The slot is secured and the target set. So what now? What path will see me go from being a competent yet not outstanding runner to one who finishes a monumental endurance challenge like the Eiger 101 in a decent time?
The first important step, as was the case when preparing for my Ironman races, was to enlist the advice, guidance and self-pressure application that comes from having a professional coach on your side. I wasn’t certain if Trace, who expertly guided me to becoming an Ironman, would want to take on the tangenital task of training an ultra-runner, being a triathlon coach with a busy client-load and a packed race calendar, but was pleasantly surprised when she reacted really positively to the idea of taking on something new. It looks as though this experience will see both of us push our respective boundaries and learn something new.
Having an interim goal in the form of an earlier race is always a sound idea for any long-term training plan and so we looked at the upcoming races here in the Middle East and opted to focus immediate efforts on the Urban Ultra UTX-50, a mixed trail race on the 8th December that will see runners cover 50km of sand, trail and wadis, with some climbs thrown in for good measure. As a test of where my endurance running is and how my training is progressing this should be a telling event. The distance no longer scares me after doing the 72km Wadi Bih race earlier this year, although I feel as though I should be going into this race significantly fitter and better prepared than I was in February. As such, I am hoping to record a decent time and enjoy the day. The mainstay of my preparation has been to head out to Wadi Showka each Friday morning in order to hit the trails and steadily increase the mileage, with 28km being the furthest I have run this season, a significant way off the 101km of the Eiger but a decent start to my campaign.
With the temperatures finally dropping as we emphatically move from the oppressive heat and humidity of summer into winter (aka the ‘pleasant season’), there is less imperative to start runs at stupid o’clock as running in daylight no longer coincides with guaranteed heat exhaustion as it does in the summer months. There is, however, something incredibly exciting and satisfying about witnessing dawn whilst out on the trails, in addition to it actually being excellent training in head-torch use and running with just the light from several LEDs to illuminate the path. That was one of my most recent purchases: a new head-torch, as my previous one was quite frankly feckless, barely lighting the way ahead. My new lamp, in contrast, practically recreates daylight such are the number of lumens that it hurls out. Lovely!
Everyone says that the beauty and allure of the desert eventually ensnares you and it is perfectly natural to arrive in the Middle East for the first time and imagine that the desert, with it’s seemingly endless, barren landscape of sand dunes and not much else, is completely devoid of any beauty or charm. Spend sufficient time out here, however, and this opinion gradually shifts as you start to notice the features that make the desert such a beguiling environment.
I had heard talk of Liwa, with it’s huge sand dunes, from friends here in Dubai and knew that it was meant to be a particularly stunning part of the Arabian Peninsula, nestled on the edge of the vast area of wilderness that constitutes the Empty Quarter, straddling the border between the UAE and Saudi Arabia. I had imagined a solitary hotel appearing from the sands like a mirage and surrounded by towering dunes – a far cry from the towering glass and concrete that has fast come to define the main cityscapes of this part of the world. A trip to Liwa is simpler than one initially imagines it might be, with this desert oasis town easily reachable by a well serviced highway directly from Abu Dhabi.
Wanting to make the most of one of my post-night shift weeks off I opted to finally head to Liwa in order to see if my imaginings of the place matched the reality and so set about doing some basic research. Liwa is actually an oasis town sitting along the edge of the Rub al’Khali desert, with many farms growing crops including dates, for which it is famous, and is the historical birthplace of the ruling families of both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It is easy to get to from Dubai via a 3 hour drive down the E11 highway, sticking with the same road as it passes Abu Dhabi and heads towards the Saudi border. The only issues one has to contend with during the latter part of this drive include the fact that the road from Abu Dhabi to the turn off towards Liwa is chock-full of lorries, meaning the journey ends up feeling like a high-speeds, high-stakes game of hopscotch as you’re forced to swiftly hop between trucks, narrowly avoiding the constant stream of wannabe Dominic Torettos as they hurtle along the fast lane as though they’re racing the Earth itself, flashing their lights like deranged watchmen. Survive that gauntlet and it is onto the main E45 highway inland towards the town of Madinat Zayed, the last main population centre before Liwa, a further hour away. It is vital to ensure that you have sufficient fuel before moving away from Abu Dhabi, with no fuel stations between the capital and Madinat Zayed.
