Cyprus, Training, Travel

Running Wild on the Karpaz Peninsula!

Last weekend, I ventured out to the Karpaz Peninsula in Northern Cyprus for a two-day, 95 km (60 mile) trail run to the very tip of the island. I’ll give the details below, but the short story is that I ran 43km (26.7 mi) the first day, got really sick that night, and ended up having to sit out most of the second day. I was pretty bummed about not being able to complete the run, but the first day was a lot of fun and I’m glad I got to participate in some regard.

To give some background, this run was hosted by Wildside Cyprus, a company that specializes in affordable, supported, and tailored group trips for trail running and sea trekking. They are also the main organizers of the Cyprus Trail Runners group, who organizes the Two Castles Mountain Ultra (which I am training for!) and Buff Troodos Mountain Ultra, as well as many other trail runs in Cyprus. They are a great group to work with and their services are top-notch!

This particular run was acting as a ‘farewell’ to one of the Cyprus Trail Runners members, Zed Muir, who will be departing Cyprus very soon and returning to the U.K. to complete his military service. Zed is a strong runner who has had great success on the trails of Cyprus, as well as a generally fun guy to be around.

Chris, Zed, Major, and me. Photo by Wildside Cyprus.

The two-day run started at Kantara Castle and went all the way to Cape Zafer at the very end of the Karpaz Peninsla (and the termination point of the 244-km Besparmak Trail). There were four stages on Day One, an overnight at the Oasis Hotel, and then two stages on Day Two. Since I didn’t complete Day Two, there won’t be much to say about it!

Below is a map of the entire route, broken down by stage:


  Day One

Stage One: Kantara to Yedikonuk – 13.5km/8.4mi

We began the run at Kantara Castle at about 8:30am on Saturday morning. The first bit is mostly downhill, so we were going at a good clip and everything was peachy. We came into the first little town of Yedikonuk about 13.5km where we met Chris & Bryan for our first checkpoint. By then, I think I had already made an error in my training: I hadn’t eaten anything yet. I got a bit wrapped up in talking to the guys, moving quickly, and keeping a good pace that I didn’t have a gel or anything for this whole period. I should have known better, as I usually train to take in 150-200 calories per hour, but I neglected to do so.

Off to a great start! Photo by Wildside Cyprus.

I also didn’t pack much for food because they had fully-stocked checkpoints every 8-12km. This was also a poor decision on my part because while the things they had at the checkpoint were just fine, they weren’t what I was used to consuming on my long runs. I usually take gels, blocks, almonds, protein bars, and a pb&j sandwich or two. At the checkpoints they had dried fruit, bananas, banana bread, coke, and water–all delicious, but foreign to me as running food. When we stopped, I ate way too much as I overcompensated for what I thought I had “missed” in the previous 13km. I felt fine departing the first checkpoint and had a nice run to the second checkpoint which was another 11km away.

Checkpoint!

 

Stage Two: Yedikonuk to Balalan – 11km/6.8mi

This part of the run was super scenic! We went through rolling hills and fields of tall grass. It was completely remote and we saw no one else out there except for the occasional farmer. The weather was fantastic and beginning to warm up, which was great to run in.

Heading out of town. Photo by Wildside Cyprus.

The second checkpoint obviously had all the same food as the first. Not taking care to monitor my intake, I stuffed my face with banana bread, dried apricots, and figs while washing it all down with coke (which I never drink during a run). At this point, my legs were starting to feel a bit heavy, which seemed odd as I was only about 23km into the route. Maybe the pace was too fast? Hard to tell.

Beautiful rolling hills.

The town of Balalan was small and quaint. Apparently it’s where all the hot-shot lawyers of Nicosia used to reside before the invasion in 1974 when they were pushed out. There is a giant poster hanging in the town square with a photo showing some of the original townsfolk from the 1950s. It seemed like not much had changed in the last few decades!

Townspeople of Balalan pre-invasion (1974).

 

Discussing the next stage in Balalan. Photo by Wildside Cyprus.

 

I popped a salt tab and headed back off with the crew for another 10km toward Adacay.

Stage Three: Balalan to Adacay – 10km/6mi

The beginning of this section started with a long uphill ascent on the main (tar) road before hooking back up to the Besparmak Trail and meandering through more remote valleys. It started to rain a bit, but it was just enough to cool us off without getting our clothes completely soaked.

 

Gearing up for a hill climb. Photo by Wildside Cyprus.
Looking gloomy out there…

By now, my legs were feeling pretty dead. I was using my trekking poles full-time now instead of just on the hills, and I was beginning to suffer a bit. I knew I would make it to the end of the day, but it was a bit rougher than I expected.

Zed hung back to run with me on a particularly rough stretch. What a guy! Photo by Wildside Cyprus.

 We ended at a picnic area where we could rest for a few minutes while taking in some more solid foods (bread, hummus, more dried fruit). I wasn’t feeling great here as all the sloshing around was starting to get to me, but I knew I’d be able to finish the day and had no indication that my sickness may affect the next day’s run.

Church along the way.

