x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Just keep running for your life

A Dubai resident is drawing as many people as he can out of their homes to maintain a healthier lifestyle and to appreciate nature.

Lee Harris wants people to appreciate the natural beauty in Dubai while running over long distances. Handout photo
Lee Harris wants people to appreciate the natural beauty in Dubai while running over long distances. Handout photo

You do not stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.

It is a mantra that pops up several times in Christopher McDougall's superlative book about endurance running, Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.

The message is simple, but startling. Humans were built to run. And run, and run. And contrary to long-held beliefs of hunter-gatherer practices, it was endurance, not speed, that they excelled at. Astonishingly, old age was never an obstacle.

In the modern world, that has changed. Running is mostly a hobby, and occasionally a profession. But for a select few, it is a way of life.

It is a lifestyle that Lee Harris, through his venture Dubai Trail Running, is aiming to promote in Dubai.

"I've always worked in the fitness industry, and as you get older you start looking for new challenges," the 41-year-old Briton said. "I had been cycling the mountain trails in the UAE, but running these trails on foot was so different, much more you can do and explore."

Harris began running the trails in the Hajar Mountains last year.

Now, whether training solo, or guiding others on trail runs, Harris finds it in himself to cover up to 150 kilometres every week.

So, is vocational running a silver bullet for a healthier lifestyle? Is it really true that you get old because you stop running?

"Dubai has a great lifestyle but it's full of get fit quick fixes," Harris said, pointing out a reliance on personal trainers. "I love training people, but I want them to come out and enjoy it. And it's open to all backgrounds and ages."

You do not stop running because you get old.

Exercise fanatics often speak of the joy, even ecstasy, that the release of endorphins brings. Being fit is one thing, but having clarity of thought brings about a whole new level of well-being, they say.

"Trail running is a great workout for the body and mind," Harris said. It is an overall body workout that strengthens your muscles, hips and core and "all you need is pair of trainers".

Harris insists that it is not just about dragging people out of the comfort zone of the gym, either. It is about seducing them into tackling those stunning desert and mountain terrains. He said a treadmill can lead to bored and restless minds, and road running is marred by noise and traffic.

Trail running is different; it takes you away from all that.

"On trail, it is so quiet and the scenery is amazing; there are no distractions," said Harris, who has lived in Dubai for seven years. "I've had people run 10km without realising because they were so fixated on their surroundings."

Running should be fun, he believes, an activity to enjoy, not a chore to dread.

There is another major benefit to enjoying a run: fewer injuries.

"I find that in the gym there is always a sense of urgency, to lift a heavier weight, to go that little bit faster," Harris said. "That often leads to injuries. But when your mind and body are relaxed you can go for far longer, and with less injuries."

In his case, longer can mean really longer. In November, he completed the Manaslu Mountain Trail in Nepal, a 220km, seven-stage race run over eight days.

He hopes to return to the Himalayas in April for the 277km Mustang Mountain Trail Race, and he has already registered for the six-stage, 250km Gobe March in China next June.

Time permitting ("I do have to work," he said with a laugh), he has set his sights on the Grand to Grand Ultra, a punishing, six-stage 268km run in seven days from the Grand Canyon, in the south-west United States, to the Grand Staircase.

It is on these ultra-marathons that Harris will cross paths with running heroes like those who make up the remarkable cast of Born To Run. For Harris, one thing stands out about those most extreme of competitors.

"The camaraderie was unbelievable," he said. "Everyone there were from different walks of life but all had the one goal: to finish."

It is this sense of community that he hopes to spread among Dubai's runners, starting with mapping the Hajar Mountains Trails and other deserts of the UAE for Dubai Trail Running. And in true practice what you preach style, it is a job that he will enjoy.

He hopes that the message will spread.

"The desert and mountains in the UAE are phenomenal. You don't have to be stuck in a gym."

And you do not have to stop running because you get old.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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