I opted to stay at the Tilal Liwa Hotel, approximately twenty minutes outside of Madinat Zayed and a short drive inland from the main road, past the camel track and in the same section of desert as the royal desert camp, which I could see clearly in the distance from the hotel itself. A beautiful four-star hotel, it had pretty much everything a weekend desert warrior might need, with an inviting infinity pool overlooking the desert and views of camels and dunes, a fitness centre, a couple of well stocked and pricey bars, and a decent dining options. The list of available activities was also plentiful, from dune bashing and boarding, to camel rides and a desert horse trek. The only activities I really had in mind for the two days I was around were to visit the huge dunes outside Liwa and get some desert running in, both of which I ticked off during the stay.
Early Rise for an Epic Climb
Determined to make the most of my visit I had heard that a trip to the huge dune at Tal Mireb, otherwise known as Moreeb dune, was best at either dusk or dawn, when the light was at it’s most magical. As such I set the alarm for ridiculously early the next morning and headed out in the thick fog towards Liwa. The road from Liwa to the dunes snaked its way through and into the desert, at times forcing me to literally crawl along on account of there being so much thick fog. Eventually I arrived, just as the light was starting to illuminate the sky and the towering presence of Tal Mireb revealed itself. The Liwa festival, during which scores of four-wheel drives power up and down the dune racing one another, had finished just the week before and so there was still plenty of evidence of the event having been staged including, sadly, trash on the sand. With nobody else around I felt like I had the entire area to myself and set off on the lengthy trek to the top of the steep and lofty dune. The effort was certainly worth it, with panoramic views across the surrounding desert the reward and a stunning sunrise to welcome me. Were I someone who could actually sit stationary for five minutes I would have found the experience almost meditative. Once I had drunk in the incredible atmosphere and realising that if I left soon then I could still make it back to the hotel in time for breakfast, I ran down the dune, feeling like a cosmonaut bouncing across the surface of a giant marshmallow, and made the breathtakingly beautiful drive back out the way I came, stopping at several points to immortalise the view with my iPhone.
It is at this point that I reckon images definitely speak louder than words, so feel free to check out the short video I made at the dune.
TOP TIPS for a visit to Liwa & Tal Mireb:
1. Fill up with fuel before leaving Abu Dhabi – the next petrol station is about 160km (1hr 45mins) away in Madinat Zayed with very little other than sand dunes along the way.
2. Book early – there are three main hotels to choose from in the Liwa area: 1. Liwa Hotel, in Liwa itself, which is a three star establishment; 2. Tilal Liwa Hotel, just outside Madinat Zayed; and the Qasr al Sarab desert resort, a five star paradise about 90km, or an hour, outside of Liwa. If a hotel is not your thing and you have the necessary kit then camping in the desert is another option.
3. Visit Tal Mireb at either dusk or dawn – the light as the sun is rising and setting over this vast swathe of desert is breathtaking and well worth the effort it takes to get there. Scaling the dune, which rises over 100m from base to peak, is energy sapping and hot work so giving yourself the helping hand of doing so during the cooler parts of the day is recommended. I found the main advantage of a morning visit was the distinct absence of other people, making it feel as though I had the entire desert to myself.
This Thursday evening again saw a few of us venture out to the desert and bike track at Al Qudra. The programme once again called for a 5 hour cycle set followed by a 30 minute run, and spirits were good as we set off at the earlier time of 6pm, this time in the last hour of daylight. This week I was joined by fellow Tri Pirates Jen, Jan and, later, Kyle, whilst UK Ironman preparee Matt also joined us for the session.
