Category Archives: Races

Race review – Urban Ultra Big Stinker 2013

The last 2 days all I was doing is sitting on the couch, foam rolling, eating ridiculous amounts of fish oil and then foam rolling again. Why such a meaningless existence, will you ask? Well, my friends, I am sore, Very very sore. Painful-to-sit-on-the-toilet kinda sore. And all of this thanks to a little race here in UAE, called BIG Stinker, organized by Urban Ultra. Stinker Indeed. Or I would rather call it Puker, because that is what many of us did during that race, Including moi. But lets keep all the juicy details for later.

The race was a 12 km loop, 6 uphill and 6 down, and you had a choice to run 1, 2 or 3 loops. Me and my BF have obviously chosen 3 loops and thought it would be a great preparation for an ultra in June. Easy peasy, you will say, just 36 km! Wait till you see this:

Stinker profile

This is the elevation profile. Now all those of you who live in some places like Boulder or French Alps with gorgeous mountains and hilly trails can stop reading right now. Here, in Dubai, we live on a pancake. We run on a pancake as well. What does this mean? Exactly – speed bump on the road is considered a serious hilly obstacle and 600 m climb over 6 km IS a problem for us, sissy UAE runners. Occasional weekend runs in Hajar mountains do not count as serious hill training. Add 38 degree heat to that and you get what you call a real “Stinker”.

We checked part of the course once with Al couple of weeks coming to the race and knew that it is going to be a tough cookie.

The race started at 7:30, which is fairly late for this time of the year in the desert, it was close to 25 degrees and temperature was slowly creeping up. We came to the start point at 6:30, checked in, got our numbers, had a quick banana breakfast and met some friends. Looking around I saw some super-fit people in awesome gear that looked like they meant business, like this one girl with the most amazing quads I have ever seen in my life (i’m not gay, she really had great quads! She actually won the women’s 36 km race with some amazing time for the course!)

Anyhow, enough about legs. It was 7:30 and off we went. The first 2 km of the course go through some little farm and are pretty flat, so everyone went out fast. And then – BOOOM! Comes the first incline. Most tried to run up it. I knew what was coming further, so I jogged a little and then  mostly power-walked. The next 1.5 km are small rolling hills going up, pretty runnable, and then came the second big incline going up to the 6 km check-point. I was trying to power-walk and get up there as fast as possible. After the check-point, that was basically a car with some water, isotonic and oranges in the boot, the course is looping back to the start line with 6 km of downhill. Running downhill kills your legs, if you didn’t know. But I flew down that road like there is no tomorrow, overtook a bunch of people and was kinda trying to make up for the time lost on the first 6 km uphill. 1 loop done, 2 more to go!

One of the inclines. Thanks to Alex for the picture.

One of the inclines. Thanks to Alex for the picture.

2nd loop was less crowded and I would say pretty lonely, with just a couple of runners in my sight. It was obviously slower and harder than the first, my legs were getting tired but it was manageable and I was trying not to die completely before the 3rd final loop. I passed several guys who were walking and complaining of muscle cramps and was really happy that my little legs are still working the way they should. It was getting really hot by that point and my back was burning under the backpack. I quickly refilled my bottles at the checkpoint, stuffed my running bra with ice, which made people laugh (seriously – its an awesome way to cool yourself down. For women obviously. Men don’t wear running bras I think. I might be wrong though) and took off for the last loop. A friend of mine, Alex, was there at the checkpoint and told me that BF had passed through around 15-20 minutes ago. Fast bastard, I thought, no way I am catching up with him on the third loop.

Me filling up before heading for the 3rd loop. Thank to Alex for capturing this glorious moment

Me filling up before heading for the 3rd loop. Thank to Alex for capturing this glorious moment

3rd loop was a real torture. It was hot, my legs were very tired and refused to run, I had a blister forming and both the inclines seemed like a vertical wall. Then I saw some poor guy puking his guts out. And it made me feel better, No, I am not a total heartless bitch as you might have just thought – I asked him how he was, offered him my water and electrolytes, but I also told myself at that point “hey, you see, you are just tired, you are not that bad! Keep moving and stop wining!” The last 6 km down were actually the hardest. Legs were aching and I had to slowly trot down the major inclines. No more flying at that point. My stomach also started playing up, I was beginning to feel nauseous and was afraid that the first thing I do crossing the finish line is puke. Luckily it didn’t happen then, it happened later in the evening. Not joking. Heat exhaustion I guess.

