Salomon Cappadocia Ultra Trail

Where: Urgup, Cappadocia, Turkey

When: Saturday October 15th, 7am start

Races on that day: 38km(1120m), 64km(2030m) and 119km(3730m)

Total runners over the 3 races: 2,224

The start of the race winds through some spectacular landscape

Last weekend I traded the Wicklow fire roads & boggy mountains for the sandy canyon trails of Cappadocia – an area in central Turkey, best known for its unique moon-like landscape, underground cities, cave churches and houses carved into the rocks. This place is captivating and magical, and with the prospect of running 119km through it, I was really hoping I wouldn’t get bored along the way!

Registration was Friday morning from 10am which we could book online. We had a hotel approx. 5 mins from the Race Village in the main square in Urgup. The registration was well sign posted from here and we were greeted by a busy centre with eager runners with their mandatory kit being checked – We were in and out in no time – each with a large brown envelope containing all our goodies – number, Salomon tee shirt, race brochure (with the full weekend’s activities explained), discount coupons for the race village & ticket for the pasta party later that day!

The Race Village in the main Square in Urgup

This was getting real now – I wasn’t just on holiday anymore. The rest of the day was spent with a bit of walking to familiarise ourselves with the Urgup part of the race, a lot of eating & then looking for a Turkish flag for my 9 year old son! Urgup is a lovely town, with plenty to see and do, lots of great shops, coffee shops, restaurants etc.

The race briefing at 5pm didn’t tell us anything more than we had read in the really well put together race brochure but it was nice to see the other runners and get a feel for the race in the morning. The Pasta Party was next and that was up near the start line – shivers down the spine when stepping up to the start line – imagining the next morning, the nerves were setting in now! I went back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep. Never an easy task when the task ahead is so mammoth!!

Keith, me and Andrew the night before the race

The alarm didn’t even need to go off, up and ready for the day in no time. Meeting Andrew and Ed in the lobby at 6.30am, we headed down to the start line and left our drop bags in the tent. The start line was divided into enclosures by our numbers. I was in the second enclosure… said good bye to the lads and stood there waiting…..for what felt like…..forever!

Looking around to see who else was there – both the 63km and 119km races were taking off together – there were friends taking pics, laughing and smiling and then there was me – Billy-no-mates, just waiting. And then, it started, we were off, a sense of relief – running at last – up a hill! There was lots of huffing and puffing and people who you knew were just going too fast for their own good. I just kept telling myself “it’s a long day, don’t kill yourself just yet”. There was an American guy with his Go Pro talking loudly to himself, recording & then the guy who huffed and puffed so loudly, I thought he was going to keel over. Then there were the bravados, the guys who try to get past you at any cost (these are the guys you generally meet later at an aid station in near tears they are so wrecked!) & of course, the social runners the ones who were stopping every 10 mins to take photos. A great mix of people & nationalities.

The start of the race!

As we went off the road and onto the trails, the landscape was fascinating, fairy like cave houses with funny askew chimney pots all over the place and all different. The first section was quite fast with the runners in the shorter race going for it. I was trying not to get caught up in their race as I knew I had a long way to go. But I felt good and the downs on the sandy canyons were so much fun. Thank God I had shoes on that could handle the downs, there were lots of falls and slips and slides going on. 

Some cave houses dotting the landscape

Along the way, the Red Bull Truck and DJ was belting out the tunes, which put everyone in good form dancing their way up more hills to the aid stations which were by far the best I have ever been to! Really well managed, everything you could need. The help was great and information about the distance to the next station, the elevation etc was on a sign at each entrance. This was great as my mind worked from aid station to aid station and that’s exactly what I needed to know! There were 10 aid stations which I thought was loads….in fact I needed every one of them!

The Police were great at road crossings for the runners, creating very long traffic jams for the cars!! Hot air balloons in the distance.

The weather started off cool at 7am when we took off – long sleeve top for me but by the 2nd aid station, I was down to a vest, and it was perfect weather, cloudy and about 18 degrees. I was in a happy place. I did miss the banter you get on Irish races though. It was very quiet with so many nationalities on the run. So, when I came upon Luke from Ireland I was delighted! We ran together for a while and his girlfriend is Ivana, the lead-lady! He forewarned me of the lofty hill at 48k ish! And oh, was he right. I set off up said hill chatting to David, another Irish guy (living in Istanbul doing the 63km). I was delighted to have the chats but they were soon put to a halt trying to get up that very steep bit – I motored on and once on top, there was a lovely bit of running and a nice down to boot.

David and I starting into that lofty hill at 48km inmy face says it all!!

I met two lovely guys from Bahrain who were COLD – here’s me in my vest and shorts and them with long sleeves, jackets and tights!  Running into Urgug at our halfway mark, the 38km and 64km runners ran off towards the finish line and we were directed off on our travels towards the big halfway aid station – this one had our drop bags, soup, bean bag area and proper toilets. I arrived in, got my drop bag, figured I would change my shoes as they and my socks were full of sand, go to the loo and head off fairly quickly. At this stage, 3 more women came along, and I thought crap, I’m never going to be able to keep these off my tail! But I was feeling great so said, sure I’ll give it a crack and do my best.