The first loop felt fine in spite of setting out in 42 degree heat. The pace was slower compared to last week but it was windy and very warm so this was certainly not an issue. I seem to cycle at an average HR of about 166 bpm and have been wondering whether I maybe should be keeping below this(?). Consumed about 1.5 bottles of the stronger electrolyte solution, in addition to topping one of the bottles up with water at the mosque on the return leg. Did not take on any additional nutrition during this period, although had eaten a reasonable meal about 1.5-2hrs prior to starting: chorizo, spinach & eggs, followed by apple, dark chocolate and milk. Also drank two cups of coffee. Adequate pre-training nutrition?
Also used the Fusion Sport Ice Vest system for the first loop, although by the end of it the gel pouches were warm, so clearly very hot.
We stopped to refuel prior to the second 50km loop, during which I ate a banana and topped up the bottles with water. Felt fine as we started the second loop. Fast initial third of the loop, then started to feel the energy levels wane. Took on a gel at approximately the 30-25km to home mark but felt pretty un-energetic. Pulled in to the mosque at the 10km to home mark and as we came to a stop succumbed to agonising cramp affecting the right leg (calf muscle & lower hamstring). Never felt cramp quite as bad before! Dismounted and ended up getting the ‘whites,’ feeling faint and sick and having to hit the deck, where I lay for about ten minutes recovering. Jan gave me half a Race Fuel bar and I sipped water until I felt better and able to resume riding. The rest of the ride was at a very leisurely pace and I did not feel great. Needless to say the ride was called early & I did not complete the 5 hours or run, as per the programme. Instead, took on a banana smoothie and can of Coke, before returning home. A disappointing result and a somewhat concerning trend for the longer cycle training session.
POTENTIAL ISSUES/ REASONS FOR BREAKDOWN:
1. Heat/ overheating – did I simply succumb to the heat without ever realising that I was dangerously overheating? It was hot when we set out, although the Ice Vest system did take the sting out of the tail. We only cycled for about an hour or so in daylight, so questionable how much influence this had.
2. Dehydration/ electrolyte imblance – did I drink enough? Not once during the ride did I feel as though I needed to go to the loo, in spite of drinking small amounts frequently. Averaged 1.5-2 bottles per loop, with 2x electrolyte solution bottles for the first loop and then a dilute solution plus electrolyte on the second. Did I need to add a higher concentration of electrolyte to my bottles for the second loop? With the wind it may be that I was sweating more profusely than I initially imagined. I understand that cramps are usually related to electrolyte issues and I have not had issues with cramping for the entire year to date. It has only been the past two Thursday evening cycle sessions that has seen me cramping.
3. Inadequate nutrition – I ate a carb light meal prior to starting the session, and did not take on any additional nutrition during the first 50km. Then took on a banana prior to starting the second, and a Gu gel during the loop itself. Enough?! Suspect I need to start taking on nutrition earlier and more consistently throughout the session, especially given my low carb diet at present.
4. Time of day – is it purely coincidental that it has been during the Thursday evening cycles that I have suffered physical setbacks? Could it simply be a manifestation of ‘end of day’ fatigue? Maybe a return to very early starts on Friday morning, following an early night of rest on Thursday is the key?
Some food for thought as training enters the really hot part of the year and the volume continues to build. A meeting with coach Trace is called for I reckon…
It’s gone midnight, it’s pitch black apart from the small slits of light emitted in front by our respective bike lights and the twinkling lights of the highway off in the distance, and we still have another two hours to go. Ordinarily I would be found out on the Al Qudra desert cycle track – all 50km of this tarmac loop stretching off into the desert before spinning back towards civilisation again – most Friday mornings, when it seems most of the cycling and triathlon community of Dubai drag themselves up early, don their lycra and venture out in pairs or packs (rarely solo) for one, two, maybe more loops of this wonderful training resource we have. Not this week though.
