Yanar Alkayat heads to Mauritius for a great holiday combo: a trail race followed by someluxurious recuperation
Ihad no idea what to expect froma 25km trail race in Mauritius. Thehealth benefits of exercising innature are proven, so what could bebetter than running over hills, acrossrivers and through the forests of abeautiful island in the Indian Ocean?Except, I’d never run anything likethis before.The Ultra Trail Raidlight Beachcomberevent is in its fourth year and I was hereto try the new 25km distance thatsupplements the 10km, 47km and 120kmraces. ‘Would I be wading throughknee-high mud as runners did on the 47kmrace last year? Would I suffer in the heat(it’s winter there but average temperaturesare still in the mid 20s)? Or would I be leftfor dust behind the elites?’ I wondered.
On race day, I’m one of 138runners at the 8:30am Redbullstart line on the south coastof Mauritius, among mainlyMauritian locals, but a fewinternationals too. After anearly but hearty breakfast,we’ve had a coach transferfrom Shandrani BeachcomberResort & Spa (beachcomber-hotels.com) where I’m staying.
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I’ve forgotten to pack a sun cap andalmost everyone around me is wearinga camelback liquid bag so I’m slightlyapprehensive. But I’m confident I cancope with the distance as I ran theLondon Marathon a few months ago.As it turns out, there are plenty ofrefreshments throughout the race – in fact,a big attraction of this event is the five-starservice. Along my route there are threerefreshment stations (start line, 5km and15km) with cooked sweet potatoes, driedfruits, bananas, tea, coffee and evenchocolate, so I’mwell fuelled! For the longerraces (the 120km stretched across twonights), Beachcomber’s five-star chefscook up fresh pancakes, pasta and riceto keep the ultra runners going.For someone who’s only done a little bitof trail running (I’m mainly a road runner),the 25km course is just right – challengingenough to keep me 100 per cent engagedon nimble footwork, but not too technicalto intimidate me. For those with moreexperience, the 47km distance would beideal. My route spans a 300ft ascent across 5km in the first half, and after thatit’s fairly flat. Along the way, I have to crossfive or six knee-deep rivers and climbseveral riverbanks (including one where Icome face to face with a giant spider sohave to close my eyes and climb over it!),plus I run through countless sugar-canefields, along jungle paths and rockycoastline, through winding woodland, upsteep inclines and down dramatic descentsagainst the scenic Mauritian coast. There’sno chance to tune out or think aboutaching limbs when you’re negotiating yourway around trees, rocks and roots so, fromstart to finish, I’m fully connected to theact of running. This is the total antithesisto being distracted by music, friends orspectators as I’m more used to. I discoverthat the physical and mental connection– as well as the wilderness – is the uniquebeauty of trail running, and I love it.By the time I reach the final 10km, thepath has flattened so all I need is a steadypush to the end. My finishing time is threehours, 12 minutes and I’m the 11th femaleout of 29, which I’m very pleased with.
A medal, a leg massage, some localsnacks and, later, a five-star BBQbuffet at the ‘race village’ at ShandraniBeachcomber are just what’s needed toround off the day. The festivities continueas friends, family and guests hang aroundto cheer in the runners. The winner ofthe 120km is Nepali Sange Sherpa, whocomes in after 13 hours and 58 minutes(breaking last year’s record), and otherstrickle in throughout the night, someclocking up to 30 hours on their feet. I’mfull of awe and admiration for their stamina,steel and determination. So much of roadracing is fixated on time and pacing, it’srefreshing to run a race where it’s moreabout you against the elements thanthe clock.The next day, the 10k race is held withover 600 runners of all levels bravingtropical showers but they’re rewarded witha hot breakfast buffet at the finish line.Like most of the international runners,I’m staying at Shandrani Beachcomber onthe south-east coast of the island, whichmeans luxurious post-event recoveryduring my week-long break.
On arrival,a wide and open-air thatched-roof lobbyinstantly impresses, overlooking the centralinfinity pool in front of a private, beach-fringed peninsula and lush green backdrop.This is a family resort with 327 rooms invilla-style apartments along a one mile-stretch of shore with three serene beachesand 140 acres of tropical gardens. Withinthe complex, there are sixtennis courts, a gym, dailyZumba classes, a nine-holegolf course and water sportsfree of charge. My room’sspacious with a supersizedbathroom, L-shaped sofaand large balconyoverlooking the palm-treelined beach.The food is a highlight.Shandrani boasts fouropen restaurants and twobars on site, each withtheir own ambience.There’s endless choice atLe Grand Port’s bustling breakfast,lunch and dinner buffets that had a holidayvibe and live cooking stations. Theattractive Ponto Vecchio serves modernItalian overlooking the central pool, TeakElephant offers beautifully presented Thaifood in an intimate setting and Le Siriusfeatures international-Mauritian cuisineoverlooking the stunning Blue Bay.Unassumingly tucked away, the spa isnot to be missed – a secret oasis, itfeatures an outdoor pool in a spectacularcourtyard of tropical plants, outdoortherapy rooms and Mauritian-sourcedbeauty oils.
Outside the resort, the local town ofMahébourg has a lively market, colourfulcolonial-era houses and cute local eateriesDon’t miss a visit to the tiny île auxAigrettes island, where the MauritianWildlife Foundation runs nature trails to seeprotected wildlife, such as the Mauritiusfody bird, giant tortoises and fruit bats.If you like far-flung activeholidays, combining a race with a five-star experience is a superb idea. Theatmosphere that surrounds events is greatand I’ve been inspired to head off-road tothe wilderness again. Perhaps I’ll comeback to brave the 47km event next year?
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