Oman by UTMB
As promised, the following text is written by Adam Rowe who completed Oman by UTMB, an INSANE trail race of epic proportions. If you're a keen trail runner, adventure racer, or even just an interested traveler, make sure you read his race report. In his report he has outlined some of the training that went into preparing for the race alongside some of the highlights and challenges he experienced while competing.
Who knows, maybe your next trip will be to Oman!
137km Oman by UTMB 2019 - Race Report
137km with 7,800m+ of elevation, across incredibly technical terrain. Any way you look at it Oman by UTMB was always going to be a massive challenge. But this came as no surprise, the race National Geographic Magazine has named the “World’s Toughest Adventure Race” doesn’t get that kind of moniker for no reason. In 2018 the race was run for the first time, with 326 starters. It had a cut off time of 45 hours and only 142 people finished. People who don’t run trail ultras might call it crazy or sadistic, but as soon as I heard about Oman by UTMB I was keen to give it a crack.
I’ve been coached by Corrie Johnstone for about 18 months now and it’s crazy to think in that short time I’ve gone from having never run more than 30kms to smashing out a race like this. At the start of 2019 I sat down with her and mapped out a plan for the year, identifying what the target ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ races were. We marked Oman as the major ‘A’ race, and with it being in late November, it basically gave me a solid 11 months to build up to it. Obviously, the race was going to be tough, but we broke it down and identified the areas I had to focus on to get the optimum result. Those included: the distance, the elevation, the effect of running at 2000m+ altitude for hours on end, the time I would be on my feet (which was likely to be between 30 and 40 hours) and very importantly my nutrition plan.
Over the course of the ensuing 11 months, we increased my training load, distance and elevation. In her coaching Corrie uses the Training Peaks software, which is great, because it gave me an easy way to keep a track of my program and the building cycles.
My longest training session was a back to back 90km weekend (20km Saturday / 70km Sunday) about 2.5 weeks before the race. That was also in my biggest week of about 130km running. Given the race had more than 7500m of elevation, we also needed to ensure I had proper elevation training (which is pretty hard to do given how flat Perth is). For example, we incorporated into my program incline treadmill sessions twice a week, with a weight vest. At 6km/hr with 15% (max gradient) for 2 hours, this resulted in about 1800m of vertical gain over 12km. Weekends were also spent chasing vert, with Shane Johnstone and I often spending 3 or 4 hours (sometimes in the pouring rain) doing hill repeats at Wungong NP, aiming for 2000m+ sessions. We also utilized these sessions to improve my skill with hiking poles. They provided a huge advantage in Oman, especially later in the race when fatigue had kicked in, but more climbs lay ahead.
In regard to nutrition, given how long the race was likely to take, this was going to be a crucial factor. Valetudo’s in-house dietitian, David Bryant, wrote me a quality detailed diet plan which included pre-race carb loading. I’ve also learnt from previous races (like Ultra Trail Australia 100km and Surf Coast Century 100km), it is really easy to slack off on your calorie intake during a race. For me this is most likely to occur in the later parts of a race – I’m talking post 70km – when my stomach doesn’t feel 100% (probably because by that point I’ve already been running for 10+hours) and the mental fatigue kicks in. I’ve found that around that stage, if I postpone or skip taking on calories, it can have a significantly negative affect on my output and conversely if I force myself to take on food, it can pull me out of a hole. In Oman I was pretty strict on this and am happy to say it went according to plan, with no significant nutrition related flat spots.
The race itself and how it played out
Falling under the umbrella of UTMB (probably the world’s most highly regarded trail running event organisers), you could definitely tell the guys organizing this had done it before. Every aspect of it was highly professional, including the event villages with race pack auditing and chill out areas, pre-race online briefing, aide stations and event shuttle buses.
As a whole the race was very technical. Most of the course runs over rocks and has little to no clear path. There were basically no flat sections, you were either ascending or descending the entire race. There were plenty of sketchy cliff top sections. The landscape was truly spectacular, the course took us through wadis (which are essentially canyons that have water running through them and lots of plant life), abandoned village ruins that are many thousand of years old, arid mountain climbs, crazy steep descents, loose shale/gravel (which was basically slid down), and running along the edge of rocky cliffs.
The race started in darkness at 7.30pm. Whilst running through the night posed challenges such as inhibiting peripheral and long-distance vision, watching the sunrise over the mountains was breathtaking. The temperatures ranged from about 26 degrees in the middle of the day on arid plains to about 3 degrees at the top of the mountain peaks at night. Some of the gnarlier points of the course included: 1. A ‘via ferrata’ (cable assisted climb) at about the 80km mark. Which involved gearing up with a helmet and harness to climb a 100m cliff face; 2. A 1,116m vertical climb over a 3km distance at about the 105km mark just outside of a town called Balad Sayt. I was about 21hours into the race at this point, fatigue had well and truly set in. The climb was terrifying. With no ropes or harnesses, there was plenty of opportunities for things to go very bad very quickly.
I finished the race in 27 hours 30 minutes 25 seconds, placing 27th overall and 14th in category.
In summary, Oman by UTMB was a fantastic event that I can’t recommend enough. It was a great adventure, that gave me an opportunity to explore parts of a country I previously never thought I’d travel to. It is a brutal course and not one for the faint hearted. Even with focused training it is very tough and often dangerous, but at the end of the day, you should already know that before signing up. I’m stoked with my result. Personally, it’s been really satisfying to strategically plan an adventure, dedicate a huge amount of time in preparation for it, and then ultimately achieve a result better than I expected.
I owe thanks to so many people, the race organisers, volunteers, my coach, the team at Valetudo and all my friends and family who supported me. Special thanks also goes to my partner Ciara, who not only had to put up with all the training and relentless talk about running in the lead up, but was there to help me hobble away from the finish line, force me to eat pasta and make sure the onset of hypothermia was dealt with quickly.
I’m looking forward to the next one already. I’ll be racing Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115km located off the coast of Portugal in late April and can’t wait.