x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Cool runnings? Not here, it isn't

Dedicated groups of runners in the emirates may slow down for the summer heat, but they do not stop.

The group, which was formed in 1995, still has about 50 runners every week, compared with more than 100 in the cooler months.
The group, which was formed in 1995, still has about 50 runners every week, compared with more than 100 in the cooler months.

DUBAI // Henk de Jager is not one to let such little things as extreme heat and humidity mar his preparations for a half-marathon.

Mr de Jager, 42, runs an average of 50km a week with the Abu Dhabi Striders, despite the swelter, as part of his tilt at a November half-marathon in the capital.

The South African, in his second UAE summer, is one of an army of runners around the Emirates who rise early or wait until the evening to train, dedicated to their sport at a time when most residents prefer malls to running tracks.

A runner for more than 10 years, Mr de Jager says he does it partly to stay healthy and partly for the competition, social life and camaraderie.

"There are some great-level athletes here to train with," he says.

Distance events around the world, from 10km races to competitions such as the 87km Comrades ultra-marathon in South Africa last month, require consistent training regimes. The race season in the UAE starts in October.

Kirsten Fleming, 29, is no stranger to training in extreme temperatures, albeit at the other end of the thermometer.

In Calgary she has run in minus 40°C, with snowflakes in her eyelashes and her face covered in Vaseline to prevent chapping. But training in the UAE, where Ms Fleming arrived six months ago, is another story.

Working towards the Beirut marathon in November, she must remain focused on her regime, training several times a week, about 6am or late at night.

"Hydration has taken on a whole new meaning for me since coming here," Ms Fleming says. "If I'm preparing for a long run, I'll begin hydration up to 36 hours prior to the run."

She has been running since 2004, competing in many marathons and races, and trains every Friday with the Dubai Creek Striders.

Ms Fleming says this particular running community is the most important yet to her, helping her to push on through the gruelling conditions.

"Six months ago, we were doing 33km every Friday," she says. "But now because of the heat that's gone right down to around 15. By 7am it's unbearable."

The group, which was formed in 1995, still has about 50 runners every week, compared with more than 100 in the cooler months. Many leave the Emirates for the summer.

Margaret Rafferty, 48, is one of the club's organisers and says it provides a social method of keeping up the long training runs each week.

"When it comes to September, October, it's very beneficial for the runners to have maintained the running," she says.

A runner since 1988, Mrs Rafferty has contested dozens of ultra-marathons and marathons around the world. But she says the club is not only for seasoned runners like her.

"We don't want to put anyone off, so we have different groups for different speeds," Mrs Rafferty says. "In the summer, people have to accept they're going to be slower. Many people don't realise the impact of the humidity on their performance."

mswan@thenational.ae

Last week, we looked at Harley-Davidson riders who strap on leather jackets and rev up hot engines under the summer sun. Next week, we will look at people who hang on to large kites and attach surfboards to their feet.