In a span of six days, Stephanie Innes-Smith (UK), Isobel Bushell (UK), Rossyle Ayuro (Philippines), and Heather Lee (Canada) walked, jogged, and ran around the periphery of Qatar. Their journey started at 6 am at the Corniche and initially planned to cover 100kms per day. The ultra-runners were on the road for 16 hours and camped roadside for the remaining hours.
On February 10, the four females managed to achieve 428kms, a historic feat for the female runners since only two male athletes have managed to previously complete this achievement in separate solo challenges.
The four ladies are part of the group called Desert Roses which was formed last August 2020 and had previously teamed up before in a 90kms crossing of Qatar. They’ve also known each other for around 4 years now and are all experienced ultra runners.
Heather Lee is an Educational Psychologist, Isobel Bushell and Stephanie Innes-Smith are teachers, and Rossyle Ayuro is an Insurance professional.
We had the pleasure of interviewing the group’s leader, Stephanie Innes-Smith, to talk about the group’s journey.
A: The group aims to inspire women and girls to engage in challenging, arduous outdoor activities; raise the profile of female sporting competence in Qatar; inspire our fellow amateur athletes in Qatar to set ambitious, unconventional personal goals foster a sense of community spirit for the recent National Sports Day on 9 February 2021; encourage the exploration of Qatar beyond Doha, and lead the students we teach by example.
A: We had a number of very friendly encounters with local people outside Doha who were all very welcoming and intrigued by the challenge.
The pace of life is undoubtedly different outside the city with a greater emphasis on non-material happiness. The strength of the expat community in Dhukan also became apparent during our journey.
It is easy for expats in Qatar to think everyone is based in Doha but in fact, there is a thriving international community there too.
Many people stopped us along the 400km route to ask us questions about our journey and others came out to find us because they had been tracking us in our group chat.
It is easy for us to minimize or normalize what we did and wish we had been able to go further, faster but in fact we need to remember that for many people, running even 1 kilometer would be a challenge. We are happy that our trip attracted enough attention to bring the idea of ultra-running into the homes and minds of many women around Qatar and further afield.
A: Non-preventable injuries were our biggest challenge. We have all been extremely frustrated by this. We were all fit enough and had sufficient experience of ultra running to complete the original challenge of 500 km in 5 days.
None of us suffered from muscle fatigue during this journey as the pace was slow and well within our capabilities.
However, we all suffered from blisters – to varying degrees – and three of us have ended up with stress fractures or joint-related problems such as extreme swelling.
In addition, Day 2 and Day 3 of the challenge were unseasonably hot which placed additional – although not unforeseen – strain on the team.
A: We are proud that our message reached a lot of people and we are happy that we managed to complete the challenge as a team but we fell short of our original goal of travelling 500k in five days.
This was due to a number of injuries within the team from Day 1. However, we believe that the fact we persevered and adapted the goal to suit the team is a testament to our teamwork.
While we all believe that much of what we can achieve is within our minds, there is a point at which you have to listen to your body and respond to its needs.
A: We motivated each other to keep going when needed. As the team leader, I also had to make the call when someone would have to step out and take a break in the car so the rest of the team could continue at a reasonable pace. On the last day, the slowest person was me. After an hour of persevering with walking, I decided to complete that day on a bike as I was simply holding back the other team members.
A: No matter how well you have trained, unforeseen or seemingly minor injuries can derail the whole experience. I have also realized that whilst having company on the road was a great idea and I really got to know each of my three teammates in new ways, it is definitely more straightforward to complete a challenge alone. We did a good job of balancing the needs of each individual team member but this also undoubtedly slowed us down.
A: This journey would not have been possible without the relentless optimism, support, and understanding of our sponsors ID Works, Coffee District, QTerminals, International Physiotherapy Center, Lululemon, Doha Bay Running Club. Also, all of our friends who had come out on a rota basis to provide us with protection on the main roads, a morale boost, additional food, drinks, massage guns, etc.
For anyone considering planning a similar adventure, finding the right type of support is essential. They truly understood our objectives and went above and beyond to support us in trying to achieve them.
A: We currently have no adventures planned as a team but on the last day of this adventure when I could relax on the bike, I began to plan my next all-female project which I hope will amount to 50 women each completing a 10km section of our original 500 km route. Each of us has our own individual running goals in mind too. My next big race will hopefully (COVID-19 permitting) be the 100k UltraMirage in Tunisia in September.
Cover image credit: instagram.com/thedesertroses2021
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