Category Archives: Running

42 km training run, anyone?

Long back-to-back training runs are an obvious part of ultra-training, but for me it was not till I ran my first longest ever 42 km training run this Monday that I realized that I am on my way to ultra. All my previous training runs before never exceeded 35-36 km, though I would do something like 36 km on day 1 and 20 km on the second day.

This week called for a 40+ monstrosity… I was supposed to do it on Sunday, but unfortunately Middle East weather gods decided to send us a nasty sand storm which made even a 5 km run impossible, leave alone a 4-5 hour adventure. This is really frustrating when you are mentally prepared to do something this challenging and you have to postpone it because of weather. I woke up at around 4: 30 am on Monday morning with a very strong desire to stay in bed and not go anywhere. I had a secret hope that when I look out of the window it will be windy and sandy and totally inappropriate for running. Unfortunately it was not and I had to literally drag myself out. Banana and almond butter for breakfast and off I go.

The plan was to practice a run-walk strategy, taking a walking break every 40 – 45 min. I decided to do so every 8 km as I like having a sort of a structure and a kilometer mark ahead to run to. Unfortunately the route was alongside not a very pretty road from Al Hamra Village to Dreamland water park in Umm Al Quwain, but I had to stick with it for the sake of just finishing the run and be done with it. Training mental toughness, you see lol.

Kilometer 1 to 8: “Gosh, I don’t want to do this. Its too early and dark, my legs are not listening to me. And I have to do this for another 4 hours? Seriously, why did I even sign up for this race! Like there is nothing else exciting in my life!”

First 2 min walking break: “Walking already? I don’t want to walk now, I have just started running!. It will slow me down!”

Kilometer 8 to 16: “Its not too bad actually, feeling good. Could do that for hours! Bring on a break, time for some chomps!”

Second walking break: “Chomps are so much better than Gu gel. Like candy. If another idiot in a passing car honks or flashes at me I’m gonna do something crazy! Like ….. nothing…. What can you do to them?”

Kilometer 16 to 24: “Hmmm… Its still cool, looks like I will be be lucky this time and won’t fry myself on the tarmac. I have just actually run from one emirate to another – how cool is that. Wondering if t qualifies for Guinness book of records! Probably not 😦 Now turning back and its just a stretch home”

Third walking break: “Too lazy to get a banana out of the back pack, better stick with Gu. Yuk, this one is chocolate  mint flavor. Hate it! Not even close to real chocolate. Wish I had a peanut butter gel though, its awesome!”

Kilometer 24 to 32: “My feet are tired. Can I walk a little earlier, no one will see anyways! No, I will see, don’t be such a girl, just run. One foot in front of the other – come on, stop wining. You can have nice eggs with salad for breakfast. And nuts. apples and even some chocolate – just run!”

Fourth walking break: “Jeez, walking hurts more than running. Calves are tight. Can’t run any more… I’m hungry”

Kilometer 32 to 42: “Last 10 km… Sip some water. 9 and a half… 9 to go. Gosh, only one kilometer covered? You joking? I was running for like 10 minutes after the last break! There is something wrong with GPS! Its definitely the aliens! They attacked our planet and destroyed all the satellites and GPS is not working! 7 km to go – aliens, definitely aliens. This stupid Garmin! 5 to go – come on, you know you’ve got it! 3…. 2…. 1 – just count down in hundreds, almost there, there is the gate. Eggs are waiting. And chocolate.”

The rest of the day was aimlessly spent on the couch, cuddling with the dogs and the cat and feeling proud of the achievement. The irony of the whole thing? – It looks like I am not running the 100 km ultra in June because of some life getting in the way…

Gear review – Ultimate Direction Signature Series SJ Vest

Since starting my training for a 100 km ultra in June I’ve been having a pleasure of spending ridiculous amount of time … no, not running, though I do that occasionally too…  researching all the awesome trail running gear! Apart from the obvious shoes, clothes and head torches, the next most important thing is of course your backpack!

I find that women have been really deprived in the backpack department, it is a sort of trail running discrimination going on here. Every backpack that I have tried and tested just does not fit. Yes, you guessed it right, it does not fit because of boobs. You see, unlike all the awesomely fast and lean female ultra-runners that do 100 milers for breakfast, I am not that lean and pretty gifted in the boob department which becomes a problem when choosing a backpack. Gosh, I think I am talking too much about boobs now and I will surely get some requests to prove my words with photos.

Anyhow, after some research and loads of deliberation I had a choice between Salomon SLab 5 and Ultimate Direction Signature Series SJ vest. My dearest BF has got himself a Salomon and absolutely swears by it, but being a rebel that I am I decided to be different and get SJ vest. It has absolutely nothing to do with me thinking that Scott Jurek is awesome (despite being vegan) and is my ultra-running hero. So very well-calculated and informed decision was made here.

I was finally able to order it online on Amazon and it arrived a couple of weeks back.  I took it out on quite a few road and trail runs of up to 4-5 hours as well as a 36 km race I ran last weekend.

Fresh out of the box!

Fresh out of the box!

Now you must be telling me, Tania, STFU and finally get down to the actual review. Ok ok, here is goes.


