- Kerry Sutton
Ultra X Jordan race report ~ Sam Neusinger
My journey to Jordan began in late 2019. It caught my eye and just looked like the most amazing challenge. I love travelling and I love running….so, why not! After much deliberation and their Black Friday deal, I signed up. Kerry has been with me since the beginning, setting out my plan and getting me ready. The race was cancelled in 2020 for obvious reasons, and despite training for the previous 6 months, it was a blessing in disguise; I needed longer to be prepared for 250k over the Wadi Rum desert.
2021 saw me take on (and DNF – that’s another story!) a 100k, and a mini multi day event in preparation. The start line was such long time coming that when we were boarding to go to Amman, I couldn’t quite believe it was happening.
We set off for the desert, and after 3-hour journey boarded jeeps to take us over the sand to camp 1, and a mad dash to grab tent space next to our buddies. It gets dark fast; we didn’t have long to get ready for the morning and have our first taste of our dehydrated food we would eat for the week.
The faff levels were sky high – packing running vests, getting sun cream ready, prepping food, making sure we had all the mandatory kit. Extreme Faff is something I will always remember!
Day one dawned, and at 8am we were off. We were warned not to go too hard on the first day. I started steadily, at a consistent pace and the first few K’s ticked by quickly. I was feeling great! I don’t know if it was the sauna sessions I did as preparation, but the heat didn’t affect me to much at all over the course of the race. It was hot, sure, but I never felt uncomfortable.
After about 20k, we hit the sand. Deep, fine, sandy sand. I think we all assumed this was just a ‘sandy section’ but the reality was this was pretty much how the rest of the course panned out. Slow, soft sand the entire route bar a few very short ‘crispy sand’ sections. It was energy sapping and hard going, but I completed day 1 (42K) feeling strong and in a time I felt really pleased with.
After my post-race snack (beef jerky!) I settled down to think about why it went well. I had paid really close attention to my race admin, and it served me well. I drank 1.5 litres between every CP, my electrolytes were spot on, I fuelled perfectly, my feet were taped well, and I didn’t get sunburned. I decided then and there to stick rigidly to my plan and make sure I didn’t get lazy with it.
Day 2 was 46k, and I started out running with Vicky who I met in Amman (lifelong friends from now on!) and we whiled away the first 25k or so together at a steady pace. Vicky struggled with the toilet situation at camp (there were bags and buckets and bins involved, that’s all I’ll say) and nipped off to find a rock. I carried on to the next CP. My left leg started burning. I knew I had put more factor 50 on so I couldn’t understand it. I ended up completing the rest of the day on my own; again in good time and feeling strong – albeit with a bit of heat rash on the leg.
Vicky came in an hour or so later, and my pal Adrian even later. I found they had both struggled massively after we got separated. We decided to stick as a trio for day 3, the long day. We just wanted to make sure we got through, however long it took.
Day 3 dawned, and the usual start line brief included the news that today was to be 72k, not the 68k we had signed up for. What a lovely surprise!!
We were off at 4 am, in the dark. The scenery in the desert is just amazing. Colours from orange to purple to red, it’s really like being on mars. The stars this morning were stunning, it was great to see it from a different perspective.
I had started the day with the remnants of the heat rash and a small blister which the medics taped for me. I wasn’t worried, but by CP 2, the rash had spread. My legs -the left one in particular – were really hot. The medics showed concern and drew around the rash so they could monitor it.
CP3, 40k and my rash had spread further. I still felt fine and wanted to just keep going. I was really taking each CP at a time – just 10k, then another 10k, getting it done. The volunteers were amazing; cheering us on and bringing us sweets to keep sprits up. As we approached the final CP, we knew we should have 10k to go. One of the volunteers came down to greet us, with the news that it was 14k.
We thought we were nearly there and now we have darkness looming, another 500m of elevation, 4k further than we thought and we were against the clock to make the cut off. My rash had spread again. But, feeling spurred on and determined, we set off from CP6 at a fast run.
We had a long, slow climb to the finish line. We passed some of the squaddies from our tent who were like the walking dead. It went on, and on and on. I thought to myself – this is why you are here. To get through the painful miles. I thought back to the 100K and it helped me through – it WILL end. My legs were on fire by this point. I knew something was wrong, I could feel it.
Finally, we got into camp with 10 mins to spare, having been out over 17 hours. I sat down with the medics who unwrapped my legs. They were way worse than I thought. There was an angry raised rash, and some huge blisters forming. I was watching them come up in front of my eyes.
The medic said ‘are you hoping to run tomorrow?’ of course I was!! No way was I going to let it beat me. It was clear he was worried, he slept next to me in case I deteriorated in the night.
Camp was amazing (not that I could see much) on a huge rock. Start was at 7am, so at 5am or so people were up and about. I knew I was in a worse state, I could barely move. When I got my head torch on and saw the state of my legs, I was shocked. They were massive, and covered in huge, satsuma sized blisters from knee to toe. The medic said to me that my adventure was over. I was gutted. How can it have gone so well, to be cut short by something completely random? There was no way I could have prepared for this.
They bandaged my legs up as best they could, to try and keep the sand out. With thick bandages on, the huge blisters were like mounds underneath. It was still getting worse, and the doctor told me I needed to get home ASAP and get to a UK hospital for treatment. So, I wrote a note to Adrian and Vicky, wishing them luck, and started my journey from Wadi Rum back to Amman. I managed to get a flight out the next morning, after a night of worrying and seeing a Dr at the airport.
Well, I got more room on the flight! I looked quite a sight; I couldn’t wash as I had my legs bandaged up and couldn’t walk well at all. The flight did my legs no good. My hero hubby picked me up (bringing me a lunch of chocolate and a can of G&T!) and we went straight to A&E.
Always a bit of a worry when the consultant is using google to try and diagnose what’s going on. They said it was the most interesting thing they had seen in a while which I guess is a claim to fame, or something. They set about cutting off the blisters and draining them (YUK) and dressing my legs again. They eventually put it down to an allergic reaction to something, or maybe a bite. We still don’t know, which is frustrating, as I don’t know if it will ever happen again.
Two weeks on, and they were pretty much fully recovered. The disappointment is still there, and I didn’t get that finish line sense of achievement. The fact it was totally out of my hands made it easier to bear. Despite not completing the race, I learned so much. I know without doubt that had this freak incident not happened, I would have completed the last two days. I have confidence in my training for the next race, and I know that I can manage my hydration and fuelling effectively. There were so many people who struggled with that in the heat, so I am really pleased to have got that right. It just goes to show though, sometimes no matter what you do, something will happen that is outside of your control. Even if that means I didn’t achieve what I set out to, it makes for a great story at parties!