UAE squads look to overcome gruelling endurance test

ABU DHABI — With a record number of UAE teams entered into this year’s Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge — the gruelling, six-day multi-discipline endurance race — competition for local bragging rights was always going to be fierce.

Of the original nine teams signed-up for the event, only eight made it to the Abu Dhabi start line on Friday, as one was forced to retire at the 11th hour due to illness. Even with home advantage on their side, and the ability to train in the vast and diverse landscapes on offer throughout the emirate, from the rolling expanse of the Rub Al Khali to the archipelagic coastline that stretches from Mirfa in Al Gharbia to Abu Dhabi city, the UAE teams knew only too well what they would be up against, as a record 50 top squads from 18 countries took their marks.

Now at the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority-organised event’s halfway point, two of those local squads are relishing the experience of competing alongside the planet’s top endurance athletes as they run, swim, canoe, kayak, mountain-bike and climb 426kms across Abu Dhabi’s breathtaking landscapes. As amateur racers caught in a pack of serious contenders, the Palancas and the Monaqasat teams have now come to terms with the magnitude of the challenge.

“Even if we are currently in last place, we are truly proud of what we’ve achieved,” said Palancas’ Harold Roberts, a British engineer. “And even if the gap between us and the rest of field widens, we’ll never think about giving up.”

And with the UAE’s populace largely made up of expatriates from almost every corner of the globe, its international cast of team members is determined to proudly carry the host country’s flag to the finish line.

“We will do everything we can,” promised another Palancas team member, Harald Oeverland, a Senior Operations Manager from Norway. “And we will do it with minimum mistakes. The most important thing for us is to stay healthy.”

Speaking at a special bivouac on the edge of the Liwa Desert, in the emirate’s Western Region, Palancas’ Eric Smith was realistic about his team’s chances. Apart from being non-professional athletes, a lack of team preparation was the biggest challenge facing the UAE-based squad.

“The team is not prepared for this mammoth undertaking, it is immense,” admitted Smith, an Engineer from the US. “Only Harald and I are in a very good shape. Our main problem was to figure out how to actually work in unison, as a team, but when we finished the first day, it was a really great feeling.”

As expatriates living and working in the UAE for a number of years, the first two days of the Adventure Challenge have already provided unforgettable experiences. “The hardest discipline so far was the mountain biking section all the way up to Jebel Hafeet. I have driven on this road before but on the bike, I began to wonder how many bends there were until the top,” said a smiling Jacqueline Ferguson, a Business Analyst from the UK, who makes up the female quota required for every mixed-sex team.

For Smith, he never really expected the Challenge to be this difficult yet has been extremely impressed by the emirate’s natural wonders and the tremendous support from the local authorities.

More news from Business