x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Bloodied but unbowed by dunes torture

After slogging flat out through the desert, the gap between the teams that have a chance to win the race remains effectively unchanged.

ABU DHABI // That the Swedish athlete Kristin Larsson is still competing in the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge demonstrates an astonishing mental fortitude after she collapsed on the first day of the race and spent time unconscious on a hospital trolley before opting to continue. To finish an epic 27-hour crossing of a 120km course through the towering sand dunes of the Empty Quarter just 40 minutes behind some of the world's best adventure racers yesterday morning would be a remarkable act of endurance in itself.

But for her to do so without having eaten a single bite because of the nausea that had beset her since setting off on Sunday morning, and with feet bloodied from the effect of running through sand, makes her possibly the most determined competitor to have taken on the six-day adventure race that runs, cycles, kayaks and swims through the emirate's cityscapes, coastline, deserts and mountains. And even though she was feeling ill, she and her team, Sweco Karlstad Adventure, spurned the option of a shorter 80km route through the dunes in favour of doing every checkpoint along the way.

"We didn't plan to do the short course," she said, as if any other option was unthinkable. Larsson had also done a 62km kayaking segment through the heavy swells of the Gulf without having eaten because of the after-effects of her first-day collapse. "I haven't been eating on this stage either," she said yesterday. "I could drink water but I would want to throw up." Her toes were a mass of blisters and she hobbled to the medical tent for treatment, but she remains determined to complete the final two days of the race, which entail mountain biking on desert roads and then night orienteering and rope work on Jebel Hafeet before a final cycle and running segment to the finish line in Al Ain's Jahili Fort.

Just ahead of the Swedes were seven of the teams vying for overall victory in the world's richest adventure race, with US$40,000 (Dh147,000) for first place and more than $200,000 overall. All seven finished within two minutes of each other, which was both deeply satisfying for the defending champions and overall leaders Team Qasr al Sarab led by Richard and Elina Ussher and deeply frustrating for the teams who were hoping to regain some of the 25-minute lead established by the Usshers over the second-place team, their fellow New Zealanders Team Adco, in the first two days of the race.

After a day of slogging flat out through the desert, the time differences between the teams that have a chance to win the race remains effectively unchanged, meaning the privation and pain counted for nothing. Richard Ussher said their strategy had been to "neutralise" the section by keeping pace with the lead teams. Last year, his team had been ahead by just one minute over the second-placed team and managed to extend that advantage by another minute to win the race.

jhenzell@thenational.ae