Fairy tales from Cappadocia

Imagine a landscape covered with amazing rock formations where people live in caves and fairy chimneys, the colours change with each shift in light and the soulful call to prayer sounds out through the still air.  It sounds like something out of a fairytale but it exists and it is in Turkey. Cappadocia, a region in the centre of this rugged country is a geological oddity with fairytale topography which has been inhabited since as early as the 6th century.

To showcase this stunning landscape The North Face created 3 unique races here with a choice of 30km, 60km or 110km distances, with the 110km taking in a challenging 3,485 metres of ascent. This year was the 2nd edition bringing a total of over 900 runners, with 200 toeing the line for the 110km race including me, with only 122 finishers showing just how tough this race really is.

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

Experience your very own fairy tale by staying in a cave; it’s not as primitive as you might think.  Immaculate work has been carried out by local families working in harmony with UNESCO to ensure the conservation and restoration of these unique dwellings and historical structures is not only in keeping with history but up to the highest international standards.  Imagine lying in a hand carved bath that fits two, full to the brim of warm, aromatic bath water in a century old cave with gorgeous views out to the valley below.  Not complete of course without a chilled bottle of Cappadocia wine, with the history of wine making in the region dating back to the 4th century it would be rude not to delight the taste buds.  I made the most of this experience both pre and post race (the wine was only post race of course) at the Kayakapi Premium Caves Resort which is situated high up on Esbelli Rock overlooking Urgup.

The view from our own cave at Kayakapi

The view from our own cave at Kayakapi

If like me you thought Turkish food was limited to kebabs, grilled meats and sticky baklava, think again.  I enjoyed filling my belly with delicious Anatolian flat breads stuffed with spinach, cheese and onion for breakfast and to keep the carb levels high what better way than to indulge in Manti for dinner, a traditional Turkish dish of warm savoury flavours with pasta that is similar to ravioli served with a yoghurt sauce.  For a meal that dates back thousands of years try the Testi Kebap; a meaty stew with onions, peppers, tomatoes and plenty of garlic cooked in a clay pot for the day and mop up the delicious sauces with an abundance of flat bread fresh out of the wood burning ovens.  Finish this off with syrupy servings of baklava and you are race ready!

Oozing stickiness - Baclava

Oozing stickiness – Baklava

Race day brings with it a whole new level of excitement making it difficult to sleep the night before.  The weather forecast was for rain for the first half of the day giving way to sunshine after midday.  Living in Scotland this was not hugely off putting but I had been hoping for dry weather as slippery downhill’s and I don’t see eye to eye.

The start line

The start line

It wasn’t long into the start of the race before the heavens opened with rain in epic proportions causing flash flooding throughout the area.  I watched the other runners in bewilderment as they stopped to don waterproofs in the torrential downpours, it was about 15 degrees and I wasn’t feeling the need for extra cover and I enjoyed splashing around in the rain getting absolutely drenched in the process.  The rain did bring with it other obstacles with the soft rock surface known as tuff giving way to a slippery surface and the creek beds in low lying areas turning into torrents of water rapidly becoming ankle deep water obstacles kilometres long.  I imagined I was running through a jungle ultra as I splashed my way through the water and slid down muddy hills with the help on hanging onto branches and even some roped sections along the route. 

Heaviest rains in 50 years for race day

Heaviest rains in 50 years for race day

The beauty of the landscape even through the driving rain was apparent all around with rock formations towering above me as I ran underneath, bending my tall body through the tunnels carved by years of water and wind passing through them and climbing up and around the striking chimneys sometimes gripping rock alone and at other times with the aid of rickety yet stable ladders.  Even though I was racing it would have been sacrilege not to take photos and welcomed the excuse for a quick breather here and there.  

Stairs to climb

Ladders to climb

Life moves at a different pace here and it’s not an unusual sight to see men and women in traditional working clothes ambling along the ancient cobbled streets, leading horse-drawn carts and donkeys out to the nearby orchards and vineyards.  Groups of lycra clad & sport attire wearing athletes certainly stand out in this setting but the locals love the excitement; small children look on in wide eyed amazement or run with you through the streets whilst the villagers sit back sipping Turkish black tea from the daintiest tulip shaped glasses and shout out words of encouragement.  I gazed wistfully at the juice stalls along the route where old women squeeze locally grown pomegranates and other citrus fruits into a delicious and thirst quenching treat.

