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My 250km Ultra Marathon Through the Wadi Rum Desert

By Victoria Herbert

In October 2021 I took on my biggest adventure yet - Ultra X Jordan. A 5-day 250km foot race, which crosses the beautiful yet unforgiving Wadi Rum desert in the south of Jordan. If you’ve ever seen Star Wars or The Martian, it’s like that! 

It’s a funny story of how this journey began. Having taken part in other races and an ultra-marathon, there had become an (undeserved?) expectation for the extreme. So, when one of our founders, Tris Mayhew, asked, ‘What’s next?’ back in January 2020, I panicked and blurted out, “oh, I’m doing a 5-day desert run in Jordan’….  

I couldn’t really back out, could I?!  

The Training Begins

Training for a multi-stage Ultra was a whole different ball game but was going relatively well during the first lockdown in 2020 then the pandemic postponed the event until October ’21.  

I set some mini challenges, like running 4 miles, every 4 hours, for 48 hours. Then, I ran every day between December and March but when Go Ape re-opened in April ’21 (and we had our busiest summer ever), training took a bit of a nosedive. Most weeks, I’d manage about 3 miles total, then I would have a spare weekend and do two marathons in two days.   

Fortunately, ‘time on feet’ training was a massive help in the desert. We rarely sit down at my forest day job, which prepared me more than some other runners who’d put in serious running miles but spend the rest of their time behind a desk. I didn’t suffer from fatigue as much, for sure!  

Vic herbert running during the Wadi Ultra Marathon

All photos are credited to Benedict Tuffnell unless stated differently.

The Highlights 

The Wadi Rum delivered far beyond my expectations! 

In the day, there were hours where I was running on my own with no other life in sight until the tiny dot of a checkpoint would appear on the vast horizon. It was humbling to feel that small and vulnerable in such a beautiful but savage landscape. The night sky was also phenomenal, I spent many hours awake mesmerized by the Milky Way and the many shooting stars above. And the heat... so much heat.  

Another highlight was the people. There were 103 runners, some seasoned multi-stage racers and others, like me, who were doing this for the first time and had no idea what to expect. You quickly become close when sharing a tent with 11 strangers without washing/ toilet facilities!  

I set off on my own, but I returned with many international friends who all shared an incredibly empowering experience - some of whom I will cross paths with on another finish line soon I’m sure!  

Wadi Ultra Marathon runners, running alongside camels

The Biggest Lessons

Taking part in an event like this during COVID threw up many hurdles before even getting to the airport. I spent about 2 weeks prior worrying about sorting the correct paperwork just to board the plane!

Once there, heatstroke and injury were my main concerns. Sadly, some runners were forced to pull out of the event early on. The combination of heat and soft sand saps all the energy out of you.

Still, the mental battle is just as tough, especially when you’re running alone and have never pushed yourself so far into the unknown territory before. It’s an eye-opener and confidence boost when you come out the other side!

It may sound cheesy but doing something that scares you or once seemed unachievable really does help in everyday life.

Vic Herbert's sore feet

                                 Photo credit: Vic Herbert.

The Next Challenge 

There are a few tabs open in my browser… but Jordan will be a hard one to top! I’m off to the Azores for another Ultra in April, and in the planning stages for the Peaks of the Balkans trail at the end of the year. Volcanoes, forests and mountains this time, can’t wait! I’d like to do more solo UK adventures too.

Vic herbert completing the Wadi Ultra Marathon

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