Crossing the finish line was really awesome! There were not many people left, but those who stayed back were cheering up like I have broken a world record. What I later found out is that more than half the runners who started the 36km race bailed out and finished only 1 or 2 loops! So it somehow happened that I managed to finish 3rd woman, my first ever podium finish (insert drum roll here).

BF did great as well, finishing 4th despite feeling like shit for the second part of the race! That is true determination.

Great race overall, rarely you can get an opportunity to race on trails in Dubai and I think the organizers did an awesome job! It is also one of the last races in the running season here, so definitely a must-try for anyone in and around UAE.

Things that could have been better:

  • Start a little earlier – 7 or 6:30 AM will be perfect
  • Race has no medals. I mean, come on, you need a medal! Its just weird to race and not get a medal. Nuff said.
  • The second check-point on top of the mountain was running out of water towards the end. Its hot and as a rule people under-estimate how much they drink on such a challenging course and need to refuel.

Paleo diet experiment – Week 3, sugar cravings and half marathon

Week 3 of my paleo diet brought me some horrible sugar cravings. When I say “Horrible” this is exactly what I mean – totally unbearable and mind-blowing! I would wake up in the middle of the night wanting to stuff my face with jellybeans and first food that would come to my mind in the morning was ice-cream…

It was twice as hard to resist this mental sugar attack knowing that this stuff is peacefully waiting for me in the kitchen cupboard. I thought I would go nuts and instead I was gorging on dates, raisins and bananas  – not a very fair substitute for chocolate though.

These terrible sugar cravings disappeared as unexpectedly as they attacked me – such a great relief. I can control myself pretty well, but I don’t think I could do that for more than a couple of days. I am really curious to know if this is a common sugar and carbs abstinence and others have also experienced something similar.

Another interesting experience last week was racing RAK half marathon – my first longish race on a Paleo diet. Frankly speaking this is my first 15km+ run after I have started this experiment and I was not sure how It will make me feel during the race.

My usual pre-race meal is oats with banana, but this time I just had a couple of dates, banana and some nuts. I do not normally take any nutrition during training runs below 25 km, but I do fuel up during half marathon races. Since I was not sure how my stomach would react to eating dates on a faster run, I have decided to stick with my usual Gu. Not very Paleo, I know, but man, it is only this time that I have realized how strong GU is! I have never had such a surge of energy after taking a gel before, it literally felt like I had a turbo engine propeller tied to my back! I am not sure if this is my current diet that has made me so sensitive to sugar, but I am inclined to think that it is! I felt like a kid with sugar rush after eating 2 chocolate bars!

Next coming week I am starting longer back-to-back runs as preparation for an ultra race in June, and I am planning to stick to raisins, dates and bananas as fuel on the runs instead of gels and energy bars.

Ultramarathon? Ultramarathon!

Finally, after weeks and weeks of talking and planning I have signed up for my first Ultramarathon – Ultra Trail South West 60 miler. We (me and my dearest BF, who has just successfully smashed his first ultra race this weekend- Wadi Bih 72 km) have been planning for this for quite some time. Planning included research of the training plans and thinking “Gosh, I cannot possibly run this much”, shopping for gear (come on, you need all those latest trail shoes before you even hit the trails, don’t you?), generally dreaming of crossing the finish line after running for 100 km and feeling badass…. Planning didn’t really include any real training, at least for me lol. And now it begins. The race is end of June. It is almost mid Feb now. I better get my ass off the couch and start running some serious miles…

There are however a few things that I need to consider:

1. The race is hilly – last year’s race vertical ascent was around 3000 m. The problem is that I live in the UAE. UAE, in its majority, is as flat as a pancake and for us, desert runners, going up and down the bridge or a flyover is considered “hill training” and jumping over speedbumps poses a significant threat to legs. However I am lucky enough to live in Ras Al Khaimah right now, which is pretty close to Hajar Mountains, and this means some long trail runs on the weekends to learn running up and downhill.

