Top 5 learnings from my first multi-day race – Ultra X Jordan

A few weeks ago I took part in Ultra X Jordan 220 race. I wanted to share a few thoughts on the race. A more nutrition focused article will come shortly, but in the meantime here are my top 5 learnings and tips from my first multi-day event.

Location: Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan

Distance: 220km over 5 days (ranging from 35-60km per day)

Daytime temperature: 25-35°C

Equipment: 18kg race holdall to contain all food, sleeping equipment, toiletries, clothes etc.

Food: Only cold and hot water was provided. All food to be organised by the runner.

Sleeping: Basic shared tents.

Photos by Benedict Tufnell

Here we go:

1. Preparation is key.

As not the most organised of people, I had heard the key to a limited baggage allowance was to be organised, separate into daily bags to ensure you have what you need but is sufficient and you do not overpack. My food was separated into clearly labelled daily bags. A dry bag for evening wear. Separate bag for dirty clothes. Each day post stage, the first job would always be to pack my race vest ready for the next day. Organise tent space (aka the size of my roll mat and bag) ready for the night and for breakfast the next morning. All these little steps helped minimise the stress of forgetting something or rushing around early in the morning.

2. Nutrition really is so important.

I am not just writing this as a dietitian, I genuinely think it was the key to my success crossing that finish line. Luckily, I found I didn’t lose my appetite; however, I was one of the lucky few. Perhaps that was due to my planning and wide range of food, or maybe I am just good at eating and running?

My strategy of one freeze dried meal a day, porridge pots for breakfast and snacks post-race kept up the variety. A lot of people just had freeze dried food, up to 3 per day and little else. Given our weight limit was quite generous, taking more real food seemed an obvious option for me. Having tried all my meals before this did help as it actually gave me something to look forward to. The only mistake was the porcini risotto, part of the issue may have been my cooking skills. But 900kcal worth of stodgy risotto was hard to stomach, even with my bonus Parmesan to sprinkle over. Also incorporating little treats whilst running and in the evening really perked me up! Mini cheddars and minstrels were the top picks.

3. Eye mask and ear plugs are essential.

Sleeping on a desert floor in a shared tent is not ideal, I’ve certainly had comfier nights. Trying to get to sleep at 8pm so you can get as many hours in before the hideously early starts was not easy. Interrupted and uncomfortable sleep just led to more exhaustion. To give you some idea, my earliest alarm was 3am and latest 5am.

I’ve never had much success with ear plugs before but lucked out this time purely due to them being the only ones I could find in airport. I chose the women’s only tent purely because I thought it may be a quieter sleeping environment, but ear plugs to make it as quiet as possible was still needed and helpful. An eye mask is key if you are trying to get to sleep before your tent mates, if you are super tight for space then a buff is a good alternative.

4. Ease into the week.

The organisers warned us to start slow, but a runnable first section meant everyone went off so fast. Deliberately slowing myself down and walking intermittently on the first couple of days definitely saved my legs for the latter parts of the races. These were some of the best times, chatting away to other runners passing a few hours in the desert. Just trust me that it is worth clocking a few minutes extra in the first couple of days so that your legs are not totally wasted by the final day.

5. Practice in the race environment where possible.

Why did I not train more on sand?! A question I asked myself about 20 times a day. I thought it couldn’t have been too different from uneven, soggy trails – sadly not. Energy sapping soft sand quickly became my nemesis. Whilst Somerset is not blessed with deserts, there is a sandy coastline, so I should have tried to incorporate this into my training.

Whilst I didn’t actually struggle too much with the heat, some more training at higher temperatures would certainly have helped at times. I did try using a sauna after running, running at the hottest time of day (albeit limited in the cooler summer we had). Whilst this is not always possible to replicate, try where you can.

Whilst these may not be anything too controversial or perhaps something you haven’t heard before. It really is worth getting the basics and controllables as well controlled as possible to make it as enjoyable and memorable.

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