Dubai runners conquer The Ultimate Human Race

Dubai runners conquer The Ultimate Human Race

By Arti Dani

Published: Mon 18 Jun 2018, 4:02 PM

Last updated: Sat 30 Jun 2018, 5:51 PM

THIRTY-NINE YEAR OLD Laura Hampton carried one of her daughter's soft black and white cow toys named Moomoo in her running belt. Every now and then she kept squeezing the belt for reassurance that her family back home in Dubai would be rooting for her. She was miles and miles away from them running the 89km Comrades Marathon (also known as the ultimate human race) in the valleys in South Africa. Thousands of runners from every corner of the world came together at the break of dawn to take on this gruelling race which is considered the ultimate human race on the planet earth. Around 33 runners from the UAE went for the Comrades run this year. 
Laura is a full time working mother and has two kids who are proud of their mother's running achievement. "I believe I didn't speak for about three days beforehand as the nerves got the better of me. You go through so many emotions on the day. The support is unbelievable with people lining the roads for the full stretch. I have just never experienced anything like it." 
The training genius  for the Comrades run
45-year-old Ram Sadhvani who is an electro-mechanical contractor in Dubai put up the training plan in December 2017 and trained with around 21 enthusiastic runners from different age group and different walks of life. "The training for Comrades always starts from January. We have done a customary run on January 1 for the past few years to mark the beginning of the journey. Basically, a total mileage of about 1100km with lots of hills is an acceptable training plan from January to May end for the race. This took few runners' breaths away once it dawned on them. We ran four times a week. The other three days were taken as active recovery with light swimming, yoga, strength training or basic sleep."  
Their weekend would begin as early at 3 am with a 30-35km run with the Dubai Creek Striders on Friday morning and around a 20-25km hill run in Hatta or Mirdif on Saturdays. 
7 times Champ of 89 kms
The sheer joy of being part of the 20,000 strong runners crowd and the nervous excitement, filled with a sense of fear, has made 39-year-old Nicolas le Roux, who is also the head of marketing for an international mobile technology company in Dubai, complete his 7th consecutive Comrades Marathon this year - the first one was in 2012. He started running when he was about 12 years old with his mother who was recovering from a back operation. Eventually, those runs became 5km, 10km, 21km. " I always had a dream but never thought I could do it until I made a decision to commit to the training. It's changed me from thinking I couldn't to I can. My inspiration for my first Comrades Marathon was a personal challenge - being able to do something extraordinary that very few people will ever attempt. It's a sense of personal achievement for every distance you cross - every cut off point is a personal victory. Completing Comrades is one's ability, regardless of your athletic ability. This race is physical, but equally if not more, a test of your mental strength. The feeling of completing this ultra marathon is truly a priceless moment, the camaraderie is unlike I have ever experienced. My motivation is now for more ordinary people like myself to experience the spirit of Comrades."  
Run, eat, work, sleep. repeat
With three major world marathons and one-half Ironman done, 45-year-old Deepak Sharma who works as petrochemical tech consultant at Nalco Champion was looking for something big. "And nothing comes bigger than Comrades. We were sort of machines following Run, Eat, Work, Sleep. Repeat. Considering the work and the weather the only way to achieve this was to be a very early riser.... the alarms used to go from 2:15am to 4am, based on the distances that we had to run. As I travel about 50% of my time outside Dubai for work, this wasn't easy at all... The alarm used to go off still at 3am irrespective of any time zone. I learned to run sleeping also. When I saw people running their 15th, 47th Comrades, I realised the definition of being a novice Comrades runner. I was fighting my own worst fears, consoling, calculating, inspiring, smiling, crying, cheering, running, walking. Sleep was the only thing which was consistently coming without asking at9 pm." 
Deepak will soon start preparing for New York Marathon and followed by full Ironman. 
Be like Vicki
52-year-old Vicki Bennett who has lived in Dubai for 29 years ran her second Comrades this year. "My initial inspiration to run Comrades was former Dubai Creek Striders' chairwoman, Margaret Raffety,  who has been a huge source of support over the many years we've run together.   She helped me believe that even for a backpack runner anything is possible, which inspired me to run Comrades last year and follow it up with a back-to-back medal this year." 
What was her training process like? "Training started slowly for me this year due to injury, picking up to regular four- times-a-week runs from February. I have trained mostly on my own, incorporating one hill session and one long run a week, along with "easy" runs. I joined in with Ram's "Cuckoo's" for a final couple of weeks of training as I had got fed up with my own company.  I've also cycled socially twice a week, attended Pilates once a week, and added my own strength based exercises." 
Mental Strength
For 44-year-old Ying Tay, it was all about mental strength. Her husband bought her first pair of running shoes after their third kid in 2008. In 2016, she ran her first marathon. She was determined to finish the 89km race and soldiered on with the pain even when she faced some physical challenges. "It was emotional at the start, with the national anthem being played, I was welling up.  I cried at the stretch where the blind kids lined up to cheer us on. At around 60km, my left hamstring started twitching and I knew it was the onset of cramps which I suffer from often. But I was determined not to leave my comrades behind and soldiered on with the pain."
Dream come true
They say that physical limitations can be won over with the power of the mind which is why Bharadwaj Kalyanasundaram finished the race with blisters on his foot and a hamstring strain. The head of Risk Management in Distribution in Dubai has already completed two of the seven world summits including Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and Mt. Elbrus, Russia. Being a vegetarian, he was worried about his nutrition while training but he did not change his diet, "Comrades is world's oldest marathon, so this is a dream come true for me. In a hurry, I  missed my warm clothes in my hotel room. It was cold at the start as the temperature was 9C. I was almost on the verge of giving up at 50km, but my mind decided that I will ignore the physical pain. I finished with blisters on my foot and hamstring strain at the 86km mark.
Next goal in sight
38-year-old chief operation officer Pruthu Shah is already looking forward to Two Oceans 56 km Ultra Marathon next year. "Having run just three marathons, I was very nervous and scared of the mammoth task ahead of me. My running buddies (The Comrades Cuckoo Club) helped me calm down and gave me enough pep talks to reach the start line. Once I was at the start line, I just believed in myself and the training I had done past five months for this race. Just before the race, they played Shosholoza, the song that brought tears to my eyes. It was a very emotional moment standing at the start line and looking back at everything we did to reach there. I was finally going to run the 'Ultimate Human Race.'"
Family support is everything
The journey towards the race totally takes over your life. While training, one is constantly hungry, thirsty and tired. That's where family support comes in. Ram Sadhvani weighs in, "Family? God Bless them for keeping up with our crazy schedules. A rare barely able to keep up with the work and family front. You end up seeing lesser and lesser of family, and become a total outcast for social events. There are absolutely no late nights. You will be called crazy for leaving events earlier just so you can run unthinkable distances before sunrise. While tapering you have to re-introduce yourself to your family and suddenly realise they are really nice people!! Friends disown you as they can't relate to the training you are doing," said Ram, who is the backbone in getting runners together for this race. 
The Ultimate Race atmosphere 
Nicolas le Roux: This is not a race but a journey. After 20km you start throwing your jackets off as it starts to warm up. It's also a charity act as there are many unfortunate people longing for some clothes to create warmth. At 25km we saw our first Dubai Creek Striders flagged support table. Such a good feeling knowing family and friends are there waiting for you, with supplies but just a 'hello, you looking good' is such an awesome boost. Then comes the iconic half way at 45km. It's a special party atmosphere as we celebrate the half way (crazy as this is more than a marathon). More stops at 35km and 27km to go with family and friends manning the DCS station. This keeps you going. Making them proud is also our mission. 

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