Racing The Planet Sri Lanka – From the highlands to the Indian Ocean, by shrines and stone Buddhas, through rice paddies, and jungles and sugar cane fields, this race pretty much covered the Sri Lankan landscape in all its variations and glories. Despite getting stitches in her knee on day 2, Cynthia Fish survived the jungle to bring us her Race Report from the Pearl of the Orient…
By Cynthia Fish
The race in one line: Humidity, jungles and wide variations of terrain.
Racing The Planet Roving Race – Sri Lanka – Key Points
- This is a Racing the Planet Roving Race, 250 kilometres, over 6 days. Because of the last 20 kilometres in Yala National Park, the race did not follow the standard, 40km for 4 days, 5th day 80km format, but instead, we raced 30-50 kilometres every day. (My total was 266.91km according to my Fenix2)
- This race demonstrated the usual high standard in support. Water and aid station every 10 kilometres or so. You carry your own food for the entire event.
- The camps were in beautiful natural locations, the tents fit 8 people and their gear comfortably.
- The race introduces the runners to a wide variety of Sri Lankan landscapes, highlands to ocean, so even if one is uncomfortable in one situation, there are many others to look forward to.
- Some competitors saw elephants, I saw peacocks in trees, and a few monkeys.
- The race cut through the landscape so sometimes we had a stage through jungle, while others were on roads, through villages. There seemed to be more roads in this race than in other Roving races.
- Because of the season, one could expect some rain, some hot sun, and some more rain. While this might be refreshing while running, it was a bit of a dampener at night in the tents.
Racing The Planet Sri Lanka – Stage by Stage Breakdown:
Pre-Race / Check-in
Assembling in Kandy at the Mahawell Reach Hotel, the racers all had that first race of the season glow. I was racing with the Free to Run team from Afghanistan, so before check in, we scrambled to get the bags and gear together. The check in was held on the lawn of the hotel and was altogether rather calm and quiet affair. I guess most people had their mandatory gear.
We had a four hours drive from Kandy, a convoy of buses with a police escort, and that night we slept on cots in a scouts camp
The first stage of the race was described as extremely difficult, and I would hope that it was the toughest first stage of any first day on any race ever. Through a jungle up and down, not a real trail, over and under branches that thwacked a variety of competitors. It sucked that first stage of the first day energy out of the marrow of your bones. The toughest mental stage I have ever done.
The rest of the day was delightful, rice paddies, rail lines and tea plantations. And mostly downhill.
We slept in an abandoned tea factory, which was nice, and there were running toilets, (which is always a treat.)
I fell down about 3km into the race and crunched my knee into a sharp rock. By the end of a slow descent from the tea factory to CP1, I was ready for a bit of a rest and to have the doctor assess my knee, which turned out to need stitches, which weren’t available at that aid station, so I was patched up and slowly meandered along to CP 2. As the doctor stitched me up, I ate some dried guava cube and enjoyed the rest. A gaggle of Sri Lankan boys were delighted with the entertainment.
It might have been a race ender, but I received excellent care, and support. I was issued the standard antibiotics, and every night I went to the medical tent and a doctor had a look and proclaimed me clean to race. That was my first medical emergency on any course, and I can’t say enough good things about the care I received.
Obviously, I went a bit slow that day, so I got to gawk at the highest waterfall and enjoy the slow descent. I picked up a young runner from Toronto who was feeling nauseous and thinking of quitting, so he and I walked along merrily talking about this and that. That’s one of the nicest part of these runs, you can always find someone who is walking at your speed and will provide a little support and good humour when things are looking a bit grisly.
Because of the nature of the environment, many of the checkpoint cut off times were not negotiable, and if you missed one, you were to be ferried back to camp, but you could continue the next day. That’s not usual. Normally if you miss a check point cut off, they pull you from the race.
With this in mind, sometimes you find yourself dawdling and then have to scamper to catch up.
In my case, my wild scamper was through a jungle and it felt like being 10 again, moving pell mell through trees and rocks and roots and ducking and dodging and prancing through little streams and rivers.
I passed the big stone Buddha in the rocks at a quick march, and steamed in on my own reconnaissance having made the last check point with 10 minutes to spare.
We got lucky. The weather remained a bit cloudier than usual, so hot hot sun did not kill us as we walked through the cane fields. Then we got a great river crossing, which allowed us all to dunk. It was a fairly flat day, with a few more roads thrown in.
The camp site was next to some beautiful statues and rock carvings. Then it rained and we all woke up in wet wet tents. Which oddly enough isn’t that appealing, but somehow seems less gross and awful while you are living it, than when you recall it.
Despite the rain, and the mud, this was my favourite stage. The first half was through a park, or along the canals they use for irrigating their fields, so it always felt a little ‘breezy’. There were huge fields of butterflies to walk through and the footing was easy.
Some people liked the plank bridge, but I’m not a bridge person, so it wasn’t my best moment.
This was my first race as part of a team, and my job was mostly food and morale. Being part of a team is really interesting but it makes for a much different race, as you can’t give it all on the trail. You have to keep something in the tank for negotiating team issues in camp. It’s a different challenge, but very rewarding and I would certainly sign up for it again.
This was the probably the hardest day. With no long march, we had to cover about 40 kilometres before finishing at the gates of Yala National Park where our finals times were taken. Then we were put into groups of about 8 to 10 people and we walked 20 kilometres through the park with a camp jeep behind us. Not the best bit of the race, by the time I got through, the animals were probably fed up with trucks and lycra and had gone to the other side of the park.
Our group finally called it quits and loaded onto the trucks about 10 kms from the camp.
The camp that night was on a beautiful beach, with surf and sunsets and crocodiles in the distance.
A 2km trot across the sand to a little fishing village with colourful boats and finally, a beer and real food. Which was very tasty! A troop of local dancers to entertain, and then a five hour bus ride back to the hotel.
Post-race blow out
The usual- dinner, videos and pictures and awards.
It is always weird to walk into a room of people you spent a week with, and realize that no one looks the same all cleaned up and dust free.
Date: 13-21 February 2016
Overall Time: 56:48:05
Race Website: www.4deserts.com
Photo credits: A mixture, mainly from my tent mates! (My camera got waterlogged on day 1…)