With the daytime temperatures now reaching the mid to high forties, and the humidity knocking on uncomfortable, training in the daylight is simply becoming a silly thing to attempt to do. The value derived from braving the fierce heat is, in my opinion, negligible whilst the risk of simply getting sunburnt and succumbing to heat exhaustion makes it not worth attempting. So….. training simply ceases, right? No. Training continues. In fact, training is increasing in volume and intensity as I find myself a mere 12 weeks away from standing at the start line of Ironman Lake Tahoe. What has to happen then is to either train indoors, which I find impossibly dull, or to become nocturnal. Hence why we find ourselves peddling around in the desert in the first hours of Friday morning.
My programme prescribed a 5 hour bike ride with a run off the back of it for this week and so I pitched the idea of a Thursday night cycle marathon to the triathlon community here in Dubai. A few people got back to me and so it was arranged that we would meet at 9pm at the start of the AQ loop. I would have preferred an earlier start to be honest, especially given that 5 hours would lead to a finish after 2am, but such is the nature of working as a vet that even getting away from the clinic at 7pm was a blessing. So a quick turnaround at home, including shoveling some food down, loading up the ice vest system which I had planned to test out (didn’t need to in the end as the temperatures experienced made it redundant), and water and nutrition for the bike, it was back in the car and heading straight out to the desert.
For anyone who doesn’t know where the AQ track is, one drives past Arabian Ranches, out towards Bab Al Shams desert resort and just keep going for what feels like a long, long time. The stick (an extension of the cycle track) runs alongside the road for the last 18km of this approach before reaching a roundabout and the main parking area with amenities such as a cafe (closed at that time of night sadly) and toilets which are mercifully open all the time.
Loop one saw four of us band together for the ride: good friend and fellow Dubai Tri Pirate, Jan; Ironman Zurich preparee, Stephen; another Ironman, Matt; and myself, yet to join the ranks of the men of metal. A fast first loop was had and we came home in good time and spirits, with Matt ending his session, which had started much earlier in the evening, and Jan, Stephen and I heading straight out for the second loop. By the end of the second legs were certainly starting to be felt and water refills were in order, as was a quick top up of the fuel tanks, although in hindsight the choice of chocolate and a can of Red Bull (I still don’t know why I touched it?!), was less than optimal, as I didn’t feel wonderful heading out on the third and final loop. Stephen spun back round at the 15km mark, as he was on track for a total distance that evening of 180km, having also started earlier, and so Jan and I forged on for the remaining 35km towards home and a total distance of 150km in a little over the target 5 hours.
One of the rather interesting features of cycling in the dead of night is that all that can be seen is what is immediately around you. As such, one cannot see the horizon, which means that the impression of it not getting any closer on those impossibly long stretches of track does not occur. Which is probably just as well given how uncomfortable I was finding the third loop. By now my legs were well and truly complaining and I unfortunately cramped up on at least two occasions, one such requiring a gritting of the teeth and some real willpower to move through. I am still in the process of figuring out my optimal nutrition plan for the bike, and suspect that it may have had a role to play. Although I had taken electrolyte in the bottles, I wonder whether I should have added additional at the water bottle refill after our second loop and looked at something more quick release, energy wise, than the nuts and dried fruit that I had with me. The process of experimentation continues therefore.
Wildlife experiences were a little closer than usual in the day, with at least two episodes when we nearly had impact with an Oryx, as they suddenly dart out across the track. Hitting one of them would not be fun and a few bruises and some road rash would, I daresay, be the best case scenario of such an accident. We also saw several smaller species on the track, all doing their best to try and get run over, thwarted in their efforts by some quick and deft swerving on our part. A desert rat was the coolest thing I remember seeing, with its long, kangaroo-esque back feet and lengthy tail that made it look like a Stretch Armstrong version of a gerbil.
