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RacingThePlanet: Sri Lanka 2016 Blogs

Breaking News: Only 4km left for Team Sahra to finish Racing the Planet Sri Lanka!
19-Feb-2016 09:41:22 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Dear all,

 

We are writing this from our stunning camp site by the beach near Yala, enjoying a fresh breeze and the sweet taste of imminent victory, mingled with the excruciating pain in our feet and shoulders. In short: Team Sahra finished Stage 6 and only has 4 more kilometres to go to the finish line in a local fishing village!

 

Today was quite a cruel day but also full of team work and fun. The race started with a gruelling 16km down a local highway (to minimise the danger of wildlife encounters, although some of the frontrunners did see elephants!) in the blistering and relentless heat. We were basically all drenched within 20 minutes of setting off from the camp site, even though we got off to an early 7am start. More heat, more long, long stretches until we hit Checkpoint 4 after 30km. The race management had already announced that the clocks would be stopped at Checkpoint 4, since we would not be allowed to keep walking in Yala National Park after darkness. And this we did, Team Sahra: Arzoo and Mahdi, with Kubra eagerly joining this stage and leading the charge, and Belinda and Connie. Everybody was in a lot of pain during this last 24km stage, and the sun was still relentless, but there was never any talk of giving up, and on and on we went (We even got to see lots of wildlife on the way!). We... will be running / walking / hobbling to the finish line tomorrow morning before we get bussed back to Kandy for our award dinner on Saturday evening. (believe me when I say that a LOT of thought has gone into how we will feel about our showers and what to eat for dinner). This week has been … incredible. We will soon be posting pictures and try to get our thoughts in order about what we have just accomplished. Thank you, Racing the Planet, for this extraordinary experience.

 

Now off to get some dinner and enjoy the beach! xxx

Day 5
18-Feb-2016 02:18:17 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Today was a short day – only 30km! (the flipside of this is an unspeakable 53km waiting for us tomorrow….)

It is really true that we have broken the back of the race already – Arzoo and Mahdi are clearly in pain, but showing an impressive determination reflected in them always being in the front of the pack, gritting their teeth and just getting on with it. No doubt in anybody’s mind that they will finish the race – now the questions focus on whether they would contemplate doing another race like this. In an interview with German “Trail Magazine,” Mahdi declared today with the tone of full conviction that he would, Kubra reaffirmed that the reason she was in Sri Lanka was precisely for this reason, and Arzoo has asked for one more day of deliberations (a far cry from her “I will NEVER do this again” two days ago!). Arzoo and Mahdi are truly a great team, trudging on together, chattering away and finding comfort in each other’s company. They take the pain stoically – today’s course involved a few more river crossings, long slogs of terrain, and merciless pounding of tropical rain – and are determined to make their country proud. In the process, they are connecting with other runners, telling them proudly of the beauty of Afghanistan. Kubra similarly is becoming very popular with the runners who can rely on her helpful ways once they return to camp.

Team Sahra’s mentors meanwhile are neatly dividing their tasks – Karen usually gets to the camp early and helps prepare the tent to make us all a bit more comfortable, Belinda keeps the team at a steady pace, rookie Connie is suffering from tight shoes and looking to Arzoo for help with her feet, and Cynthia is the camp mum who makes sure everybody has enough medication and food to taste everybody’s palate (now, for those of you who have never done one of these races – this is not a matter of deciding which roomservice to order, but requires a lot of improvisation with existing supplies, but she does it perfectly). We are having a lot of fun in our female only tent, and Mahdi has made friends with his male tent mates.

Tomorrow, Friday, will be our long march. 53km (or was it 54), but once we have done those, we are essentially through (except for the ceremonial 4km race down the beach to the finish line on Saturday). Please keep us in our thoughts for this stage, which will be long and hard and hot – but it is all in our minds, and our minds are determined! We will have16km of road, followed by 14km of jungle path way, and then, the clocks will stop, and we will walk 20km in groups through Yala National Park, accompanied by park vehicles, and hoping to see some wild life. What a race! Our feet have been taped up, our packs are a whole lot lighter, and we are in good spirits. Not sure if we will be able to blog on Friday evening, as it will be a loooong day, but you will hear from us on Saturday!

