“You’re not afraid, you’re not afraid. Do not be afraid. You will not be afraid.”
I supposed I should have realized when I signed up for an ultramarathon in the mountains it might come into conflict with my fear of heights at some point. However, hours into the race with shaky legs and a fuzzy head, I was caught off guard by the spots where the trail seemed to fade into nothingness at the bottom of each dip. I had long ago slowed from anything more than a brisk jog, and every spurt to keep my momentum going across the spots where the gravel churned away under my feet felt like it was too much to handle.
It’s been weeks since I crossed the finish line in Urgup, rounding out 11 hours and 45 minutes of suffering to claim my medal at the Cappadocia Ultramarathon. Well, it wasn’t really all suffering. But a fair amount of it was. It’s hard to believe it even happened.
I really wouldn’t recommend setting off on a 60km race when you haven’t been training properly. I knew the choice I was making every morning I slept through my alarm or the weekends I blew off a long run because I just wanted to chill. I paid for it. I don’t know if it was the allure of spending a whole day wandering through such incredible scenery or the peer-pressure of my friends who were also running, but I went into the weekend excited for what I knew would be a whole day of mostly tortuously pushing past the limits of my preparation. That’s why people do these races though, right? To test their limits?
The morning of the race dawned nice and chilly with a breakfast custom-prepared for me by our hotel owner and then a taxi ride into town with a runner from Singapore doing the 110km course. I set off with my friends for all of about two minutes from the starting line, then they took off ahead of me (having actually trained for this and actually having goals besides “finish and don’t die”).
I only took one picture the whole time I was out there. Partly because as soon as we set off from the Start line there were loads of people whipping out their phones, so I figured I would let them illustrate my day on the road. Also, I wanted to focus on doing what I had come there to do: keep moving forward until I finished the race.
The morning started off nice, though as we ran through canyons and low ground it was SO COLD! I was freezing. Also shortly before we pulled into the first aid station I could feel things starting to move in my digestive system (thankfully they had a bathroom) and then I hopped back on the trail without re-loading my water bladder because WHO NEEDS WATER?!?!?
Okay actually it’s because I was trying to be super smart and do some cool runner thing where I don’t over-hydrate or carry extra water because then that’s just more weighing you down, and who needs that extra weight?
Turns out I did. About 2-3 kilometers short of the second aid station I ran out of water. Until that happened this might have been one of my favorite stretches of the race. We got to climb down this fun rope and then trot through all these little wooded paths, and I actually passed a couple people (GASP! Shock and awe!). This was also where the sand started though. By that I mean the entire trail was just loose sand. Not my favorite thing to run on, which led to a lot of walking. And also my second potty break.
Then, just as we began all these fun little climbs up to the top of the mountain, my water ran out. Which also meant I couldn’t eat any more. By the time I made it up to Uchisar I was only about half an hour ahead of the cutoff and completely demoralized. My knee was starting to hurt and I started to talk myself through all the ways I could rationally excuse dropping out. Then I ran out of the aid station down a very steep hill and really knew I wanted to drop out. I batted the idea back and forth as I inched my way to the aid station at 35km. I tried to think of what I would tell my friends. At least I got the t-shirt. But you can’t get a medal if you don’t finish the race… plus I had found out on Friday night that I would also get a fleece vest. And man, I wanted that vest.
After about 10km I found myself running into the Goreme aid station, now an hour and a half ahead of the cutoff and ready for the fresh pair of socks I had packed. Did I mention the sand? Starting at the second aid station I emptied my shoes at every aid station, and rivers came flooding out. Like actual rivers of sand (this may be slight hyperbole due to my mental state at the time of the events).
While there I chatted with a medic about my knee and also got a blister taped. He sprayed this magic cold spray on my knee (I have no idea what that was) and I headed off in much better spirits! Then right as I came out I ran into my roommate who was doing the 35k and we got to run together for about a kilometer. As soon as I saw her my competitive spirit was reignited and I resolved the only way I would leave the race is if I didn’t make a cutoff at an aid station (or if my knee like actually fell off).
I would say this leg of the race is where stuff really started to get tough. I had been eating alright all day but almost everything I had with me was somewhat sweet, and I wanted salty food so badly! I kept trying to force myself to eat one more bite at a time, but the effort of chewing felt impossible. And did I mention the sand? By this point I was swearing I’d be happy to never see a grain of it again.
Then, right before the fourth aid station, we came to that delightful descent where I almost lost my head. Nausea started to overwhelm my body far more than it had for nutritional reasons. About halfway through I considered going back, because I was petrified at such a deep instinctive level, but I knew it would just mean having to re-trace what I had already gotten through.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been more relieved than I was when I ran into the Cavusin aid station. Except for the fact that I was now only half an hour away from the cutoff time again and I had a 300m climb that I had been dreading for about a month.
I made it out with a handful of crackers but when I got to the trail I was stopped in my tracks. The ascent up the mesa began pretty steeply, so steeply in fact that you kind of had to climb past the turn in the trail and then heft yourself onto the ledge where you wanted to “run” (who are we kidding at this point: I was very proud to not be crawling). My brain and body were so tired by then that I actually couldn’t figure out how to maneuver it for a moment.
But I finally figured it out, and for the first time in the day popped in my headphones to listen to the Chronicles of Narnia. At this point I knew the climb would be incredibly slow, but my one job was to keep my legs moving until I made it to the top. Suddenly (rather, twenty minutes later) it was over! We’ll skip over the part where I almost fell off the ledge and froze because of my fear of heights and had to be saved by a friendly Ukrainian woman in a green mini-skirt who graciously helped me out with her trekking pole.
Because you remember how I said I only took one picture the whole race? This is where I took it. I can’t describe what it felt like to be up there. At this point I was fairly certain I would make it to the end. All the challenges I had dreaded ahead of the race were behind me. I actually started running again a little bit. The sun was starting to get low in the sky, and there (a comfortable distance from the path) the landscape of Cappadocia lay at our feet.
I left the last aid station with only 15 minutes to spare, but I ran the last 11km in an hour and thirty-five minutes, bringing me 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff. The terrain evened out, and it was such a chill way to end the day. Also at this point I had taken so long it was dark, and I actually got to use my headlamp! The perks of being slow.
The run back into town was all downhill, and my form was all gone (as a loved one so sweetly informed me upon viewing the video below) but I had made it. All my friends gathered at the finish and cheered me in. It was such a sweet moment, and having people I love so much there encouraging me and proud of me made it all the sweeter.
I gave it everything I had as I pushed over the finish line, and then joyously collapsed with the words, “It’s over.” I was so happy it was done, but also so happy I did it.
There are a lot of changes ahead of me in life right now, some goodbyes, relocating, fun things like that. As I toyed with the idea of dropping out of the race, I told myself, “If you finish today you will have something to look back on over the next few months, and you will be able to tell yourself that though this was incredibly difficult, far more difficult than you foresaw, you still persevered and finished it. You are stubborn enough and tough enough to accomplish things no one believes you can accomplish, even the things you yourself don’t think you can accomplish.”
So that’s how I did it, and that’s why I did it. And that finisher’s vest is SOOOOOO sweet. Totally worth it.
You can see my results in more detail at: http://utcappadocia.livetrail.net/coureur.php
A huge thanks to everyone who made this race possible! It was well-organized and all the volunteers were amazingly friendly and helpful. These events would never be possible without so many people pitching so the runners can have the best day possible. Also a shout out to my 110k buddies from Ukraine and Malaysia that I kept running into! You were so fun to chat with (and you also saved me from death/panic attack when I almost fell off the mountain).