The next morning, exactly at the same time and as our balloon "flew" silently up in the sky, I noticed far below on the ground an orange tape. It was a race mark. I searched with my eyes for the direction of the trail and I noticed that it was leading to Goreme, an impressive town that we crossed the previous day, after about 33 kilometers in the race. Immediately I thought the image after the start of the race, with the view of the balloons up in the sky, and mixing them all together in my mind I came to the conclusion that if something can characterize the Salomon Cappadocia Ultra Trail, is the expression "complete experience"! Complete in terms of the trails, aid-stations, provisions, special offers and packages to the athletes, beauty, history and culture of the area, volunteers and of course organization of the race.
Cappadocia is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and the race organizers have designed the routes so as to cross the main cultural and geomorphological elements of the wider region, which are indeed very impressive and interesting.
There were lots of things for someone to admire during the race, starting with the view of the balloons up on the horizon that accompanied us for about an hour, as we were running immediately after the start of the race inside incredible rock formations, which was something unique. The sunrise on a bright day with clear sky, contributed to the beauty of the landscape. Large parts of our route led through narrow gorges, other rain-fed and other in dense vegetation, with the narrowest gorge barely fit a runner and having continuous wooden stairs that led us in lower levels. We also had to run sometimes downhill in the gutters of large rock formations, jumping left and right.
Sometimes tunnels inside the rocks appeared suddenly in front of us, which contributed to the mystical landscape, together with the views of the cave-houses dug in the rocks by the early Christians. Some other times, as we were running into a canyon, crops and houses suddenly appeared in front of us, as if hidden in the landscape. Sometimes we met horses, galloping free or with riders in groups that made a tour in the region. We must not forget that “Cappadocia” means "the land of beautiful horses", and how true this finally is.
Urgup, Uchisar, Goreme ... very beautiful towns, built into the rocks. The race trail led us to cross them, but also to admire some of them from above for some time. Especially the trail that we ran around the hills above Goreme, provided great views of the town and of the bizarre rock formations scattered in it and it was amazing. The same holds for the big plateau between 46-50 km, which provided us with incredible views from high above of the valleys and surrounding mountains, as far as we could see.
In the most isolated parts of the race trail, they were some remarkable valleys named after their colors (Rose Valley and Red Valley) or the shapes of the rock formations (Love Valley). Whether traversing the valleys from above, or by running into them, we could not help but admiring the works of nature and time, which often leave you speechless.
Very beautiful part in the 110K race was the passage around the lake after the 71st kilometer of the race, while in both 60K and 110K races – in the part between 50-60 Km – we crossed farmlands, mainly with vineyards that produce the excellent wines of Cappadocia. In fact the vineyards of the region reminded to us the "grape coils" of Santorini island, as they stood low in the volcanic and very sandy soil.
The races of Cappadocia Ultra Trail have not a very high positive ascend (110K – 3.340m, 61K – 1.810m, 35K-940m) and they are fast, but their difficulty has to do with other characteristics, like the continuous ups and downs, which as Mr. Koray Murmann – head of the race organization – very aptly told us, make the races to look as a continuous roller coaster!
In the 60K race we ran mainly on single-track trails and dirt roads, but the 110K race last part sometimes went off-trail, crossing some high plateaus of the region. The terrain was easy for running in some parts, technical and rocky in others, but the main difficulty that made our effort hard was the fact that the soil on most trails was sandy and of volcanic nature. Our feet were sinking in the sand for many kilometers – even when running on dirt roads – and that made our legs biceps pretty tired. This nature of the trails pushed up the difficulty level, along with the hardness of some parts that traversed the valleys, and especially the stone roads and steps inside the towns and villages that we crossed.
The temperature was low at the race start but during the day went up to almost 30° Celsius, making the effort more difficult. We have to notice at this point that there was not water in the parts of the trail between the aid-stations, so someone had to be very careful with his/her hydration for avoiding dehydration.
The most difficult long uphill during the 60K race was after the Cavucin aid-station, near the 44 kilometer of the race. Also the plateau that followed this uphill was of increased difficulty due to the continuous ups and downs. In the 110K race, in addition to this uphill, there were also three more difficult climbs at the last part that put additional hard effort to the athletes as they were running in the darkness of the night.