Stage Four: Adacay to Sipahi – 9km/5.5mi

The last bit was a slog. By now my stomach was in knots from whatever I had been eating all day and I could feel it with every step. I maintained a decent pace throughout this section, but it was a bit painful. My legs were all but shot at this point as well, so I was glad to see the end when it finally did come.

Walking the last few feet to the finish and admiring the friendly sheep. Photo by Wildside Cyprus.

When we finished, we sat and had a picnic in the field pictured above. We ate lots of the same food with some additional goodies like cheese, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and spreads. I wasn’t feeling too great but choked down some food anyway, knowing that I needed to replenish some of the 2,500+ calories I had burned throughout the day.

Nice old farm house.

From there, we hopped into the car and headed to our hotel for the night, which was about 30 minutes away. All the way there, my stomach continued to bother me but I figured it would go away.

In the evening

Sunset on the North Coast of Cyprus

Finally back at the hotel, I showered and laid down for a few minutes to rest. When I got up about half an hour later, my stomach pains had worsened. I couldn’t seem to get comfortable in any position. I swallowed a couple of Pepto Bismol pills and hoped they would alleviate the issue, but they did nothing. After about half an hour of increasingly intense pain, I began to feel incredibly nauseous. I made my way to the toilet and promptly threw up everything I still had left in my stomach. A few heaves later I felt a bit better–but the feeling would only be temporary.

I went to up to the restaurant to sit with the group and their families who had joined for the weekend adventure. I ordered a chicken salad, thinking it would be a safe option and something I would be able to keep down. I also ordered a soda water to see if that would calm my stomach, but it didn’t. When my salad did eventually come, I could only eat a few bites. I just couldn’t stomach anything. Feeling nauseous again I excused myself, explaining I wasn’t feeling well, and headed back to my room for the night.

What ensued was a rather awful and sleepless night ahead. My stomach hurt the most when I laid down, so I spent most of the night sitting up in bed dozing off occasionally. I also couldn’t keep anything down, which caused a good bit of dehydration. I drank what I could, alternating between dozing off in an upright position, taking in a few sips of water, and dry-heaving for most of the night. Luckily there was decent WiFi available and I could stream some Netflix to keep me company.

Can’t complain about this morning view!
 Day Two

 The group was meeting at 6:30am to head out for the next leg of the run. I was already awake, as I had been most of the night, and went out to meet them to say I wasn’t going to make it. I was exhausted and still felt crummy, so I said I’d meet up with them when they got back (the plan was to return to the hotel after the first section and then continue on). They went off and I went back to bed. I was able to sleep a little better but I still wasn’t in great shape.

Stage Five: Sipahi to Oasis – 24.5km/15.2mi

I understand this was a nice section with lots of scenic views and quite a bit of rain! I woke up again at around 9 and went to the restaurant for breakfast. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but I thought if I could hold down some food then I would be able to do a bit of the next section of the run. The breakfast was typical Mediterranean fare–olives, cheese, bread, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I was able to eat most of it and felt a little energy coming back to me. I decided to head back to the room, pack up, and change into my running clothes.

What’s left of the 12th Century Ayios Philion church.

 The others didn’t arrive for quite some time, and it ended up that Brian and Chris, the organizers, had some car trouble along the way. Their vehicle wouldn’t start and so they had to take it to the nearest village to see if they could get it fixed on a Sunday morning. Luckily, the other families had their vehicles there as well and we were able to figure out the logistics of getting everyone where they needed to be.

Stage Six: Oasis to Cape Zafer – 25.5km/15.8mi

Feeling somewhat rejuvenated, I headed off with the crew for a piece of the last section. There was a checkpoint 7km/4.5mi in, and I thought I’d see how it went for that first part to determine whether or not I’d keep on after.

It was a very easy track, but as soon as I started running I immediately felt nauseous and knew that I wouldn’t be doing any more than this section. It’s really too bad, because my legs felt fresh and I know I could have pushed through to the end from there if only my stomach was settled. I put my head down and tried to just grind out these few kilometers.  My pace was deathly slow, but the others were nice enough to take it easy and even run with me most of the time. It wasn’t necessary for them to do that, but it was very kind. When I finally did make it to the checkpoint, I threw in the towel. I spent the next hour or so feeling pretty queasy, but it eventually resolved to just a slightly less painful knot that persisted throughout the day.

Finish

I rode with one of the families to the end of the trail, where the runners were not far behind. We took some pictures, enjoyed the fabulous view, and celebrated the weekend’s victory with another picnic. I still wasn’t hungry at this point but took in what I could and patted everyone on the back for a job well done.

End of the line with friends and family! Photo by Wildside Cyprus.