I knew if I didn’t let any of them get past me, I was in 2nd place and for the next 50km that’s what I did, I tried to keep ahead of all the women. Every aid station I got in, they would tell me how far ahead the lead lady was but couldn’t tell me how far behind the 3rd lady was. That’s when I got data for my phone and asked my friend to look at the live tracker and let me know where I was at. I sent voice notes to a few people, got in touch with home and it was great getting messages back. I just needed some chat! But in hindsight the lack of chats probably had me go faster!

On I went. I had heard the last 30km was pretty tough and it was going to be in the dark too which I’d be lying if I said didn’t freak me out a bit. We had talked about it the night before and figured putting the GPX on our watches after the halfway mark would be advisable and I’m so happy I did!! 

The sun was going down and there was the 1st of the three big climbs ahead – approx. 90km in & happy out.

It started getting dark on my descent off the first big climb on the homeward stretch. The sandy descent reminded me of coming down a sand dune at Brittas Bay, great craic and a bit of a rest from the relentless climbing. The only problem was shoes full of sand, but I just ignored it and my feet weren’t complaining too much so I let it go and tried to get to the aid station before it got too dark to go without a torch. I didn’t want to have to stop twice.  I ran as long as I could and then I had to stop to put the torch on my head. Heading down to the aid station, I missed the turn off and kept heading down the hill when my watch beeped, and I realised I was off course. I back tracked and the flags were there alright, just easy to miss on a downhill. I didn’t go too far off and gave me a little lesson for the rest of the race. My eyes were now peeled!! The marking was generally great but there were a few dodgy bits where you could go very wrong!

The dark little villages were really run down and like something from a film set. The cars from the 80’s, the old farmer walking slowly down the upturned cobbled street and stray dogs everywhere. At one stage 3 big dogs were barking at me – deep breaths – they didn’t follow me! There were stray dogs running with us for a lot of the race and they all seemed friendly but was a different story in the dark on my own!

The landscape never got dull

The next climb felt harder, the legs were feeling it now, but I was passing a few guys as I climbed, and I was going good. There were plateaus at the top of the hills which seemed to go on forever. You would think they would be easy to run but now my legs refused to run on any little ups! I felt like I had been running on my own for so long in the dark, it was nice to be catching up and running with people now even if no one was really chatting. 

All the while, trying not to think too hard about Donna and her fabulous facts about the snakes and spiders and other Turkish delights! My mind was racing at times and then out of nowhere an animal jumped at me – looked at me and then legged it. I thought it was a rabbit or a hare, but it was white with black spots – And then I thought, did that really happen at all! Gave me a big fright, heart rate up and got me moving again!!

The stray dogs along the way – they loved running as much as we did!

On the last plateau, I was delighted, thinking it’s not too far now, I’ll be down in no time and then the worst bit of the race unfolded… we were crossing really technical ground, climbing down gullies, trying to find the flags and markers which seemed to be all over the place, no torches in sight to try to follow – it was a nightmare and really frustrating….. then I got to the last aid station…only 9km to go, a bit emotional in my head. I was told here the lead lady was only 7 mins ahead of me. What I didn’t know was the 3rd lady was only 2 mins behind me and then at 8km I heard a voice, and I was really hoping it was a high-pitched male voice or that I was hearing something and there she was! She ran past me like a weapon. She was with a guy, and they just motored on, one supporting the other. I didn’t have enough fight left in me to try to catch them. I kept going as best I could afraid I would lose 3rd place now! Paranoid I would be pipped again like my last race.

Reaching Urgup was just fantastic, a sense of relief, with the police on the road to help us cross, civilisation and lights ahead and most importantly the finish was in sight. On roads now, I should be running, I know I should be but every time I try my legs tell me to F-off.  I keep going, walking fast, very fast, I miss a turn, FFS, I am tired now and getting a little cranky with myself, I back track and find the right road. Of course, it’s all up hill, and then we reach a little off street we have to climb and it’s the steepest bit of cobbled street I have ever seen and I nearly cry – I actually curse the person who plotted this last 30km of the race deciding they must have issues and that I really don’t like them. It’s all up and up a bit more and then we are at the top of the town and are directed down a cobbled hill down towards the finish line and I can hear it….. almost there – I can’t believe it when I cross the line. I have finished!

After 16hours and 34 mins I have come in 3rd lady and 1st in my age category – Absolutely thrilled with that – I didn’t have to worry about the 4th lady, she was 1hr 10mins away!!! 

So very happy to cross that finish line!

Useful things to know:

  • Poles are definitely a bonus for the last 40km
  • Gaiters would be useful, there is lots of sand
  • It gets cold at night – long sleeve top was needed when it got dark & first thing in the morning
  • Grippy shoes were great – I used my speed cross and they worked a treat
  • There is very little cover for a lady needing to use the loo so go where you can at aid stations
  • You only get one drop bag so use it wisely & have nutrition sorted otherwise
  • The 63km route is really lovely, very runnable with doable hills – the next part of the 120km is definitely more challenging and not as charming to look at and it’s dark from 7pm
  • Put the route on your watch for the second half. While it is well marked, there were sections that were a bit hard to follow especially in the dark
  • You get a lot for your fee – cotton Salomon tee shirt, pasta party the night before, meal when you finish, amazing aid stations, finisher medal, finisher Salomon jacket and a race village full of great gear you can buy

Three medals at the end – Gold for 1st in my age category, finisher medal & bronze for 3rd Lady home

Comments are closed.