The old and the new on the cobbled streets

The old and the new on the cobbled streets

Hordes of tourists look on as we run past them through many historical vantage points along the route and I wonder what they are thinking of us as we scamper along ridges and fly down hills past them.  As I run through some of the valleys I discover hidden tea houses where tourists’ heads lift up in surprise as they sip their delicate rosehip & apple tea under the shade of apple tree orchards in the now shattered peaceful setting, lounging amongst adorned cushions with their feet up.

Running along breath taking plateaus with never-ending views my mind wandered away from the task at hand a bit too much as I crashed down hands first onto some rocks at the top grazing my hands and giving me a serious fright as there was a nasty drop off to my right reminding me to pay more attention and not fly away with the running endorphin fairies that had taken hold of me.  Beauty has that affect!

Stunning views running along the ridge

Stunning views running along the ridge

A strong mental attitude is needed at the 62km mark where you pass through the finish line, seeing the 60km runners finish as you carry on for another loop in the opposite direction you came from.  A high number of drop outs at this point proves how much of a mental challenge this is.  Once you pass through you are welcomed with a brutal hike up onto another plateau which brought with it the mixed blessings of the sun setting, magical to witness but knowing this also means it will soon be time to strap on the head torch also conjures up some feelings of trepidation.  Its fun and exciting to run in the dark but on tired legs and in very technical terrain it has the unwanted effect of slowing me down somewhat.  Descending in the dark was tough with some parts so steep and loose that I sat on my bum and slid my way down some sections to save turning an ankle.  I felt totally alone and exposed on that hill, there were no lights behind me to be seen and only occasionally did I glimpse a head torch ahead to give me some relief that I wasn’t entirely alone and still heading in the right direction. 

As the sun sets

As the sun sets

Reaching what must have been 85km passing through a sleepy darkened village as the soulful call to prayer sounding out from a nearby mosque through the dead of the night I felt enchanted, it added a touch of magic to the experience and lifted me to carry me on.  There was not a soul to be seen in the village at this time and it felt totally surreal to be running through to the powerful sound reverberating in the still air.

I had read about the local Anatolian Shepherd dogs a large, formidable dog with the strength to bring down lions so my heart leapt after the last checkpoint when I heard a noise and the light of my torch rested upon a massive form of one of these dogs.  I didn’t want to look at it as I thought my light might provoke it into action so calmly turned and trotted down my next descent which was a hard single foot track down a rocky face.  The descent felt like forever as all I could hear behind me was the panting of this dog that was now following me hot on my heels.  I’m not normally scared of dogs but she was huge and it was dark and I was in the middle of nowhere, if it did attack…. I consciously thought to myself to remain calm as dogs can sense fear and even pulled my emergency whistle out ready for action as I thought this was my only defence, noise!  The end of the descent ended in a fast running creek that I then had to run through and I nearly laughed as I heard my new companion having a drink, must have needed it from the 1km run down the hill, so it was a friend not a foe after all, I started chatting to her after that nicknaming her Bozo and chatting with her as she followed me intently for another 5km before she decides she’s had enough and finally lets me go on my own.

The finish line was looming and I allowed myself to imagine the feeling of crossing it, this always brings with it a lump in my throat like I might cry then and there but I think to myself to save the emotion for the finish, not to waste my energy now.  This all changes as I cross the line and all I can feel is total elation and a fresh adrenalin rush that means there’s no need for tears, just smiles.  I finish as 4th lady overall with a massive grin on my face, mission accomplished and 110km of beauty completed!

Proud to be finished

Proud to be finished

The aftermath of a tough race such as this is eased with a traditional hamam experience which leaves you refreshed and invigorated as the gentle moist heat relaxes those tight muscles that have formed in the body and soothes the nerves.  Eased even more so with peaceful evenings back in my cave enjoying delicious Cappadocia wine brought to completion with locally produced cheese and olives from the recent harvest which my body seems to be craving.  I for one could definitely get used to this.

Post race treat

Post race treat


The Facts

Entry fee – early bird entry for only 45 euro increasing to 60 euro after that (superb value for money).

UTMB points – 3 points for the 110km

Travel – we flew with Turkish airlines via Istanbul (4hr flight from Edinburgh) and the a 50 min flight to Cappadocia followed by an hour shuttle to Urgup, return transfers included in the race entry too.

