This March Dan Lawson and I will be heading out to the Middle East to run the 650km Jordan Trail from Um Qais near the Israeli border in the north to Aqaba on the Red Sea coast in the south.
Why, you might ask?
Well it’s an adventure and an exciting one at that. The Jordan Trail was inaugurated in 2017 and what better way for an ultra runner to start the year than a long, winding run through beautiful and historic landscapes with a friend?
Initially, the plan had been to traverse the length of Lake Baikal in Siberia this March, but plans change and - most importantly with this one - teams change. Dan is a world class 24hr runner and excels in hot conditions, but Siberia was looking ever more dangerous as a pair of skinny little distance runners with low body fat percentages. Freezing to death sounds rubbish...
So with our thinking caps on we thought about adapting our adventure, but how does one go about choosing somewhere suitable and then planning such a jolly?
Choosing the right adventure
1) Think about your strengths and weaknesses
If you want to plan your own trip, be you a runner, cyclist or hiker, be aware of what you enjoy, what you excel at and the difficulties you might have faced in the past.
If you struggle with heights and exposure, then don’t pick the Haute Route in the Alps. If the heat is your kryptonite then maybe the Gobi desert shouldn't be the first place on your list and, if you can’t swim, then maybe don’t plan on a Channel Crossing!
Dan and I are both good at running a long way. Both of us have run over 260km in a single day and have years of experience of running on road, trails and everything in between. Finding something suitably lengthy was important. A good place to start is long distance hiking trails or mountain biking routes, running routes recommended online can be a little, well, short.
2) Once you have ideas, ask around to refine your plans
The running and fitness community is global and you’ll be surprised how well connected it is. Want to run in a random country but have no knowledge about it? Chuck the question out on social media, talk to friends of friends and you might find some good information.
This way you can find out things like that the running in a stretch might largely be on busy roads ,or completely unmarked; or that the trails in Lebanon might have mines on them!
A bit of local information and contacts can go a long way to helping you plan and execute your adventure.
Planning the trip
This can be as simple or complicated as you like.
When running across Iceland with James Elson in 2016, I just booked the flights and a 4x4 support vehicle and then emailed a couple of people in the country to ask a few questions. Then we rocked up, went to a supermarket, booked an Airbnb on the way to Akureyri and ran across the country.
James did say that he would only do another adventure with me if “you weren’t planning it”, but everybody lived and we didn't total the hire car...
Yes, the overnight camps were decided when we got there and we might have gotten into trouble without support team when the snow storms arrived, but we were flexible in our plans and that allowed us to adapt to the unknowns.
Jordan Trail has a great website that describes each of the eight stages, which are subsequently split into four or five sections themselves. Now, you’re supposed to walk each section in a day, but hopefully Dan and I can move a bit quicker than your average hiker.
With this level of information you can plan more extensively and in a solid day in the office we created nine documents describing and planning each day. (At 90km and 112km, the last couple of stages were a little long for single days, so we’ve split it up a little bit into nine stages for the nine days of our run).
The documents contain information on trail conditions, directions and possible accommodation, as well as how the support crew can travel, what sights we might see and the dangers of each section.
There’s even a day where we might encounter wolves, but we know they’re fans of PH anyway if the football team is anything to go by ;-)
So the plan is pretty neatly packed already. Our team of four includes a film maker and photographer and they'll support us logistically too.
But a plan can only get you so far...
Adaptability is a must
As with any adventure, you need to be ready to adapt. I love the quote that “an adventure with no risk is no adventure at all” and a certain risk of failure or disaster is needed for it to be enjoyable. (For us anyway, the more you do in the world of ultra running, the harder it becomes to get your kicks...)
So your planning also has to include thinking about what happens when the plan flies out of the window.
Plan, plan, plan for when nothing goes to plan.
Water spots might be dry, trails might have collapsed, or we’ll just get plain lost. Having a rough backup idea is always a good.
The same goes for any race you do to be honest, be it an IRONMAN, a sportive or an ultra. The more experienced you get, the more you build up a wealth of disaster scenarios that you can draw on.
Often, being successful in endurance sport isn’t about doing everything right, but finding the best, or first, workable solution when the s**t hits the fan.
This is why products like PH 1500 are in my toolkit. I can’t always stop certain things happening, but with PH I have a tried and tested way to balance things out if my electrolytes/fluids are out of sync, or if I need to stop and rest everything just to keep going. Most likely every day will start with a PH 1500 preload, end with a PH 1500 for recovery and I'll have plenty in between too.
Enjoy planning the adventure
Lastly, but by no means at least, you have to enjoy planning for your adventure.
Ultimately the build-up is going to take as much (if not more) work than the adventure itself. If you don’t enjoy training for, planning and travelling out to far flung places then you’re missing out on a whole load of the fun.
It’s important to enjoy the process and involve the whole team to encourage accountability and also create a team ethic that will get you through the adventure itself.
Simple things like a WhatsApp group, coffee or run meet-ups if you’re local - or regular Skype calls if you're spread out - will keep everyone engaged and excited.
We’ll certainly bring back some nice pictures - I can’t wait to see Petra and some of the other historic sites across this beautiful country...
Robbie Britton represents Great Britain in distance running and won a Bronze medal at the 2015 World 24-hour Championships, with a distance of 261km. He lives out in Chamonix with his girlfriend (and fellow trail runner) Natalie White and Rosa, their German Shorthaired Pointer. We Sweat Tested him back in 2016 and he's been drinking PH 1500 ever since...