I always mean to write this post during a big race, when the thoughts are most fresh in my mind, but somehow I never get round to it and then on return home, reality kicks in and the routine takes over. So I went back to a voice memo I recorded during the 50k Urban Ultra Race.
Why is (long distance) running such a key part of my life? Why am I doing this? The hours on your feet, top to toe pain, negative self talk, dizzy sun rises and complete exhaustion. Why?
It’s hard to pin point what it comes down to but I’ll give it a try. For me, it’s about being out on nature’s trails because… well, because I love it. Because I can. Because this is what I do. These three words; LOVE, CAN & DO kinda sum it up for me. It’s about putting momentum towards the stuff I love, which works for running but also other passions in life. It’s important to walk your talk, even if it’s a long walk. It’s also about sharing the field with like-minded, driven and ambitious people. We’re all here, from all walks of life, for the experience. Being out there, running together and embracing your surrounds is all that counts.
Earlier this year, I ran the Salomon Wadi Bih 72k solo and below is the brief race recap…
It’s 4.30am as the start gun goes off and we’re pounding through the sleepy town of Dibba. Once we pass the empty dam on the edge of the village, the race continues in a pitch black wadi (dry riverbed) filled with nothing but the meditative spotlights of fellow runners’ headlamps. After years of being on the other side of the lens and shooting the this Desert Relay, I thought it was time to sign up to run solo and give it my best bash.
Needless to say, it was tough. We basically ran through the wadi for 30 or so kilometres followed by a 1,000m mountain climb towards the turnaround point at 36km. The route returns back down the same way to finish at the Golden Tulip Hotel on the beach. The first part was amazing, running at night amongst these big rock faces and witnessing a new dawn. I even quite enjoyed the big mountain climb as a good, strong hike proved a welcome relief from trail running. I checked off the first half of the race in a little under four hours which I was pretty pleased with and I passed the 50km marker in reasonable shape, but the remainder, I recall, went downhill (no pun intended).
My nutrition was ok but my legs were screaming and the hallucinations, that all us runners can associate with, began with me seeing no other than Elvis stepping out of a 4×4 and strutting his stuff. These crazy thoughts at least brought me some much needed distraction. It’s fascinating during a long race, to observe how the brain behaves, the mad mind games it plays. And then there’s the constant inner voice telling you to stop, to give up, to reserve your body and mind for the hectic work and home life that lies beyond the race. It’s insane.
Of course, all “good” things come to an end… as does the finish arch eventually appear in the far distance followed by great applause and a well-deserved medal. Bingo. “What next?” I immediately ask myself. We’re a strange bunch, that you cannot argue!
The following day I shot the relay race, working on capturing some beauty shots for sponsor, Salomon. Surprisingly, I had a pretty swift recovery from my own race. My legs were sore yes, but my joints had held up pretty well, which is always my biggest concern. Knowing the course and the experience that fellow athletes are going through certainly helps to create strong imagery. Knowing where to shoot, where the landscape is best, is often the hard part but luckily I’d seen it all the day before.
My thanks to John Young and the entire Wadi Bih team for putting on an amazing race. Anyone considering an epic mountain running experience, stay tuned to their webpage. Next year’s race marks their 25 year anniversary so it will no doubt be a special one.
What do you pack for a week of solitude in the desert?
I’m referring to my recent Project Pause. For those not in the know, Project Pause refers to a week I spent in the Empty Quarter this last March. I lived for seven days, off the grid (no wifi, no email, no phone, no social media) and fully self-sufficient in the second biggest desert in the world. The idea evolved around wishing to spend some quality time in nature away from the digital rat race we live in. I felt curious to discover what the experience would give me. With the support of a few great brands I’ve now got an awesome short film (30min) to hopefully shift a few minds. Check out the 90 second trailer at the bottom of this post.
Back to the packing question. For me, it didn’t seem like a big task to prep and pack for such a long gig but I’ve had so many questions so here’s the lowdown. Do note this post title features the word ‘essential’. Could I have done with less? Absolutely. But I wasn’t on a Bear Grylls survival expedition. If you read my previous posts here and here, you’ll see there was more to my adventure.
