The Path To Mont Blanc Via 114km of Turkish Wilderness
What a journey. What an unbelievable experience. What a magical feeling crossing that finish line in middle of the night. I have taken another step towards Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc 2018, yet this was a pretty special one. Cappadocia Ultra-Trail will go down as my first 100+ kilometre race. To be precise, I ran 114 kilometres through central Turkey with a total altitude gain of 3340 meters.
Every kilometre of training, every minute, every hour, I spent running on the road and in the mountains paid off. Countless early mornings, or late evenings, spent in solitude collecting metre after metre. My race plan worked out perfectly. Especially, the nutritional plan during the race which provided me with the fuel I needed. Approximately every ten kilometres I would pass by an aid station to drink electrolytes and eat a couple of salty crackers and bread. At two or three stops, I also added a banana to my “snack list”. In between stations, I drank around one litre of water, which brought up my race total to around 11 litres, and I ate six Cliff Bars. My coach and I had managed to find the perfect nutritional regime. Aside from the expected tiredness towards the end, at no time did a sense of hunger or lack of energy overcome me, and dehydration never came.
At 7:00am the race began. I had woken two hours prior to run through my usual pre-race routine. With the experiences from previous races in mind, and knowing that I would have a long day ahead of me, I set off at slow pace. My legs started to warm up and I moved into a mental and physical state of flow. Step by step I increased my pace, overtook fellow runners and ascended the ranks.
The first 60 kilometres of the race led me through a unique and beautiful landscape. I had never seen something like this before, and find it hard to describe, so best I let the images throughout speak for themselves. It felt like I was running on Mars, Pluto, or some sort of other unearthly planet, rich with stunning panoramic vistas. The racecourse led us through canyons and tunnels, over dusty and sandy paths. I ran through old towns, past ancient buildings and historic mosques. Locals cheered us on and excitable children sprinted by my side for a few meters. In general the warmth of the Turkish people overwhelmed me, and it was their helpfulness and support at the aid stations that allowed me to compete. It felt much like a Formula 1 pit stop, where you just pull in and within seconds you had what you needed and were ready to continue. The volunteers would fill up your bottles and even prepare you a plate of food if wanted.
After around 7:30 hours and 60 kilometres of running I reached Ürgüp, which marked the halfway point. There was a Drop Bag point. I had packed some spare clothing, additional Cliff Bars, and a battery pack! GPS watches only last for around 14 hours, which I was aware of so assumed I had to accept the inevitability that I would run out of battery. It was only when I met Martin, another runner, who had advised me to get a battery pack, which I could utilise to recharge the watch whilst running. By the way, Martin was a great dude and came 4th in the end. I met him before the race and it turned out that we share a very similar approach to life. This was identical with Flo, another runner I met and who actually stayed in my hotel. He also ran the 114k kilometres and finished 2nd on Saturday. Flo and Martin were two experienced and very successful runners. Flo’s biggest achievement was a 2nd place at the Swiss Irontrail in Davos, whilst Martin, originally coming from road racing, runs a marathon in under 2:30 hours and only turned to ultra-trails two years ago. He actually placed 6th in the 100 Miles of Istria event, which I was supposed to participate in at the beginning of the year, but then had to cancel.
Anyways, back to Cappadocia. I decided to leave my long-sleeved base layer, as well as a light fleece behind, as I expected to finish the around 22:00. At this point, not knowing that the last two downhill sections were barely runnable and would cost me a lot of time. It was getting dark by around 18:30, so I had to turn on my head torch. Whilst I would run a lot by myself throughout the trail, the darkness made this solitude even more magical. I listened to the final prayer of the day that came from the mosque behind me, before I set out to ascend the final four peaks of the race. The first one I mastered well. Though this part of the trail felt like a taster of what Marathon Des Sables is going to look like, as I found myself running through ankle-deep sand.
After I emptied the sand from my shoes, I approached the final inclines. Normally, I am pretty good on both, uphill and downhill, but this time the downhill passages turned out to be my undoing. The terrain was very loose, with rocks, gravel, bushes and woods to content with. I saw the minutes counting up, but at this point of the race I was unwilling to risk an injury and not finishing the trail. Thus, I found myself mainly walking for the final kilometres of the race. It was getting colder, and becoming apparent that I shouldn’t have left my warm clothes behind.
Eventually I overcame the final ascension and reached the final aid station. I replaced electrolytes with Coca-Cola and took on the last kilometres of the Cappadocia Ultra-Trail. This section was dragging on and it felt like it took ages, which was probably natural due to the length of the course, the night and my increasing tiredness. After 17:32:10 hours I crossed the finish line. Unfortunately, I did not arrive before 24:00, which was a bit of a shame. Of course I was tired, but mainly due to the nature of the last 30 kilometres, I was unable to achieve my goal of a 15hr run. However, the disappointment, if I can even call it that, did not last long upon discovering that I came 14th in my category, which I did not foresee at all.
Almost four weeks later I now am sitting in Berlin. I have just watched the video recap of the event, which recalled all those wonderful moments form my time in Turkey that I will cherish forever. I am proud of what I have achieved, yet I know that this effort would have not been possible without the help of a number of people. I regard this as a team effort, with myself only being the executing figure on the trail, so this is a reward for all of those who helped along the way, especially Prof Dr Klaus Baum, who is not only my coach and mentor, but also a great friend, training, preparing and guiding me towards Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc 2018.
Last but not least, a thank you to the brilliant organization by the team behind the race. From registration, pre-race communication and race pack collection, airport transfers, and of course, the seamless execution of the race itself, it was simply outstanding and definitely helped make this entire event more memorable. Lastly, I want to mention the wonderful hotel I stayed in during my time in Ürgüp, Turkey. The place was called Sota and is run by Nil and her incredible team. All of the staff were charming, helpful and hard working and did everything they could to offer the best experience possible. The hotel is wonderfully decorated with handpicked and handmade pieces of art adding additional charm to the place. There are number of areas to lay down, relax, enjoy magnificent views across the World Heritage Site and let your mind wander. Each room tells its own story and is uniquely designed. It is mystic and wonderful at the same time to spend your night within a cave.