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Me, Myself and the Canyons: The story of Hala Atallah’s passion and victory

When we found out that the business and operations manager of Yelloblue, part of Berytech community, Hala Atallah, has signed up to run the Grand to Grand Ultra 2015 race, we decided to back her up.

Berytech Fund II encourages risk-takers who challenge themselves, work hard and achieve.

And after witnessing the drive and enthusiasm of Hala who was looking to embrace the #g2gultra15 challenge, Berytech Fund II aimed to be one of the main supporters and contributors to her journey.

The race itself is a 7-day, 6 phase, self-supported foot race that runs 273 km across the Grand Canyon desert – a test in strong will, hard work and endurance.

Believing in Hala’s passion, investing in her journey and accompanying her in every phase of the race has reinforced our conviction in Berytech Fund II’s continuous mission of supporting people who go beyond their capabilities to realize their passion.

Read below as Hala tells her story of passion, determination and sweet victory:

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Me, Myself and the Canyons

People write love stories, well this is mine with the Canyons… Experience is a small word to describe my experience. When you’re totally lost into something, the strong emotions, the magical moments, the amazing people, the breathtaking scenery, the pain, the frustration and when you start your only aim is self-satisfaction. Well it was all there.

The Intoxication

I have never dreamed or even imagined that an idea can be so intoxicating. It all started by coincidence. A trailer, an attraction, a hypnosis. Well… This is what it did to me after discovering the website of the g2gultra. Ali, an experienced ultra-runner friend had pitched me the idea sometime around mid march 2015 to join him, Imad and Moustafa on a 273km in one of the best desolated panoramas on earth. He was like “are you in?”. Well…I was.

November 2014, Beirut Marathon was my first challenge of that kind, proudly completed in 3h 48’ 22”. The drive of that accomplishment lingered through the valleys of the canyons. If I could train and do a good first marathon, why not the Canyons. Enchanted by the adrenaline thrill, unforgiving nature, crystal sky and those tents in that scenery… I wanted to live that experience and be in those pictures, I was invaded by the idea. I didn’t have any experience so all I needed was a good preparation… it took me 2 months to finally register.

The cushion

I wasn’t seeking the competition; all I was after is the adventure. I was no professional athlete, but a woman who had the will to decide that no idea is crazy enough as long as you can do it. I wanted to live that experience, expand the envelope of my endurance and pulverize the boundaries of my “comfort zone”.

The call of the wild, the uncommon and unknown is not to be taken lightly… and there I was, ready for whatever it takes. I had to make it happen. My passion was airborne; the motivation, determination, commitment, stubborn mindset and firm will. When we’re in love, we normally are the last persons to acknowledge it; My closest circle was feeling my intensity, people from my professional circle who knew me well started to buy in.

I found my cushion in:

Berytech Fund II… Supporters of out of the box thinking persons, daring to challenge themselves to be achievers,

Yelloblue… Believers in team’s self accomplishment. Being advocates of sustainability, Grand Canyon’s was particularly enchanting being one of the nature’s best preserved and remote virgin areas,

Apave… well, they simply liked my project and wanted to be in,

Donner Sang Compter… when they told me “Yes you can be a blood donor” I knew I wanted to thank them in a way… raising awareness was my way.

The drill

As an impact cushion would, they tried to talk me into taking things slowly at first; Start with an 80km event then try a 150km to reach the 273km. Tempted as I was, it made me eager for the challenge even more.

Now it was up to me to make it to the Canyons! I had 4 months to get ready to one of the toughest self-supported races and it was barely enough for someone as unexperienced as I was. 16 weeks of training: From Hala into an “endurance runner” ….

And so it starts…. 16 weeks during which I was living in a bubble, my life’s routine was a thing in the past. The DRILL was my routine. My life turned upside down… I had to adapt my sleeping patterns: wake up at 4.10am, start my training at 5.30am before going to work. Adapt my nutrition, barely have time to meet my friends or see my parents who all showed a lot of support and patience (I truly thank them for that), go to the beach or go out for drinks …. I was passionately devoted to the drill although at times I missed my old routine and felt the need to go back to MY LIFE.

The trill and excitement of the training compensated the pain and frustration. I was slowly but surely diving into “endurance mode”. This lead me through a roller coaster of all kinds of mixed feelings and emotions… week after week, the total kilometers were constantly adding up. At 200 km for the last week of hard cycle alone, I started to really feel exhausted but ready.