Love to you all

Recap of Day 4
17-Feb-2016 02:16:46 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Sorry for not having managed to blog yesterday, here a short recap from yesterday’s 46km stage through sugar cane fields, river crossings and canals.

When I was drafting this blog entry in my head around this time yesterday, I wanted it to start something like this: “today was another tough day, but absolutely no comparison to the technical ups and downs of days 1-3; I really think we broke the back of the race during the last stage of day 3.” That sentence still somewhat holds – our make or break it point certainly came at checkpoint 3 on Day 3, when the Team had gone through quite a few temper tantrums and multiple threats to ‘just go home’ (team and mentors alike…). But after a moment of thinking we might have to go home “DNF” (did not finish) for nearly missing a cut off time, the team showed its true determination: “We cannot go home, we are doing this for Afghanistan,” and then went off to run the last stage of Day 3 despite being in pain. Day 4 started off with that same determination, and no mention has been made since of any doubts about finishing. And how relieved we were to find that most of Day 4 was a flat course – with interesting twists like sugar cane fields, a thigh-deep river crossing, and beautiful walks past a long winding canal. We had at this stage mastered the art of taping to deal with the strain of the heavy backpack, had learned all about using “Chafex” to avoid painful chafing in unspeakable places, had learned to listen to the needs of our bodies in terms of food intake, electrolytes, toilet breaks, and pain medication. Our blisters at this stage had been hammered into submission (or so we thought), our quads’ screams had quietened down, and the demons we were battling at this stage were mainly in our minds. Plus, the relentless heat and humidity, which did cause a few more drop outs in the competitors’ field. But the reason Day 4 will probably go down as the hardest of the course was because of what happened once we finally arrived in Camp – this time made up in a temple site, complete with Buddha carvings. (wow, Racing the Planet! The stuff you pull out of a bag!) In fact, even though the course itself wasn’t too technical, the 46km took its toll and we were struggling to get to the camp before darkness. Once there, the team collectively collapsed in its tent, only to find that neither of us had much energy left for anything beyond the most basics. The medical tent was packed – and the misery was palpable. There was a lot of whimpering in our tent as we were assessing the damage to our feet, which was not inconsiderable. After a few days of thinking that “we don’t smell as bad as we had thought,” it turned out that we do smell terrible (our olfactory senses seem to have temporarily shut off, to give us all a rest); now we all get offended whenever we catch a whiff of ourselves – and imagine a tent full of seven people! Almost immediately as we came in, the rains started pounding down, and we took that as an excuse to huddle down and go to sleep early (sorry, no blog). Around midnight, somebody yelled “oh my god, the water is coming in, we need to do something” – and the reaction? None whatsoever. An entire team of people proved to be so exhausted to the core that we rather slept in a puddle than get up to move things. All of us, collectively, said we would stop running now and go home. Come around Thursday morning, up we all got, packed our clothes and mattresses, in several cases putting on wet running shirts – and off we went, Arzoo and Mahdi at the beginning of the pack.

 

More on Day 5 in a separate post. But once again thank you for your great messages of support – from Kabul to Brindisi to Tokyo and Hong Kong – rest assured we read them all, and they are keeping us going!

Day 3
16-Feb-2016 02:20:14 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Today was another day of superlatives. Team Sahra finished 45km of technically challenging and stunningly beautiful scenery – coming in just in time for sunset to a magnificent tent city set up by the side of a lake. There were tears of joy the end of the stage as it was confirmed that the team just made cut-off. Meanwhile, Kubra Jan distinguished herself volunteering at camp throughout the day, learning about what is involved in putting on a major multi-day race of this magnitude and impressing everybody with her helpfulness and swift ways.

