So many impressions in such a short time.
The number of impressions and emotions exceed the four days we have had. More than your regular four days anyway. Just a few days after our journey and I struggle to place the emotions and moments in my mind with the right days. I even struggle to remember where we were sleeping the first night. So much has happened. Even though we were only running.
The end of a journey
Lying down on my flight back to The Netherlands with my legs up on the two empty seats next to me, hoping the swelling in my ankles comes down. This was supposed to be the end of my journey. A journey that started one and a half years ago when I broke my ankle on that slide in Berlin. After completing the 177 kilometer Coast to Coast journey from Dubai to Oman I should be happy now. Instead I am not in the cheerful mood I thought I would be in, the mood to celebrate and feeling proud of what I achieved. Instead I am worried my journey is not over yet.
I have done it. I have achieved more than I ever thought possible, but I don’t know exactly how I feel. Tired, mostly from the lack of sleep (and coming down with a cold). My muscles feel good, better than I had expected. My ankles hurt and my feet are terribly swollen.
It just isn’t over yet.
The pain I can deal with as well as the stiffness, but the familiarity of it puts doubt in my mind. Even just the smallest bit of doubt. The feeling is just too familiar. It reminds me of the feeling I had after each of my three surgeries, and the same feeling, even mildly, I felt constantly over the past year and a half.
It worries me. It prevents me from feeling happy and relieved that it is all behind me. Not just these four days of running, but the one and a half years of recovery, of struggling and working hard to get back running. It just isn’t over yet. I guess I need to be a little more patient. The year is ending and so is this chapter of my life.
Just getting started
How do you know if you are able to do something you have never done before?
On our arrival in Dubai is the first time we meet as a team. Some of the girls I had seen before, but that time we didn’t know we would do this adventure together. So the conversations were different and more generic. Now we know that we are all about to run together for the next four days. For some a distance they have done before, but for most the biggest challenges of their (running) lives. As it is for me. We will run as a team and stick together but in the end we each have to cover the full distance on our own two feet.
There are so many ‘fitgirls’ on Instagram. Some of them actually fit, some of them trying to look fit for the photo. The day we went out with the boat and I saw all the girls in their bikinis I realised these are actual fitgirls. It is not only their physique, but mostly the knowledge that every one of these girls has trained and is ready to run one hundred and eighty kilometers through tough terrain. I can’t help but compare myself to them. Physically that is. As far as my training goes I am sure I have done all I could. It is hard to look at yourself objectively I guess. For a moment I don’t feel I belong, but when I see the photo’s we took on the boat, well, I guess I didn’t stand out.
Has the training been enough?
Usually the day before a marathon or any other important race I like to relax and do as little as possible, eat a lot and hydrate well. The day before our Coast to Coast adventure however we did a photoshoot. First on the beach and then in the mountains. Which meant we were running on both terrains. On the beach we ran a few kilometers. In the mountains we arrived at the end of the day which made us run up the hills chasing the last rays of sun. I guess we ran quite a bit that day.
Before coming over to Dubai I took a week off of training, taper time as they call it. The rest before a race feels good but also makes me nervous. This photoshoot day actually appeared to be good for my confidence. It allowed me to test my legs and see if I had trained and recovered enough, even though I would not be able to change anything about that now. Fortunately enough my legs feel fresh and good. Anyway, in four days I will know for certain if I have done enough.
These first few days allowed us to get to know each other. We are having fun and the atmosphere is very relaxed. We almost forget we have come to Dubai to run. But the closer we get to The Day, the more I start to think about it. The night before our start I don’t sleep as well as I had hoped. Thoughts on my mind keep me awake; “How will we get on? Will I be able to keep up? What problems will we encounter along the way?”
It is all untouched terrain… Literally and figuratively speaking. The route that we are about to run has never been run before. Xavi, the organiser, has researched the route but mostly online and by car, not all of it on foot. That last fact appeared to be pretty crucial during our journey.
Day 1 - We are off!
And we are off! 3PM in the afternoon and we have started our journey. It seems so surreal. We are running but my mind just can’t seem to comprehend the overal journey. Maybe better so. I will take it day by day.
As we have never run together, and levels of team members vary, we are slightly struggling to find the pace that we are all comfortable with. Some want to speed up and some prefer to go slower. I am fine with the pace we are going at. Over the course of the day we are finding our pace as a team. This first day is mostly on roads through suburban areas. The sun is shining, and there is a nice breeze. it is warm, but we all agree, it is not too warm.
