A warm Turkish welcome immediately engulfed me upon arrival at Kayseri airport. I was swept into an awaiting mini bus with a number of other runners as the call to prayer echoed across the city and lightening flashed across the dark sky. I breathed an extended sigh of relief. I’d finally made it and could leave the travel dramas of the past eighteen hours behind. The late-night puncture heading north on the M25 to Stansted Airport, the pre-dawn start and the super tight flight transfer navigating Istanbul visa control, immigration and domestic flight protocol was firmly consigned to the past. I let the babble of foreign languages injected with the odd sporadic English word wash over me through a tired haze as fellow runners excitedly exchanged stories in the seats behind.
At the very last minute I’d shoe horned a weekend mini-break to Central Turkey into an already packed travel schedule bouncing between Chamonix, Barcelona and London. All in aid of taking part in the Salomon Cappadocia Medium Trail (CMT). Not exactly the ideal lead into an ultra though I’m a bonafide sucker for the lure of travel and race combo. Also, I’ll openly admit I’ve got a soft spot for the Cappadocia Ultra race series after winning the full version in 2016 as an Ultra Trail World Tour sponsored athlete and featuring in the TRT sports channel mini-documentary “Taming the Ultra”.
Now in its fourth year the race has doubled in size since its inclusion on the Ultra Trail World Tour Series circuit. It’s a perfect example of the diverse ultra-running global community as over 2,000 athletes travelled from 75 different countries. If you’re on the hunt for UTMB and ITRA points there are 5 points allocated (and Western States qualifier) for the “full monty” 119km race, 3 points for medium 63km and 2 points for 38km.
All three races start and finish in the centre of Urgup in Central Turkey, which sits at 1,200m and adds a cheeky extra dimension into the equation. The Turkish town is famous for its cave hotels carved into the soft surrounding volcanic rock. The traditional main town square hosts the race expo with a meeting of two worlds where tea drinking locals, bazaars packed with exotic spices, tea and dried fruit and dogs roaming the streets meet Lycra clad athletes bartering over the latest Salomon rucksack. The race follows trails that run past natural towers and fairy chimneys, through dense vegetation, wind through narrow gorges and tunnels, topped off with a couple of ladders thrown in for good measure. The entire area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site with distinctive geomorphological formations, stunning natural beauty and a chequered history that spans back to the Bronze age.
Back to my tight twelve-hour turnaround from landing at Kayersi airport at 19:00 to the race start at 07:00 with transfer, hotel check in, registration and last minute OCD race kit check. Squeezing this all in is an epic endurance feat in itself. Any chance of arriving at the start line “Fit and Fresh” in the words of Matt Dixon, the triathlon coach and founder Purple Patch, is beyond hopeless. The sudden hill start immediately gets my blood pumping and my heart rate sky rockets. My natural tendency is to race off super speedy so it’s a constant battle to reign myself in. The ultra-game is inevitably a long one so it’s vital to keep steady and slowly ease into the challenge. After only 8km I was reaching for a Veloforte PRONTO in the vain hope the 10mg matcha caffeine would provide a much-needed boost. It was clearly going to be one of those tough days at the office as my legs cruelly reminded me of Exmoor 50 and Chamonix trail camp antics in the preceding weeks, all in preparation for Oman by UTMB coming up at the end of November.
The “Fit and Fresh” refrain continued to taunt me for a large proportion of the race; though my inner critic imaginatively switched it up to “you’re unfit and f**ked”. Luckily, the twisty single track winding its way around fairy chimneys, past historic cave dwellings and under low hanging branches provided a welcome visual distraction to quieten these incessant murmurings. I gradually work my way through the five check points manned by super helpful volunteers who jump to refill water bottles and offer food.
With about 5km to the finish, I am leading the race and the white plastic tape trail markers are fluttering in the breeze. I am dialled into my breath, pace and rhythm, but then disaster strikes. I have a fleeting mental lapse, and the next minute the markers are gone. This navigational error predictably dumps me at the bottom of a hill which means a full 180 degree turn and a trudge back up the trail re-tracing my footsteps back to the markers. Every minute counts and although I am super chuffed to cross the line in 6:47:43 as second lady, I am only 3:29 behind the winner and lament what could have been. Still, on the bright side, there is no shame to finishing 2nd behind the phenomenal Brazilian athlete, Fernanda Marciel, who’s tackled UTMB seven times and holds a couple of stonking FKTs up (and down) Kili and Aconcagua. Later on in the day, it was great to see more Brits take podium in the full version, the Salamon Cappadocia Ultra Trail with Marcus Scotney (11:31:34) and Harry Jones (12:18:40) finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively #gothebrits
With the hard work done and dusted, it was time for post-race celebrations and I savoured the opportunity to chat all things ultra with Marcus, Jen, Harry and Louise, reminiscing about past races and planning future projects. Later on, I briefly joined the Salomon race organisers for a final goodbye, though tactfully refused offers of ouzo and retreated to bed as the Turkish dancing kicked off in the vain attempt of snatching a couple of hours sleep before my 02:30 transfer for the long trip back to Wiltshire began.
Next up is literally a transitory interlude back in the autumnal British weather before the journey continues, heading to Barcelona for the first global WAA athlete meet up and then onto Chamonix before Oman by UTMB at the end of November. Then a break?
Mind Over Matter
So, I have identified some key lessons from this race to take away and work on. Predictably they appear obvious when written on paper, though in reality, set against work and life they are not quite so easy to apply.
Manage my race lead-in period and take into consideration work/travel/time differences.
Pay attention to the trail markings.
Factor in a rest and recovery period post-race accounting for work/travel/time differences.
All work in progress #onlyhuman