Monday, March 10, 2008

The Oakley TAJ 100k Del Sahara

Today, we thought we would share our Team Average Jo race report to inspire the week.
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Destination: The Oakley Team Average Jo 100k Del Sahara
Location: Africa
Duration: 4 day running stage race.
Rating / 10: 10
Extreme factor: High
Cost Factor: 4k total
In Attendance: 10 Average Jo’s
Group recommendation: This event is a must in terms of teaming up!

As we boarded the plane it occurred to us this would be the 4th & 5th continent we had visited over the past 6 months. Having the ability to combine family, friends and physical activity while traveling, meeting people and learning cultures all over the world is precisely why we do what we do. Ordinary people, extraordinary destinations!

We would depart a few days early so we could spend some time exploring Rome. Having never traveled to Europe, we were excited to take in as much as we could. Arriving mid day we set out to see as much as we could however the city was too beautiful, the history too rich and geography too expansive to be force fed. We would convene at a local pub, mingle with the locals and then retire to our hotel.

Day 2 & 3 were spent talking in all f the masterful sights Rome had to offer while desperately seeking fresh fruits & vegetables & non smoking policies. Through the week we would welcome more average Jos and anticipation began to mount for our departure to Africa. Finally on Saturday, we would meet the remainder of the group at the airport and fly from Rome to Djerba. Once in Djerba we would overnight at a hotel on the Isle of Djerba where we would spend our last night in a hotel before 4 days of desert camping.

Sunday morning we would depart to the start line of the 100k. En route, we would take in the African landscape before attending the welcoming ceremonies in Tatooine (at the original Star Wars set). It was interesting to witness the Italian, German, Hungarian, Armenian, Mexican and Brazilian cultures interacting at the start line. Our group of average Jos comprised all of the Canadian participants and we were excited to represent the country at this 10th anniversary.

Mid afternoon we drove to the start line, which was a giant camp site with wood and blanket tents set up at the start line. Check in was quick, some more white bread, water, cheese and wine for dinner and it was off to bed on a ½ inch thick foam mat and sleeping bag atop of the hard desert ground.

Day #1: 24k

The 1st day would have us start with a 5k ascent through the village and monastery to get into the desert. We were forewarned this would be the toughest day of all 4 because of the elevation gain right out of the gates and the 32 degree heat, yet because of the training we had completed at home, this turned out to be less of a challenge than anticipated by the Canadian team.
The plan was to take it out slowly, take pictures and video of the Canadian team. We succeeded, much to the wonderment of the media team who couldn’t understand why we were taking pictures and video instead of logging personal bests. We were not here for personal bests., we were there for the event experience.
We completed the day with our system of recovery drink, stretch and rest, which proved to be invaluable over the 4 days. This day concluded in a remote Oasis setting with the usual dinner and was highlighted with dancing and cultural entertainment.

Take aways
o Stage races are about the long term. You have to prepare for day 4, on day 1.
o Sleeping on the desert floor, isn’t conducive to a relaxing run prep
o Executing a properly laid out plan prior to race day, is the key to success.

Day #2 : 20k + a 7k night run.

The expectation for day 2 was quicker times over a flatter course. There would be two runs on this day. A 20k mid morning run followed by a 7k night run. The heat wasn’t that bad for Africa and day #2 and the course was indeed flat and fast with the only real challenge coming in the form of running through sand dunes that had washed over the road. This really slowed the group down as participants came to grips with just how difficult it is to run quickly in sand. After taking things out too quickly, we humbled our way into the finish line and began our post run routine. Each day, the bags would have to be packed and unpacked and the tents set up and broken down immediately after racers would cross the finish line. We would have about 6 hours off prior to the night run.

At 9:00, groups were sent out into the desert night for 7kms. With the marathon the following day, the plan was to take it easy on this run, yet when the start whistle went off, it was full speed ahead. We finished the run in a Canadian cluster in about 35 minutes (5 min k’s)

Take aways
o The faster participants get into a race routine during stage races, the greater the chance of success.
o When running through the desert, one realizes just how insignificant they really are in the big scheme of things.
o Sometimes, you just have to let loose when the time calls.

