“Keep looking down, keep looking down,” I repeat to myself, over and over again. It’s the only way to cope with the strain on my leg muscles as I run ever higher up a gravel path in Oman.
By looking down, I can’t see the steep incline ahead of me, and can trick myself into believing I’m running on flat ground.
As I prepare for my second 72km Salomon Wadi Bih Run, my first attempt is etched in my memory, and recalling it, I’m back there slogging it out in the Musandam Peninsula, near Dibba in Oman, through the Wadi Khab Shamsi to an altitude of 1,000 metres, overlooking Wadi Bih.
I’m fitter this year, and couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning. Last year it was a challenge, and as I replay it in my mind, I’m wearing a rainbow tutu and a team top inscribed on the back with my race nickname, “Smash”.
My band of five – every team must have at least two female runners – includes our team leader, Emma White ("Bash"), 42, a British personal trainer from Bactive.me; Yvonne Whyte ("Dash"), 42, a mother-of-two from Canada; Rasheda Khatun ("Rash"), 34, a British wealth-and-wellness planner; and Elke Vinck ("Flash"), 38, a rugby-playing, entrepreneur mother-of-five from Belgium.
But despite hours of training, nothing could have prepared me for this moment – running, what seemed like vertically, up a winding rocky mountain trail, with off-road vehicles whizzing past carrying rival teams, whipping up dust.
I’m on the final leg of the first half of the race to the peak, and my legs are burning, but as my team drives past on to the next checkpoint, they cheer me on, encouraging me to keep going.
The 24th edition of this race will take place on February 5 and 6 – a year after I first took part. It’s considered the oldest expatriate-sporting event organised in the UAE. The first race took place in 1993, when 50 runners took part. Over the years, the race has evolved. Next month’s event will see 1,800 runners compete across five solo and group events – the highest ever turnout.
“For runners, it’s something different and it’s not taken too seriously,” says the race director Neil Young. “It’s very sociable, and you get out of the city. While I love the running events in the city, this is in a wadi, and is very peaceful.”
The traditional 72km relay, run with teams of up to five, takes place on Saturday, while the newer solo races – 72km, 50km or 30km – along with a 50km family team race, take place on Friday. For the 72km team event, the distance is divided into 26 legs – ranging from 1.5km to 4.2km – with team members swapping at each checkpoint. While one runner slogs it out on the undulating path, the rest drive on to the next meeting point, refuelling on energy bars, water and rehydration drinks.
To get there, we drove from Dubai the night before, staying near the event at Absolute Adventure’s Plantation Camp, in white tents with bunk beds. Then, we were up before dawn, wolfing down breakfast and coffee, and hitting the starting line for 6am. Runners can start anytime from 5.30am, with start times staggered to avoid congestion on the route.
It’s certainly a chance to get in touch with nature. The rugged mountain scenery is breathtaking; you pass isolated farms with free-roaming goats.
For runners keen on team events, it’s a chance to bond with friends, test your limits to the maximum, and perhaps win a prize for best-dressed team or best team name, as well as the medal positions.
At 40, I was the least fit member of the group, having only returned to running a few months before the race. But ultimately, it became a journey of achievement. I ran more than 15km of the 72km trail. We finished in seven hours.
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Source: art & life