Let us just say a few words about what arrival at camp is like. As we stumble across the finish line, each of us aching to get rid of our heavy backpacks, we each grab three bottles of water that we are allocated for the night. We then typically lie down for half an hour to an hour with our feet elevated, whilst hoping for a helpful soul who will get us some hot water (it is highly recommended to refuel your body as soon as you can after such heavy exercise). Then we have to set up our night gear, attempt some kind of wash, and – most importantly – have our feet attended to…. (we are meant to do that ourselves except for more serious cases, but most of us try to charm the lovely medics into popping our blisters for us). The cyber tent from which we are writing closes at 8pm, so all of this has to happen in the course of 60-90 minutes. You can guess that this doesn’t leave much time, so excuse the brevity of the blog and the somewhat confused order. With the exception of the experienced mentors on the team, I can hnonestly say that none of us have ever hurt this much in our lives. Today’s course was challenging in its own ways. Whilst there wasn’t quite as much climbing and descending as in the last two days (but still a lot more than we would have liked) today our challenge was to survive xtreme heat and humidity, as well as a course that led us through thick jungle full of mud, river crossings, roots, and thick brush. We also had one leg that took us through rice paddies – stunningly beautiful – and one section where we were protected by representatives of the Sri Lankan wildlife commission – in case of elephants. (This is also why it was decided to change the 80km long march into broken down segments – to avoid a night time march with wildlife.) The course also took us past some famous rock buddhas, although at this stage we were trying hard to beat the cut-off time and only managed a fleeting glance. All in all, this is certainly the experience of a life time. Thank you for the words of encouragement from New York, London, Duesseldorf, Gaza, and around the world – seriously, your words mean the world to the team, so please keep them coming!

As she is inspecting her blistered feet, Arzoo is asking her friends to pray for her so that she can finish tomorrow’s 50km stage.

Wish us luck!

Day 2: Hot, humid and hilly!
15-Feb-2016 03:44:30 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

We started off the day with one team member down, but all smiles intact.  While Kubra went off to camp 3 to volunteer and support the runners across the finish line, Arzoo, Mahdi and the mentors set off on our 39km waddle through the beautiful Sri Lankan countryside.

We were mentally ready for lots of downhill, but apparently you don’t earn the downs unless you climb the ups, and we did an awful lot of climbing today, climbing over 1000m’s in total.

Team Sahra started off super strong, with the mentors struggling to keep on their tail!  Luckily us oldies eventually managed to catch up with all the climbs between CP1 and CP2 slowing the team down.

After yesterdays experience in the mosque, we saw Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas today.  We also saw the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka, which was absolutely stunning. Actually, all of the scenery was incredibly stunning today – we are very lucky to be getting to enjoy this – the gorgeous sights somehow take away a little bit of the pain in our legs (but definitely not all of it!)

Our bodies are all holding up pretty well.  A few blisters and some muscle soreness, but nothing too crazy, or that will stop us having fun.

We have lots of fans along the roadside as the local children cheer and say ‘bye, bye’ (do they mean hi?) as we run past.

Thank you for all your fantastic messages – we have loved reading them!  Please keep them coming!

Sorry for the delay in our updates!  Internet is a bit slow here!

More tomorrow xxxx

Day 1
14-Feb-2016 02:33:31 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Despite a few travel hiccoughs that caused some inconvenient delays, Team Sahra finally arrived in Kandy on Friday at about 11p.m. – just enough time for a cheerful reunion between Afghan competitors Arzoo, Kubra and Mahdi, and supporters Belinda, Cynthia, Karen and Connie (not enough time for the carefully planned packing exercise, but we improvised).

On Saturday, in a whirlwind of excitement, briefings and bag checks, we finally managed to get everybody on the bus to a scout camp in Nuwara Eliya, our first overnighter. The camp site was great, huge bonfire included, but the night was brutally cold – so much so, that we all had to improvise on sleeping arrangements.