Below edit has the full walk thru video I took in camp the day I left. Just to talk thru all the gear and toys I brought along. It’s a basic edit but feeds the gear freaks out there…
Think duct tape, cable ties, knives, my Petzl head torch, a Black Diamond LED lamp, bike repair kit, small rope, mini first aid, snow shovel and my Suunto Ambition 3 GPS, as with all my solo desert running, I knew navigation would be a big thing for me. I ventured deep into the desert yet kept a pretty good sense of where I’d come from and where I was headed. My Suunto, which had the campsite location safely stored, provided the navigational back up I needed and gave me the confidence to explore more and go deeper into the dunes. I’m a bit of a coffee addict too so never go far without my Handpresso. There’s no need to forgo real Latte’s when on a desert adventure!
I was truly amazed how well my Yeti Coolbox functioned in the heat of the desert. I still had ice on day five and coolish drinks on day eight when I drove out. The secret is to pack it smartly, with all the last-to-use items at the bottom and to minimise the time the lid is open.
With the sand storms throwing my plans around a bit, I didn’t get my Fatboy hammock out till the morning of day four. But once I did, it was amazing. Imagine a tropical white beach with two palm trees holding up a comfy hammock. Lying in it, I had that totally chilled feeling of not having to do anything other than absorb the moment and relax. Bliss!
We simply can’t survive without water. I took 80 liters of drinking water with me, intended to last seven days plus extra emergency days. I also took a full jerry can of tap water for cooking, washing the dishes and mini showers. I had to be pretty sparing by the end so in hindsight I would have brought a second jerry can.
I took the luxury of taking two tents, the first being my big-ass base camp tent (Marmot Capstone 6), which I used as HQ tent and the second (Marmot Limelite 2) which served solely as a sleeping tent. I kept this one closed to keep out creepy crawlies and on warmer nights, I removed the fly and just slept beneath the mesh.
TECH GARMENTS + FUEL
Marmot is, hands down, my brand of choice when it comes to time out in the wilderness. Their technical gear kept me nice and dry even when highly active and their down vest, which I love, kept me warm and comfy during the cooler evenings. Nobody performs without fuel and I stocked up heavily on GU hydration tablets, gels and recovery shakes. For longer runs, in particular, I use gels to keep up my energy levels. I wore Salomon trail running shoes, same as I wear for all my races. They’ve never let me down.
A buddy of mine worked for Primus and every year when he came to stay at our place, he brought a new fancy piece of Primus kit. We’ve now got a pretty nice selection! For Project Pause, I cooked on their Easy Fuel and went through four gas cylinders. My tea was kept nice and warm in Stanley thermos flasks.
SHADE AND SEAT
My plan was to set up camp with a big canopy to seek shade during the day and create a sense of cosiness in the evening. Stupidly, I tried setting up the OZtrail Festival 15 in the sandstorm. Bad idea! Even if I’d managed to assemble it, it would have taken off like a parachute so it wasn’t until day four that it came into good use. The size and ease of putting it up is great but I’d love a few big sand pegs to make it more wind robust. Add to this a comfy OZtrail camping chair and all would be great!
I knew I wasn’t going to be caught out on super cold nights (which we have experienced before in Dec/Jan) so a lightweight down sleeping bag would suffice. I love the Marmot Helium, which makes for the perfect light duvet on warmer nights and when fully zipped up, keeps you snug during the colder, early morning hours.
Many asked what I ate during Project Pause. I took two crates of food. I love healthy, nutritious and fresh foods but for a week like this in the desert, you do need to be smart about what you bring. I took only hard fruit that would last well outside the coolbox… apples, pineapples, oranges and banana’s mainly. I also brought fresh veggies with short cooking times (to save gas) such as broccoli and other veg that doesn’t require cooking at all like avocado’s, cucumbers, carrots and peppers. I do think it’s important on trips like this, to keep your fresh produce intake as high as possible. Keeps you healthy and energised.
