The ultramarathon runners conquering the desert trails of the UAE

Lee Harris and colleagues tackling the desert terrains of the UAE. (Supplied)
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Lee Harris and colleagues tackling the desert terrains of the UAE. (Supplied)
Lee Harris at the Grand to Grand ultramarathon in the US. (Supplied)
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Lee Harris at the Grand to Grand ultramarathon in the US. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 March 2021

The ultramarathon runners conquering the desert trails of the UAE

Lee Harris at the Grand to Grand ultramarathon in the US. (Supplied)
  • Lee Harris and Kathleen Leguin are part of a special breed of athletes who have mastered running as an endurance sport

DUBAI: Lee Harris isn’t too keen on running marathons. But not in the way so many people aren’t keen on running marathons.

For the Dubai resident, marathons are just not long enough. Now, if you are talking about ultramarathons — those brutal tests of endurance that can range from 50 to hundreds of kilometers, and last from days to over a week — you’ve got his attention.

“Running a marathon had never really been something that appealed to me,” Harris, 50, told Arab News. “I enjoyed running and I used running as a basis for training for other sports. I started running longer distances when I got into my 40s and I thought marathons are based on more speed on the road, and I was looking for a test of skill.”

The numbers involved in ultramarathons, over time, become staggering. Harris has notched up 21,000 klimeters around the mountains and deserts of the UAE over the past decade. The more than 750,000 meters of accumulated ascent and descent is the equivalent of running up and down Mount Everest 42 times.

Harris, a fitness trainer from the UK, became interested in ultramarathons after watching a colleague train for the Marathon des Sables - seven marathons across the Sahara.

He has now been running ultramarathons for more than 10 years, and says such distances require a specific set of skills. Marathon runners race against the clock, but Harris says that as he get older he started to look for the longer, slower run. And bit of outdoor adventure as well.

He was born and raised in the English county of Cornwall and calls himself a “rural person.” He excelled at weightlifting, boxing — for seven years at the Royal Navy — and cross-country running. After mastering how to run a marathon on trail, he managed a 50km ultramarathon in training. His first competitive ultramarathon was the punishing 220km race around Manaslu mountain in Nepal.

For him, it’s all about efficiency. And on the long trails, he had found a physical and mental challenge. 

“It’s a bit of a reconnection, when you’re out there you see what mother nature’s really like,” he said. “The environment is fantastic, we lose a bit of that when we live in the cities. The first thing I noticed being out in the mountains, my whole world switches off. There’s so many colors, there are so many smells and the terrain is always different. It doesn’t matter if you run the same route all the time, you always learn something different about it. That’s what mother nature is all about.”

On Friday, Harris will take part in the Al-Marmoom Ultramarathon over 50km.




Lee Harris at the Grand to Grand ultramarathon in the US. (Supplied)

Joining him will be French Dubai resident Kathleen Leguin who says running an ultramarathon brings out a range of emotions in her, from occasional despair to eventual joy.

“I know now, from experience, there will always be one low moment at some point,” she told Arab News. “It can be in the beginning, in the middle or near the end. When I start I’m always quite happy, excited, and bit nervous at the start line, because I like to do well and compete for the top places,” she added.

“But we know, because the races are so long, that at some point things will not go as planned. I kind of like it because there is a lot of problem solving. And yet toward the end when you see that finish line, it feels good because it’s such a long day out.

“Suddenly you feel like you can go even longer,” said Leguin, 34, before quickly adding: “It doesn’t last long, I’ll be honest. But suddenly you can run faster than what you thought was possible, you do have that extra energy.”

Leguin moved to the UAE in 2010 and only took up running four years ago. After only a year she had already progressed to ultramarathons. Going back is not always exciting for her.

“Shorter distances on roads, I find that to be boring now,” she said. “I’m not the most comfortable at it, but I sometimes like to do shorter races to push myself and get out of the comfort zone. For me, the shorter it is, the more difficult it is. I know it sounds a bit weird but that’s how it is, the roads I found boring but put me on short distance trail, I do enjoy it.

“I prefer it, the more technical and the more we can climb, the happier I am,” Leguin added. “I like running on road and discovering a city, but still the movement is repetitive, I cannot go as along as when you take me on a trail. I can go for hours or days out there.”

With ultramarathons seemingly bordering on spiritual experiences, it’s not surprising the trails themselves have ingrained themselves in the psyche of the runners. For Harris, that first one in Manaslu takes some beating.

“Absolutely amazing race, it will always be my favorite in the sense it was my first one, it got me addicted to it,” he said. “One of the toughest ones I’ve done was the Grand to Grand, which is the 274km, six-stager, over seven days, self-supported race from the Grand Canyon to the Grand Staircase in Utah.”

While the emotion and mindset no doubt play a big part, a runner has little chance of success without mastering the more technical aspects of the ultramarathon.