On Sunday, 8a.m. on the dot, we started our first Racing the Planet race as Team Sahra, with a local dance ceremony and much fanfare. Our three Afghan competitors charged ahead, unfazed by the steep incline and the technically challenging jungle terrain, with entangled tree roots, small pathsills on the side of steep drops, and plenty of opportunity to stumble. The jungle eventually gave way to a luscious green tea plantation, but a brutal ascent to the top to reach Checkpoint 1. The first tears started flowing at km12, and Team Sahra was not the only one struggling with the ascent. The team thoroughly enjoyed their well-earned break at the Checkpoint, with Arzoo confidently claiming: “I am feeling awesome, enjoying the nature, just love it” Checkpoint 1 was followed by a more forgiving road ascent, where the team was able to pursue their afternoon prayers in a local mosque. They also got to enjoy an involuntary ‘shower’ courtesy of a group of cheeky local boys who were hiding on an abandoned train bridge underneath which the team had to pass. Checkpoint 2 then led to a drawn out trail following a local train track, with breathtaking views and even featuring the crossing of a rather steep train bridge. Checkpoint 3, km 31, saw the team’s greatest challenge, where one of the team members was pulled out of the race for medical reasons. Despite the obvious disappointment, she is in great spirits now and will continue to support the team as a race volunteer. Her reflection on the day: ‘It doesn’t matter if I had to stop the race, the main point isthat I was giving it a try. And I did, I gave it my best. In the future, I will do a marathon with my daughter.’ Free to Run loves that constructive spirit! Team Sahra will continue the competition, despite hurting legs and blistered feet.

Sunday night is seeing the team overnight it in an abandoned tea factory – another great adventure!

More soon

7 runners, 5 nationalities, 3 continents, 1 goal
10-Feb-2016 06:41:34 AM [(GMT+05:30) Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi]

So this is it, Team Sahra's inaugural post, sent the night before the seven of us are leaving our respective homes on our way to Sri Lanka, appropriately written from the floor of my New York apartment at 1h30a.m., surrounded by half-closed ziplock bags and socks and covered in oatmeal flakes - I wonder how many other competitors are finding themselves in the same situation?

Well, that just might be where the similarities end. For this is no normal blog. This blog will, over the next ten days, report on the trials and tribulations of seven people who couldn't be any more diverse:

- The namegivers to "Team Sahra": Arzoo, Kubra and Mahdi from Kabul, Afghanistan, who - thanks to the generous support of RacingThePlanet - will be attempting to become the first mixed gender team from Afghanistan to participate in an international running event (you can read detailed profiles of Team Sahra on the home page of www.freetorun.org)

- And their supporters Belinda, Cynthia, Karen and Connie (with varying degrees of fitness and experience in ultramarathons), flying in from Switzerland, Canada, USA and Hong Kong.

In about 48 hours, we will be meeting for the first time, although this follows a flurry of whatsapp and facebook messages and videos over the past couple of months that have helped Team Sahra (and those other rookies on the team) prepare for this epic race. Our Ipods are charged with an eclectic mix of "Eye of the Tiger" and Afghan favourite Aryana Sayeed; our prayer rugs are packed; and we have all made our best attempts at guessing what everybody's common most favourite snack will be. Then, of course, there remain the questions on everybody's running newby's troubled mind: spare clean socks or not? To go commando or not? To wash or not to wash? These shall all be answered in due course. For now, safe travels, safr amin, and so long!

 

TEAM SAHRA
RacingThePlanet: Sri Lanka 2016

Hometown
Kabul, Afghanistan

Profession
Kubra, Arzoo and Mahdi are three students from Kabul, Afghanistan, who together make up Afghanistan's first mixed gender team to take on an ultramarathon. They will be supported by international runners Belinda, Cynthia, Karen and Connie

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TEAM SAHRA
RacingThePlanet: Sri Lanka 2016 competitor

Bio

Hometown
Kabul, Afghanistan

Profession
Kubra, Arzoo and Mahdi are three students from
Kabul, Afghanistan, who together make up
Afghanistan's first mixed gender team to take on
an ultramarathon. They will be supported by
international runners Belinda, Cynthia, Karen and
Connie

Why are you competing?
Arzoo: I run to make it common for girls to be
running in the streets. Kubra: I started running
to earn the street!
Mahdi: In Afghanistan, women practising alone
without men is not safe. I want to change the
impossible to possible

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