Tag Archives: kayak

Red Hot with Red Bull

Red Hot with Red Bull

Sultan of the Desert Proves Itself a Worthy Title

The start of the run stage, which kicked off the day's racing
The start of the run stage, which kicked off the day’s racing

There are times in one’s life when someone suggests doing something and you find yourself enthusiastically going along with it, only to later question the original sanity of the decision. That was what I found myself doing more than once on Friday 10th October 2014 as I found myself staring up the impossibly steep, rocky face up which I was to carry my mountain bike and, even by that stage, fatigued body and mind. This, ladies and gentleman, was the Red Bull Sultan of the Desert Adventure Race: a three discipline race – trail run, mountain bike, and kayak – that athletes could either complete legs of as part of a team or, like the small band of insane people of which I was a member, race the entire course.

Mountain biking, Red Bull, Sultan of the DesertThe race started, for me at least, a few days earlier as I tapped up friends for the loan of a decent mountain bike, given the fact that I had entered a race that required one and yet had last been on one a year ago in Europe. Bike duly lent (thank you Rachael 🙂 ) I trekked over to Al Ain, where a friend and colleague of mine was kind enough to host me at her and her husband’s place a short distance from the race venue, Wadi Adventure. Pre-race preparations included an awesome braii, continuing my South African vibe from the previous weekend, and firming up last minute team members for a couple of teams suddenly without key members. I felt a bit like a sports agent 🙂
Naomi & I about to start the run stage
Naomi & I about to start the run stage

As with every race I have done to date, the day started incredibly early and we arrived at Wadi Adventure to register as the sun was still very much starting its ascent. Following one bib number change and then another on the day itself, I found myself racing as number 136, got my bike racked, Camel-Pak suitably loaded up with water and nutrition, and waited with the rest of the posse for both the race briefing and then buses out to the start of the first stage of the day: the 15km trail run back into Wadi Adventure.

In hindsight it would have been much better to have had the run kicking off significantly earlier, even right at the crack of dawn, as by the time the starting horn went, following a valiant effort by MC Very Enthusiastic to whip us up into a 300-esque frenzy, the sun was already beating down on us, meaning that even from the start I found my heart-rate shooting up to about 180 and remaining there even as I was forced to slow down my pace. The initial few kilometres seemed to be very short but the going got significantly tougher as we reached our first serious ascent, with running up it simply not something that was going to happen. The key difference between the road and track running that I am used to with triathlon and trail is that there are a lot more opportunities to roll an ankle, slip or otherwise do yourself an injury. On the flip side, as long as you’re careful and don’t do anything too heroic or out of control then trail is far more interesting. Our run route took us through valleys and even through a couple of wadi drains, as we ducked under roads, before emerging the Wadi Adventure side of Jebel Hafeet, and the last few kilometres to base and the start of our bike leg. The placing of water stations at regular intervals was welcome, especially the provision of chilled water, much of which ended up being poured onto and over me as opposed to into me, such was the temperature.
My run time was, in hindsight, a relatively steady 1hr 32min, and would certainly have been faster had I not forced myself to walk sections of it in a bid to bring my heart rate down to a more sustainable level. As I came into Wadi Adventure I took a quick detour via my car in order to change running shoes (wrecking an expensive pair of Zoots on both the trail run and mountain bike seemed wasteful) and a pair of decent cycling shorts, my logic being that I would be sat on my backside for the foreseeable future on both the bike and then the kayak. If I was going to have to suffer then at least it wouldn’t be my arse that bore the brunt!
The course!
The course!

By the end of the run I was craving some sugar and, more pressing, salts, having stupidly forgotten to pack my electrolyte tablets for the one race where it seemed I was definitely going to be wanting them. Although it was a Red Bull sponsored event, offering athletes only Red Bull or water seemed a little silly. As much as I really didn’t need to be guzzling down the copious amounts of caffeine in the aforementioned beverage, my craving for additional sugar to fuel the next stage was greater and so a can was consumed before I was off on the bike, heading out along the initial straight. It might have been a straight, flat line but it was also predominantly thick sand – not the easiest to cycle in, thats for sure! Pushing the bike – a repeated exercise over the next 15km – was necessary for much of the first section, before the drinks station and just before entering the really technical stage of the ride. The MTB course had apparently been designed by a Red Bull sponsored downhill champion and it showed! Rocky, impossibly narrow on sections, with some serious drop offs and fast sections, and an area where we literally had to carry our bikes up a steep face. This relatively short section of more technical riding, which I believe was only about 4km, took most of us a considerable amount of time to navigate our way around and I certainly wasn’t the only person who felt a real attachment to their intact collar bones and thus walked a sizeable portion of the route. The final 8km of the course were flat, taking in the outskirts of the Wadi Adventure park and then taking us over the main road to the hotel and the kayak transition. I am not ashamed to say that I was pretty well cooked by the time I arrived and the sight of athletes further up the field carrying their kayaks back towards Wadi Adventure did little to rejuvenate my flagging energy levels.