You can tell we are all excited, chatting away and even singing Christmas carols. Which make this whole thing even more surreal I guess. Hard to tell it is only one week from Christmas, and only a few days from knowing whether we are all able to run 177 kilometers.
The first day took us longer than expected. Our pace was slightly slower, navigating took a bit longer, and our camp appeared to be four kilometers further away, where there was food, a cold shower, and a tent waiting for us.
Day 2 - This is what we came for
After a short night of only a few hours, we start our second day before sunrise. Knowing we have a long day ahead of us, we figured it is best to start early. Also to avoid running during the hottest part of the day. Early mornings it is cooler and nicer to run. The added benefit of starting early is that we get to see some amazing sunrises. The sun coming up behind the mountains in the distance is bright red. We are all in awe. This is what we came for. Or at least it is part of it.
This second day is the shortest in distance but not in time. We are running through soft sand most of the day, which slows us down quite a bit. The huge sandy surface makes navigating that much harder. The views are amazing though. It is just us and sand dunes as far as the eyes can see. An endless stretch of sand. Instead of feeling demoralised because we still have such a long way to go, I am loving it.
This large open space makes me feel small and insignificant, in a good way. It places things in perspective. That is why I love the outdoors. The sand dunes are also great fun. Tough going up, but so much fun on the way down. Dunes that at first seem too steep, you can actually run down from as the landing in the sand is comfortably soft.
This is what I had expected to see coming to the Middle East. I feel happy I have trained in soft sand at home and now get to experience the benefits of my training. My confidence is growing and for the first time out here I think about the finish with confidence.
Day 3 - crossing mountains
We start off running twenty six kilometers on the road. We are moving fast and I feel confident this is not going to be a long day, but I could not have been any more wrong. We had to cross two mountains. The first part of it was technical but runnable. The second part of it was mostly scrambling and hiking. Not to mention how hard it was to navigate in such a terrain.
After hours and hours trying to find our way in this mountain terrain we hear someone screaming. It might be Xavi who has come to help us, but what if it is not? We follow the sound and discover it is in fact Xavi who is directing us to him. When we finally see him on the top of the mountain still in front of us, we realise this day is far from over and we still have a very long way to go.
When we finally reach Xavi hours later, he mentions he was almost at the point of calling helicopter support. He thought we would have passed these mountains more quickly, but as no one had crossed this path by foot before, Xavi’s timings were based on an estimation. We found out the hard way, that that estimation was far from the truth.
After nine hours we finished the day at our camp. At this point we couldn’t care less there were no facilities nor a place to wash. Wet wipes and finding a spot between the rocks was fine for us. As long as we had food and a place to sleep.
Day 4 - completing the journey
The final day. The day that we cross the Oman border. My legs feel a bit stiff here and there, but I am confident I will finish this day and therefore will complete the journey. But first things first. Getting through the next fifty seven kilometers.
This day we run mostly on the road. Normally I would prefer different terrain but now I am kind of happy with the road so we can make some good time. No one is looking forward to another nine hour day. Although most of the the road is slightly uphill, me and my legs are fine with it and I seem to be able to run all of it. Still we walk some of the uphills as we know we have a long day ahead of us.
Somewhere around thirty kilometers, crossing the Oman border, I start to feel sharp pains in my ankles. Nothing to worry about at first, but the pain is getting worse by the minute until the pain is so bad I can't hold back the tears anymore. I remember I said I expected to get some sort of pain on this journey and I did want a challenge; safe to say I got what I asked for.
Although the last hour was excruciating, like someone was stabbing me continuously with a knife, I never once thought about giving up. I guess that is what it was about for me. Discovering my mental strength. Good to know I have got it in me to push through when things get tough.
I could not have been more relieved and happy to see the coast of Oman. It came sooner than we expected. In contrast with the other days, this day’s route was actually shorter than predicted. After exactly fifty kilometres we were taking our shoes off and running into the ocean in Oman. All together as one team. We all made it!
Stronger than ever
I am proud to be able to call myself a four time ultra runner. My ankles might not have been completely up for the task, but they did carry me all the way to Oman, and four days after the journey they are almost back to normal. 2019 I will do at least one more ultra. This time knowing and believing I can. This journey has given me more faith and confidence in myself and my abilities as a runner and as a person. I guess I am stronger now than ever, in every sense of the word.
International Trainer & Content Creator at Rituals Cosmetics van Amstelveen
Club: AV Startbaan