Sometimes in life you take on event that just knock the winds out of you, both mentally and physically … that event for myself took shape in the inaugural TansOmania 300km, non stop, self supported race across Oman …
Now its not that I wasn’t prepared ..for such an event, because I was.. I had just come off running the rather Awesome Grand to Grand ultra in September 2013 which was a 273km 6 stage, 7 day self supported race across Utah…finishing in 38 hrs 30 mins in 8th place .. I was in great shape after the race and pretty much was able to bounce straight into training after only a few weeks rest. Running was good and I was feeling strong mentally and physically so I decided to sign up for the TransOmania race in January 2014 ..giving me 4 months to prepare, it had been on my radar along with the second race in the series TransArabia which I was definitely planning on doing in November 2014…TransOmania all depended on how the G2G went and it went well, so time to tackle the beast.
Training for me I decided was to work on strength and speed as I had endurance ..so no long slow runs but more focus was put on quality shorter runs no more that 2-4 hrs in length ..longest runs were 40km. I incorporated plenty of tempo runs ..intervals and short hill climbs. My initial theory behind this was to improve cruising speed over distance, strengthen legs etc and improve running form therefore efficiency. I had never attempted such a long nonstop race before ..my last single stage attempt ended badly in Injury after 50 miles during the 100 mile Ultra Trail South West in June 2013, but I have to admit up to that point I was going well physically and mentally.
So game plan for this rather mammoth race was to cover distances as fast as comfortably I could between CP’s ..rest an hour max ..power nap and continue. Fueling would have to be fast and efficient and I had a good system from which I used for the G2G running fuel wise. Since I would be running or rather moving quicker I based my running fuel on 250 Kcals an hour.. looking at the cut offs in the race for certain check points I estimated the race taking about 60 hrs so run fuel would based on 250 Kcals X 60 hrs = 15000 Kcals.
Training went well, during my month at home I managed to average 140 km a week of trails and desert with some road as well but pretty much all quality runs,also plenty of boxing circuits and core training ..testing fueling strategies. Also I was getting solid physio from my two favorite therapists… Donna Masing ( Sports Massage Therapist ) and Dr Tamar Ghazi ( California Chiropractic and sports medicine clinic ). Recovery is essential and without the help of these two amazing Ladies I know for a fact I’d be nowhere near the condition I am in…so a huge thank you to you both
Working and training offshore was always going to be a problem but I have been training now offshore for best part 14 years ..plus a further 11 years prior in HM Royal Navy ..so I was able to maintain my fitness pretty well and work on speed and strength running wise using the treadmill, strong 16-21km runs with a lot of tempos and intervals. I managed to maintain a solid 100km a week with added cross training and core work. My last 4 weeks offshore finished 3 weeks before the race so I was able to start tapering before I got back to dry land. Working and training offshore is tough physically due to the work load, food, and especially the environment, the constant motion of the waves wear you down before you even think about training ..but this does increase core strength especially running on a treadmill and throwing weights around in the gym ..kinda like working out on a stability ball …so as you can imagine it improves mental strength as well, working a 12 hr shift then training for 2-3 hrs after in a rolling sea will toughen any ones resolve ..so all good preparation in my eyes !!
Now down to the nerdy stuff starting with Nutrition …Run fuel which going to be 15000 kcals, which would consist of GU Roctane Endurance drink, GU Recovery, GU Gels and Probar Fuel bars ..as well as extra 5000 Kcals in real food as I call it or as near to it as possible ..so freeze dried meals ( 4x Mountain House Spaghetti Bolognaise 800 Kcal meals split into 8 x 400 kcal meals ) chia charge bars and my own mix of dried fruit and nuts…also salty chips sticks as a treat . Basically we were allowed a bag drop at 155km so 10,000 Kcals at the start of the race ( 7500 run fuel and 2500 real food ) and 10,000 Kcals at the Bag drop to restock. Run fuel and real food were stored once again in lightweight waterproof stuff sack for protection and easy access. The freeze Dried Meals I decided to split in to smaller meals so 800 kcal meal into two 400 kcal meals so would be faster to eat and digest at CP’s. Experience has now shown me that I will rethink the freeze dried meals for Trans Arabia ..having a hot meal at night was good ..but during the middle of the day and soaring temperatures of 36+ DegC ..hot meal wasn’t such a good idea …also although nice and definitely worked calorie wise ..was still hard to get moving after eating. So will try and test a few other colder and easier to digest nutritional options for the next race !!