Runners carry their own gear — including food and nutrition — with them, while the organizers supply water and a tent, often shared with six to eight other competitors. It’s up to each individual to gauge what is needed for the duration of the run.

The participants are given a window of time to complete a certain stage, so the faster they complete it, the more time they save to eat, rest and sleep.

“I’ve done a non-stop 300km self-supported (race) which was the toughest race I’ve ever done and that was in the Oman desert,” Harris said. “It’s 150km over the mountains and then 150km through the Wahiba sands. All they supplied was checkpoints every 15 to 20km, and those checkpoints just supported you with water and you had to carry all your gear with you.”

It took him 89 hours to complete.

Friday’s 50km might seem like a gentle jog in comparison, but Harris hasn’t got to where he is today by disrespecting the task ahead.

“I’m always nervous when I go to these sort of things,” he said. “I’m always looking to improve myself. I’m 50 years old now, the journey never ends, so I’m looking forward to it in that it’s another test of everything that I’ve learned. I don’t know how it will go, the great thing about those things is that they’re an unknown factor. How my body reacts to it, I’ll never know till I get out there.”


Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1

Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1
Updated 24 June 2021

Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1

Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1
  • The Hawks handed the Bucks their first home loss of the postseason
  • Game 2 is on Friday night in MilwaukeeAtlanta Hawks guard Trae Young puts up a shot against Jrue Holiday and Bobby Portis of the Milwaukee Bucks guard on June 23, 2021. (Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports)

MILWAUKEE: Trae Young scored 48 points, Clint Capela converted a go-ahead putback with 29.8 seconds left and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 116-113 on Wednesday night to open the Eastern Conference finals.
The Hawks improved to 6-2 in road playoff games this year and handed the Bucks their first home loss of the postseason.
“I felt we’ve built ourselves to be able to play on the road,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “I’ve told them that. They’re built for this.”
Game 2 is Friday night in Milwaukee.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists for the Bucks. Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists.
Young was two points off his career high.
“We keep fighting,” Young said. “It’s been fun playing with this group. We just keep fighting to the end, no matter what the score is. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep fighting.”
John Collins added 23 points and 15 rebounds for the Hawks. Capela had 12 points and 19 rebounds.
Khris Middleton missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Although Middleton scored 15 points, he shot 6 of 23 and missed all nine of his 3-point attempts.
“Offensively, it didn’t seem like we moved very well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Antetokounmpo scored the first six points in a 9-0 run that turned a 98-96 deficit into a 105-98 advantage with 4:18 left. Holiday capped that spurt by sinking a 3-pointer after Antetokounmpo got the rebound on his own missed free throw.
But the Hawks scored the next five points, and the game went back and forth from there.
Middleton missed a pull-up jumper with about 43 seconds left with Milwaukee up 111-110. Young missed a driving layup attempt, but Capela grabbed his 19th rebound and scored to put the Hawks ahead for good.
After Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton shot an air-ball on a 3-pointer, Young made two free throws with 17.3 seconds remaining. Antetokounmpo made a pair of free throws with 5.3 seconds left, but Young brought the lead back to three and closed the scoring by sinking two free throws of his own with 4.6 seconds remaining.

TIP-INS
Hawks: Bogdan Bogdanovic started but clearly was at less than full strength as he deals with a sore knee. He scored four points and shot 1 of 6. ... Cam Reddish was available to play for the first time in four months but didn’t play. Reddish hadn’t played since Feb. 21 due to a right Achilles injury. Hawks coach Nate McMillan had said before the game the Hawks would cautious with Reddish by keeping him behind Tony Snell and Solomon Hill in the rotation. “We haven’t had the opportunity for him to get in any five-on-five since he’s been off,” McMillan said. “He’s been playing the last week or so some two-on-two, three-on-three.” … Atlanta is the third team since 1984 to make the conference finals despite having a losing record at the All-Star break. The others were the 2012 Boston Celtics and the 1984 Phoenix Suns. The Hawks were 16-20 at the break.
Bucks: Bobby Portis came off the bench with 4 1/2minutes left in the first quarter and ended up with 11 points and eight rebounds. Portis hadn’t played a single minute in the last three games of the Nets series. ... Milwaukee fell to 11-3 in playoff games at Fiserv Forum. … This is the fifth time the Bucks and Hawks have faced off in the playoffs and their first postseason matchup since the Hawks won 4-3 in a 2010 opening-round series. They’ve split the four previous matchups.
 


