’t have the necessary form to win. He has been quiet this year which can only mean very specific training. He hasn’t run many 100’s and this has been his downfall in the past, he always races hard and from the front which can mean he blows up. This may be Luis’s year for the win, but everything will need to go right, and Kilian will need to be a little off. A Luis victory would be extremely popular! 

Jim Walmsley finally fulfilled his dreams and ability with nailing Western States earlier this year and obliterating the course record. He has earned his 100-mile apprenticeship. Last year at UTMB it was all going well, and Jim was running a smarter race, it went wrong but he rallied and then finished in the top-10 closing hard. He has a tough decision to make at this year’s race, does he go on gut feeling and run at ‘his’ pace early on and hope he can take it to the line (think Zach Miller) or does he hand with Kilian, mark him, stay with him and then make a move late in the race where he then maybe can use his natural run speed to win? It’s important to note, that running and winning UTMB will be at least 20% more time on his feet than the WSER victory. I think Jim will make the podium this year and yes, he could be at the top of it, quite easily!

 Xavier Thevenard has done it all at UTMB winning all the main distances over the past 4-years. He will no doubt be reeling from his DQ at Hardrock and that could work either way at UTMB. It may motivate a superb performance or put questions in his mind. Podium potential for sure but not a winner this year.

 Alex Nichols is for me the greatest US potential for a win in years. However, it may take this year for him to fully understand the race before he can come back and win next year or the year after. I said many times in the last 18-months that Alex has the greatest potential and he proved it recently with his Nolans 14 FKT. He is one to watch and a dark horse.

The above are my prime podium contenders but as always, it’s a stacked field with the following toeing the line:

  • Gediminas Grinius
  • Ryan Sandes
  • Mark Hammond
  • Michel Lanne
  • Stephan Hugenschmidt
  • Jordi Gamito
  • Sondre Amdahl
  • Benoit Cori
  • Scott Hawker
  • Timothy Olson
  • Damian Hall
  • Sylvain Court
  • Javi Dominguez

That is an A-list of contenders with Gediminas Grinius and Javi Dominguez as stand outs. It is UTMB, so anything can happen on the big loop. One person to watch is the UK’s Damian Hall. Over the past 3-years he has moved closer and closer to the top-10 and last year placed 11th. He is super motivated this year and although I don’t think he will make the top-5, the chances are high for him to fulfil his top-10 dream. 

WOMEN 

Mimmi Kotka for me is the 2018 UTMB champion. She has won CCC, TDS and has crushed mountain races such as Madeira Island Ultra Trail, Mont-Blanc 90km and the Maxi-Race in Annecy. She eats mountains and although this is her first 100, something just tells me she is ready for the big loop.

Caroline Chaverot of course should be the odds-on favourite but boy-oh-boy as she had a tough time of things after winning ‘everything’ and I mean ‘everything’ a year or so ago. Her form is a real question mark and she has openly discussed on social media that she has been very unwell. Caroline in form is of course podium potential, anything less and she would be disappointed.

Uxue Fraile has a 5th, 3rd and 2nd at UTMB and that alone sets her up as a prime podium contender. She always runs a savvy race, has loads of experience and for me, she may well match her 2015 2nd place. 

Kaori Niwa has been 4th at UTMB and recently took 4th at Hardrock 100, so, we know she has endurance. That is super important here at UTMB and although victory is unlikely with Mimmi and Caroline in the race, the 3rd slot on the podium is possible.

 Sephanie Violett was 15th last-year which seems a below par performance based on her experience and skill. But UTMB is not the US and Magdalena Boulet and Kaci Lickteig also placed out of the top-10. I have a feeling that these three women will change things around this year and impact on the top-10 with Stephanie my tip as the one who does the best of the trio.

Beth Pascall and Jo Meek are two Brits who I believe this year will turn heads. Beth gets the nod over Jo as she has much experience at the long game with success at races such as Lakeland 100, Dragons Back and the Spine. She dropped at UTMB last year after getting cold, this year I am putting my neck on the line and saying top-5! Jo has trained specifically and knows the UTMB mountains after placing 2nd at CCC. This is her first foray to 100-miles and this length of time on her feet. She has all the ability to do well, so, fingers crossed she makes the top-10.

Fernanda Maciel has buckets of experience at the long game, has excelled at UTMB time and time again and I have no reason not to think she will do the same again this year. A prime top-10 contender and for sure, 4th/ 5th is a distinct possibility; she has placed 4th twice before.

Juliette Blanchet was 4th last-year and has buckets of experience and results at long and tough races… She was 2nd at Raid de la Reunion after UTMB in 2017. She will be fighting for the podium and amongst the 2018 women’s field, she has a great chance.

