Running for hours and hours is my idea of fun, so running with my running buddies for hours and hours is even more fun. At this month’s UTX50 – a 50km ultramarathon through sand, mountains, villages, and wadis in Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah – I have the pleasure of pacing Olya (my wife), Alex (Olya’s colleague), and Ramzi (my colleague). We all run for many reasons, but the four of us run together for the camaraderie, which is something that most nonrunners may find unfathomable. 

Olya – Running her First Ultramarathon
Olya’s training over the past few months has been limited to 2-3 shorter runs during the week and longer weekend runs with me and Alex. The challenge she faces is the unknown mystery of running beyond marathon distance. Olya is running the UTX50 in preparation for the ultras we have planned in 2018. Since UTX50 is Olya’s first ultra, her goal is “Finish with Dignity”.

Alex – the Experienced Marathoner
Alex and I have been running together for over four years, with similar running experiences except Alex runs a little faster, and I prefer ultras over marathons. Alex enjoys running in all the events in the region, from 5km’s to ultras. Alex’s goal for the UTX50 is to have a steady run to see where his endurance level is after a few weeks of training at shorter distances.

Ramzi – Running for the Adventure
Ramzi ran the 64km Ultramarathon in the Himalayas in Nepal two months ago, but has tapered off since then. UTX50 is his first step to get his fitness back up in his priorities and part of his regular routine. As a runner, Ramzi’s strength is his mental game – when he decides to do something, he gets it done. At UTX50, Ramzi’s goal is to finish.

Start in Darkness
We drive to the Start on a Thursday evening after work and camp out in the sand to be ready for the early morning start before sunrise. The first 4km is through sand dunes in darkness, and it’s a thrill watching 75 ultrarunners go up and down dunes in the darkness with only their headlamps illuminating their progress. We witness the sunrise over the dunes, before we enter the first village.

Villages, Unpaved Roads and Wadis
Running UTX50 is like taking a Big Red Bus tour of rural UAE, only on foot instead of riding the Big Red Bus. You get to see farms, villages, wadis and everything in between up close. Most of the locals smile and say hi as we run past, but we know they are really questioning our sanity. We run past camels, goats, chickens, and even a horse stable. The only incident was when the goats chased us. We missed a turn in our heightened anxiety and got an extended detour of a village – which was my fault as the designated navigator.

Running Together
As I set the pace, Olya, Alex, and Ramzi run together, helping each other, checking on each other, and ensuring that everyone has been hydrating and taking enough nutrition. Yes, there are some ultramarathon elements which in the moment are fun – like indulging in boiled potatoes and pickles instead of gels – highlighting the obvious benefits of running as a group. The real strength in numbers is keeping the mental game up, because running for hours requires as much mental agility as running ability.

Urban Ultra’s Idea of Fun
Urban Ultra organizes great endurance events, where the routes are marked with thousands of pink dots. Unless there is an intrusive goat herd, it is really hard to go off the route. However, whenever Urban Ultra has a choice of taking the challenging wadi path or tough rocky route, they always try to find some route that’s even harder. After running five hours, we find ourselves climbing down boulders hanging on to a cliff before continuing for another 15km to the Finish.

Finishing with Dignity
When we finish the UTX50, Urban Ultra feeds us Pascale’s famous minestrone soup – nothing could taste better after our eight-hour running excursion. There is a sense of accomplishment that we just experienced an outdoor adventure through rural Fujairah and RAK, like we were on Urban Ultra’s Big Red Bus tour – but we achieved our goals for UTX50. Olya finished her first ultra with dignity, as she held her own over the last 10km. Alex’s fitness was strong as he ran at a consistent pace throughout the day. Ramzi finished with a big smile. And I had fun running with my running buddies – Olya, Alex, and Ramzi. ■