I had a crate full of dry foods like pasta, rice, crackers, dried fruits, mixed nuts, tinned fish, breakfast cereal and jam… foods I could survive on for weeks if I had to without having to worry about storage temperatures or expiry dates. Rather than bringing lots of herbs, I cooked with ingredients that are full of flavour like canned fish, cured meats, salami and pre-flavoured couscous. I also took some quick and tasty expedition meals.
Beyond a good tent and a warm sleeping bag, one item often neglected is a good sleeping mat. I’ve been sleeping on Thermarest mats for decades. Admittedly, they’re a bit of an investment but they last well and have great padding. A good night sleep leads to a great day in the outdoors!
SURLY MOONLANDER FATBIKE
My first experience on a Surly Fatbike surpassed all expectations. It seemed a little like ski mountaineering in the Alps when you spend hours getting to the top, which is an awesome workout alone, then experience the real joy of skiing down on virgin snow. Fatbiking in The Empty Quarter was no different… firstly, the challenge of cycling to the top of a huge sand dune and then the actual blasting down the dune. Hours of fun, exercise and exhilaration!
A first aid kit is one of those things you hope not to need and thankfully mine stayed untouched. My first aid kit is pretty well stocked with even an expedition first aid manual to answer any questions. Bear in mind that SIRI doesn’t work in the wilderness so you can’t google it even if not on a digital detox. I did have with me a Thuraya satellite phone (my thanks to Xtra link for their support) and I had Dr. Mike, a specialist desert doctor on standby, just in case…
I never go far without a camera by my side. For Project Pause, I took my Canon 1D X with a few lenses; 15mm, 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200. For the (self) filming I used the same Canon 1D X, their new Canon Legia Mini X and GoPro’s Hero 3+ and Hero 4. To keep life simple, I used the biggest SanDisk Extreme Pro cards (128GB and 64GB) so I didn’t have to spend too much time downloading. These cards are super reliable for storing files as well.
ADVENTURE PHOTO PACK
Nice and snug on my back, I had the fstop Satori EXP in blue with ICU’s to store camera kit. When hitting the world’s biggest dunes, you need a pack that sits comfortably and gives easy access to plenty of gear. I used the fstop mountain series with ICU’s to store my camera kit. What I love about the fstop packs is the gear access from the back pouch so you don’t have to place the sweaty backrest onto the sand to get anything out.
17. SOLAR CHARGING BATTERY PACK
I could simply not have done without the Goal Zero Yeti 500 and the boulder Solar Panels. I didn’t have much to recharge (camera batteries, sat phone, go pro’s, music) but the fact that I could be fully self sufficient and have my own power supply was awesome.
So here you have it. If inspired to stock up on some kit yourself, visit Adventure HQ, for pretty much all the stuff you need.
Now check out the trailer and see where adventures can take you…
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions for a project pause of your own. Get out there!
Heading into the Hajar Mountains from the coastal town of Dibba never fails to bring back fond memories. I’ve been heading out to this area for over twelve years and it never fails to impress. Past trips have included endless camping adventures on the higher ridges, my introduction to trad climbing, a top three finish in the inaugural Jebel Qiwhi run, landing the winners trophy at the Arabian Quest, lot’s of long mountains runs, wadi floods (not recommended!) and last but not least, the witnessing of a super special wedding proposal by my best mate silhouetted against the moon. So when the phone rings and I’m asked if keen to cover the annual Wadi Bih run, my answer is always a resounding yes!
Those who follow my blog will have read about the race before. It’s a 72k run through a dry river bed, up the mountain and back, completed solo or as a relay team of five. In previous years, Nike were key sponsors of the race and my brief was guideline heavy. This year, the brief was very open. I was simply to create a bank of images that connect with the race. For me, this meant roaming around the wadi and just shooting where the light was at it’s best. I really couldn’t have asked for it better! The race actually takes place in (more…)