 Cat Bradley has won Western States but, in all honesty, I have no idea how she will fare on this monster 170km loop. You don’t win Western by accident which is why she gets a nod here, but let’s look at Kaci and Magdalena last-year, they were both outside the top-10. 

Mariya Nikolova is not a name that many will have heard but she has been in the top-10 at UTMB previously and she has won in Turkey at Cappadocia. Her recent form is a little unknown but an improvement from 9th is to be expected. 

Strong Contenders:

Emilie Lecomte has been there and done it in long distances races but seems to be lacking the speed of her prime. Amy Sproston has been 8th before, she will be in the top-10 game but not a podium contender. The UK’s Sophie Grant is another real contender with Beth and Jo, she was 15th last-year. Teresa Nimes was just outside the top-10 placing 11th in 2017. Aliza Lapierre dnf’d last year but has loads of experience as does Ildiko Wermescher who has been 6th and 7th at UTMB previously… In all honesty, Ildiko should be in the list above. Francesca Canepa is a long-distance specialist. Katia Fori also one to watch after 5th at MIUT.

It is all to fight for. The big loop with all that distance, vertical gain and descending, variable weather and just the many, many hours on foot means nothing is guaranteed. So, expect some surprises!

Action stars Friday 31st August.

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Lanzarote Training Camp 2018 Day 7

All good things come to an end…!

Today, the 2018 Lanzarote Training Camp concluded with an incredible morning in the soft-sand and dunes of Lanzarote. It was such a great day! The 40 participants of the training camp looked like (and acted like) kids in a sand pitt.

Up, down, around and over.

There was some pretty serious acrobatics and high-flying too. It is amazing how tired legs and bodies were revived after 100+ miles of running in one week still had some energy left.

The morning session was followed with an afternoon discussion about ‘the next steps’ and how to follow on the training camp both physically and mentally.

A final easy run or ‘walking with poles’ session brought the training element of the camp to an end.

Final night festivities will see maybe a few drinks downed, a group meal and dare I say, the Club La Santa disco may well get a visit.

It has been an incredible week. A huge thanks to all the participants who made it so much fun. Obviously, many thanks to Elisabet Barnes, Sondre Amdahl, Tom Evans and Marie Paule Pierson – the 2018 coaches.

Why not join our 2019 Training Camp?

More information HERE

Lanzarote Training Camp 2018 Day 5 and 6

Day 5 is bivouac day! Arguably, it is the day of the Lanzarote Training Camp that the runners dread but learn the most.

It’s quite simple – we simulate many of the feelings and experiences that you will encounter in your chosen multi-day self-sufficient race.

Runners leave with their race packs including sleeping bag, sleeping mat, food for the dinner, snacks, food for breakfast, a minimum 1.5ltr of water and clothes such as down jacket!

The attendees run or walk in guided groups to the bivouac taking a minimum of 2.5 hours. They then pitch a tent (transported for them) and then they are rationed water. Our bivouac is extra special – it is inside a volcano!

We provide hot water but many runners test and try their own cooking skills using Esbit and then they eat a dehydrated meal. It happens every year… “Oh wow, I love this meal!” to the opposite, “Oh my word, that is disgusting!”

It’s invaluable what can be learnt with a simulation night.

We get a roaring fire going and chat into the night – it is special!

The following morning, our camp attendees are welcomed to ‘rise’ with crow of a cockerel around 0630/ 0645. They then must prepare their own breakfast and prepare for another run; again, a minimum 2-hours.

A night under the stars and an opportunity to test sleeping bag, sleeping mat and all other aspects of self-sufficiency makes everyone realise what is good and what is bad.

Back at Club La Santa we have a 2-hour debrief talk and discussion, from here, all our attendees go away armed with the knowledge that will help them achieve the finish line of their next multi-day race.

Why not join our 2019 Training Camp?

More information HERE

Lanzarote Training Camp 2018 Day 4

No pain, no gain – well, that is what they say! Today, was ‘pain’ morning at the Lanzarote Training Camp when all the participants did at least 6 reps of a volcano.

It’s a challenging morning and the vertical gain is designed to replicate the largest jebel that has appeared in all the latest editions of Marathon des Sables.

Steep with lose gravel for the climb and the descent is a mixture of stone, lose rocks and sharp lava – a gravel road section allows some recovery before a repeating.

It was a hot day and although the session was tough – everyone loved it!

A break for lunch and then Elisabet Barnes did a practical workshop of foot care. It’s an essential session that prepares everyone with all the relevant skills to allow them the flexibility to be self-sufficient when racing. Elisabet also showed and demonstrated foot taping as a preventive measure against blisters.

At 6pm, the day concluded with an easy 5 or 10km shake-outrun to loosen the legs!