For equipment I was once again going to use my faithful OMM 20 liter pack..3rd race and still going strong, with two raidlight bottle holders holding 2x 750 ml bottles ..it was mandatory that we were to carry 3ltrs of water so I used a 1.5 ltr bladder in my pack for the remaining 1.5 ltrs ..the requirement for 3 ltrs turned out to be essential during the race !! Sleeping bag and Long sleeve jacket were also mandatory so once again I opted for my Yeti Passion one sleeping bag, I knew the Temperatures at night would be no lower than 5 Degrees C so the Yeti would cope, also took along my Monte bell ex Lite down jacket as well, mainly to use once I had stopped at a CP’s so I wouldn’t get cold .. Running apparel once again I chose my faithful Merino wool tops ( Embers Merino ) .. I took two as we had a bag drop so one for each part of the race, also the usual 2XU compression shorts, 2 pairs one for the drop bag and 2XU compression calf sleeves. Socks were once again the Injinji merino wool toe socks, 2 pairs one to race in and one spare in the drop bag, I also took one normal pair of trail socks for the drop bag just in case my feet had issues ..you never know !! Finally I also choose to take a long sleeve merino wool base layer which I could run in during the cooler temps at night…was a huge asset Once again i’d be wearing the trusty Hoka stinsons and had decided on a pair of Inov-8 Debris gaiters for the sand, not full sand gaiters so the Hoka’s could still breathe.
There was also the usual mandatory race safety kit, I also was going to be using my Garmin Fenix .. I had the GPS map of the race downloaded and hopefully using the watch in ultra track mode should give me a 50 hr battery or there about, as long as it lasted to the bag drop at 155km I could recharge it using the Free loader Pro solar charger which would be there. The Charger itself had an internal battery which I could charge before hand and would provide a full charge for the Fenix in about an hour. But one thing I learned about the Fenix is .. it doesn’t track in Ultra trek GPS mode while in Track Mode ie it does it in normal GPS mode, in which case the battery will only last about 15 hours ..as I found out !! So if you intend using the Fenix then set to Ultra Trek GPS mode and start as normal activity .. that way you will know distance traveled etc ..you can then also check your position periodically by loading the Track mode briefly before reverting back to normal GPS tracking in Ultra trek Mode ..confused ..yep me too
So I was ready physically and mentally ( won’t mention my Left Calf throwing a wobbly while running at showka in my knew Hoka’s ..which I hadn’t broken in properly ..a week before !! Dr Tamara saved my butt with some dry needling to release a let’s say rather tight calf spasm ) ..Kit was ready ..and pack weighed in with water at 7.5kg which was perfect. All set to go
Close friend and Ultra runner Heather Mastrianni, my race buddy from the G2G, was also taking part in the event as well, she arrived late Thursday night before the meet time on 12 noon on the Sunday, so headed down to Oman early Friday morning to catch up. Was great to see her and we had a chance to go over the race and strategy. The Race Organizers are Raid Sahara so most of the info was translated English from French so it was good to sit down with Heather and discuss the route and what we thought about time plans, fuel etc, race info. This was the first edition of the race so the course was unknown. Living in Dubai and training in the desert and Hajar mountain region I knew what the terrain was hopefully going to be like. The terrain descriptions in the race book were vague and could have done with being more descriptive which would have helped in planning out race times. We both decided to run together for the race ..we ran well together during the G2G and I knew what a mentally tough and physically strong runner heather was ..we paced off each other well in the G2G so I knew running with her would be a huge plus ..and of course she’s just awesome company .
Saturday morning and throughout the day other race competitors were arriving from all over the world, from what I gather there were a total of 50 runners, 40 taking part in the 300km the rest in the 200 km and 130km races. The final meet time was Sunday 12 noon in the race hotel, early Sunday morning the race organizers showed and things started to happen ..all the race competitors had arrived and 12 noon on the dot we were shuffled into mini buses and 4×4 cars and taken to the race start which was about 1-2hr drive through the mountains to the coast and the beaches where we would begin.
The Campsite was situated on the small beach. With a large marquee tent as the main area for briefs and food then on the beach was 25 two man tents already with comfy cushions to sleep on ..we were told to select a tent then take it easy and relax ..Cyril Fondeville the race organizer made it quite clear the race was extremely hard so time to take it easy. We had all our bags with us so we could get sorted and all the race gear prepared for the following morning and the kit check and medical. Our main bags would then remain at the camp site where later they would be transferred to the finish campsite.