Accommodation – Kayakapi Premium Caves was our home for 4 nights, stunning hotel for about £140 a night but worth the splurge to stay in a real cave.  It’s only a 15 min walk downhill to the start line and opt for a £3 taxi back after 😉

Registration is the day before which is straight forward and the evening includes a race briefing and pasta party (again included in the entry fee) as well as post race hot meal and massage too.

Drop bag is provided which you can easily deposit in the morning for your midway and finish collection.

Race was well marked with fairly descent checkpoints, I don’t rely on the CP food but appreciated the Coke available at each and would have liked to see some more savour options on the CP’s as I get tired of my sweet gels.

Mystique of the Mohican

When our friend, Peter (Princess) Joergensen, suggested we join him on a trip to America to run the Mohican 100 we didn’t really take into account how soon it was after running Marathon Des Sables but wanted to give it a go. And let’s face it, any excuse that results in ending up in New York & Philadelphia for shopping and food is a winner in my book. So the plans were set and we were off.

My training wasn’t tailored for a 100 mile event, with MdS in April that was the event I was training for, so coming back from that was more about recovery and holding my level of fitness which I hoped would be enough to get me through my first 100 miler. I probably averaged about 50 miles a week between April and June, with one week including running the Edinburgh Marathon as a training run, in particular practising using gels for race fuel which I hadn’t done for quite a while due to stomach upsets in the past.

The Mohican 100 is the 5th oldest ultra running race in the USA, with many claiming it is tougher than Western States (obviously I am not qualified to comment….yet!). It is an automatic full points qualifier for UTMB which goes to show how tough it actually is. Traversing 95% trail along a challenging course made up of 4 laps (2 x 26.8 miles & 2 x 23.2 miles) winding its way through the lush 5,000 acres that makes up the Mohican Memorial State Forest, it has to be the most beautiful trail I have ever had the privilege to run. Absolutely stunning, mostly single track trails through heavily covered woods. Switch back trails taking you up roughly 1,000m ascent (and descent) every lap through gorgeous forestry, past lakes, under waterfalls, jumping fallen logs, running along rivers and even including a hand over foot climb up a massive set of tree roots!

We chose to stay in the nearby town of Mansfield, which was only about a half hour drive away, but in hindsight would definitely arrange to stay in the Mohican Adventures Cabins located directly across from the finish area to make it even easier. The race started at 5am on Saturday 20th June, so alarms were set for 3:30am to ensure we were at the race start in time. The weather was quite difficult to judge with some light rain to welcome us at the start but it was already so muggy! I decided to stick to my X-bionic shorts with a short sleeved top and donned a buff for my head to keep the cool off. I shouldn’t have bothered with the buff, within 5 minutes of running I was absolutely dripping in sweat and the buff was off and put away for good. There was loads of runners starting with just a pair of shorts not even a shirt so that is a pretty good indication of how warm it was, due to the dense cover the sun never really came through the trees in full light so the sunglasses I had in my bag were a waste.

A head torch was needed for the first hour and a half especially with the forest being so dense it did take a while for the light to be strong enough to turn the torch off for good. But oh my; how beautiful it was as the light came through. Absolutely stunning, the forest was shrouded in mist and had an ethereal quality about it and this was certainly the most magical part of the day.

I ran the first lap strong, I had my race plan of taking on fuel every half an hour worth 30g of carbs to keep me going and this certainly worked for me. I had a mixture of gels to take with different flavours from Torq, High 5 and Hammer, along with a few ‘real food’ options such as Torq bars and bounce balls along with a few treats like Doritos crisps and a donut (planned for later in the evening). There were checkpoints roughly every 5 miles, all of which were really well stocked with ice cold water, Hammer Heed, coke, ginger ale and a variety of snacks such as orange segments, pretzels, sweets, turkey sandwiches etc and of course Hammer gels (the event was sponsored by Hammer) and all the checkpoint volunteers were super friendly and always willing to help.

The route was absolutely beautiful, I made sure I was looking around and soaking up the beauty of it all. The ascents and descents were steep though and I started to regret my choice of shoe size. With the humid heat my feet were swelling a lot more than I have experienced ever before (even in MdS and Kalahari I didn’t have this problem) and this was causing my left big toe to be very sore, meaning I was running on the side of my foot to try and take the pressure off my toe, causing then a sore ankle, all compounded on the descents.