AlUla joins Team BikeExchange as official partner ahead of Tour de France 2021

The partnership between AlUla and Team BikeExchange will look to promote cycling and healthy living in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/AlUla)
The partnership between AlUla and Team BikeExchange will look to promote cycling and healthy living in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/AlUla)
Updated 24 June 2021

AlUla joins Team BikeExchange as official partner ahead of Tour de France 2021

The partnership between AlUla and Team BikeExchange will look to promote cycling and healthy living in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/AlUla)
  • Partnership will officially run from July 2021 to December 2023, will look to promote cycling in the Kingdom

ALULA: Saudi Arabia's Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) will be partners with GreenEDGE Cycling, also known as Team BikeExchange, ahead of the Tour de France 2021 which will start on Saturday and run until July 18.

The partnership will officially run from July 2021 to December 2023.

AlUla, a heritage and culture destination in north-west Saudi Arabia, has chosen to partner with GreenEDGE during the 2021 UCI Cycling World Tour for men and women in an effort to introduce the its desert landscapes to cycling and sport fans around the world as well as raising the profile of the sport in the Kingdom.

Philip Jones, Chief Management and Marketing Officer at RCU said he is excited to partner with a team that shares common goals such as sustaining eco-friendly environments and promoting health benefits through cycling. 

“AlUla is delighted to become an Official Partner of GreenEDGE Cycling and to be part of a sport which has 1.7 billion spectators around the globe,” he said. “Cycling is a premium sport and offers an invaluable opportunity to communicate the premium AlUla experience, our extraordinary heritage and culture as well as our efforts to future proof the destination for the enjoyment of future generations of visitors.

“As a developing tourism destination, AlUla is focused on safeguarding the natural and cultural landscape, sustaining eco-systems and wildlife and developing light-touch tourism experiences.,” he added. “We are excited to work with the passionate team at GreenEDGE Cycling in the coming years.”

AlUla, and Saudi Arabia as a whole, has increasingly emerged as favored tourist destination in recent years, and its connection to sport has already been established through several competitions and events that include running, motorsports such as Extreme E, and desert polo.

GreenEDGE Cycling Owner and Chairman Gerry Ryan has been a major investor in sport as a way to connect to his customers and sports fans globally, and was involved in the production of the documentary “All For One” in 2017 and the Amazon Prime Series “Eat. Race. Win.” in 2018.

“I am extremely delighted to announce this new partnership between GreenEDGE Cycling and AlUla, a luxury travel destination which we are honored to promote on our team assets,” said Ryan. “We haven’t been there yet physically, but in the last few weeks we have meet many people who are working to promote the region and we have seen so many breathless images and videos and I can’t wait for our first opportunity to visit AlUla and discover more about it. We will do our best to support their growth.”

Home to Hegra, the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the Kingdom, as well as the ancient Kingdom of Dadan, the open air library of rock inscriptions in Jabal Ikmah, and AlUla Old Town, AlUla’s history goes back more than 200,000 years. Today the region is a year-round destination for heritage, arts, nature and adventure. Cycling, through railway bike trails, functional road bike paths and scenic mountain biking is set to play a major part in AlUla’s “Journey Through Time” 15-year masterplan, launched in April 2021.

“For us it is very exciting to have such a prestigious and historical region coming onboard with GreenEdge Cycling,” Brent Copeland, General Manager, Team BikeExchange said. “We strongly feel cycling and Team BikeExchange in particular is the perfect brand to promote such a spectacular area. I look forward to visiting in person soon and working closely with the team at RCU to maximise the opportunities of our partnership.”

“The mutual respect and alignment of values is great for GreenEdge Cycling and it will be exciting to see how our partnership can help AlUla to grow awareness among the passionate cycling community as a luxury heritage destination,” he added. “We are here for a long term partnership and we will keep developing together.”


Saudi Arabia wins 4 medals at 2021 Arab Athletics Championship 

Saudi Arabia wins 4 medals at 2021 Arab Athletics Championship 
Updated 23 June 2021

Saudi Arabia wins 4 medals at 2021 Arab Athletics Championship 

Saudi Arabia wins 4 medals at 2021 Arab Athletics Championship 
  • The Kingdom’s track team claimed a first-place podium finish in the men’s 4x100-meter relay race at the Stade Olympique de Radès in Tunisia
  • Saudi Ambassador to Tunisia Abdulaziz bin Ali Al-Saqr was in attendance when the national team members from the short-distance relay were awarded their gold medals

Saudi Arabia’s athletes returned home from the 2021 Arab Athletics Championship with a medal haul that included two golds, a silver and a bronze, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The Kingdom’s track team claimed a first-place podium finish in the men’s 4x100-meter relay race at the Stade Olympique de Radès in Tunisia.

Saudi Ambassador to Tunisia Abdulaziz bin Ali Al-Saqr was present when the national team members from the short-distance relay were awarded their gold medals.

More than 500 athletes from 14 countries competed in 44 events while Morocco won 31 medals, followed by Algeria (21), Egypt (19) and host Tunisia (16).