Sunday night was a chilled night on the beach, watching the sun go down and the atmosphere was cool and relaxed as everyone shuffled around between the main tent and smaller tents. Next day everyone was up early for breakfast and the kit preparation began ..Kit check, medical declarations and GPS tracker collection started at 9 am and went pretty smoothly as expected ..after that it was the race brief in the main tent ..then it was back to relaxing in the tent and staying out of the midday sun ..The race start was 9pm that evening so it was going to be a long day. Once the sun dropped it was time to start taping up using the ever faithful Rock tape..Taping back and hips and basically any where the pack my cause problems ..also I tape my calf’s just for added support. There were final group photos of everyone in their gear before the sun went down and the buzz of excitement started to float round the campsite, few hours to go.
After the meal it was final kit check for the both of us and bag drop placed in the correct area ..main bags were also placed ready for collection ..then it was time to wait for the start and 9 pm came around quickly … reality kicked in and the adrenaline was pumping..now the entirety of the race was a head ..285km plus of unknown terrain, starting with a huge 8km vertical ascent up The Wall with gradients reaching 30 degrees.
Once we were all gathered on the line the countdown began.. huge buzz of energy coursed round the group of slashing red lights, blue cyalume glow sticks and bright head torches … the first 4 km of the course would be a prologue so to speak ..the race organizers would lead the way up to the beginning of the climb to make sure everyone was warmed up and ready ..The Wall was a brutal ascent and in previous shorter races, runners had destroyed themselves by setting off to quick which the Organizers didn’t want for the this race. So we were off all huddled together trotting slowly behind the race marshals..the huge adrenaline rush at the start soon subsided quickly and we had all settled into a nice rhythm.
First 8km to CP1 was a shear climb and tough ..after that we descended and ascended over the mountain top through the night for another 56km totaling 5600mtrs of positive ascent. We had 15 hours from the start to reach CP 4, after that came a 20km stretch of “single Track” over the mountains and down to CP5 which could not be done safely during the hours of darkness ..to give you some idea of the extremeness of the section. Myself and Heather were doing well and maintained a good steady pace as best we could from Cp1 to Cp3 …from CP3 to CP4 was a shear 4km climb which seriously hit our legs ..but we hit CP4 in little under 12 hrs and were set for the 20km single track section ..well least we thought we were.
It was brutal, loose rocks and shear descents, with some run-able single track but not a lot ..what made things worse was following the markers which were painted rocks from the original trekking route as well as spray painted arrows for the race and red/white tape ..so as much as you needed to focus on where you were putting your feet ..you had to look for the markers as well…which slowed you down considerably. Unfortunately some of the markers had been removed by locals ..despite the organizers trying to reinstate them but due to the remoteness of the area this proved difficult ..so as expected pretty much everyone got lost at some point including ourselves …wasn’t fun being suck up a mountain ..tired, sore and going round in circles looking for markers … by the time we reached the last 5km descent down to CP 5 ..we both were broken ..heat from the midday sun was up around 36-40 deg C the long near vertical descent at times, down to CP5 trashed what was left of our quads…having 7.5kg packs bouncing on our backs certainly didn’t help .. It was de motivating to say the least.
After a longer rest than we had panned at CP 5 (84kms in) we decided to be sensible …the race course was unknown a head and after what we had just been through we decided not to go all out and race ..but go for a comfortable no injury completion and treat this as the survival adventure it was turning out to be. We rested again at CP6 ..and tried to get some sleep but it was cold and the ground was solid and rocky, there was a two man tent which we were lucky enough to get into ..but that really didn’t help .. the shear pain from your legs now prevented you sleeping.
.Leaving CP6 was hard work to get going again for me ..Heather kicking my butt to keep going was keeping me moving ..the pain I know had in my right hip flexor was ..lets say very painful ..I couldn’t run and walking was sheer delight ..not .. !! The last 8km to CP7 was small dunes and deep sand ..which at night meant your were stumbling along ..and this was seriously painful for me and the pain had prevented me eating or drinking ..and that was now making me nauseous..which was a viscous circle ..less I drank more dehydrated I became ..more painful my hip became ..not fueling meant energy levels were low ..it was just a seriously bad section for me …by the time I hit CP7 I was all about quitting ..sun was just coming up ..I was tired ..very low on energy, dehydrated and in pain. Heather was good to go on and I was now going through the self pity stage ..couldn’t run or walk ..would slow her down, should quit and all that crap ..while Heather prepped to go on I took the time to think ..laid down ..hydrated and basically gave myself a good talking to ..I don’t quit, never have never will ..as long as I can move forward I will !! I told Heather to go on and I’d catch her up ..she left with two other runners ..I hydrated as much as possible, ate ..re fueled ..took something for the pain ..plugged my head phones in and played a positive mantra on repeat, then nailed the next section catching Heather up 5k before CP 8 ..that wasn’t going to happen again. Lesson learned about fueling and hydration as well ..no matter how bad it gets don’t quit fueling or drinking ..it’ll just get worse !! you can always stop, rest and refuel, hydrate ..15-20 minutes and you can be back on your feet !!