Day #3 42k marathon
This was to be the equalizer for those who took things out too fast over the 1st two days. Picture doing a marathon, across the desert, in the sand, with the heat & wind… after running consecutive back to back half marathons. Our plan was rock solid. 10 minutes running and 2 minutes walking…. the entire marathon. Myself, Kris, Curtis and Jen started out together and would take turns leading each 10 minutes section so as to conserve energy. Participants could not believe how effective and efficient we were as we continued to eat away at their lead and make our way towards the finish line. Kris and Jen took a little off while Matt and Curt had to elevate their games to keep pace. In the end, it would be Kris’s day of unbelievable leadership that brought us home.

Just over half way I bonked and were forced to take an extended 10 minutes which ended up bringing us across the finish line in 5:12. The weather turned from hot, to extremely windy “the windiest in the 10 year history” to raining and cold. (-1 degrees all night long!) We finished in the cold, wind and rain and had to completely construct a closed in tent in order not to become hypothermic. Again, teamwork was the order of the day! Our TAJ team mate Isabelle took a different approach to the marathon, mixing it up with other runners and organizers and capturing photo’s along the way. She was quickly becoming a national favorite of the race.

Take aways
o The team approach saved many of us and greatly added to our element of enjoyment.
o Running a marathon in the desert was one of the more difficult things many of us had ever done in one day. It was relentless, long and grueling.
o At the end of the day, the time difference had we run solo was negligible and we all would come to realize this, particularly on this day.
o The desert is unforgiving. Climate changes and the elements can not be taken for granted.

Day #4 22k
Being our last day, the feeling of getting it over with was palpable. 4 days of waking, eating, running, stretching, resting, showering with water bottles in the desert, squatting to urinate & defecate, tending to blistered feet, huddling up in sleeping bags under a blanket tent held up by wood in sub zero night time temperatures had become taxing for many. This day would be a 15k flat run followed by 7km’s of running in sand dunes (some 10-20 feet high). We took things out quickly, but with some reserve. By the time we made it to the dunes, we had come pretty close together and it was time to really think strategy. If you ran the dunes well, you stayed to the high wind swept side and avoided bogging knee deep in soft fine grained sand. Your shoes would be completely full of sand and you knew it was shaving your feet like sandpaper, but with each km, you knew you were one step closer to the finish line.
It was not an overly hot day today, but it was blindingly windy and at times, you had to stop and wait for the wind to die down before beginning to run again. It was relentless! With 3k left, an Oasis came into sight and autopilot kicked in. You would forget about everything else and hone in on the finish line and like Salmon returning to their place of birth, you just felt yourself going home. We finished well and again close to each other. The sense of accomplishment hadn’t yet overridden the sense of exhaustion we all felt. That would come later.

Take aways
o Running is sand dunes is incredibly challenging
o At the end of a stage race, it’s all about getting it done.
o We completed a 4 day stage running race, across the desert… in an Oasis! (enough said).

It was the 1st of 4 days we had access to a hot shower, real toilet, decent food and beer and pretty much in that order we rounded up the rest of the team and began the international celebration. Perhaps the best part of the event, coming together to celebrate a collective goal is what makes these events 10 / 10. Of course the Canadians were the toast of the Oasis doing what we do best; bringing people together. we partied well into the night and TAJ member Isabelle received the award for the most spirited participant!

The next morning, we would convoy out of the desert in 46 Toyota Land Cruisers. It was a scene right out of a movie, which afforded us a great opportunity to see how people in the desert of Africa live. It was desolate, bleak and impoverished and obvious that we were all thinking the same thing was we burned though small villages. Back at the Isle of Djerba we would rest, pack, eat and celebrate at the awards dinner. By that time, everyone wanted to get the hell out of there. back home to their families, friends, kids and significant others.

Reflecting on this experience, there were many positive take aways from this event. We were very fortunate to experience this event with our team mates, we were lucky to enter an event with such excellent race directors and volunteers, we were more than suitably put outside of our personal comfort zones and we got to experience a piece of the world like few others have & or will. A very special thanks to our excellent sponsors (especially) Oakley, who saved our eyes, Ogio who made our travel seamless, Helley Hansen who clothed us and North Shore Athletics who made sure we had all of the gear we needed!

Next Stop: The Great Wall of China.

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