Monday, February 16, 2009

It's no surprise to me I am my own worst enemy, 'cause every now and then...

Ah, the Wadi Bih Relay Race.

(1 of 3 posts)

Now this was an experience. I rode to Dibba on the Northeastern tip of the UAE/ Oman Peninsula with Graham early, early in the morning. Dibba is a little strange in that, if you look on the map, it's Oman, but surrounded by the UAE. A brief flash of the passport is all it takes, less than that if you look like a local, to cross the border.

Our team met up at the Golden Tulip Hotel on the beach overlooking the Gulf of Oman. A team consists of 5 people, one of which must be either a woman or a man over the age of 50.

The sun was in the process of rising as our team of 3 women and 2 men set out. Me, Kathy (UK by way of Australia), Sara (last name Connor, like in The Terminator, no kidding, also UK) and her husband Tom, (our UK fill-in guy; one of the other members fell ill and was prohibited by her doctor to race), and of course Graham. Four of us started the run out together with Tom in the car going ahead to the first checkpoint to take the first solo leg when we got to him.

The way it worked was this: we were given a list of where the changeover points were in distance. There were little numbered signs at each one. We were to record the runner and the time at each changeover, keeping track on our own stopwatch. The distances varied from 0.9 km to 4.1 km for each leg.

We each took legs in turn, first running in the town of Dibba, from the beach and then turning towards the mountains, past a mosque, a huge dam that helps control the waters when they come (completely dry this day, which worked well for us!) and up. The asphalt was soon little more than a memory.

Our team, and other teams, raced along the sandy, rocky road. We went past tiny settlements made from rocks, lots of goats, few people other than racers. My first leg was within Wadi Bih, in the striking, desolate mountains. Steep cliffs rising to the sky on either side, the dry riverbed and road between. I slapped the hand of my team member running in and set out.

It was dry and cool in the morning, and I tried to find good tracks from the tires to run on, listening for the 4x4s coming up behind me or any runners. It was strangely lonely, and I hadn't quite realised how it would be, to be running, having your team come up in the car, whoop and holler encouragement to you as they drove by...and then leave you. Literally in their dust. One couldn't help but think, What am I doing? That's a perfectly good car that I just got out of...

I ran and ran, hoping to get some distance between me and my team before they went by, and they did, and I kept running. The walls of the Wadi towered above me, rocks all around, trying to get a good feel for the ground, not fighting it, trying to pace myself. This was a long, long race, and I didn't want to burn out during the "easy" part.

The line of cars at the next checkpoint came into view after about 15-20 minutes of running, hand slap and done. Raiding the cooler in the trunk ("boot") and then settling into a seat to drive past the next team member taking his or her turn along the course. We juggled the jobs of photography, timing and documenting, laughing lots, pointing out scenery and goats and interesting rock formations to one another. The camaraderie was fantastic. No one pointed out that I was the slowest of the bunch. We groaned when we drove over nasty bits we knew our team member on foot would have to surmount, we admired how quick and hard our teammates were going.

We cheered other running teams, especially "The Pink Ladies", a team with pink ribbons pinned all over their jerseys and hitting up the other teams for donations toward breast cancer research. There were some serious, serious athletes out there. We called encouragement to solitary runners as we passed them in the car, trying to give enough room on the sometimes narrow route. As the race went on, (and on, and on) the course became more and more rugged. There were 13 checkpoints going out, and then we would follow the same route coming back in. In past years the race had gone from the UAE over the mountains and into Oman, but as security was tightened at the border and the number of teams increased, it became less feasible, so now it was an out-and-back course, so as to avoid the border crossing.

At one point Graham managed to run to the checkpoint before we drove up. I boiled out of the car to take my turn. We'd been searching for a large enough rock far enough away from the course to go to the bathroom behind, you see... I think he was tickled to beat us, though he must have wondered where the heck we were.

My turn came up again at checkpoint 10. A shorter leg, and I was getting worried about doing my share. Each runner was to run 15 km of the 75. This bit was not only short, less than 2 km, it also didn't have too much of an incline. I was really wanting to contribute to my team. I wasn't fast, but I am stubborn, and I could see a major, major mountain up ahead, just past the checkpoint where my teammates were waiting. It looked just like the one in the scary macho pictures on the Wadi Bih website. I wanted it.

I started hollering my wishes to my team as soon as I was within earshot. "Can I have this one?! Can I carry on and do the next leg too?! Is that legal?!"

"Yeah!" someone yelled back and I didn't pause, passed them and started charging over the rocks and up the mountain.

Later Graham wrote the following to me: "It is always great to run with 4 (Wadi Bih) virgins (suckers) as you know that at least one of them will fall into the trap of getting the tough leg. However, I have never had such an obliging sucker before."

(to be continued...)

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