My Way or The Lycian Way Ultramarathon 2010
Date: 11-16 October 2010
The Lycian Way Ultramarathon proved to big a greater challenge than first anticipated. With a total distance of more than 200 km over six stages, I was prepared for some difficult days ahead of me. But the difficulty of the mountainous route with many steep climbs and descents combined with my apparent lack of navigational skills, made this race one of my greatest challenges to date.
The difficulty of the race became apparent from the very beginning where two tall mountain peaks had to be climbed/passed with a full backpack weighing more than 12 kg (without water). On top of that, the heat was intensive and large quantities of water had to be consumed in order to stay properly hydrated. Finally, my lack of navigational skills made did send me off the route more than once. The route was marked with red and white paint with varying visibility and distance between the markers. One more than one occasion I missed one of the markers and was sent off the route. Towards the end of the first stage I got lost and spent more than 45 minutes on backtracking. Not only was that a waste of energy and time, it also meant I ran out of water at a critical point on the first stage. As a consequence I came close to a state of dehydration, which in many ways is more devastating for your physical performance than hypoglycaemia. Hypos can be resolved immediately with carbohydrate, whereas normal body water levels can take several hours to restore.
To make things worse, my glucose monitor failed to operate under the extreme conditions. The sensor and transmitter was attached on my abdomen and therefore exposed to physical stress from my front bag. I tried to tighten my front bag in order to avoid contact with the transmitter unit, but level of body movement on the uneven race course made this impossible. On top of that, sweat weakened the adhesive tape on the sensor making it even more vulnerable to physical stress. Eventually, the senor and transmitter unit fell off my abdomen and I was now running without continuous blood glucose monitoring. I therefore had to rely on regular blood glucose testing and my own ability to detect glycemic excursions. The latter had worked for me many times before, so I was confident it would do so again. I therefore decided to stay in the race and keep on running.
The second stage was no easier than the first. I teamed up with two of the other runners in race hoping the three of us would be better at following the route markers. It did to some extent help and we didn’t waste too much time outside the race course despite a few wrong runs here and there. The route itself was as challenging ad the first stage and sun was burning above our heads with temperatures way above what is comfortable for a Danish runner. The loss of waster and electrolytes from sweating was higher than my intake and slowly pushing me towards dehydration. I managed to complete the stage, but I was clearly suffering from body water shortage on top of energy depletion and exhaustion. Appetite was not present and I didn’t eat anything immediately after the race. At dinner time, appetite was still not present but I simply forced myself to eat and drink as much as possible. Replenishment of body water and energy stores was critical and failure to do so would make it difficult to complete the remaining stages. I kept on drinking and eating as much as possible though the night and next morning I was back in the game.
The third stage began at sunrise as usual and temperatures began to rise shortly after. I was slowly beginning at adapt to the heat, so it didn’t affect me as much as in the beginning of the race. However, I still had to drink as much as possible in order to stay properly hydrated and maintain adequate levels of electrolytes. Running without a glucose sensor meant that I had to do frequent blood glucose measurements to make sure my levels were within range. Already at this stage in the race, my total insulin dose was reduced by more than 30% and I was still reducing both basal and bolus insulin doses. My insulin sensitivity was so high, that bolus insulin doses were fine-tuned using half-unit increments. With blood glucose under perfect control, navigation was my only concern. I had teamed up with one of the Turkish runners and together we managed to stay on the race course without any major detours. Running as a team and thereby constantly pacing each other also helped us staying among the fastest runners in the race.
The day of the fourth stage was special. Not only had I advanced to the top three in the race, it was also my birthday. I turned 31 and had to run some 38 km before I could celebrate my birthday with a roll of Mentos and a Snickers chocolate bar. The stage was relatively easy, with only a single mountain that had to be climbed in order to reach the checkpoint. After the race I could enjoy the sweets I had reserved for this day together with the birthday greeting that had ticked in on my BlackBerry while running. Although my Mentos and Snickers bar were delicious treats, I still felt I missed a proper birthday cake. But that changed in the evening in the base camp when the race director asked me to come to main tent for a birthday cake. It was truly a warm surprise and probably the best birthday cake I have ever had in my life. My 31ST birthday is one I will never forget. After the birthday celebration I went straight to bed. The extra calories from the cake fell on a dry spot, as I was beginning to feel the cost of fours days of consecutive running
The fifth stage was longest in the race with more than 48 km to be covered along a mostly flat route along the coast line. It seemed like the extra calories from the birthday cake had done everybody good and the speed in the front group was remarkable high, despite this being the fifth and the longest stage in the race. I managed to maintain my third place in the race after completing the stage. I even tried to ‘attack’ number one and two towards the end of stage, but they caught up with me again and eventually left me behind. Eventually, all completed the stage and we were transported to the last base camp. The atmosphere in the base camp was great and the spirit was high in the evening before the sixth and last stage. Even heavy rainfall during the night couldn’t kill the high spirit, because we were all so close to finish the race. The rain kept on falling most of the night and it returned in the morning when the last the stage began. Although the rain made the running on the rocks dangerously slippery, it helped my core body temperature within a comfortable range.
After running more than 200 km over six stages I finally crossed the finish line as the third fastest runner. I was a great moment and one of the best in my running career that now covered a total of 40 races (marathons and above). The feeling you have when you cross the finish line after so many days of consecutive running is difficult to describe. But it is worth all the trouble and it is reason why runners take on challenges like this again and again.
The very first edition of the Lycian Way Ultramarathon was indeed a challenge. I had to overcome dehydration and exhaustion in the beginning of the race, in addition to the loss of my glucose monitor. But thanks to my training and determination to complete this race, I succeeded to get back in the game and finis in top three. Diabetes management was the least of my concerns and even the loss of my glucose monitor didn’t compromise glycemic control during the race. I simply had to revert to the trusted system that I have used successfully in the past, combing regular blood glucose measurements, own ability to detect glycemic excursions while running and fine-tuning of insulin dosage.
Would I run along the Lycian Way Ultramarathon again? The answer is yes. I have already signed up for the 2011 edition of the race. Although it is a challenging and demanding event, the race itself is a remarkable experience and one that ranks among the best races I have participated in. Not only do you get the chance to run on a beautiful and historic route, you also get to experience and meet a different culture first hand. Ultramarathons are much more than just running and driving yourself to the point of complete exhaustion. It is an experience where get to learn new sides of yourself, while meeting new cultures and friends.