Days until Wadi Bih: 21
A 72km course, 900m of ascent and descent, 750 runners and a very early start: the annual Wadi Bih run, held every year since 1993, is a gruelling relay race through the mountains and canyons of Dibba in Musandam. And this year I’m taking part. Gulp.
The race itself is contested by teams of five, with each runner tackling about 15km of the total route (although there are some hardy individuals that attempt the entire route alone – madness). The main challenges, I’m told, are the rocky terrain and gradient changes, not to mention the soaring temperatures towards the end of the race.
With race day looming large in my calendar, I soon realise that a couple of training runs around the block won’t cut it. Sure, I’ve run a few 10k races in my time, but I haven’t done any serious running since moving to Dubai in 2008, and unless I want to find myself collapsed in a sweaty mess on the side of the road in Dibba, I need to get moving – and fast. I’m also motivated by a need to save face in front of my media team-mates: among the gaggle of UAE journos and reporters that are making up our team, I’ve heard talk than one of them is a veteran triathlete. Eek.
Rather than go it alone, a friend tips me off about the new Nike Run Club Dubai, which holds regular sessions across Dubai (‘it’s free, it’s fun, and the trainers are pretty easy on the eye.’ Okay, I’m sold). I head down to my first session at Burj Park in Downtown at the ungodly hour of 8am on a Friday morning with butterflies in my stomach – will I be the worst person there? Will they shout at me if I can’t keep up? Will my mascara run if I get too sweaty? – but a glance at my fellow runners helps to allay my fears. There’s a surprising mix of people, from professional-looking guys with sweat bands and sporty gear to a group of friendly-looking ladies gossiping in the corner. So far, so good.
Instructor Tom, a pro personal trainer with Dubai group PTX, chivvies everyone into action with a quick welcome, a few friendly words and reassurance that everyone will be free to move at their own pace, before running through a few warm-up drills. I’m quite pleased with the way I manage the sprints, lunges and star jumps (maybe this running malarkey isn’t so hard after all). But before I can get too complacent, we’re told that the day’s session will involve a fitness test: aka a 5km timed run round Burj Park.
Before I can have second thoughts and sneak off back to bed, Tom yells an order and we’re off, running laps of the park. Some of the fitter guys shoot off ahead, while the gossiping ladies lag towards the back, alternating between jogging and power walking; I position myself somewhere in the middle of the pack, wishing I’d brought my iPod to spur me on. I start to count off the laps in my head (will anyone really notice if I only do nine instead of 10?). Every time I overtake a fellow runner I feel a surge of energy and a slightly smug grin creep onto my face, which quickly disappears when the faster runners start to lap me. But I plod on, sticking to a methodical rhythm and trying to get as much air into my lungs as possible. As the park starts to fill up with early-morning dog walkers, I find myself pushing a little harder (after all, even though my muscles are screaming and my lungs are gasping, I want to at least look as though I’m finding this easy-peasy), and before I know it I’m on the final lap. As I cross the finish line, I’m elated that I’ve completed the distance without resorting to walking, and I’m secretly rather pleased with my time: 29:30 for 5km. Not bad for a first attempt. Wadi Bih: here I come…
Next time: I head to the mall in search of proper running shoes
The Nike Run Club Dubai takes place on Tuesdays at 6.45pm at the Nike Store, Festival City; Fridays at 8am at Burj Park; and Saturdays at 7am at Al Fattan Towers, JBR. Participation is free. For more info, see www.facebook.com/NikeRunningMiddleEast. The Wadi Bih run takes place in Dibba on Friday February 10. To sign up, see www.wadibih.com.
Catch up with Rebecca’s progress by clicking here.