CP8 was the bag drop at the safari camp .. race had a Hut for the runners to rest and get out of the heat ..we changed ..rested and re fueled and decided to wait until the sun dropped and late afternoon before leaving ..what lay ahead was 130km of sand .. !!
And it was slow going ..but we managed to keep a steady 4-5km /hr pace for pretty much most of the last section ..a lot of the sandy tracks just weren’t run-able especially at night but we covered ground as quickly and comfortably as we could !! There were a lot of highs and a lot of low’s but the aim was to keep moving and enjoy the race as best we could ..and we did ..sometimes chilling for 5-10 minutes at night to check out the amazingly clear night skies over the Deserts .. the sunrises were always a huge positive and lifted the spirits ..cursing Cyril Fondeville for making such an extreme event and then thanking him and being grateful for being involved ..at times were in stitches with laughter ..while other times we just near to tears when the soreness and pain would just weight you down. But we ticked off the CP points one at a time.
Before long we were leaving CP 11 ..one more Check Point to go and we planned only to stop to refuel at CP12 and continue on through to the finish ..it was midnight when we left CP11 and we had 47km left …76 hours into the race with only a few hours sleep under our belts ..but the finish was close !! Its took 9 hours to complete the 28 km trek to CP12 ..reaching the Check point at 9am ..we ate ..refueled and topped up with water and prepared for the last 19km to the finish ..30 minutes later we were back off again .. I had one GU roctane sachet of energy drink in one bottle, water in the other plus 1.5 liters in my bladder and 8 GU gels left .. I ate one gel every 30 minutes for the next 4 hours to make sure we powered home ..unfortunately the GU roctane went off in my bottle in the heat as we tackled the last 3km of 300 meter rolling dunes ..but you could feel the sea air now blowing over the sand ..and that was a huge boost !!
5 hrs after leaving CP 12 we were at the finish ..job done ..89 hrs 10 minutes …tired but in good shape ..no injuries and only two tiny blisters !! the Finishing Camp site was a welcome sight and so were the portable showers. We were allocated a 4 man tent where sleeping bags on top of mattresses a waited..time to rest ..race done!!..The finishers medal, prize and certificate were presented that evening before dinner, then it was eat and sleep ..well if you could with pain in your legs Next day was the long bus ride back to the Race hotel where a welcomed shower and really comfy bed awaited ..that night was the Post race Dinner and ceremony..to end TransOmania 2014.
All in all it was an extremely tough adventure ..Myself and Heather had come there to race a tough nonstop, self supported Ultra and we were prepared physically and mentally to do that but this was a different monster … the route and terrain was extreme from the start and difficult to maintain a good pace for any length of time …the long distances between CP’s meant the Race organizers had issues with markers especially over the mountain section ..this slowed you down as you had to make sure you didn’t miss any..which In a race is frustrating ..GPS tracking was point to point and needed to be more accurate…CP’s were prepared for minimal rest only apart from CP 7 and 8 …which was fine as it was a nonstop race and added to the challenge ….but it was something that should have been noted in the race book.. along with a more detailed description of the terrain and difficulty, this would allow competitors to gauge run times and fuel strategies better. It was the first edition and there was always going to be teething problems ..Myself and Heather had come from running an extremely well run, and very tough, multi stage race in the Grand 2 Grand ..where despite the terrain being tough it was well marked, run-able and well supported …allowing you to race …But it was a stage race understandably !!
TransOmania Is a tough ..very tough.. nonstop, self supported in every respect ..Ultra /Adventure race and requires a certain type of training and preparation to race and compete ..it’s not for the faint hearted that is for sure … much as I would have liked to have raced, I know being sensible was the right decision to make..it was an awesome adventure in the end ..one I got to share it with an amazing Friend ….it was an extreme test of endurance and mental strength which is what I enjoy … I will prepare differently for Trans Arabia as I will be going there to race. For future TransOmania runners …base your run time on 60-80 hours if you are going there to race …and train Very hard !!!