Trails marking (poles with flags with the symbol of the race stuck in the ground, yellow arrow signs, tapes) was excellent and it was very difficult for someone to get lost. Additionally, inside towns and villages but also in critical intersections - as an example when we had to change direction from a dirt road to a trail and vice versa – there were volunteers that showed the correct way. We also especially liked the signs that indicated that we are one kilometer far from the next aid-station.
The 110K race had ten aid-stations along the route, the 60K had six and the 30K two. Some of them were housed in big tents, while the Uchisar aid-station was very impressive because it was placed inside an amazing cave! The aid-stations had almost … everything … cakes, cheese, bread, ham, halva, tangerines (something that we don’t see often in races and we liked it very much), bananas, lemons, some sweets and snaks, coke, tea and coffee. The main aid-stations additionally offered pasta and hot soup. Their placement on the route was very efficient, based not in the kilometers but at the effort the runner will face in the next part of the race. The volunteers, either in aid-stations, or in every other place and role in the race, did an excellent job and they deserve many congratulations, not only for their efficiency but also for their positive and enthusiastic spirit that made the runners feel great.
Cappadocia Ultra Trail 2016 used the live coverage system that we have seen in UTMB® (Livetrail), which is currently the best in the ultra-trail scene, while the timing system with two chips for accuracy (one on the bib-number and one separate placed on the backpack) is also used in UTMB, Marathon des Samples and other top races (uRTime - Electronic Timing System). The choice is logical taking into consideration that the race had almost 1.000 runners from 51 countries; it is a future event of the Ultra-Trail World Tour and wishes to provide the athletes with the best solutions for every aspect of the race.
And since we talk about UTWT®, the Salomon Cappadocia Ultra Trail already meets the criteria for being a regular race of UTWT® (more than 500 athletes from 20+ countries, race more than 100 Km etc…) and based to the top quality that we have seen we are sure that its accession is just a matter of time. A great help towards this goal is the easiness of coming to Cappadocia, especially for the international athletes, something that we have to think carefully for our (Greek) big and important races.
The issue of the organization benefits to the athletes is something that needs a separate reference, starting from the race official web-page and the registration procedure, which was an accurately designed job that intended to make things easy for the athletes and their families or supporters. Every runner created his own internal page during the registration procedure, uploading personal information related to the race, the medical certificate and the letter of consent, chose a hotel from the list and informed online the organization about his arrival and departure dates & times at Kayseri & Nevsehir airports. After the confirmation (again visible on the web-site) shuttle buses expected every athlete at the airport and transferred them at his hotel and vice versa, without extra cost. In general, the information of any kind included in the official web-page of the race was detailed and accurate.
The multipage brochure of the race included in the athletes’ bag was elegant, luxury and detailed. The race t-shirt impressed us with its quality and design, while the same holds for the fleece finisher vest for the 110 & 60K races. The athletes’ bag also included a very useful belt from Suunto, which can hold the bib-number of a race and some gels. Other important benefits to the athletes were the many amazing photographs that continuously uploaded at the organization facebook page and of course the special prices in hotels and restaurants of the region for the athletes and their families or supporters.
The place around the start / finish line was very well organized and very impressive, inside a landscape full of rocks and caves. There were many tables for supporting almost 1.000 runners for the pasta party and after race meal, which were both of an excellent quality and variety, offering also refreshments, beers etc. Great job also with the organized tents in the same area, with personnel offering massage and physiotherapy treatment to the athletes that finished the races. The registration procedure was also quick and very well organized, with detailed inspection of the mandatory equipment. At the same building it was also located the big amphitheater were the race briefing took place, both in Turkish and English languages.
There was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm during the start of the race and also during the award ceremony, with lots of people in the central square of Urgup. The atmosphere was less enthusiastic as we crossed towns and villages during the race, which is something logical I presume because ultra-trail racing is something new in the region. The forum Kapadokya kids race was very beautiful, as they ran wearing blue color t-shirts, just before the start of the awards ceremony on Sunday morning.
A great attraction when someone visits Cappadocia is the flight with the balloons, something which is unique worldwide. The balloons flight offers great images from the sky and a complete aerial view of the amazing geomorphology of the region. The balloons flight was very well organized and started at 05.00 in the morning, where shuttle busses picked us from our hotels and transferred us to the heart of the region, the city of Goreme, in order to have breakfast, tea and coffee. After finishing our breakfast we’ve being transferred with the shuttle buses – in a very organized manner – to the balloons take off area, where we faced a unique spectacle, as it was just a few minutes before sunrise and hundreds of multicolor balloons inflated with hot air, with the flames and the colors creating an amazing scenery between the rocky landscape and the horizon.