Basic perceptions of time and distance became relative. At times an hour felt like two, at other times a thousand meters flew by like a walk in the park! Sometimes it was far from easy or enjoyable but I was totally melting into it… keeping my eyes on the Canyons all the time. When the training load got heavier, I realized that I had to work out my mind to tell my feet to put on those running shoes and hit the road. At some point, more than once, I had to take a sip of that trailer again and again to remind myself of the reason why I was doing what I did and the way I did it…. 23 km run or 2 hours’ intensive intervals became the norm, then shower and start another working day… I did things I thought I’d never be able to do. I was unstoppable… The heat, the humidity, the garbage, the exhaustion… that training was hard but I was passionately harder. I had a plane to catch and kept hoping I would be well prepared, physically and mentally for that crazy challenge.

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The Experience

Time flew the so awaited adventure was about to start. The crazy 7 days, 6 stages adventure of 273 kilometers in the Canyons with nothing to survive but 10 kilos in a back-pack, on the back, all the time.

It was all new to me, exciting and scary. But first times have always a special taste don’t they…. It was like living another life, I didn’t know what to expect so I just dived in.

For 7 days and nights, I didn’t think of what to do. I just went with the flow and followed the routine… Wake up in the chilly mornings on cheerful songs, line up to have hot water for some powder meal in a nylon bag and get ready to hit the road to the next camp. Once in the next camp, line up again to have hot water for meal then get ready to sleep in a tent of 8 on uneven bumpy ground. The same “life” basic routine was repeated day after day….

But… every morning was the start of a new stage. And each stage had its own sugar and spice. From the first step outside the camp, we would be captivated by the breathtaking scenery all the way till the arrival to the next camp. Virgin untouched intimidating clean soothing nature…. You feel so small and helpless and yet so powerful. Massive and impressive Cliffs, beautiful wild cacti, forests of thousands of trees and bushes of all sizes and shades of green…. I never imagined that one color could have so many natural shades! and some colorful shy flowers here and there, growing up on their own in the sand in the middle of the desert without anyone taking care of them… nature has its own weird rules!

At times I was alone on the road, with the only sound of my footsteps and breathing disturbing the absolute peace. My mind used to get busy with overflowing ideas and memories but at times it would stop and just let me be there, live the moment.

When on the road I crossed fellow g2g’ers, it always felt like we knew each other since forever. Conversations picked up so easily, we were strangers from so different cultures and yet so close. We all shared the same passion and were here to live the same experience… we all were concerned for each other, checking on each other, caring and helping. It was the same in the camp… as if we knew each other since forever.

Sand of all kind, soft, hard, packed, wet, dunes…. gravels, rocks, hills and valleys, it was all there. It was really hot during the days and very cold during the nights. The best way to make it through was to take each check point as a destination by itself. The volunteering team was priceless. Always smiling and supportive and cheering us with “good job” and ringing bells as if we made it to the moon, giving us free hugs that were always welcomed.

50 km the first stage alone… we started from the north rim of the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the world. How proud I was when I passed that check point where I read “smile, you just did a marathon”… I was still fresh… and then the next day we had to run some more 44 km, then the next 85 km that I did in 26 hours non-stop, and got to the camp at 10 30am not as fresh but more proud for sure… Our reward was the rest of the day off and… a COLD coke that was just priceless in the middle of the desert… the morning of stage 4 came in a blink and the same routine went over again but this time the scenery was even prettier… Stage 5 was in the slot Canyons with soft pinkish rocks on both sides. It was chilly and refreshing, it was like a dream in there and I didn’t want it to end.

And finally, stage 6 morning arrived. I was so happy to be so close to the end but felt deep sadness at the same time. I was dreaming of a hot shower and a clean bed already but started to miss my camp’s fellows and specially my tent’s friends.; Our talks, our silly jokes and even our smell. 12 km separated us from the finish line at the summit of the Grand Staircase. We all hit the road that morning with the same overwhelming mixed feelings in the heart. And there it was, that impressive and so intimidating geological icon. We made it all the way up the summit going around the pink cliffs…. And then the sound of the cheering people, the ringing bells, the loud music was getting closer and closer…. The finish line was just around the corner. I held my flag up and sprinted as if I had wings… I was feeling so light as if I was flying to that finish line and I made it… I was a proud finisher and I earned my buckle that was the medal of that race.

I completed 273 km in the Grand Canyon in the best way I could and enjoyed every single second of it.

 

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To be continued…

Now am back home and gradually getting my life back.

Would I do another crazy adventure again… well the answer is a definite YES. What I lived was so exquisite and It wouldn’t have been possible without my cushion, my supporting system, my parents and my friends, all those people who never doubted that I could make it and gave me a hand to do it…

I have already ideas of new challenges that will take me to other exotic destinations. Now I really get the meaning of “sky is the limit”.