Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 August 2020

UAE residents share their tips for how to train for a desert race

Kathleen Leguin and Toni Metcalfe are part of a rare group of athletes preparing for what seems like the impossible – epic mountain and desert races

Kathleen Leguin is preparing for the Oman Desert Marathon. Courtesy Kathleen Leguin 
Kathleen Leguin is preparing for the Oman Desert Marathon. Courtesy Kathleen Leguin 

Those of us who like to maintain a healthy routine tend to eat well, sleep at least six hours a night, drink a lot of water (especially in the summer), try to log those steps, or exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Then you have those who are slightly more serious about fitness: pumping weights or running longer distances than most. And then there is that rare group of athletes who attempt what often seems like the impossible – whether it’s doing 220 kilometres in a multi-sports race in one day, or traversing steep peaks on a mountain bike trail.

The desert trails in this region make for some exciting adventures, and two UAE residents who are looking to capitalise on these natural surroundings are Kathleen Leguin and Toni Metcalfe. Last year, Metcalfe participated in the 7Emirates Run, an event that covers 498km across all seven emirates over the course of seven days. Her race was going according to plan, but on the sixth day, a severe strain on her Achilles tendon forced her to pull out. Metcalfe remained on the course, though, to help cheer on the other athletes as they made their way to the finish line. She has been reflecting on that experience as she’s been prepping for her next challenge.

Lessons learnt

“My next big race will be Oman by UTMB. It’s a 138km race in the mountains of Oman, with a climb of almost 8,000 metres,” she tells us while on holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. “I love mountain-running, so currently I’m enjoying getting some hill training in.”

Toni Metcalfe, the first female to cross all seven Emirates in 7 days, running a total of 497 km. Navin Khianey / The National
Toni Metcalfe participated in the 7Emirates Run. Navin Khianey / The National

During the heat of summer, running can be “very tough”, according to Metcalfe, but with the upcoming race, it cannot be avoided. “It is important to not focus on pace too much, but rather more on effort levels.”

Metcalfe says another way to stay motivated is to have a goal to work towards. “Race season starts in ­October, so some training in the summer will be required in the build-up for races in the cooler months. Enter a race to help you keep focus through the tough ­training runs.”

The Oman by UTMB race takes place at the end of November, so it isn’t too far off. This means Metcalfe is already knee-deep in training.

“I think consistency is very important, and just getting out of the door can sometimes be the hardest part. My biggest piece of advice is train specifically for the race you are doing. A lot of flat-road running is not going to set you up to successfully run a hilly trail race. I also believe that recovery and rest are a very important part of training.”


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Leguin is another runner braving the scorching temperatures. The athlete, who has lived in Dubai for the last eight years, is working her way towards the 165km associated with the Oman Desert Marathon, also in November.

The challenges of the desert

She has been into desert trail running for just under two years. A former Muay Thai fighter, Leguin says she is a competitive person by nature, and it’s this trait that led her to enter this race. “I was looking for something different, a race where I could use my strength, but also challenge myself. The fact that the race takes places in the desert would tick the challenging box, as running in the heat on soft sand is mentally and physically tough, and will definitely push my body to its limits.”

So how do you get ready for a run such as this? You start your training programme about 20 weeks before the race. “The training is going as planned. Even though I’m still getting used to the heat, I am able to increase my mileage every week,” says Leguin.

Acclimatising to these conditions will bode well for both Leguin and Metcalfe when the temperatures do eventually drop and race season kicks off, but another aspect that plays a significant role is related to comfort.

“When doing long distances [50km to 60km], I’ll be out running for ­approximately six or seven hours. You can imagine that comfort is very important. Everyone is different, and what I may do or use to keep comfortable may not work for someone else,” says Leguin. “Personally, I prefer to use a hydration vest to carry fluids and store my running fuel, than to wear a running belt or [carry] a handheld water bottle. Concerning clothing, I prefer tight-­fitting clothes such as compression gear – Runderwear socks, shorts and tops.”

UAE resident Kathleen Leguin is preparing for the Oman Desert Marathon in November, 2018.
UAE resident Kathleen Leguin is preparing for the Oman Desert Marathon in November 2018.

Metcalfe also relies on carefully selected shoes and chafe-free apparel to enhance her running experience. “Your shoes should be supportive and comfortable. I also wear Hoka One One for long runs and Reebok Floatrides for shorter, faster stuff,” says the Abu Dhabi resident.

“In this climate especially, you sweat a lot when running outside, and chaffing can be an issue, so I think finding chafe-free products and materials is very important.”

Metcalfe says a few years ago the thought of doing such races probably wouldn’t have occurred to her. “I wasn’t naturally good at it, but eventually I fell in love with it and loved how good it made me feel. I realised ­passion, belief and a bit of ­dedication is all you need.”

Both Metcalfe and Leguin are also complimentary of the growing community of runners in the UAE.

“It is very social if you want it to be or it’s a great way to have time to yourself,” says Metcalfe. There will no doubt be time for both when the duo head to the start line for their races.

Dress for the desert

The hot summers days are here, but that doesn’t mean you can’t train outdoors, as long as you plan ahead and have the right gear. Here are three products that can help you keep your comfort levels at an optimum.

Runderwear was started by two runners who saw a gap in the market for gear that reduces chafe and keeps runners dry. 
Runderwear was started by two runners who saw a gap in the market for gear that reduces chafe and keeps runners dry.

Anti-chafing products

Runderwear has been in the market for more than five years. This lightweight inner-wear is cotton-free and breathable, meaning the fabrics and mesh panels will wick sweat away from the areas that are susceptible to chafing. The seamless, ergonomic design also ensures extreme comfort. The brand was established by Jamie Smalley and Richard Edmonds, fitness enthusiasts in their own right. While the outer-layers market is well-established, the base-layer market is still relatively untapped. UAE athletes Kathleen Leguin and Toni Metcalfe wanted to run in something comfortable that would keep them dry and chafe-free. And so, for almost two years, the two trialled and tested the product with their fellow runners. Runderwear has struck a chord with industry experts and runners alike, having won multiple awards. Prices start from Dh60; and products are available from www.runderwear.ae.

Laces from Greepers are easy to use and offer stability for the runner. 
Laces from Greepers are easy to use and offer stability for the runner.

No-tie shoelaces

Don’t get caught up in a knot. Whether you’re doing a spinning class, running on the treadmill or braving the outdoors during a long run, you’ll want to make sure the laces on your trainers are securely in place without the fear of tripping and falling over. These regular non-elastic laces are guaranteed to stay in place, easy to adjust and are also good for full shoe support. The laces cost from Dh37; greepers.com

Outdoor brand Columbia offers a Solar Chill range is a sweat-activated and cooling shirt.
Outdoor brand Columbia offers a Solar Chill range that is a sweat-activated and cooling shirt.

Cooling shirts

It’s hot out there, so keeping dry and cool might seem like a tall order, but it is possible. Columbia’s Solar Chill range offers a sweat-activated, cooling shirt. Sunscreen is imperative, but this range will protect you even further. The Solar Chill uses the brand’s Omni Shade Sun Deflector fabric, which has a built-in UPF 50 sun protection. The visible dots deflect the sun’s rays away from your body, keeping you cooler and protected. Prices range from Dh129 to Dh189, and the shirt is available at Sun & Sand Sports and Columbia outlets.

Updated: August 14, 2018 11:34 AM



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