However, even the interesting nocturnal activities of the desert wildlife could do little to distract me by the end of the third, and thankfully final, loop as my legs were screaming at me to stop. If I hadn’t fully appreciated the enormity of the challenge that I face in September before then I do so now, as I simply felt unable to even contemplate any further time on the bike. Unfortunately I found myself feeling a little dizzy (again, inadequate nutrition? Or maybe pure fatigue, as it was afterall gone 2am?). Anyway, it did mean that venturing out solo for my run felt like a poor idea and so I made the executive decision to forgo that element of the session and head home. The drive itself was a challenge as I had to stop at one point back towards Arabian Ranches to deal with a sudden onset of cramp in my driving leg, and then there was the very real risk of actually falling asleep at the wheel that I had to contend with. Scary stuff indeed and I was ecstatic at arriving back, dumping my stuff in the house, grabbing a much needed protein shake and a shower before collapsing into bed for what ended up being an epic and well deserved period of sleep. All in all, a big session but nothing compared to what is to come. Thank you sincerely to both Stephen and Jan for accompanying me out and if it were not for Jan and his encouragement that third and final loop would have been sheer and utter torture.
Cycling at night is certainly much more comfortable in terms of the heat, with the temperatures a perfect mid to late twenties for most of the time, and at times even a little on the noticeably chilly side. This certainly translated into faster speeds at the same effort than would be possible at higher temperatures.
The track was very, very quiet, as one would expect at those insane times. In fact, the only other people we saw were two cyclists going in the opposite direction on both of the first two loops. There were then a couple of crazy morning warriors clearly starting when we finished at gone 2am, otherwise the track and desert belonged solely to us.
In spite of the challenges and discomfort associated with heading out overnight, the fact that I was able to simply sleep on through Friday morning did make it all worthwhile.
Nutrition is still something I need to figure out. I should not have cramped up and I suspect that I need to examine my electrolyte intake more closely. I shall not be taking Red Bull out again and some more natural quick release energy sources, such as bananas, may have been of more use during the actual cycling.
One of the best ways to experience the UAE and the beauty of the desert is to partake in one of the nation’s passions: horseriding. That is exactly what two of my friends and colleagues from the clinic and I did on Friday, with each of us keen to find ourselves back in the saddle after variable periods of time away from horses. For me, the last time I was in the saddle was last year when my parents visited and mum and I went out on a ‘desert’ ride out of the Arabian Ranches Polo club, an experience which although fast and fun was also a little disappointing in as much as the ‘desert’ we experienced was effectively a large building site, with the city in clear view. Claire had ridden extensively in the desert whilst growing up in Saudi Arabia and Adri has also ridden a lot back in South Africa. Which was a good thing as our chosen venue of Al Maha resort, an hour’s drive out of Dubai towards Al Ain, stipulated that riders needed to have at least 3 years worth of experience in the saddle.
The drive up, despite being early, was worth it as we arrived at the gates to the reserve – all a little bit Jurassic Park on first impressions – as the sun was just starting to rise, revealing the true raw beauty of the dunes, with their varying shades of yellow owing to the recent rain, and the intermittently dotted trees and bushes. Many assume that the desert is empty and boring, with nothing but sand to see, but the truth is anything but. From the moment we arrived we appreciated abundant wildlife from small antelope to birds, to the majestic Oryx, a large group of which we were able to get very close to, including their rather foal-like cute little babies.
The Al Maha resort itself is hidden away in the dunes about 9km from the main gate and just suddenly pops out of nowhere as you find yourself driving along the dirt road wondering whether in fact you have maybe made an incorrect turn. We drove past individual chalets skillfully hidden amongst the desert sands, up the pristine main drive to the reception lodge, with the tasteful vibes of a safari hunting lodge, except without the hunting trophies. The immediate impression of the place was one of calm and peace, and the view from the balcony was nothing short of breathtaking. Below us and extending as far as the eye could see was the desert, with a small oasis in the foreground and angular, undulating dunes meeting an expansive sky, with the sun casting the most fantastic shadows and creating a fascinating array of textures and subtle hues of light browns, yellows and greens as the Arabian desert was revealed to us.
We were met by our guide, a young English horseman by the name of Laurence, who had previously been employed as a guide in Namibia and who clearly had a passion for horses. Half-chaps donned it was into the resort 4WD we jumped for the short journey out to the stables, where we picked up hats before being introduced to our steeds. My horse was a lovely bay who was slow and steady on the walk but who clearly enjoyed competition when it came to the question of racing, as I discovered on more than one occasion.