Police officer guilty of manslaughter in soccer star’s death

Police officer guilty of manslaughter in soccer star’s death
Updated 23 June 2021

Police officer guilty of manslaughter in soccer star’s death

Police officer guilty of manslaughter in soccer star’s death
  • A jury unanimously found Constable Benjamin Monk guilty of manslaughter but cleared him of murder
  • Monk used a stun gun for 33 seconds against Former Aston Villa star Dalian Atkinson six times longer than standard

LONDON: A British police officer was convicted Wednesday of manslaughter in the death of Dalian Atkinson, a former professional soccer player who died after being Tasered and kicked in the head.
A jury unanimously found Constable Benjamin Monk guilty of manslaughter but cleared him of murder.
Former Aston Villa star Atkinson, 48, died in August 2016 after police were called to his father’s home in Telford, central England. He went into cardiac arrest on the way to a hospital and died around an hour after officers used a Taser to subdue him. Prosecutors said Monk used a stun gun for 33 seconds against Atkinson — more than six times longer than was standard.
Monk, 43, said he had been afraid for his life after Atkinson, who appeared to be having a mental health crisis, made threats and smashed a glass door pane. He claimed he acted in lawful self-defense, first using a stun gun eight times and then aiming kicks at the athlete’s shoulder. His boot hit Atkinson at least twice in the head.
The officer was convicted after a six-week trial. Atkinson’s family members said in a statement they were “hugely relieved that the whole country now knows the truth about how Dalian died.”
Jurors at Birmingham Crown Court are still deliberating on an assault charge against another police officer who was Monk’s girlfriend at the time.
It is extremely rare for police in Britain to be convicted of manslaughter or murder over deaths in custody or during contact with the public. According to the charity Inquest, the last such conviction was in 1986.
Atkinson was a forward who played in England’s top division for Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa. During a Villa game against Wimbledon in October 1992 he scored one of the Premier League’s most famous goals when he ran from inside his own half, evaded a number of challenges, then chipped the ball over the goalkeeper.
He scored 20 Premier League goals for Villa and also netted in the 1994 League Cup final in the team’s 3-1 win over Manchester United. Atkinson also had spells with Real Sociedad in Spain, Fenerbahce in Turkey and in South Korea.


16km cycling track to be built alongside Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach

16km cycling track to be built alongside Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach
Updated 23 June 2021

16km cycling track to be built alongside Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach

16km cycling track to be built alongside Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach
  • Track is part of plans by crown prince to transform Dubai into bicycle-friendly city

DUBAI: A new 16-km cycling track that will run alongside Jumeirah Beach in Dubai has been announced, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

The design and construction of the track have come on the orders of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, crown prince of the emirate and chairman of the Dubai Executive Council.

The new track will connect the existing Jumeirah Street cycling track parallel to the Dubai Water Canal with the one that runs alongside King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud Street in Dubai Internet City.

“The construction of this cycling track is part of our efforts to realise the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, to improve the quality of life of people and enhance their happiness,” Mattar Mohammed Al-Tayer, director general and chairman of the board of executive directors of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), said in a statement. “It is also a step to advance sustainable mobility.”

Al-Tayer said the new track is part of Sheikh Hamdan’s plans to transform Dubai into a bicycle-friendly city, and will contribute to the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan.

The first sector of the track will have a width of 4 meters stretching alongside Jumeirah Beach in parallel to the existing jogging and walking tracks that extend from Dubai Water Canal to Umm Suqeim Park.

The second sector, which will have a width of 3 meters, will run alongside Jumeirah Street and King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud Street up to Dubai Internet City.

It will serve locations alongside Jumeirah Beach such as the Sunset Mall, Open Beach, Dubai Sailing Club, Kite Beach, Umm Suqeim Park, and Burj Al Arab.

“The public can use the track for cycling alongside a beach that boasts a variety of service facilities. They can also benefit from the shared bike services available at the Sunset Mall, Al-Manara Mosque and Umm Suqeim Park. The speed limit set for this track is 20 km/h and is classified among mobility, sports and leisure tracks,” said Al-Tayer.

“The cycling track along Jumeirah Beach is part of a master plan for constructing cycling tracks to link vital areas of the emirate,” he added.

“The Master Plan for Cycling Tracks 2026 envisages the construction of additional cycling tracks extending 276 km, which will bring the total length of cycling tracks in the emirate to 739 km. The plan aims to link the tracks at the coastal areas, such as Jumeirah, Al-Sufouh and Al-Marina with the external tracks at Al-Qudra, Seih Assalam and Nad Al-Sheba via Al-Barsha, Dubai Hills.”

Dedicated cycling tracks in Dubai completed by the end of 2020 extend a total of 463 km, and the RTA is seeking to further extend the length to 739 km by 2026.

The RTA has also set a speed limit of 30 km/h for tracks dedicated to cyclists, while tracks in urban areas dedicated to cyclists or shared with pedestrians have a speed limit of 20 km/h.