As we drove on the highway to the race venue, I gazed up at the clear night sky drenched in silver moonlight, with the silhouette of silent mountains in the horizon. For someone who's obsessed with the wonders of skylines, this one was mesmerising. And it made me even more excited for the adventure ahead of us.
The ride got bumpier as we went off-road and joined the convoy of 4WD's packed with trail runners eager to stretch their limbs from the long drive through the vast Jeddah desert. A couple of wrong turns and re-routing later, we finally reached the startline... the middle of nowhere. I got out off the car, stretched my aching back, and looked up. Now that there was no street lamps to steal its focus, the moon smiled back at me with its exquisite glow. The stars have now peeped out to join the excitement of race night. I absorbed the electrifying atmosphere as a couple of cars backed into their parking spaces while the other parked cars had their doors open and people getting off or unloading things. The grounds buzzed with runners scattered around, exchanging thrilled greetings, smiles and laughter, as we laced up, strapped down, and flicked our head torches on.
After a quick orientation about the route from Racemaster Extraordinaire, I said a short silent prayer of safety as I always do at the start line.
3... 2... 1... GO!!!
The desert dash commenced on a slight downhill slope, then it was 8km of treacherous hills. When I was jogging up my first hill, I could feel the adrenaline kick in. Put me face-to-face with a challenge and I'll automatically roll my sleeves up and kick my mental state into high gear.
Push push push!
The first mile is always the toughest so I distracted myself with the mysterious silhouette of hills and boulders and the shadows cast by the bright moonlight. I counted the number of scattered light patches in the distance telling me how many runners were acing the hills ahead of me. I told myself to chase them.
I slowed down alot on the uphill slopes. But the other side of the hill was an entirely different story. Those downhills were the highlight of the race for me. At the beginning of each descend, I released all brakes and I let gravity do its job. I sprinted down those hills like I've never done before. I felt like I was flying as I kept gaining speed on the way down. I was exhilarated as it felt like I was on a roller coaster and I even unconsciously shouted out in glee. Runner's high YAY!
From then on, the rest of the track felt easy and I could ignore the ache in my lungs or legs. I paced myself through the desert, meeting and greeting other runners on the way. The last 4kms got tricky when the sand got really soft so I trekked with 3 others and navigated towards the finish line.
Close to the finish line was a fuelling station intended for runners who wanted to do a second loop to finish a half marathon (21km) and it was a lone table with a box of oranges, bananas, dates and glorious waterrrr. It looked so ordinary as it waited in the dark for runners to refuel there but to us, finally spotting it felt like finding an oasis in the middle of the hottest, driest desert. We all refilled our hydration packs and grabbed a fruit each for a much needed energy boost.
To finish all 21km we had to loop twice on a 10.5km route. In my first loop, there were moments when I found myself running on my own. This was alright as I had the route map GPS as part of the race info-pack downloaded to my phone and I could use it if I missed one of the glowing markers placed along the route. I signed up wanting to do the half marathon, but this being my first ever desert trail run, I hadn't anticipated the extra time and effort it would take to scale up hills, avoid boulders, and run on soft sand. After the first loop, I was exhausted. So after I was renergized at the refuelling station, I just happily ran towards the finish line safe and satisfied.
It was a wonderful experience and the most memorable activities for me are the ones that I do for the first time. Now that I know what to expect in my future trail runs here in Jeddah, I have many more marathon miles to look forward to. Thank you to the phenomenal team who expertly organized this event and the incredible people who were a part of it!