2. The race is in UK. UK is rainy, wet and cold and chances are it will be exactly that – rainy, wet and cold on race day and there is absolutely nothing here that will prepare me for these kind of conditions.  But I have already got myself a nice waterproof Northface running jacket, so I presume I am ready to handle rain, mud and dirt!

3. Feb and March are the months when it is becoming hot in the sandpit. By hot I mean easily +35-37 degrees Celsius in day time. What does that mean for me? It means that my alarm clock will be permanently set for somewhere between 3 to 4 am.  Lovely, isn’t it? As they say “early to bed and early to rise and you are guaranteed no social or sex life”.

4. It is quite obvious that I have never run a distance longer than a marathon. Marathon is 42.2 km, the ultra I am running in June is 100km. Just plain attempts to imagine what it feels like to run for 100 km makes my feet ache and blister and my legs cramp.

5. I have no idea how I will manage to combine this amount of running with my other fitness activities and goals. I am yet to figure that out I guess…

I think I need to go run now…

2nd Marathon done and dusted

First I would like to thank everyone for all support and encouragement! I did not feel very confident going into the race and sharing my doubts and thoughts worked as a great therapy.

To start with, I could say that this was probably my best race ever. Not because it was the fastest, though I did PR by approximately 9 minutes as compared to last year, but because of the way I felt throughout the run. Everyone who has ever run 42.2 km knows what it is a long and winding road from start to finish and you can go from feeling great to being totally miserable in less than a minute. I can say that I felt great 90% of the race, and that was absolutely awesome!

The race morning I woke up at 4 am, had my breakfast of coffee and 2 peanut butter toasts, got dressed and we headed out at around 5:15 am. That morning was extremely foggy and by the time we parked and started walking to the start line it was around 6:45. There was a huge crowd of 10k runners that were starting 30 min after the marathoners and the start line looked to be still pretty far away, so I decided to leave my boys and run to make it on time before the gun. I think that little run worked as a good warm-up and I was able to settle into my goal pace of 6:00 min/km (not per mile unfortunately lol) pretty much from the very beginning.

The start and finish location of Dubai marathon for the last 2 years it pretty spectacular – right near Burj Khalifa – a great landmark that you see in front of you for the majority of the second half of the race and it gives such a great mental boost almost “seeing” a finish line!

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

The first 2-3 km where the usual hype with people chatting, trying to settle into their paces, some brave (aka stupid) souls sprinting  through the crowd, and just enjoying the whole atmosphere. And then at around 3rd kilometer a disaster struck – bbbbbaaaam! my sports bra strap got unclipped!  Boys can skip the next paragraph by the way…

I run in Shock Absorber bras – and I totally love them! This is the only running bra that does not chafe and it is also super-comfortable and supportive. Unfortunately I’ve had this problem of their straps getting unhooked at the most unsuitable moment several times before.

Shock absorber bra

Anyways, by the time I managed to inspect the damage and hook the straps back together again, while still running, I was super pissed-off and sweaty. I am sure people around me were wondering why this idiot woman is wriggling like a worm on a hook and what exactly she is trying to do.

The next 30 kilometers passed by very fast.  The course is out and back on Jumeirah Beach Road, and while the road itself is not particularly impressive and lined up with villas and numerous dental and laser surgery centers, it was great to watch elite runners zoom past on their way home. Watching all the fast guys and girls kept me busy for several kilometers.

My major fear was to get GI problems. Every race-related nightmare that I have is about me running down a street lined with screaming supporters and volunteers, desperately searching for a porta loo and not finding any. Thankfully Digestion Gods were kind to me and my stomach held up pretty well.

