Fran runs 165km through the Oman Desert for charity
165 kilometres, 6 days, 1 desert. That’s what Fran McEwen conquered November 2019 in the Oman Desert Marathon.
The Oman Desert Marathon is a multi-stage, self-sufficient race across the Oman Desert. Participants had to carry all their gear, other than water, on their back. This includes sleeping bags, sleeping mats, a change of clothes and food for the six days. Fran’s food selection included a large amount of dehydrated meals (with some jet planes and peanut M&M’s to keep her sane). Participants would sleep in the middle of the desert overnight to prepare for the next stage of the race. Runners from across the world come to compete in six stages over the six days, finishing up on the shore of the Arabian sea.
Physical activity is extremely important to Fran, and running is ‘her thing’. Fran loves to run long distances- so what better than a long distance of 165 kilometers? Through physical activity Fran enjoys getting outdoors in nature, connecting with people but also the opposite- alone time. Often Fran’s physical activity allows her to take some time to herself to think and process the day, plan new things and give her the time to listen to (and actually enjoy) music and podcasts.
Fran also recognizes the benefits of exercise to her mental wellbeing.
“Running and walking are definitely the things that I love to do. It helps me to keep my mental health stable. I’ve found over the years I have been able to decrease my medication that I take because I supplement it with physical activity, in particular running. It’s really had a positive effect on my mental health.”
We asked Fran what her biggest challenges were during the ultra-marathon…
“Definitely the soft sand. The race notes essentially say “Yeah, there’s soft sand” but you don’t really get the idea of how much there is, or how soft the sand actually is. It’s like silk. It’s beautiful, so it’s fun to play in – but a lot harder to run on.”
Fran admitted she hadn’t done any sand training prior to the race, which many people told her was ‘probably a mistake’.
“The hardest stage was probably the night marathon. Not only is it the longest stage, but you’re also on stage five of six, so you have been running for four days prior to that.
It’s quite spooky, being out in the desert at night. You feel quite alone, and you can’t see further than your head torch. You’re kind of like ‘What’s out there?’. I did see a snake! And lots of spiders and beetles.
You also feel tired, I started at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, so by the time you get to 11 o’clock at night, your body is really getting tired. It was mentally challenging keeping myself going, but such an achievement when you get to the finish line”
Being in the desert, Fran was not running in windy Wellington weather anymore. The average temperature whilst running was around 29 degrees, with one of the hottest days getting up to 40 degrees Celsius!
With only 50 runners competing in the classic event and all running different paces, Fran spent a lot of time by herself.
“You could go for two hours and not see anyone – or you might see people on the horizon, running along a sand dune but they were so far away. You spend a lot of time by yourself.”
We asked if Fran got lonely, but her response was, “No- it was actually really peaceful”
The Oman Desert Marathon has been Fran’s longest distance yet, but she doesn’t plan to stop there.
“I’ve got the bug- I’ve just signed up for my next one in March.”
Fran will be running the Sri Lanka Ultra X in March 2020, which takes participants through the jungle over five days, covering 250 kilometres.
Completing the Oman Desert Marathon has empowered Fran to continue challenging herself.
“I feel different in the sense that I feel more able to take on the next adventure. I’ve proven to myself that I’m quite good at this and I really enjoy it.”
Not only has Fran had the experience of a lifetime, but she has gained personal satisfaction and confidence in both her physical abilities and her mental strength to get her through.
“A lot of it is in your mind”
Training for the ultra-marathon for Fran involved a variety of distanced runs and walks (including with her dog!). Fran would train five days a week, back to back, to prepare her body for the six consecutive days she would be running in Oman. Hot yoga was also on the list of training activities- not only did Fran go for the physical benefits of yoga, but also to help her body acclimatize to the heat she would be running in.
Whilst many might think Fran is crazy for wanting to run such a distance through a desert, there is more than just a love for running behind Fran’s story.
Fran ran 165km to raise awareness and funds for the Shift Foundation. Fran is the founder of Shift, which is charitable trust that aims to improve the wellbeing of young women. One of the many ways they do this is by promoting and encouraging physical activity for positive mental and physical health – ‘Shift your body, Shift your mind’. Other initiatives include leadership mentoring, social activities to build new connections, and activities promoting a holistic approach to wellbeing.
“It was really helpful for an inspiration perspective- once I’d committed to run for women’s wellbeing, it became even important for me to achieve. It was a really motivating factor.”
By embarking on one of the hardest challenges of her life, Fran managed to raise nearly $6,000 for the Shift Foundation to put back into our community. To read more about the amazing work of Shift Foundation and the work they are doing for young women’s wellbeing, check out https://www.shiftnz.org/
Fran and the Shift team are running in Brendan Foot Supersite Round the Bays 2020, see if you can spot them on the course!