We eventually climbed back into our respective vehicles and made our way back to Nicosia, feeling tired but accomplished. Although I didn’t run the entire route as I had intended and hoped for, I was very happy with my performance on Day One. The first four stage

 Lessons Learned

What went right:

Although there was plenty that went wrong with the weekend, there was plenty that went right:

  • First, the organization and planning of the event was fantastic. Chris and Bryan kept us up-to-date with emails and GPS files before the run, had the entire route and accommodation was worked out well in advance, and everything was in place despite all the moving parts (e.g. other families/kids joining). They even supplied us with SIM cards for the North ensured we would stay connected in the event of an emergency or if someone got lost.  That part really couldn’t have gone any better.
  • Second, the route was gorgeous. It was a good balance of following the marked Besparmak trail and taking detours through little villages along the way (mostly because they were accessible by the resupply vehicle). It was really beautiful.
  • Third, my training was where it needed to be for the length of the route. As I mention below, I made some mistakes that made it more difficult than it needed to be, but I was ready to go the distance.
  • Fourth, I used my trekking poles. I had only tried them on the trail once before but they came in very handy towards the end of this first day run. I will definitely be using them for the race!

What went wrong:

I’m not entirely certain what caused my illness. It may have been something completely unrelated to what I was eating along the way and the exercise simply exacerbated it, but I’m going to assume that wasn’t the case. Here’s what I think I did wrong:
  • Nutrition 
    • I didn’t eat anything for the first leg of the run. It was mostly downhill, I was fresh, and no one else was taking anything and so I felt a little funny breaking into a gel so quickly. This caused me to over compensate at the checkpoint and eat a bunch more than I would have.
    • I usually pack all my own food and keep it simple with nuts, peanut butter, protein bars, and gels. Instead of doing that, I just ate what was at the checkpoints which was different than what I was used to, and I ate more than normal, which I think both contributed to my stomach issues.
    • Although my stomach was the primary problem on Day 2, on day 1 my legs fell apart. The elevation of the course wasn’t crazy, but for some reason I got fatigued quicker than I expected. I’m sure that some of this had to do with the food I was eating. I was taking in more sugar than I’m used to by having coke and dried fruit.
    • I’m inexperienced. This was the longest run I’ve done and I simply don’t have the experience to be able to know better than to eat strange foods at checkpoints, how to pace properly, and how to psychologically handle these situations.
  • Pace
    • I have to hand it to the 3 others that I was running with in that they could have run a hell of a lot faster if I wasn’t there. Two of the guys are really gifted runners and are training for very difficult upcoming races, but they were very generous in their pace by keeping it slower than their usual speed and by not letting me fall too far behind. I kept a decent clip, but nothing compared to what they normally do. As part of that, I went slightly faster than I’m used to just so I wouldn’t be too far behind. This, combined with my other mistakes, made my legs break down more quickly than expected. It wasn’t a showstopper and I didn’t bonk, but it was more painful than my other long runs.
Summary

Despite not ‘going the distance’ and completing all 95km of the route, I had a really wonderful time on this trip. The organization, the route, and the people provided a welcoming and supportive environment that I could not have been more pleased with. I enjoyed the fact that this wasn’t a race and so I didn’t feel pressure to push beyond my limit. Rather, I could enjoy the scenery and the company without any pressure. That being said, I also learned some valuable lessons that I will put to use in my further training to hopefully avoid making the same mistakes again. All around, this was one of my favorite adventures in Cyprus!

Be sure to get in contact with Wildside Cyprus if you’re looking for a great adventure on the island!

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6 Comments on “Running Wild on the Karpaz Peninsula!

  1. Hi Brandon,

    Congrats on day one sounds like you really challenged yourself! Great Job.

    Thanks for all the info in the blog it is a great help! I’ve signed up for the the Lionheart on the 13th and beginning to get a little nervous!

    Just a quick question: It says that you started day one from Kantara castle – Did you cover part of the castles ultra? If so what are the early km’s like?

    Thanks in advance for any info you might have on the route.

    Best wishes,

    Kev

    1. Hi Kev!

      Thanks for your comment. It was indeed a challenging weekend for me, but it sounds like you’ve signed up for an even bigger challenge with the Lionheart! As far as the route, while we did start at Kantara Castle just like this year’s race does, we actually ran in the opposite direction, heading toward Dipkarpaz instead of toward Buffavento Castle. That being said the first few kilometers for both that run and the race are the same–downhill! It’s a nice way to start for sure. In talking to the race organizers, after the downhill it goes to single track for a while before starting a series of ups and downs before reaching “heartbreak hill”–a long and gradual slope that ends near the 50km mark (where I will finish).

      I’m currently writing a post about the last 30km (which are the hardest) that I ran during last year’s race, so stay tuned for that. Let me know if you have any questions, otherwise I’ll see you at the start line!

      B

  2. Hi Brandon,

    Thanks for the reply and the information. Look forward to reading the blog on the last 30km. Hopefully you’ll have it on your site before the race.

    20km trail run tomorrow, Did my last long run last weekend. So tapering down now.

    Enjoy the rest of the long weekend.

    All the best,

    Kev

  3. Hi Brandon,

    This is fantastic – exactly what I needed so that I can get the into the right mindset for the final 30km – Perfect!

    You should try and add a link to the Cyprus trail runners facebook as this will be invaluable for any first timers like myself!

    Hopefully see you on the 13th.

    All the very best!

    Kev

    1. Great! I hope it helps provide some insight into the last few sections. I’ve been in touch with the race organizers and they are going to send out the link on their Facebook page so hopefully others will get some use out of it as well.

      See you at Kantara!

      B

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