Covered Bridge was the 3rd checkpoint along the trail loop which stored your other drop bag ensuring I could maintain my nutrition plan by picking up my packed mini bags I had prepared with gels/food I had brought with me. It also meant I didn’t need to take long at checkpoints or eat much of the checkpoint food provided, just the odd orange segment which tasted a treat in the heat.

The temperature was certainly rising and the humidity was high, I’m taking a guess the temperature would have been in the 30’s with about 90% humidity so it was thirsty work which was a bit of my downfall. I was running with my Ultimate Hydration Ultra Vesta which had the supplied 10oz bottles (284ml) on each side. One one side I was using this for purely water and on the other I alternated between Torq Energy and Hammer Perpetuem (both high carb energy drinks) so my water intake was too low, I was constantly running out of fluid before each checkpoint, and even though I was drinking a cupful or two of water at each checkpoint as well I still ended up dehydrated through my second lap.

The laps started and finished at the Mohican Adventures checkpoint so this was the location for the other drop bag, so on finishing the first lap in about 5.5 hours, as 2nd lady I found out whilst there, I restocked with my fuels and headed off to plenty of cheers of support. Still feeling strong I headed out feeling great and positive that I would certainly be completing this race. About halfway through the 2nd lap my ankle/toe was starting to become increasingly painful and mixed with the dehydration things were starting to look desperate. I was still in 2nd lady position at Covered Bridge (41.8 miles) but soon after that I started to slow dramatically. When I got to Hickory Ridge checkpoint (47.3 miles) I was struggling. I sat in a chair, which is a complete no-no at this point and had a cup of the most delicious salty potato soup to try and kick start things. It was here that I started to get overtaken by quite a few runners. A lovely lady at the checkpoint recognised me, and knew that Dion, my husband, was ahead of me. She said that she had seen him at this checkpoint but he wasn’t looking good and was possibly going to drop which was a shame as he was in 7th place after 50 miles. Little did I know at this stage that he had been peeing blood again (he had the same issue at MdS). I think hearing that switched a little mental switch in my head and the last 6 miles back to the start/finish were a long battle of my thoughts; should I drop or shouldn’t I? I had to grab a stick along the way to help me get down the hills as my toe just couldn’t take any more pressure. 2 1/2 hours to do those 6 miles and I made it back, completing lap 2.

Dion is super positive for me, telling me to eat and drink something, sit for a bit and think about what I really want to do. Always thinking that there is no point doing lap 3 if you can’t do lap 4. I thought back to my last 6 miles and how long and painful that was; I could do one more lap I thought, but not two. So I dropped! There is roughly a 40% drop rate on this race, and as we sat waiting for Princess to come through, we witnessed lots of people dropping out as well. During conversations through the race with other runners it became quite apparent that most people were here on their 2nd/3rd attempt as a minimum so I didn’t feel too bad about the decision. Live to run another race right?

We sat for hours waiting for Princess, we’d eaten the food in our drop bags and decided to get some real food while we were waiting. It was getting late and soon it would be completely dark and there certainly weren’t many food options locally so Dion headed off to the local Pizzeria and came back with a massive, delicious pizza and a couple of beers which we enjoyed while watching the fire flies flutter about in the remaining light. It was truly amazing to watch other runners coming through after their 3rd laps now, looking strong and certainly heading out for strong finishes. Totally inspiring!

We were getting very worried about Princess and were constantly doing laps in the car up to a few spots we knew you crossed to see if we could find him and finally we spotted him so I got out and walked/hobbled with him to the start/finish again where he also decided to drop. He was asleep in the car before we had driven even 5 minutes.

The decision was right to drop out, this was never my ‘A’ race so I didn’t have a desperate need to finish and I was always mindful that I have a 100km race, Race to the Stones, on the 19th of July (less than 4 weeks after) to run as part of The North Face Ultra team so I also wanted to remain ready for that. But I can tell you now that this will be my ‘A’ race in 2016. I’m going back, in fact all 3 of us are going back to finish this bad boy and get that belt buckle; stronger, fitter and wiser than before! It doesn’t work in my plans for next year as it is too soon after Transvulcania which I have already registered for so it will have to be the year after, but I will be back and then it will not beat me!

