x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE runners to brave -20°C for charity

Pair hope to raise Dh183,000 by completing 42km trek across glaciers in Greenland.

DUBAI // A marathon is a major fitness challenge for even the most experienced runner, but two UAE residents are making it even tougher by trekking across snow and ice in temperatures of -20°C.

Neil Munro and Diarmuid O'Malley will attempt the potentially fatal 42-kilometre run in Greenland this month, crossing glacier tongues and moraine landscapes.

To prepare themselves, they have been training on the slopes of Ski Dubai and have set up treadmills and running tracks among boxes of ice cream in a -27°C industrial-sized freezer in Sharjah.

Last week they even trained among ice sculptures at the Modern Ice Factory.

The duo will join 98 others for the Polar Circle Marathon - dubbed the coolest marathon on earth - which crosses through tundra and arctic desert.

Runners have been warned to beware of crevasses during the race, on October 20, that start off in temperatures below -20°C before they "warm up" to -5°C by the end, according to Mr Munro.

Despite the duo's extensive running experience, both agreed this trip would be an adventure into the unknown - no matter how many times they ran on the artificial ski slopes.

Mr Munro, a 42-year-old Briton, planned to run up Jebel Hafeet at the weekend ahead of his taper phase - the final week before race day when runners ease up on hard training before the gruelling 42km marathon run.

Mr Munro's training consisted of hard running during the scorching summer months, plus a recent marathon in France.

Mr O'Malley, the former captain of the Dubai Dragons and Arabian Gulf rugby teams, said training in giant freezers prepared them for the effect of the cold on the lungs, which is very different to running in the humid summer heat.

"This is going to be difficult, he said. "We've done marathons before and this is going to be a different challenge.

"As it gets closer, the realisation is hitting us a little bit more. It's like anything. We'll get there and see what it's like from start to finish."

Mr O'Malley, 39, a father of three from Ireland, injured his back in April and could only train on his bike or on a cross-trainer.

"Thankfully, my back is coming around and the last two weeks I did two good, long runs but other than that I'm very much undercooked, underprepared and very apprehensive of what's going to happen on October 20," he said.

His personal best time is 3 hours and 25 minutes. He has run eight marathons and three ultra marathons, the longest of which being 73km. Mr Munro's best time from four marathons and one ultra marathon (56km) is 3 hours and 55 minutes.

They both say a marathon doesn't really start until the 30km mark.

"It's that last push to get through the final 12km," Mr O'Malley said. "If you're setting world records of 2 hours 4 minutes, it's still the same challenge as the ordinary guy running for four to five hours.

"The challenge to get through the last 10-15km is immense, but a lot of that is between the two ears and getting though the barrier and over that wall."

Polar Circle runners are advised to wear layers they can remove as they heat up. They will wear crampons for grip on the snow and ice but they will have to take care to protect their fingers and toes.

"The nearer we get to the weekend, there are bits of equipment we'll need that we've never thought of," Mr Munro said. "Someone at the weekend showed us waterproof socks. I would have never dreamt of thinking of something like that."

Their biggest challenge is to raise US$50,000 (Dh183,650) for the Christina Nobel Children's Foundation. On Thursday they aimed to raise $40,000 after an 8km run and auction at the Armani Hotel. It will go to covering the costs of running a school in Vietnam for a year.

"Its not about Neil and I," Mr O'Malley said. "It's about 200 kids who need help getting an education and we want to do something different.

"Especially in this region, so many people are obsessed with themselves and their own wealth, but we're trying to think of others and make a significant amount of money to make a significant difference."

To donate to the cause, click here.

eharnan@thenational.ae