Dubai's obstacle race season is nearly upon us. And, as Benita Adesuyan finds out, it’s about to get even more hardcore than before
Dubaians love a challenge. No matter how high the wall, deep the water or big the blister, the emirate’s residents sign up in their thousands for obstacle courses. But with more events on the sporting calendar now than ever before, how do their makers manage to stand out?
“We constantly invest a lot into our course and this event will be no exception to that,” says Troy Gillham, director of the GMC Desert Warrior Challenge. “This event certainly has the most obstacles and is on the biggest scale so far, so I have no doubt the warriors are in for a good time.”
The Desert Warrior Challenge was launched last year, first in Dubai then Abu Dhabi, and saw more than 3,500 people tackle the courses, with a staggering 1,880 at last year’s Dubai event. This year’s challenge will be held on Friday October 23, at the Dubai Police Academy, Al Rawia Training Field, and will feature no less than 14 new obstacles.
“One of my favourites this year is The Beast, without doubt,” laughs Gillham. “It’s a six-metre tall giant that will see warriors shimmy their way up a slanted wooden wall then rocket down a slip’n’slide and skim across the water on the other side – it’s a definite thriller!”
Back in the ’90s, obstacle courses were perhaps more readily associated with Saturday night TV shows, with the likes of Jet, Hunter and Wolf lamping each other with oversized cotton buds in ridiculous costumes (and if that Gladiators reference means nothing to you please get Googling now for some serious guilty pleasure time). Now, though, they’re big business, on a global scale. And Dubai is well in on the action.
Fitness fans who want a challenge on a different terrain, for instance, can don their thermals for the Ice Warrior Challenge that takes place in sub-zero temperatures on the slopes of Ski Dubai on Friday October 2. This event has been running for six years, with all proceeds and registration fees going to the Dubai Center for Special Needs. The course includes 15 creative obstacles that use the facilities at the Mall of the Emirates facility, including a cargo net crawl, zorb mall maze, monkey bar swings, a tire course and the perilous black run climb.
As for the Desert Warrior Challenge, Gillham is quietly confident. “Obstacle course racing in all its forms is new to this region and we’re really having to see what the community is ready for. But their global success, I think, is down to the fact that they’re incredibly fun, accessible and give you a great feeling of accomplishment when you finish them.”
If the finish line brings euphoria, the build-up to the event requires dedication, planning and stamina. After months of preparation, Gillham’s team will finally set up just two weeks prior to the event, which is no small feat given the scale (see rendering on left) of what they need to create. “The set-up involves a construction team of up to 40 people doing a variety of jobs such as course marking, obstacle construction and health and safety checks. It’s a lot of fun seeing it come together but, like the course, it is not without its challenges. Principally, we need to challenge the warriors but in as safe a way as possible, of course.”
It’s a double-edged challenge: pushing the difficulty levels without pushing people over the edge. “And I absolutely love that part of the job,” says Gillham. “It’s an open book process where we throw ideas around focusing on a few key aspects that we see as important in a course. A big one for us is adrenaline, we want people to feel their heart racing, be that through height, dark, water, hot or cold, and these are all important elements. We have an arsenal of different obstacles that we want to introduce to the region and will certainly do so over time. It’s important to keep people on their toes...” Ice Warrior Challenge, Friday October 2, www.premieronline.com. GMC Desert Warrior Challenge, Friday October 23, www.desertwarriorchallenge.com.
Four of the toughest
The Chevy Crawl Introduced last year as a new addition to the Ice Warrior challenge, plucky participants get face-to-face with the ice and crawl through a low opening underneath a Chevy truck.
Cargo Haul yourself up on to the thick ropes and use balance and strength to scale the webbed wall. Fling yourself over the top and climb down trying not to get in a tangled mess.
The Ice Pool Ice Warriors run through a pool of freezing cold water, getting wet and making their clothes heavier. This obstacle makes the rest of the challenge even harder.
Hilton Tower Race On October 3 in conjunction with the Emirates Red Crescent in aid of people affected by the unfolding humanitarian situation in Syria. The event will be hosted at Hilton Dubai The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residences, where 120 runners will take to the stairs. The course is ‘steep’ at 36 floors and 730 stairs but the view from the top is well worth it.