x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A charitable climb

Joined by 200 runners, The National reporter Sophia Money-Coutts tackles Jumeirah Emirates Tower.

It was an unusually early start for the 200 spandex-clad competitors. By 6.30am, registration tables at the bottom of the taller of the two Jumeirah Emirates Tower were swamped with participants - men, women and even an eight-year old girl. There, they confirmed their entry, picked-up complimentary Puma t-shirt, sweatbands and keychain and pledged their sponsorship money. I was one of them, though taking part in the non-competitive heat as opposed to the competitive one. Having arrived early and signed a form which waived any rights to complain about possible heart-attacks on the way up, I was hoping for a fortifying coffee. No such luck. Amid a sea of water-bottles, there were trays of juice being passed around by waiters, along with bite-sized pieces of chocolate energy bars, but not even the faintest aroma of coffee. It is hard to stomach even a small piece of chocolate, though, when you face the prospect of a 52-storey, 1,334 step 'marathon' climb at 8am. "This is my preparation," said a fellow British competitor, Nick Harvey, 36, as he waved aloft a brown banana. Others jogged around the carpark outside, stretched themselves in the morning sun and squinted nervously at the top of the building. The more competitive among us (not me) fiddled impatiently with the stopwatches on their wrists. I merely checked that my ipod battery was going to hold out and watched, alarmed, as an ambulance pulled up outside the tower. After a group photo and warm-up session, the competitive heat was dispatched first, followed by the team entries who were sent at 30-second intervals in groups of three. I watched them all sprint away, had one last slug of my water-bottle and listened for my name to be called to the start-line. Once announced, I limbered up, pressed play on my running playlist and set off, jogging outside for two flights of stairs, and then inside the ground-floor fire-door to the stairwells themselves. Ha, I thought, bounding up two-steps at a time and over-taking a couple in front of me on the second storey, what is all this fuss about sore legs and throats? By by the seventh floor, my legs were starting to drag and my throat was burning as I gasped for breath. Still, I passed a woman who had simply collapsed on one step, and pressed on at a fast walking pace. But by storey 20, sweat was trickling into my eyes and my legs were refusing to take more than a single step at a time. Worse, the smell of human body odour was wafting down the stairwell from those at the top. The rest, between storeys 20 and 45, was not only a blur of pain but a human obstacle course as I picked my way over the fallen, pausing on steps for their breath. To the sound of Lady Gaga through my earphones, I staggered on and up, pushing myself faster for the final four storeys. This was probably a mistake, for the urge to be sick over my feet nearly overwhelmed me upon reaching the top and staggering through the door to the tactful applause of the MSF volunteers. My 'marathon' had taken just over 15 minutes, intensely satisfying but torturous all the same. As I caught the lift back down, still gasping and sweating, my legs and I decided perhaps next year I'd cheer the runners the from sidelines. smoneycoutts@thenational.ae