Our ride took us in roughly a large loop, through desert paths and over dunes, and it wasn’t long before we were picking up speed for the first of our ‘extended canters.’ All of the horses we were riding had formerly been endurance athletes and were used to running at speed over the sand. My horse, as previously mentioned, was super competitive and when he quickly built up speed to nose in front of our guide’s stunning grey steed, you could almost feel the gear shift in both horses as an unspoken “right. You’re on!” was exchanged. It is not until you’re back in the saddle that you remember what incredibly exhilarating fun it is to move at speed powdered by literal horse power.
The second stretch of speed saw me, at one point, lose my right stirrup and it took some concentrated effort on my part to remain firmly saddled whilst attempting to place my foot back in, all whilst continuing to pick up speed. We eventually stopped near the top of a small hill and as Laurence arrived it became clear that they had been calling for me to stop earlier, a request that I had to confess I had not heard, explaining the stirrup issue. I was somewhat pleased, however, to be told that to external onlookers I had apparently appeared very much in control and it had been assumed that I was simply choosing to ignore the calls to stop on account of clearly enjoying things so much. How appearances can be deceiving!
We stopped – or rather attempted – to stop for a photo opportunity atop one of the dunes en route back to base and in spite of the horses clearly not being overly cool with the idea of standing still posing Laurence did manage to snap a half decent shot, all whilst being buffeted by his own horse.
Following our return to the stables and subsequently the main lodge, we availed ourselves of a fantastically relaxed breakfast out on the balcony, overlooking the desert, and reviewed the highlights of the ride. Although all of us agreed that we would have preferred for the trip to have lasted longer – an hour and a half felt too short – the stiff backs that we all experienced over the following days suggested that the time was, in fact, optimal!
Anyone looking for a fun, active way to really connect with the wildlife and true desert of the UAE, whilst still getting to enjoy a five star hospitality experience will certainly find a riding session at Al Maha right up their street. We all agreed that very morning that we wanted to return, perhaps even spending a whole day and taking advantage of the many other leisure activities on offer, including archery. Well recommended!
At the time of writing the 1.5 hour desert hack cost 200AED each, with all required equipment provided. Breakfast was 160AED, with the view being worth the price alone. More information can be found at Al Maha’s website.
With a sudden hiss, followed by a low rumble the sight of an absolutely perfect wave formed behind me as I started paddling forward. Moments later I was up on the board. Surfing. In the desert. On a real wave!
There really seems to be little that you can’t do here in the UAE and now I can add surfing in the middle of an area that by rights shouldn’t even be able to dream of hosting World Class surf competitions to the list of the seemingly implausable that is, in fact, possible.
I had signed up for my first competitive race of the new season here in the UAE, an aquathon held at the waterpark, Wadi Adventure in Al Ain. A very early start and a couple of hours drive east of Dubai found me in the shadows of Jebel Hafeet, one of the mountains that many of my cyclist friends have spent time peddling up, and the site of what can only be described as a water sports enthusiasts’ dreamland: Wadi Adventure.
The race itself involved swimming an initial 400m in one of the white water rafting lakes, followed by a 2.5km run around the park, then back into the lake for a second 400m swim, and ending with a final 2.5km run to the finish line. The swim was fantastic, with the water perfectly clean, cool and actually very refreshing, something that was certainly welcome the second time around after the initial run in the rapidly rising desert heat. It would appear that my training over the summer months has actually paid dividends as I had a really strong race and was pleased to come over the line in a time of about 43 minutes and in 10th place in the Open Male category.
One of the perks of competing on the day, other than the shiny new medal and the post-race breakfast, was that we got to stay in the park for the day if we wanted. Well, seeing what was on offer in terms of activities, I certainly wanted.
After befriending a fellow Brit, who had ventured out from Dubai by bus and taxi only to find the park didn’t open for another hour, we purchased our various activity bands and headed in for an active day. Charles was starting his day with a surf lesson whilst I had an hour and a half to just kick back, relax and read before my first activity of the day: rafting. They have built some impressive infrastructure at the park and after an initial briefing and kit check we were out on the lake to practice our rafting skills around the more pedestrian, slower rafting circuit before transferring to where the real fun was to be had with some proper white water.
