by Kim Van Kets

Lycian Way Ultramarathon: Turkey

Ultimate breaking ground for SA's leading female adventurer

Kim van Kets
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The Lycian Way Ultra is a relatively new multi day self sufficiency race on the running calendar, set in the Mediterranean region of Turkey in late September covering a grueling 250km over seven days. Leading extreme Adventurer Kim van Kets gives us all the dirt from this epic trek
I set off for Turkey and the Lycian Way Ultra Marathon with a sense of excitement but no trepidation whatsoever.  After all, I had run 250km a week every day for months and months so how hard could it be?  
I had run in the heat of the Kalahari, carried a 12kg pack for days, experienced the humidity of the Wild Coast in February, the climbs of the Amatola, Addo and Rhodes, the technical challenges of the Baviaanskloof, so at the very most I was going to feel pleasantly fatigued against an exotic backdrop of pomegranate and fig trees, a shimmering Mediterranean, ancient ruins and broodingly attractive Turks.  
Having a marked tendency for casually underestimating everything I have ever taken on, I should have possibly been a little less complacent.....
We were up way before the crack of dawn having a hurried breakfast and organizing and reorganizing our packs before we set off along a contour jeep track into the majesty of an exquisite sunrise over the Mediterranean.   
Less than an hour into the race I realized I was in for a tough time.  It was not yet 7am and the sweat was streaming from every pore and I was panting for breath as the humidity was already unbearable.   The jeep track was short lived and within no time we were battling a vertical climb on a footpath littered with sharp and shifting shale and dodging the cruel thorns and razor sharp rocks.  
For the rest of the day we were either climbing straight up or down trying not to lose our footing on shale and gravel and the km's were very slow to clock up.   It got hotter and hotter and I soon realized that carrying 2 litres of water between check points was way too little and I was rationing my water with 4km to go to the checkpoint and beginning to battle the nausea which became a constant feature of the race.  
After total climbs of more than 2000m, I dragged myself into camp on day 1, exhausted and chastened by my complacency and collapsed in the communal goat hair tent to commiserate with the other runners.
A night on the stony ground surrounded by snoring tent mates is not ideal recovery time, but I felt surprisingly good as I rolled up my sleeping bag and managed to cram everything back into my 10kg pack. I set off at a sedate pace and the first few kms were surprisingly gentle and very beautiful in the soft light of dawn.  I caught up with fellow South African, Mark Adams, who had gone out too hard the day before and we stuck together for the rest of the day.  
The terrain was massively varied with brutal descents, single track climbs, jeep tracks and beach running which provided a welcome break and the opportunity for a much needed swim.  The surface of the path was the one constant - sharp and jagged shifting stone and rock.  
Day 3 was intended to be shorter and easier than the previous days as the temperature was predicted to soar.  I set off with Mark feeling confident that we would make it into camp by midday but instead this was to be the day that would push us right over the edge. The day is a blur of heat, pain and relentless climbs. We ran out of water repeatedly, got lost, had to perform mobile surgery to our blistered feet, were savagely attacked by stones, rocks and thorny plants and crawled into camp after 11 hours just ahead of the cut off time.  
It is a remarkable feature of multi day races that one is desperate for the race to end until approximately day 4, and then a subtle shift takes place and from then on the runners are frantic to suspend the race forever.  This has a great deal to do with the camaraderie and the bond that is established especially among the motley crew that becomes ones "tent family".  
The laughter and hilarity that grows out of communal suffering is very special and completely incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't experienced it.  My girl friends often ask if it is tough to integrate into a world (and tent) of male runners. This always surprises me as it doesn't occur to me that I am any different from them.  Endurance running is a surprisingly and pleasantly gender free environment.
The long stage started at midday in blistering heat and we began by running directly up a mountain.  A breeze and a fairly good road surface allowed us to make good progress and as night fell and we approached the lights of a coastal town we were feeling elated that the long stage was turning out better than anticipated. We were naively pleased that we would soon be back on the beach for a 25km stretch.  
Little did we know that the "beach" would turn out to be a steeply sloped quarry of stones, pebble and gravel that we would sink into up to our ankles and which would pulverize our already shattered feet and turn out to be the worst surface we had encountered yet.  A compulsory stop was planned for the night phase because a particularly treacherous stretch of track would be impossible to navigate at night.  
After what felt like an eternity of suffering we finally arrived at the check point only to find runners sprawled everywhere.  The only place to lie down was on top of the running shoes scattered at the door of the tent where I spent 2 miserable hours quivering with cold in the fetal position on top of 20 pairs of fetid running shoes.
The body's ability to recover itself is truly incredible - when 5.30 came we were all up and ready to head off again for the last 30km of the long day and even able to appreciate the stunning beauty of the terrain. Despite Mark literally falling asleep on his feet and me having developed blisters the size of fried eggs on the palms of my feet we took turns at being encouraging and grumpy and triumphantly made it to the end of the long stage in 21 hours.  Nothing was going to stop us now.  
The Lycian Way Ultra is the toughest multi day self sufficiency race I have ever attempted.  The ingredients that make it so difficult are a combination of the intense heat and humidity, the insane climbs and descents, the technicality of every inch of the course and the savage road surface.   
Having said all that, the race was incredibly beautiful and atmospheric and extremely well organized and my experience of Turkey and its people was truly magnificent.  I would recommend that anyone keen to test themselves should give it a try but would encourage less masochistic runners to experience the 6G which is a wonderful concept:  
Runners live in tents every night, but only carry water in their packs; they are fully catered for with excellent Turkish cuisine and run between 12 and 20km a day with no time limits.  This enables them to swim in every bay, drink freshly squeezed pomegranate juice or Turkish coffee in every village, photograph every ruin and suck the marrow out of the Turkish experience without ever feeling the need to assault the long suffering race organizers. Have a look at www.likyayoluutramaratonu.com to book your spot for 2013!
 
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