Runner experience: Petra Desert Half Marathon 2019
I first met Örjan Magnusson while running the Half Dramathon on Speyside in Scotland in 2017. We met again at the “full dram” Dramathon the following year. We have become friends on Facebook. Örjan recently took part in the Petra Desert Half Marathon 2019 and I asked him how it went. Here is his report.
A very early start
The alarm bell rang at 3:45am but I was already awake. I hadn’t slept much at all and it was complete darkness outside. I thought about breakfast but my stomach was a bit disturbed and my mate Patrik complained about a sore throat.
He had, had a temperature of 39 degrees just a couple of days before so this was not the best preparation if you are about to run a hot and hilly half marathon in the Jordanian desert.
I was thinking: “Why are we here at all when there are cool and flat races in countries with pubs in every corner?”
The germ of an idea
It all started in December when we were out in Stockholm for a night cap after a Slayer concert. For the past two years we had been joining the Dramathon in Speyside and we had got the taste for running in new and exciting environments.
We both agreed that it was time for a new challange. I Googled “spectacular half marathons” and on a list we found it, The Petra Desert Half Marathon.
The ancient city of Petra is one of the seven new wonders and is located near the town Wadi Mousa (which means The Valley of Moses) in Jordan. Visiting Petra was already on my bucket list and it didn’t take long for us to sign up for the race.
A great atmosphere
Back to the morning of the race and we gathered with other runners for breakfast in our hotel. This was one of the best parts of the race, with all runners staying at just a few hotels. We enjoyed the opportunity to socialise and meet new friends from all the 40 participating countries.
At 5:30, we began the walk down to the starting line. The start was inside the city of Petra and we went there together before the opening of the site for the public.
The walk was about 2km of winding through a narrow canyon called The Siq, ending in front of the most famous facade of Petra, the Treasure.
After some photo taking we continued 300m to the start of the race.
At 6:30 the countdown started and in front of us we had sand, gravel and asphalt with 650m of total ascent.
The start was located at an altitude of 975m and the finish at 1125 m. This seemed unfair!
Thankfully, it wasn’t as hot as expected, only 18 degrees, and the sun was still hiding behind the mountains. The starter went and the crowd began to move through Petra.
We soon saw the great amphitheatre on the left and the Royal tombs to the right. We continued along Colonnaded Street but I didn’t really have a chance to look around because I was fully occupied looking out for stones and holes in the rough surface.
After some running in sand, we finally came to an asphalt road and I thought that now it was going to be easier.
But I was fooled again! After only 2.5km the climb started.
Wow! We were reduced to a walking pace for the 200m climb, which continues some 2kms.
Rising temperatures – and camels
After 5kms, I was hit by the first sun beams and the temperature began to rise. The route went off the road and into the desert near a bedouin camp.
Some dogs came up barking and suddenly I had four camels running next to me on the left. From the right, two more came up to join their friends and they crossed my path just a few metres ahead of me.
I started to feel a little tired, maybe because of the altitude or perhaps the lack of sleep.
Around the next corner, I met a couple of bedouin youngsters with a donkey. “My friend, we help, you ride,” said one of them seriously and nodded to the donkey. That’s what I call entrepreneurs!
Halfway – and the relief of road
Around halfway through the race, we found ourselves back on the road again. There were a lot food stations along the route, serving water, coke, bananas and energy drinks.
After having some water at 10km, a tough climb started. It went on for almost 6km. The only good thing about it was that I could walk without being ashamed.
The road passed a village and kids were waving and cheering. I met an old lady who gave me a smile and a “Salaam”.
Finally, around the 16km mark, I reached the highest point of the course at 1425 meters above sea level. The view was stunning and I could see Wadi Mousa down in the valley.
Downhill to the end
And now it was downhill for the rest of the race. It was a little too much downhill actually and in the end it was impossible to run at a high speed.
After a while I could hear the speaker and finish line came closer. After crossing the line I received my medal from a man in traditional Arab outfit. And what a medal! It was big, heavy and beautiful!
My final time was 2:36:10, which might sound lousy but the average time of all half marathon participants was 2:59, which says something about the difficulty of the race.
As I sat down to enjoy the shawarma, which was part of the goodie bag, I wondered what had happened to Patrik. He had complained a lot about his throat before start and I wondered if he was at hospital, in bed or still on the course? After a while that sniveller crossed the line and didn’t even look tired!
All together, it was a great trip. The day after the race we visited Petra again, this time at a slower pace and with our eyes lifted. I’m not sure I ever will have the opportunity to go back again, so I’m glad it was as good as it was.
The next Petra Desert Marathon and Half Marathon is on September 5, 2020.