The balloon flight kept just over an hour, with our very experienced pilot, Mr. Halis Aydogan, showing us the area from above with a great sense of humor. Just after our unbelievable landing directly on a towing car waiting on the ground, a small ceremony with some champagne took place and we returned to our hotels with the shuttle buses. The Voyager Balloons company was a co-sponsor of the Cappadocia Ultra Trail race, and in cooperation with the race organization offered the 1/3 of the regular price to the athletes and their families. It is a really exciting experience and the sponsorship provided the runners with the opportunity to live it.
Winner of the 110K race was the Russian Alexei Tolstenko who finished the race in 12:13:08, in the second place was the German Florian Felch finished in 13:15:30 and third on the podium was Andrey Gridin from Bulgaria finished in 13:18:13, well known in Greece after his victory this year at Olympus Mythical Trail 100K. The British Anna-Marie Watson was the great winner in the women race and 5th in the general ranking, with a time of 14:25:49, second was the Italian Graziana Pe finished in 14:47:36 and third was Anna Arseniuk from Poland finished in 15:09:53. George Tsolakakis was the Greek athlete that finished the race, in the 108th position with a time of 23:30:07.
In the first place of the podium at the 60K race was the Austrian Olda Janecek, finished in 6:03:51, but in the second place we had two runners finished together, the Turkish Oral Akkose and the Iranian Davood Shiskhani with a time of 6:14:54. First woman in the 60K race was the Russian Elena Polyakova with a time of 6:56:54, second was the Turkish Neval Yasar finished in 7:17:32 and third was Susanne Perche from France with a time of 7:25:07. I also finished the 60K race, in the 21st position of the general ranking, with a time of 7:25:51.
The first runner that crossed the finish line in the 30K race was the Turkish Ahmet Arslan in a time of 2:43:02, but second in the general ranking (and first woman) was Stephanie Manivoz from France in 3:16:41. In the third position was the Turkish Hasan Izbilir finished in 3:20:41. Third man was also a Turkish runner, Oguzhan Emre Singer in a time of 3:27:24, while second women was Aysen Aktas from Turkey finished in 3:45:54 and third was the British Anabelle Stearns in a time of 3:49:33. Evangelia Papadimou from Greece finished in the 302 position in a time of 6:07:12 and Dimitris Tsolakis completed the race in the 308 position in 6:08:13.
The complete results of the Cappadocian Ultra Trail 2016 can be found here.
In the beginning of our article for Cappadocia Ultra Trail, we characterized it as a “complete experience”, something that we always have to pursue when running races abroad in the context of sports tourism. The race takes place in a region with very deep history, with great civilizations passing one after another for thousands of years, leaving their own footprint as the time goes by. The geomorphology of Cappadocia is amazing and provides the visitor (or runner in our case) images of rare beauty. At the same time, Cappadocia have some beautiful and “human” towns and villages, great food, it is an important wine producing area and its very easily accessible with excellent – as we discovered – roads.
Argeus team that organizes the race, used its vast experience in organizing big sports events almost for 25 years and with the major help of big sponsors like Salomon, SUUNTO, Buff, Forum Kapadokya and Turkish Airlines, but also with the help of smaller local but significant sponsors and volunteers, managed to create – building into the important characteristics of the region – a running event that already from its third edition is a future event of the Ultra-Trail World Tour and a great worldwide ultra-trail race with great benefits for the runners and their families and supporters. There is no doubt that a runner that looks for a different, strong and beautiful experience, especially in his neighborhood, must take Cappadocia Ultra Trail into serious consideration when planning his future calendar.
Advendure was the media partner of the Salomon Cappadocia Ultra Trail 2016. We like to thank the organizing committee of the race and personally Mr. Koray Murmann for the great honor to invite us and also for their generous hospitality. They gave us the opportunity to experience something unique and beautiful and transfer our experience to the Greek mountain running and ultra-trail community.
Photo ©: GoShots.net, Salomon Cappadocia Ultra Trail, Brian Hodes, William Steele, Fani Troupi, Foteini Saranti
View this photo set on Flickr