x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Runnings far from cool for sleigh novice

A Briton is training in the capital for a charity bobsleigh race in Austria.

Expatriate Briton Steven Winstanley is training for a charity bobsled race in Austria using a shopping trolley carrying between 80kg and 90kg in Abu Dhabi.
Expatriate Briton Steven Winstanley is training for a charity bobsled race in Austria using a shopping trolley carrying between 80kg and 90kg in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // The heat and humidity of the capital may not offer the ideal training conditions for a bobsleigh team, but when push comes to shove for one Briton there is no other choice.

Steven Winstanley, 44, is deep in training for a race against the UK's Royal Air Force (RAF) professional bobsleigh team. His competitors will be half his age in a sport he has never tried before.

June's night-time 35°C heat is far removed from the sub-zero temperatures in which his goal is to run 40 metres in 3.9 seconds - "near Olympic times", as the telecommunications expert points out.

Mr Winstanley was offered space on a bobsleigh by his friend John Bird last August. Mr Bird has organised a charity event yearly in honour of his father, a former member of the RAF, and this year he decided it would be a bobsleigh competition.

Mr Bird warned Mr Winstanley that were he to participate, he would have to train seriously and undergo an intense fitness programme.

Although Mr Winstanley liked the charitable aspect of the competition, he said it was the thrill that would stay with him.

"It has given me some objectives. It's going to do some good for charity and it will last 60 seconds but I will talk about it for the rest of my life," he said.

Manny Cohen, the marketing and communication director at the British Bobsleigh Federation, said the sport was one of life's most exciting activities. He cited Cool Runnings, a film loosely based on the Jamaican bobsleigh team at the 1988 Winter Olympics.

"People should watch Cool Runnings on how to understand it. He will really enjoy it. It is a big rush, it's really fast and it is quite frightening," Mr Cohen said.

Mr Bird and Mr Winstanley are expected to experience G-force of between two and five, and reach speeds nearing 100 kph.

The competition will be held on the Igls bobsleigh track at Innsbruck, Austria, which was used in the 1976 Olympics. The track has 15 corners.

Mr Cohen stressed that in competition, there was no room for error.

"In Cool Runnings, [the athlete] was looking at photos of the track every night. Once you've done one turn, half a second later there is another," he said.

"They say if you don't get one right, forget about it and think of the next one. It comes at you and you've got to be able to react to it. There are no brakes so you can't stop."

Mr Winstanley must first train though the UAE's scorching summer before focusing on the December race.

The British Army has offered its advice on training and Mr Winstanley is keeping to a very tight regime.

"The army personal trainer worked out that we need to run like the clappers, like a sprinter out of the trap down the ice slope and get on to that sleigh and that's the physical stuff over," he said.

"All this training is to get us to run 40 metres at 3.9 seconds."

Every six weeks, Mr Winstanley goes to an army training camp in the UK. He will also visit Bath University, where there is a bobsleigh training track, two or three more times before the race. Videos on YouTube provide additional training insights.

One of the most useful training methods he uses is to push a loaded shopping trolley.

"It's all about shifting that trolley as fast as possible," he said.

The RAF team usually represents Britain in international and Olympic bobsleigh competitions. They will give Mr Bird and Mr Winstanley two bobsleighs for the race.

"It's probably one of these things you think is a really good idea until you get on the ice track and realise you can't back out," Mr Winstanley said. "It's like paragliding when you get your first precipice."

He has always had a passion for extreme sports and said the training had spurred a radical change in his expatriate lifestyle. Until he moved to the UAE, his weight was never an issue.

He has worked hard for nearly a year to reduce his weight to 83kg from 106kg on his 1.9 metre frame. Last Ramadan he began his running regime.

"I would kill myself [running] with 106kg in 50°C heat," Mr Winstanley said.

Now, his training schedule consists of running one day, swimming the next, followed by a day off.

Each day, Mr Winstanley said, he had a simple rule: "I would go a little bit further [running] and with swimming, I'd do an extra two minutes.

"I want longevity of life and this lets me make those corrections now."

eharnan@thenational.ae