Running On Empty
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By kilometer 19 I wasn't having fun any more as I looked for the checkpoint in the flickering light of my headlamp.
By kilometer 35 I was laughing at the complete absurdity of the hill I was climbing and trying to remember if my quads had ever, in my life, hurt this much. Switchbacks. At least a dozen switchbacks. I HATE switchbacks. The only thing worse than switchbacks is NO switchbacks. I made a vow, right then and there, to throttle the race coordinators.
By kilometer 50 I was telling myself, "Dude...this is not the Bataan Death March...you can do this. Keep moving. Drink water."
By kilometer 60 I was alone in the canyon...no support vehicles kicking up dust... no relay racers zooking past me with their little batons and IPods... no sound but the wind in the darwish trees and the thoughts in my own head. Mostly those thoughts revolved around how bad my knees hurt which was somewhere between the adjectives excrutiating and rediculous but increasingly other thoughts began to creep in to evict the pain. Thoughts of times past...of battles fought and mountains climbed...of storms endured and friendships forged in adversity that are so strong that, even in long absence, their faces refuse to fade in my memory. It was then that Jackson Browne's Running On Empty began playing on a constant loop inside my head and I knew I was going to finish this thing. The irony is that, at that moment, I didn't want it to end. The pain had become a badge of honor; the effort, not mine but a manifestation of the expectations of men I've sweated and toiled and fought alongside in the past. As I crossed the finish line at kilometer 72 it was they who were on my mind.
Who: Anyone except for the faint of heart
What: The Wadi Bih Run is the oldest regular expat running event in the U.A.E and Oman. It is 72 Kilometers (about 45 miles) long and takes you through beautiful, knife-edge gorges and across remote mountains with breathtaking views at the halfway point. The views come at a cost. It's pretty much up hill the entire first half which is painfull and then it's downhill for the second half which is evil. You can run it as a relay (team of five) with a support vehicle or you can run the whole thing by yourself, as I did (no support vehicle allowed for solo runners but some had them anyway). My advice to solo runners is to train hard. Do not underestimate this run. When I finished I felt as though I'd been tuned-up by the interrogators at Guantanimo Bay. It's probably not a good choice for a first-time ultra....better to pick something flat. That being said, it was my first and I pulled it off so just do a good self assessment. You can send a bag to the midway point (CP13) and another to the 1/4 point (CP7). The latter you'll hit twice (once going out and once coming back). I recommend filling those bags with plenty of water, extra socks, a windbreaker or light raingear, lots of food and energy stuff, sunscreen, moleskin, spare shoes etc.
When: Every February. Exact date published on their website wadibih.com. Registration is through Premier Marathons.
Where: Dibba, Oman. Solo runners start at 0430 so you really need to be up there the night prior. I camped on the beach just north of the Golden Tulip Hotel. You can camp on the south side but it's complete bedlam as throngs of people arrive and set-up tents. North side is better for good sleep. Stop at a small town on the way and buy some firewood. Campfires on the beach are no issue. The hotel itself is an option as well but it books up early. It's friendly, clean, and has good food. It was probably pretty stylish in it's day and it's day was probably circa 1952. The staff are great though and very supportive. You can use their bathrooms and outdoor showers.
Why: Because there is a mental and physical purity to being in a situation where nothing else matters but putting one foot in front of the other and pushing on through pain and fear and doubt.