  1. It FITS AMAZING! I got a small size as this is the one according to measurements on Ultimate Direction site and it is just like a glove! I didn’t even have to adjust anything. No bouncing, no chafing – you basically do not notice the damn thing when running. It has stretchy straps on the front that you can slide up or down to adjust the fit so should not be a problem for anyone.
  2.  Separate word on front bottles. My initial fear was that mounting water bottles on the front over my boobs will make me look like Pamela Anderson impersonator, however surprisingly enough the bottles feel comfortable and do not annoy me at all.
  3. The Vest comes with 2 bottles and I absolutely love them, especially their kicker valve, and it also comes with a whistle that is normally a mandatory requirement for the majority of trail races.
  4. The vest is extremely light and well-made – craftsmanship and materials are pretty impressive. Cuben fiber that they are using for the vest is extremely strong and light as well as moisture resistant – simply perfect. The vest dries very quickly and is super-breathable. Side and back compartments are made of stretchy material and can accommodate a tonne of stuff! It is actually surprising how much fits into the back pocket and how expandable it is – according to the site the total capacity of the back-pack is 9.2 liters. I didn’t measure it, so I believe them.
  5. The vest design is well thought through. It has so many pockets and compartment for everything – ipod, phone, money, gels, bars, valuables – you name it.  One of the back compartments can accommodate a bladder as well. It also has holders for trekking poles and Ice Axe – which is an absolute necessity for me as I use an ice axe on my runs in a desert in 30+ degree heat like.. all the time!
  6. I read in some reviews that people find it difficult to access mesh side-pockets because they are positioned somewhat towards the back. It was not a problem for me, but could probably be related to how flexible you are.
  7. Last but not least is the price. 125 $ for a vest of this quality, including 2 bottles – not too shabby!
Me wearing the vest during last weekend Big Stinker

Me wearing the vest during last weekend Big Stinker

Negatives (yeah, there are some):

  1.  Hydration pack does not come with the vest and is not easy to find one that fits into the very short back pocket. I am using some cheap Quechua bladder that seems to be fitting well, but most of the bladders that I see around, something like Camelbak or North Face, seem to be too long.
  2.  If you keep your full bottles on the front and do not carry anything equally heavy in the back compartment (like a hydration bladder) the vest tends to pull forward. Not a big problem for me as I drink like a camel and always have a bladder at the back, but it could be for someone who wants to run with only 2 bottles.

Verdict: I’d give it 9 out of 10 – super comfortable, practical, lightweight and very reasonably priced (stingy 9 only because the vest does not include a hydration bladder). Definitely my choice for an upcoming ultra!

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.

Set yourself SMART fitness goals

Yesterday in the gym I heard a conversation of 2 guys that I see there pretty often. It was revolving around one of them not being able to see any progress after 2 months of pumping iron and kinda losing motivation over it (yes, I know – 2 months, right! Almost longer than lifetime). And when he was asked what exactly does he want to achieve, his answer was very simple: “Well, you know… Just want to be, you know…fit and ripped and all that”

That made me think – there are so many people that are dropping out of fitness routine for one reason – not being able to set themselves right goals and thus not seeing any progress. Well, in the above case it would have probably helped if our new-born bodybuilder stopped gulping Gatorade in between his bicep curl sets and followed some structured program…

We can measure progress only when we see a very clear goal in front of us and when we know where exactly we started. “I want to be fit”, “I want to run faster” or “I just wanna lose some weight” are all great, but unfortunately these goals are really hard to measure and track. What is fit? How much weight do you want to lose? How do you know that you are getting there?

smart goals

That is why every time you set yourself a goal, you should try and follow a S.M.A.R.T. principle:

S for Specific. What exactly do you want to achieve? Instead of “I want to lose some weight” say ” I want to lose 3 kilos” or “I want to run sub 1:45 half marathon” instead of “I want to run faster”. And so on. Be specific about what you want to achieve

M for Measurable. You should be able to measure the progress you are making towards your goal. Be it pounds to lose or benchpress, kilometers to run. Measuring the initial state and the progress will draw a great and clear picture of where you are now and how you are moving forward.

A for Achievable . Set a goal that you can achieve. ‘I’ll run every day this year” or “I will never ever eat my favorite cheese cake again” – well, probably for some people it is achievable, but for me it is not, so why to set yourself up for failure right away?

R for realistic. “I want to break marathon world record”! No, really, I want! But can I? try to set a goal that is realistic for you, and not for your alter-ego from “Matrix”. Yes, I know, we can achieve great things when we really want them, but let us kinda not lie to ourselves. Probably in another life when I am born a Kenyan I can possibly run a sub 2 hours marathon, but in this lifetime or at least for the next couple of years I will just probably set my goal to sub-3:45 marathon 😀

T for Timebound. Goals should be just like bacon, they should have an expiry date. If you do not have a deadline you won’t really have a motivation to work towards achieving your goal! Don’t underestimate procrastination!

Some other things that really help me with setting goals, enjoying the process and appreciating results are:

– Making both long-term and short-term goals. If your goal is only long-term, like 10 years away from now, then it is so easy to lose your mojo somewhere on the way. Achieving smaller things, on the other hand, gives that extra push to remain focused and continue in the right direction.

– Noting down your goals and documenting results. As simple as that! Sometimes we really forget were we started and are not able to see the picture clearly and don;t pat ourselves on the back when we deserve it. I have a friend who only took up running last year, starting with a walk-run program, and this year she has already completed her first marathon.  She was pretty disappointed with her time. But just think of this, it is such a great achievement to progress from 3 km run-walk to a full marathon in only 1 year! Always remember where you started and you can see how far you have gone!

– Setting goals related to performance and process rather than “aesthetics”. I know this won’t work for everyone, but this does work for me. I find myself motivated more when I want to increase my squad or run a mile at a faster pace, whereas looks-related goals a-la “legs of Angelina Jolie and abs of Jennifer Anniston” have never been able to inspire me enough to work my ass off.

And one last thing – realistic and achievable goals are good and safe, but people who achieve the most amazing result are those that don’t put themselves into a tiny little box of restricted capabilities and dream BIG!