Last year I was a total miserable bitch throughout the run and was not really happy with that, so this year I had a goal of being as sociable as possible.  I met a couple of friends and chatted with them on the way, hi-fived kids and tried to thank as many volunteers and supporters as I could. Also met a triathlete Ed Hawkins who was running his second marathon on that day as part of the self-supported Ultraman Challenge to raise awareness for diabetes – this guy is a real hero! I truly believe that this attempt of trying to be grateful paid back in terms of the amazing energy I was getting from people and I did not really notice how I hit 36 km mark.

This is when my left knee and right ITB started hurting pretty bad just as was expected. It was only 6 km away from the finish line and I was not bonking so I knew I could run though the pain and finish strong. And that is exactly what I did – tried to overtake as many people as I could and sprinted the last mile to the finish line.

One happy marathon finisher!

One happy marathon finisher!

I saw my boys right before the finish and was super happy to spot a medal around Jo’s neck – he ran his first ever race of 3 km and finished sprinting in 19 minutes – not a shabby time for an 8 year old kid! 

Crossed the finish line, got my medal and goody bad and then legs seized up – hams and calves refused to cooperate! I tried not to stop and keep moving around to ease the pain and finally found  quite an unconventional remedy – a cut of vanilla ice-cream! Seriously, ice-cream never tasted better and even the pain subsided! Benefits of “icing” after the race are undeniable!

I am not an experienced marathon runner as I ran it only here in Dubai, but I can say that the race organizers did a great job! There was more than enough water and Gatorade on the course, in fact there were water stations every 2.5 km, so water was never a problem. Unlike last year they were not giving out GU gels on the course but that did not bother me much as I carried all my food with me.The start and finish areas were pretty well organized, there were enough washrooms and showers and human traffic was directed well. The only disappointment was the finishing chute for the marathoners – just like last year it was a narrow corridor since the majority of the road was fenced off for 3 and 10 km races, though I do understand that there are many more people running 3 and 10 km and the finishing times are overlapping.

Now, analyzing my previous and this year races, I do believe that our attitude plays the major role in a way you feel and perform during the race. I’m not saying that one shouldn’t train hard and just go there with positive attitude hoping to break the PB! Most of us do it for fun, because we love the purity of such a simple primal activity as running, because we enjoy the challenge. Getting PBs is important, but it is even more important to just enjoy and be grateful that you can do it! Another thing that I realized is that I need to give back – this year I will definitely volunteer for some of the races that I don’t run to help out on the course or marshalling.

And I am also thinking now …  may be sub-4 next year? 

Pre marathon thoughts

Its Thursday evening and tomorrow 7 am I will be at the starting line of my second Dubai Standard Chartered Marathon. I wish I could say that I am ready and confident, but I am not. I have mixed feelings about this race. And it is not really about my training – of course I could have done a little more and a little better, but this is almost always the case. I still know I did the runs that I was supposed to do, some of them were good and some – well, not so much, but this is what running is all about.

It is always simpler when you do something for the first time – you don’t really know what to expect and you just do it. But now this is my second marathon race and I kinda know what I am in for, and that makes me think too much.

I think I haven't forgotten anything... Whats left now is just to run.

I think I haven’t forgotten anything… Whats left now is just to run.

My doubts and concerns are more psychological  I guess…

What if my IT bands starts playing up again? Last long run I started feeling it at 20k, I do nope it will keep silent for at least 2/3 of the race. 

And my left knee – it has not been behaving well this year….

Did I make the right choice about shoes? Nike Frees are awesome shoes to run in but for marathon distance? Well, too late to think about it now.

How will my stomach hold on? GI problems have been haunting me for the past couple of months and it could completely break my run.

I read so much about race strategies of other runners. Bummer – I don’t have a race strategy! Just run and try to stick to my goal pace for as long as I can!  I will be pretty upset if I run slower than last year. I keep telling myself not to think about time, after all I am definitely not the fastest runner out there, but I love to compete against myself and do better than I did before. And that is my major goal for tomorrow’s race – do it stronger and faster than last year. I know that If I have a good day – I can do it! The question is “Am I going to have a good day tomorrow?”

I know that all my doubts will be gone when I am standing there at the start line. Once the horn goes off – you just run and try to make it to the finish line as soon and strong as you possibly can.

So I say – bring it on!