Discover the Full Moon Desert Marathon in Wadi Rum
5 May 2018
(updated May 6th 2018 with new events)
There are many different ways to enjoy running in Jordan. In addition to the famous “Dead2Red” 242 kilometers-long team race organized by Amman Road Runners (debrief to come on this blog!), there are several marathons or half-marathons, all of them fully exploiting the natural wonders offered by Jordan. And their calendar is pretty well balanced, isn’t it?
- the Amman marathon in November, organized by run Jordan,
- the Dead Sea ultra-marathon in March (10K, 21K, 50K),
- the Petra desert marathon in September, organized by Albatros Adventure Marathons;
- the half marathon of the Red Sea in Aqaba in December, by Run Jordan,
And also, for those who like it when it’s long, difficult, or weird (running at night, or when it’s 50°C outside…), there are also some nice events around:
- the Mad Dog Desert Marathon (MDDM), organised in summer at the Wadi Araba (self sufficient, at mid day 😉 ),
- the Wadi Rum International Marathon, organized in october – november (21K, 42K ,100K). The next edition will be held in Oct 19-20th, and it is organized by Masafat marathon / unlimited distances;
- the Wadi Rum ultratrail, 260 kms to run in 5 days.…next editio as of october 7th 2018;
- … and … the Full Moon Desert Marathon at the end of April. Also called the FMDM, it is organized by flashback adventures.
(and there might be others…please let me know by leaving a comment ! 🙂 )
Certainly, the aim of each expat runner living in Jordan is to run… all of those races. By now, my debriefs of the 2018 Dead2Red and the 2017 Amman marathon are in progress. And as of today, my best sport experience in Jordan is undoubtedly the Full Moon Desert Marathon / FMDM.
Why that? Well, certainly not because of the individual race pace (ahuh, 42 kilometers of soft sand..You ‘ll probably run faster in Paris, Boston, Berlin, or whatever other marathon…), but for sure, because of the exceptional landscapes, and also for the race atmosphere.
FMDM: the most beautiful marathon in the world?
I am always suspicious when people begin their story with “it is the hardest”, or “it is the most beautiful”, or “it is the best”, or “it is in the top ranking marathons …”. Meanwhile, what I do know is that every marathonman/trailer visiting the Wadi Rum desert, would probably dream of actually running a marathon in it. Thanks to the organizers of this race, Flashback adventures, it is possible, and without any safety issues ! (we will get back to that below, in the “debrief” part).
Jordan is often cited to host several mythical courses. For instance, the Petra desert Marathon is regularly referenced as one of the “most beautiful in the world” (for example, on the ranking “top 8 world marathons” of labelforme, or on the top 10 marathons of femme actuelle (both links in french language 😉 . It might well be (I haven’t done it yet), but from my prospective, it is the only major race in Jordan (along with the Wadi Rum ultramarathon), which is not organized locally…and in which the participation of locals or expats is not the easiest, at least on the website registration page.
But let’s go back to the sands of Wadi Rum. Although the desert of Wadi Rum generally appears in the top 5 of the most beautiful deserts in the world, his FMDM remains rather confidential. How come?
Here’s a good reason : you don’t participate to the FMDM to “break your record”, or “for fame”. This is just not the spirit of the race. This year, the winner of the 42K was Salameh al Aqra. To give you an idea of his level, he won in 2012 the legendary marathon des sables in Morocco, the famous 250 km , 6 days-long and self sufficiency ultramarathon. So, Salameh is not exactly the average Joe when it comes to running. Well, this year, he completed the 42K of Wadi Rum with the stunning time of … 04h02′ ! So now , You’ve probably understood, that youwill NOT beat your reference time on marathon in the soft sand of Wadi Rum! :-).
Neither do you go there in order to be encouraged by a raging crowd. The FMDM is mostly an intimate relationship between you and the Wadi Rum, with the full moon glazing at you . In the desert, there is no one to hear you scream – or sing-, there is no one to cheer you, at the noticable exception of the volunteers in charge of the safety for the race. Spread every 5ish kilometers with a car, they provide you with mineral water and encouragements. In between , in that 5kms-long vacant space : sand,nobody, some torches to mark the path, sand, nobody, a vague trace of 4X4 to follow, sand…
On the other hand, if you intend to make a good ranking (or even aim for a top 10), it is reasonbly possible here … here are some figures: during the FMDM 2018 edition, we were … 16 marathoners on the start line. 11 guys, 5 girls, including 13 finishers. Recon that in Paris or Boston, it’s slightly more complicated to show up in the top 10, huhu!
And also, the marathon is made of two loops of 21 kms each. Thus, marathonians run along with the half-marathonians (63 participants in 2018!), which is also very nice for the atmosphere and the motivation. It also implies that you can run your 2 turns … or only one, depending on your feeling! Therefore, this marathon is a good opportunity to start running sand races, because the Marathon des Sables is, how to say … a bit hard for a first time? 🙂
Minute by minute and with images:
13h47 : Arriving in the super camp of Rahayeb desert camp. Time to pick up my bib, to get informed about the race , to chat with the organizers, to chill out…: the atmosphere is nice, the weather is grim, the atmosphere is calm …
17h41: it’s gonna rain it’s gonna rain it’s gonna rain…
17h42: it is raining.