What a steep learning experience the race was. It has certainly cemented my thoughts on nutrition and I am really pleased with how that worked for me so I will be taking that learning with me forward to future races. Of course with every race you learn something more about yourself and come back with a renewed vigour to attack your training plan to make yourself an even better and more competent runner. And as a race recommendation, would I recommend it? You bet I would, it was fantastically well run and I would highly recommend giving it a try to win the holy grail of ultra running – a belt buckle, something that alludes me for now but stay tuned for the next attempt!

Edinburgh Marathon


ImageYou’ve got to do your local marathon, and with the start line literally outside my door, there was no excuse really.  I’d signed up late last year not really sure of what my plan would be, and with my first 100 mile race planned only 4 weeks after this, it had to be a training run rather than a race for me this year.  To stop myself racing I offered to pace my friend who was running this as her 2nd marathon to completion (having pulled out of her last one with injury) and with her wanting a sub 4 hour finish.

The Edinburgh Marathon Festival wasn’t just about the marathon but a whole load of different races.  On the Saturday there is the 5km & 10km run for the adults and a series of races for the kids, with a 1.5km & 3km to be run.  The atmosphere was fantastic and really gets you in the mood.  Not having kids myself I never would have gone along to watch the kids races but with a friend’s daughter running the 1.5km we went down to watch, and I was so inspired!  Amazing to watch the little ones sprinting their little hearts out and what a fantastic way to showcase the city as well.


I had a load of fitness pals up for the various races over the weekend from Bioticfit in Manchester, so had arranged a pre race “Pasta Party” at Crowne Plaza Edinburgh – Royal Terrace, along with a bit of a #tweetmeet with a few other runners I had never met in person but had been tweeting within the lead up to the race.  It was great to catch up with everyone over some tasty food.


Sunday – Race day!  We awake to torrential rain, not exactly the perfect running weather.  Thankfully the marathon didn’t start until 10am so we had plenty of time to get sorted, especially as it was a 2 minute walk to the start line for us.  My friend and I ventured out and saw the half marathon start in the torrential rain before breakfast. 


Half marathon start in the rain

Due to the poor weather and because I knew I wasn’t going to be running at speed I opted for some comfort food and ditched the porridge idea and munched on a Bacon & Egg  ciabatta instead, delicious!  Of course  I made sure my friend had the porridge though to fuel up for the big event.  I’ve run many a long run on bacon & eggs with no adverse affects and I think the experience of ultra running and multi stage events has made me realise that all the talk of overloading on carbs is a bit of a myth.  The body can only store a limited amount of carbs in any case and I certainly don’t get the chance on multi day events such as Marathon Des Sables to over carb load, and manage to run in extreme conditions and extreme distances without what most would consider enough calories. 

Edinburgh Marathon runners

Gillian and I before the start.


At 9:30 the weather finally clears up and fair weather runner hubby decides very last minute that he might as well run it too.  It is a great atmosphere on the streets and with 8,624 marathon runners there are 2 starting areas on London and Regent Roads. We are on the Regent Road start, with a nice downhill to get us started.  My friend wants to start at roughly 9min/mile pace and carry this through.  Secretly I am concerned as I am used to starting off quick and then slowing down, so a bit worried about maintaining that pace for 26.2 miles.  We start off well and manage to maintain at about 8:40m/m for the first couple of miles in the excitement of it all, as we go past Arthur’s Seat and around Meadowbank Stadium we slow it down to just under 9m/m.  By mile 5 my friends pace is slowing to about 9:20m/m and I gently tell her we need to pick it up a bit, already concerned about the sub 4 goal so early on.  I can tell she is struggling to get to the 9m/m pace we had agreed and by mile 10 I tell her that unless she has some secret speed energy stashed away, the sub 4 is out the window.  She tells me she doesn’t mind, that she just wants to finish so I resort to just getting her to the finish. 