Many of the rafting and kayaking instructors are Napalese, such is the rich whitewater heritage of the country, and ours was incredibly skilled as he navigated us round the various twists, turns, drops and bumps of the circuit, shouting to us when to paddle, stop, get in the centre of the raft, and generally be useful as opposed to increasing the risk of a capsize. Having said that, after a few tours round we were given the option of whether we wanted to turn the raft over. No question really: of course! I have GoPro footage of being in the raft and then rather rapidly not being in the raft and bobbing along as I was swept downstream, popping into the lake that is both the start and end of the circuit. Amazing fun!
Next up was kayaking, which was a lot harder than I think I had been initially expecting. Having done a little kayaking many years ago I thought I would have been a lot more comfortable being submerged but actually found being so rather uncomfortable. Still, we knew what to do to free ourselves from our kayaks in the event that we did end up head under and so all was good. There were four of us in our group, and after some initial tutoring from our guide set off on the route. As with rafting, we started with something a little more measured and I felt very confident paddling up to, over and through the various drops and obstacles. I did, however, discover how easy it is to tip over in a kayak at the final section of the course – I would like to say that was the only time I did so but I would be lying 🙂
Starting the session I had assumed that, as with rafting, we would hone some basic skills in the slower section of the course before graduating on to the serious white water. Thankfully that didn’t turn out to be the case, as all of us were more than happy with the workout we had in the first course. As I said, kayaking was a lot tougher than I thought and I think it would be safe to say that we’d have all spent considerably more time in the water, or under it, than we would in our kayaks had we ventured into rougher waters.
By the time I had finished the kayak session I was very ready for lunch. However, whilst en route I was stopped by one of the surf managers whom I had spoken to earlier in the morning. The surfing gets booked out a long time in advance, by as much as a month, and so I had asked whether I could be informed if anyone did not turn up. The chances of that happening were, according to most, pretty slim, but on this occasion it seemed as if my luck was in as a gap in an intermediate session had just opened up, starting about 5 minutes after our conversation. So it was that I was to get my surfing fix afterall.
Paddling out to join the five other surfers on the water was incredible if not initially a little daunting, as from the shore the wave that was generated was pretty big so I wasn’t quite certain what it was going to be like up close and personal. The group I was gatecrashing were French and had come together from both Oman and Dubai to do a couple of hours of surfing. The last time I had been surfing was in California and I wouldn’t necessarily have called myself an intermediate. However, in the interests of nabbing the available slot I was willing to give it a go. As it turned out I was actually pretty ok, standing up and surfing far more than stacking it, helped I am sure by the sheer perfection of the synthetically generated wave, which rose from apparently nowhere every 90 seconds.
An hour of perfect, regular wave riding was enough to really feel good and ready for food so surfboard returned, it was off to lunch and one of the most welcome, if not biggest, lasagnas I have ever eaten. By that time it was late afternoon and so with one last set of activities to tick off the list, namely the climbing and zip-line, thoughts were turning to getting home to Dubai. The climbing consisted of a couple of levels of high-wire obstacles, much like Go Ape, and we nipped round both levels swiftly before heading up to the zip line for a ride over the lakes, which was great. I honestly think it would be so awesome if there more zip-lines in normal, everyday life. How brilliant would it be to be able to zip line between buildings rather than having to walk or grab a cab? The final activity of the day was a log swing, which after having had bad experiences on those pirate ship fairground rides in the past, I wasn’t too upset about only going on once. Still, it was on our list so had to be done, and done it was.
The entire day was amazing fun and super active, with the surfing certainly being one of my key highlights. It was so surreal to be spending the day in water with a mountain in the close background, but I have learnt to expect such surprises here in the UAE. I certainly intend to go back and booking a group of friends to go surfing would be an excellent way to spend an awesome day together.