When it comes to completing significant sporting challenges, Nelly Attar has achieved more than most.
In 2022, the Saudi Arabia-born Lebanese climber became the first Arab woman to scale K2, widely regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous mountains, having already completed her ascent to the pinnacle of Everest, Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, to name just a few.
This weekend, Attar takes on a different kind of challenge as one of the participants in Tough Mudder Infinity, an eight-hour endurance race in AlUla, located in the northwest of the Kingdom.
While the race is the first of its kind in the region, and one which promises to test both the physical and mental capabilities of those taking part, Attar has her own way of approaching the task at hand.
“The way I’m going into this is by thinking of it as a summit, because when we climb, our summit days are very long,” she said.
“You use every part of your body and it takes everything out of you, so yes, I want to pace myself in order to stay strong throughout, but I’m also trying to see it as a summit day in the sense it’s going to be long and it requires a lot of teamwork.
“When I read that Tough Mudder Infinity is one of the most challenging races in the Middle East, I wanted to get involved because I thought it sounded interesting and exciting.
“I love obstacle-course challenges. I’m quite a dynamic athlete. I do a bit of everything; I run, I climb, I do calisthenics, so obstacle-course races are like my playground.”
There is no doubt Attar is well-placed to overcome the toughest of challenges given her previous experiences.
Having scaled Mount Kenya in 2007, she went on to climb Kilimanjaro twice, Elbrus, Mount Stanley and Mount Speke, before ascending Everest in 2016.
Attar then entered the history books when she became the first Arab female to climb K2 two years ago, an achievement she understandably reflects on with huge pride, particularly given the difficulties she faced.
“K2 is one of the most dangerous mountains in the world,” she said. “Situated in Pakistan, it’s the second-highest peak in the world. The idea came into my mind as I was descending Everest, but I needed a couple more years of climbing and technical experience before I could attempt it.
“I was going through a really hard period in my life. I had lost my father, which is what inspired me to take on the challenge because he was the reason I started climbing. The training was very difficult, I was doing 30 hours a week at times, and it was a very different environment compared to the desert and heat.
“The climb itself was one of the best experiences I’ve gone through, but it was very challenging. It was really scary. You have to watch out for rockfall, because that can kill you, and then there are avalanches. Storms can break out at any second and the terrain is very exposed, so you have to be careful with your steps.
“You’re continuously changing between snow and rock for a month-and-a-half, so it felt like a very prolonged Tough Mudder at altitude, but the experience was everything I hoped for and more, which was amazing. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way to make it happen.”
Having successfully taken on some of the most difficult mountain climbs in the world, and ahead of Tough Mudder Infinity, Attar provides some insight into her mindset ahead of such challenges.
“Just like you train your body, you have to train your mind,” she said. “There are so many times when I don’t want to train, or I’m super tired and I want to give up, but overcoming those difficulties 80 percent of the time really helps you build that mental strength, perseverance and mindset.”
“It took me many years to be able to do K2, not just physically but mentally,” Attar added. “You need to develop the endurance to face these challenges and the uncertainty on the mountains. I love sport because of what it does for me physically, but also mentally.”
Switching attention back to her impending Tough Mudder Infinity challenge in AlUla this coming Saturday, Attar will be competing in a team of four, which she admits will be a welcome change for many reasons.
“I think it will be more enjoyable because my success is their success, and their success is my success. It’s nice to have to share tasks between each other, think creatively and put a strategy in place.
“AlUla is insanely beautiful and to be outside for so long, competing with my friends, is very exciting. Many of my friends have never been to AlUla, it’s so scenic which I think will keep us going.”
The event is further indication of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to sport and hosting largescale events.
Attar, who was born in Riyadh, expects to see the current trend continue long-term.
“A couple of years ago, I don’t think people would have travelled to Saudi for sport, but that narrative and perspective is changing,” she said.
“I never thought I would be travelling to Saudi with my friends from abroad to compete in a race. It’s so amazing and it’s happened in a short space of time. It goes to show where Saudi is putting its efforts and how seriously Saudi is when it comes to sport. This is just the start.”
Tough Mudder Infinity AlUla takes place on Saturday Feb. 24.