17h45: security brief, with a speech from the marathon organizers. From where I am (far from the speaker), I roughly understand that (1.) the organization has already set up the markings, based on flaming torches (remember the episode of rain, 3 minutes before), and that (2.) every year, there is ALWAYS at least one guy who gets lost in the desert (and, that sometimes , they actually manage to PICK HIM UP ALIVE!)
18h05: Eole, Zeus and Poseidon are having fun : wind blows, heavy rain, and freshness… You could then say to yourself : “cool, this is just gonna fix the sand and the water will make it more solid! ahem, actually…nope. See below.
18h25: usual pre-start atmosphere…usual questions are trotting in the head: have I actually fixed all I had to fix in my camelback? Should I go again to the toilets? Are my gaiters properly set?…
18h30 : 3..2…1….start !
crédits videos : Flashback adventures
18h40, km 2 : huhuhu, this is actually VERY easy!
18h41, km 2.1 : well, hu wait…it’s getting hot, isn’t it? and thirsty , too, despite the pre-race hydratation.
18h42, km 2.3 : hot Hot ! (Only 25 °c, in fact). Here, a word about the sensations: when we run in the sand, our engine heats exactly like that of a over-heating car. We must therefore adopt a steady rythm , small strides, feet flat, to avoid spending too much energy…
18h45, km 2.7 : okay, let’s cool down…There are 2 laps of 21 km to run. So let the half-marathonians do their race at their own pace… For my part, I know that in cha allah, I’ll be exactly at the same position in 2 hours and a half, and after 21 kilometers!
19H13, km 6 : steady pace now…Good feelings, andI now realize that the factor “heat” is actually a good indicator: too hot = over-revving. Really different from a road race, or if you want to move a little, you still have a little hot :-).
19h58 , km 13 : first aperçu of tiredness. gotta have to cool down, and even to consider walking when climbing the sand dunes…
20h57, km 21 (but 19.8 on my watch..) : first lap completed, almost in 2h27′. The goal of completing the marathon in 5 hours is fading away…
21h02, km 22; now let’s go for a second round, alone with nature this time… behind me, nobody out of sight … in front of me: a small flickering light, a few hundred meters… looks like another runner. Now it’s time to grit the teeth, to catch up and to double it ! 🙂
22h04, km 28 : it’ becoming long … partly the fault of a rather poisitive elevation in the second half of the loop … I caught up with the rider in front, he passe up again…and now I see a headlight behind …Time to clentch the fists! 🙂
23h03, km 35 : ending of an unconfortable phase, mostly walked instead of runned..But it is also the case of the 2 or 3 other runners around, which I can discern the torches…I must now preserve my place, which suits me perfectly: I have no one around, I am in communion with the desert. For the last 7 kilometers, I decided to opt for a quiet walk-run sequence, as we usually do in ultra-trail.
23h48, km 42 (40 on my watch) : the finish line is crossed … and the arrival in the camp is done under the vivas of its inoccupants ! I discern on the dancefloor my friends Abdullah and Abdulqayum, respectively quiet 1st and 3rd of the half marathon … Obviously, those two guys are in a better post-race shape than me ! 🙂
The debrief of the marathon
- Available lenghts : 5 km (walk, 10 km, 21 km, 42 km. different loops for the 10 K on one hand, and the 21K/42K on the other;
- Organization and information: Flashback adventures (site facebook pour les détails) ;
- my garmin connect track : “full moon desert (wadi rum ) marathon”, https://connect.garmin.com/modern/course/18340301
- Map: reference point is the camelodrome in south of Disah village (northern boundary of the wadi rum natural park. Grids of the Rahayeb camp parking lot:
29°37’51.1″N 35°30’44.6″E, ou 29.630860, 35.512400
- Difficulty: it is a 100% sand race (soft, even after the rain). There is therefore a particular running technique to adopt. If, such as me, you realize that you have more muscle aches at abs than ischios, it might mean that you have the good technique…or just weak abs :-);
- Refueling: every 5 km. You’ll have to shout your bib number at the same time, to make sure you don’t get lost somewhere in Saudi Arabia… Watch out : make sure you are self-sufficient in food (bar, gels) and in isotonic drinks, as you only get mineral water in the stations;
- Safety equipment: the same as for any medium distance trail: whistle (supplied), reflective armbands and red strobelight (supplied), GPS bracelet (supplied), headlamp (I never used it because of the full moon in order to “feel” the terrain but one can prefer the light of a torch…);
- Tips for running in sand : run with your abs ! at the end, your abs will probably ache more than the legs…it is just normal when it comes to run in the sand. And also, take gaiters! Some also use old socks envelopped around the shoes…For my part, I recommend those RAIDLIGHT gaiters, that I will definitely re-use for the next trails in sand or snow:
What we liked:
- …and if you still need to be convinced, check out this #flashbackadventures video:
Credits: flashback adventures
What we didn’t like:
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