Discovering limits on the Wadi Rum Ultra – Lucy’s story

Guest post by Lucy Sacarello, chartered physiotherapist specialising in sports injuries

I’ve always been into sport from team sports throughout school and university and now, more recently, keeping fit through cycling and running. I’ve only ever done two half-marathon events and completed my first ever marathon in 2017. At the finish line I vowed to never do another. However, last year I found myself running 260km in a multi-stage desert ultramarathon event in Jordan.

Stepping outside the comfort zone

I was lucky enough to be the physio at the Wadi Rum ultramarathon event in October 2017. It opened my eyes to so much more than what I ever imagined. I met some incredibly normal people with an obvious passion for running but also the hunger to challenge themselves, discover their limits and step out of their comfort zones within a beautiful and undiscovered part of the world.

Spending one week in what can only be described as a ‘surreal bubble’ made me wonder why I couldn’t do it if I simply dedicated some time to it. Part of me also considered the idea that maybe I couldn’t do it. However, despite my fears it seemed to me an incredible challenge to sign up for, train for and an amazing, let alone different, place to spend a week of annual leave.

I actually enjoyed all of my training more so than that of my marathon buildup. On reflection I believe this was because with this event you aren’t necessarily driven by times but instead it’s about getting out regularly and putting one foot in front of the other. I created my own plan tailored to my strengths and weaknesses and I kept it simple to ensure I made it to the start line.

Developing a plan

From the day I signed up I only had 3 months to train. Granted that is a very short space of time but fortunately I could rely on a good baseline fitness. What I was most concerned about however was avoiding injury. I’ve heard it from my patients and I too have said it “I’m someone who gets injured, especially with increasing my running distance and frequency”. With this in mind I knew my end-goal was not only to be fit enough for the run itself but more importantly to factor in recovery, strength training, and enjoyable cross training as equal importance to the running itself.

My longest run within training was only 32km and this didn’t even match the shortest day I was going to face in the desert. Instead I chose to focus on back-to-back training with my biggest training week of 100km comprising of 6 days running on the trot with an average run distance of 10miles. This I think helped me a lot as it taught me to push through the initial feeling of tired legs that were going to be inevitable in the desert. This training definitely benefitted me not only physically but also psychologically.

The running training however was only a minor piece to the puzzle. Alongside these hours, I spent my taper period doing heat training in preparation for the 35-degree sunshine and a lot of organisation was necessary to coordinate nutrition and hydration. We had to be completely self-sufficient for the week bringing dehydrated meals for camp and plenty of appropriate snacks to fuel us each day.

A break from reality

What was so refreshing about the week was that it was a break from reality –from social media, from busy London, from work and social events. For the next week all I had to focus on was following a running route laid out for me and recovering as best as possible to make each day more manageable.

My main aim coming into the event was to enjoy it; ride the highs and try to laugh through the lows. I wanted to enjoy the challenge of pushing myself further than I had ever done so previously both physically and mentally, but also enjoy being in such an incredible environment with likeminded people. I was fortunate to run the whole thing with a close friend of mine (whom I met the year before when working out there) and other runners would say they could always hear us coming because of the sounds of our giggles. There were obviously the more challenging moments that definitely tested my philosophy of ‘laugh or cry’ and we were so lucky that each time we spent them creased over in fits of laughter. It was exactly how I wanted it.

Let ‘future self’ deal with the rest of it

During the 5-day event itself, each day was the furthest I had ever run. That was a mental obstacle at the start of each day but a massive triumph and hugely overwhelming when we reached the finish line. My mental approach to the whole thing was very much to deal with each 10km as it came and let ‘future self’ deal with the rest of it. Although I got a lot of stick for it, this motto worked perfectly for me and I carried it through each day and all the way to the final finish line.

As soon as I had finished I was set on doing another and this was a completely different mindset to how I finished the Paris marathon. I can honestly say I enjoyed the training, the 260km running through sand dunes and the whole atmosphere surrounding the event. Despite the preparation and organisation that went into it to ensure things went to plan during the week, it made the whole thing that much more enjoyable and rewarding.

Although the event is considered a ‘race’, it’s inspiring how everyone looks out for one another and it really is just incredible to be part of such a supportive community of people. I’m already excited for the next adventure, meeting more likeminded people and seeing a different part of the world through running