Cappadocia Ultra-Trail 2019 Review
When you expect little… you find magic
The sole purpose I signed up to Cappadocia was the opportunity to bank 5 UTMB valuable points. (Yes, I’m one of those who has UTMB on my race bucket list.) What I discovered is that when you turn up to a race with no expectations, you can find something very special.
Cappadocia is an Ultra-Trail World Tour® event, passing through high plateaus and valleys of Cappadocia. Cappadocia is a UNESCO world heritage site with natural wonders, unique rock formations and interesting historical heritage.
The first challenge is actually getting to Cappadocia. I flew into Nevşehir through Istanbul. Initially, I had planned a race weekend, but the trip was extended to enjoy Istanbul for two days pre-race. Exploring a city on foot and using a hammam proved to be good race tapering.
The race starts and finishes in the small touristic town of Ürgüp. The entire main square of the city turns into a Cappadocia trail festival during the race. It is impossible not to join in with the town’s celebratory spirit. As Cappadocia is fairly remote, most runners arrive a few days in advance, so you run into your fellow runners in the local town creating a special anticipation and bond ahead of the race. There is a combination of domesticated and stray dogs everywhere and it is impossible not to take a liking to them.
I had strategically picked a hotel 240m from the start line. It was a cave hotel. These have windowless hotel rooms inside the rock formations. The cave rooms turned out effective it was warm during the night and cool during daytime.
The long ultra trail tour goes almost in a circle of eight. The start time is the same as for the 63km runners. The first circle is mostly proper trails. You can see the famous hot air balloons covering the entire sky in the morning and you run through the spectacular rock landscape. Parts are hilly but the trails are runnable. You enter sections of Cappadocia that are less explored. At times, you pass through a village or cross the main road. The security is high and there were police at all crossings and villages. On the trail, you are surrounded by runners but it didn’t feel crowded. The final kilometres back to Ürgüp, you leave the beautiful Rose Valley and run on a plateau and then through vineyard countryside. You think that you could be in Italy until you heard the prayers from the local mosque. In Ürgüp, the 63km and 38km runners turn towards the finish line while the ultra tour continues on a second loop in the opposite directions. You start off with a climb and then there is a couple of kilometres in a stream. It is good to this section day-time as otherwise, your feet will get wet in the ankle-high water. You have to carefully place your feet to stay dry.
The maximum time allowed for the ultra tour is 24 hours. The first loop is more scenic and less technical. The second loop, which mid-packers like me did most of in the dark, has three decent climbs and much more technical terrain. On many descents, there is no path and you run in uneven, rocky terrain following the reflective markers.
Day-time the weather was 20oC but night-time the temperature went down quickly. It was freezing and the hands get cold quickly. A hat is also useful. The trails get lonelier at night-time as fewer runners do the full course and the field is spread out. Between two checkpoints I was completely alone only staring up on a big, incredible sky.
My lifesaver was the open fire to heat in the second from last checkpoint and bumping into two friendly runners from Turkey and Guatemala during the final 10km. The banter while moving the last few kilometres and laughing at the fact we were climbing when the route map said we should be descending got the mind distracted as the body felt pain.
Passing the finishing line in Ürgüp, stumbling over the many dogs covering the finishing line was a welcomed relief.
The Turkish volunteers were super enthusiastic. The course was very well marked. If anything, I’d criticize the manual checkpoint system for timekeeping and lack of more proper food at the aid stations. There was an abundance of biscuits and salty snacks but too little hot food offering. You need a proper meal for refuelling during a 119km course.
Poles were very useful. I had a UD Mountain Vesta and took two thermal layers to switch when sweaty to keep warm. I wore Raidlight trail gaiters for the sandy course and had Raidlight’s finger gloves. I opted for the Hoka Torrent as a lightweight trail shoe.
The post-race day was enjoyed with a good bottle of local Turkish red wine. The somewhat mechanical target to bank 5 UTMB points turned into a very enjoyable weekend!