x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Usshers carry off challenge palm for third time

Richard and Elina Ussher have confirmed themselves as the king and queen of the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge.

Richard and Elina Ussher have confirmed themselves as the king and queen of the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, leading a team to a third and most emphatic victory in one of the world's toughest races. After six days of running, cycling, kayaking, swimming and climbing across the emirate, their team's lead was so great they could have stopped for a half-hour shisha session outside Al Ain's Jahili Fort and still strolled across the finish line first. Their reward for six days of sweat and deprivation was partly financial - the adventure challenge is the world's richest race of its kind, netting the fastest team $40,000 (Dh147,000) - and partly the prestige of having beaten some of the world's finest endurance athletes on all three occasions the race has been held.

But the Usshers and their New Zealand team members, Marcel Hagener and Nathan Fa'avae, could be forgiven for focusing instead on a more tactile reward: their team had been sponsored by the luxurious new Empty Quarter hotel, Qasr al Sarab, but they had come no closer to enjoying its pleasures than briefly wandering through the lobby in between brutal cycling segments. During that visit they had made an informal pact with one of the management that if they won the adventure challenge, they would get a few nights in the hotel to recover in style before flying home to New Zealand. Another quartet of Kiwis, Team Adco, came in second about 40 minutes behind the Usshers but about 20 minutes ahead of the French racers, Team Vibram Sport 2000.

However, every one of the 35 teams that eventually made it across the finishing line, many of them tired, bruised and bleeding, had achieved an impressive feat of endurance. Few could match the sheer determination shown by Swedish athlete Kristin Larsson, who had recovered from collapsing on the first day to post one of the fastest kayaking times despite being too nauseous to eat or drink. Still unwell, she completed the 120km crossing of the dunes of the Empty Quarter, also without being able to eat because of nausea and with toes mashed by blisters. On the final day, comprising 20km of night orienteering and then, after dawn, ropework and scrambling to just below the summit of Jebel Hafeet, the emirate's highest peak, the skin had peeled off her worst blistered toe and infection had set in on the raw wound.

The nausea that had blighted her race had also returned and, just in case life was not already tough enough, her nose began to bleed just as they began to race yesterday morning. After crossing the finishing line, instead of basking in the knowledge that she had given the race her all and that she had shown an almost superhuman determination to continue against all odds, she sat desolate that her failings had cost her team the top-10 finish they had sought. "I'm very disappointed," she said, deferring all praise to her team mates who often helped her by towing her with a piece of elastic rope.

"We were in about tenth place (after the fifth day) but the climb (yesterday) took a long time and I was so low. "Now I don't care [about the pain]. It's too late." jhenzell@thenational.ae