Gillian along the coastal section


The weather is holding out nicely and the sun even makes an appearance.  I am running in my North Face kit that I received just a few days prior, breaking all the marathon rules of not trying anything new on race day, wearing a new shirt, new bra, new ¾ tights and wearing a bag that I had never run in before as well as trying out gels that I have never tried out before either!  I take my first gel at the 30 minute mark, a delicious Torq Raspberry gel.  It tastes as good as a gel can, and I take the next 30 minutes later, followed by a Torq bar another 30 minutes later.  This is the first time I have been so consistent with energy and I can feel the difference.  I am absolutely buzzing!  I think the energy mixed with the slower speed and I feel invincible like I can run forever.  My friend on the other hand is relying on Rowntree’s fruit pastilles, and is seriously struggling.  I can see it in her face, in her body language and hear it in her breathing.   She is feeling too warm and at the next water station I get her to tip some water on the back of her neck which helps cool her down a bit.  I had asked her about energy before race day, but this is what she had trained with, she wasn’t keen to try gels on a race, but had said she will try this moving forward.  Just after mile 16 there is the first ‘energy station’ stocked with High 5 gels, I encourage her to try one to see how it goes as she needs something.  I take as many gels as I can to stock up and try my first High 5, pleasantly surprised, it tastes pretty good too.  My friend ‘enjoys’ hers as well and you can visibly see it has lifted her somewhat, not enough to crack on at any more pace, but she keeps going which is the main thing.  I make sure that she takes a few more along the way and restocks at the next energy station at mile 22 & 24.  I don’t understand why in races, the organisers don’t have the gels available from the start as you need to be taking them from the very beginning, by mile 16 it is too late!   At various points on the race you see the faster runners having reached the turnaround point coming back past you, and at about mile 16 I manage to catch hubby running past at what must be between 19 & 20 miles on the other side.  I cheer wildly and get his attention, just!  I work it out in my head that he is on for a quick time which is fantastic!

Edinburgh Marathon mile 18

Me at mile 18 in the sun!


The crowds are amazing along the way, particularly the MacMillan supporters who are everywhere cheering loudly.  Loads of locals are out in their front gardens cheering all the runners on, handing out sweets, setting up their own water stations with plastic cups.  It really is great to see and I participate fully high fiving along the way and dancing with the cheerleaders and the Brazilian dancers en route.  I am far too cheerful and excited to be in this time bracket for a marathon so I hope I didn’t annoy anyone too much with my exuberance!  As we come into Musselburgh for the finish the crowds get thicker and towards the finish line it is like something out of Tour de France with the crowds closing in to almost a single track finish. 


We finish!  It’s been a hard slog for my friend, but I made sure she didn’t walk at all, so she ran a whole marathon, well done!  I feel great, and feel I could run another one (sorry but it’s true, and I feel so proud to say it too) but she is struggling now to walk anywhere very quickly.  I have no idea where hubby could be so we head over to the VIP tent which is the only area we had mentioned about meeting.  No sign of him in the tent, but we do find a couple of our other pals who we manage to get into the VIP tent with us, and we get my friend in to sit down and quickly get her some water and make up a For Goodness Shakes recovery shake, she is looking white with blue lips.  We get her some food quick smart as well, and slowly but surely the colour starts to come back.  I get hold of Dion and hear that he smashed it with a 3:10 finish!  How awesome!  He had waited for us but got too cold so he ran the 5 miles home, yes ran!  The beauty of being an ultra runner. 


Our medal haul, Gillian, Dion & I!


I really enjoyed my day, it was great to run a marathon without racing it and I had loads of fun.  It has filled me with confidence for the upcoming 100 miles as I can clearly see that if I just keep my pace right and my fuelling right it should all be just fine.  My friend on the other hand has a marathon finish which is great, but really needs to go back and look at how she is training and how she is fuelling her body.  As she explained to me, she ran to lose weight so the thought of eating and taking on so much during a race is foreign and almost wrong.  But as I explained to her as I have done the same thing and it is really hard to change your mindset, you are no longer running to lose weight as you’ve lost it you are now running to get fitter and stronger so your body is a machine and needs to be fuelled as such. 


I normally like to go for a recovery run/jog the next day but unfortunately miss this due to timing, however we do get out and walk for about 4 miles over the morning which is a good flush out as well.  I follow this up with a 7 mile run on the Tuesday morning at a gentle 9m/m pace on fairly flat ground followed up by a great sports massage by Nicola at Fasic in Edinburgh.  It does the trick and by Wednesday I am back to normal. So now 3 weeks to be ready for the Mohican 100 mile race over in Ohio on June 21st & 22nd.  Wish me luck!