x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE-based athletes swap summer holidays for extreme challenges

Three residents prepare to take part in different endurance events, including an ironman competition, London to Dubai bike ride and an ultramarathon.

DUBAI // While many of us are packing for summer holidays in cooler climes, three residents will be taking on extreme challenges that will test their physical limits.

Edward Hawkins is aiming for a 3.8km swim, a 180km bike ride and a marathon run for Ironman UK, Thomas Woolf will attempt to cycle from London to Dubai in 40 days and Catherine Todd will tackle a non-stop 217km race through California's Death Valley.

"Different people have different reasons for doing these things," said Mr Hawkins.

"The vast majority of people I come across in endurance sports want a personal challenge. They've got to have something in their lives other than doing brunches and living the high life."

The climate here is also helpful for endurance training, Mr Hawkins said, because winter and spring offer mild conditions instead of rain or snow. "It's more problematic in the summer but there are ways around that," he said.

"People are looking to push themselves. Dubai is a place of extremes and extroverted people are attracted by it - and they're usually attracted to this type of sport," Mr Hawkins said

The 38-year-old schoolteacher will hammer out cycling and swimming sessions all of next month to keep himself in tune for his race in the UK on August 4.

When Ms Todd leaves Dubai for the United States to compete in the Badwater Ultramarathon on July 15, she will be visualising completing the course in under 30 hours and being the first woman to cross the finish line.

The race is considered the world's toughest because runners must compete in temperatures up to 55°C.

"It's a different heat to Dubai's humid extreme. They are equally as tough but in different ways," said Ms Todd, an Australian expatriate and professor of electrical engineering at University of Wollongong Dubai.

"Last year I went with the misconception it would be easier because it was a dry heat. It's not. At 55°C, nothing is easy. Your crew is constantly dousing you in water. In 20 seconds you're dry again."

To qualify for the race, Ms Todd had to complete three 100-mile ultra-marathons to prove she was up to the challenge of a course that starts 82 metres below sea level and climbs to 2,548m at the finish line.

"It's definitely about getting over mental and physical challenges and barriers and when you finish there is that sense of having done that."

Long-distance cyclist Mr Woolf said he would be rooting for Ms Todd from afar. "It is great that people from Dubai are doing Badwater," the 33 year-old-Briton said. "She is acting as an early adopter and trying to go out there and make a statement and hopefully inspire other people here to start training for their own challenges."

Mr Woolf will spend eight hours a day in the saddle in September to complete his 40-day bike ride from London to Dubai. His attempt is for charity: he hopes to raise funds for orphans in Lesotho through Just Giving.

"There is a growth in people taking on endurance events but I would love to see more coming here," he said. "You don't have to be super fit to take part and the buzz they get will lead them to more trying more challenges."

eharnan@thenational.ae