A slight moment of the ‘whites’ once off the bike, followed swiftly by a hastily guzzled down Race Food bar, led me into the kayak for the three loops around the artificial lake, this being the first stage of the kayak event. Although I have had the privilege of doing a bit of paddling recently around the Palm, it was clear that my paddling technique still required some honing as I received helpful pointers from much faster fellow athletes, especially as on several occasions I found the kayak spinning to face the wrong way, a frustrating occurrence when all I now wanted was to see the finish line. Anyway, through a combination of stubborn determination, crap technique interspersed with moments of correct technique, and a strong desire to finish the race already, I ploughed on, exiting the water, I believe, in last place. A quick check of the rules to see if there was any reason why I could not place my kayak on my bike for the return to Wadi Adventure – I couldn’t sadly. Thankfully, a fellow individual competitor, Mark, was also at the same stage as me and so we teamed up, taking either end of the kayaks and walking the 2km (plus) back, flanked by the marshals who had stayed back to usher us stragglers in. 20 minutes later and we arrived at the white water course, eager to finish our short but fun rapids stage prior to the finish line, but were met with the rather annoying advice that as they had run out of time for the event (Jeez! Were we really THAT slow and behind everyone else?!) we would just have to drop the kayaks and run to the finish line. As much as I was glad to see the back of those kayaks and was eager to be done, I was also bitterly disappointed to not at least be able to finish ALL of the race. I couldn’t help myself as I asked the organiser, with an unavoidable hint of annoyance in my voice, why, if they were running out of time for us, did they feel it was ok to allow us to lug the kayaks all the way back when we could have been given a bit of a helping lift in order that we at least got to finish the race properly?! Obviously the kayak carrying was still part of the race but I’m sure most would agree that given the choice of which bit could feasibly be ‘cut out’ from the race in favour of doing the really fun bit (the white water), it would have been lugging 22kg kayaks the best part of 2km! Still, the fact remained: we were last, time was against us and so Mark and I ran to the finish, crossing together to close out the day’s efforts. Nearly 6 hours after starting it was over.
Finally finished
Finally finished

As fun as the race was in hindsight, and an epic achievement, especially given the fact that there were actually several DNFs, I would opt to run a half Ironman distance race any day! It was a tough, tough race and I am sure if I work on my specific discipline fitness (trail run, mountain bike and paddling), all of which I really haven’t done much of at all, then a return to the race next year (lol – see what I’m already doing?! Mentally signing up already! We are gluttons for punishment!) would, I am certain, see a much faster time. In the meantime, I plan to stick to triathlon 🙂

The race winners: teams & individuals
The race winners: teams & individuals

 

Surfing in the Sand

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.

Aquathon race
At the end of the race, with my shiny new medal

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.

Wild WadiAfter 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.

waves at Wild Wadi, Al Ain
Perfect waves on demand

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.

Paddle to the Beach

Paddle for the Planet, Kite Beach, DubaiOne of the very best things about living here in the Middle East is the fact that we get virtually uninterrupted awesome weather all year round. Yes, it gets horrifically hot and humid in the summer months, something that I am yet to actually experience first-hand, but the fact remains that it is excellent weather for being outdoors. On top of that we have some incredible beaches virtually on our doorsteps and easy to access.

I have already discovered a few of the stretches of beach along the Dubai coastline, from Nesnass beach where the kitesurfing crowd hang out, to JBR beach, with the Palm to the right and the towering skyscrapers and apartments of the marina as a backdrop, and where I regularly play Ultimate with other like-minded sports enthusiasts.

Friday saw me check out one of the main beaches here in Dubai, Kite Beach, as I signed up to attend a charity event called ‘Paddle for the Planet’, during which loads of people got together for an early morning paddle out into the ocean in aid of ocean based projects globally. I had just seen the event posted on good old Facebook and figured “why not?” I was due to be off work on Saturday and there was no wind forecast, so no kitesurfing to be done. It just sounded like it might be a laugh, and it was.

Kite Beach, Dubai
Kite Beach, Dubai

Kite Beach is one of those classic stretches of golden sand that you see in holiday brochures, complete with permanent wooden and palm sun shaders, volleyball courts and a range of civilised beach amenities, such as showers. There is even a cool little gym called The Shack, which has the feel of a mini Venice Beach vibe going on. I am actually going to try and attend a session one morning as I can’t think of a better place to pump some iron than right on the beach.

The turnout was impressive, with a whole host of paddlers, from surf-skiers to stand-up paddle-boarders, to kayakers, to Dragon Boats, surfboards and more. There was a big group photo on the beach at about half past 8 before we were all given the go ahead to launch ourselves into the water and paddle. I headed out as far as most people would dare and decided to turn back once I realised that I was, in fact, on my own and didn’t really fancy the idea of drifting off to Saudi. The view on the way back to shore was breathtaking, with the Burj al Arab off to the right, the towering, futuristic spectacle of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, to the left and the low rises of Jumeirah, with the beautiful minarets of the many mosques punctuating the view. I hadn’t really fully appreciated previously just how azure the sea is in Dubai, with this being one of the key things evident on the paddle back to solid ground.

Slack lining
Harder than it is made to look!

After the hard (yeah, right!) work of paddling was done, there were loads of other fun activities to keep people entertained on the beach, from the mobile climbing wall, to a pretty awesome double decker bouncy castle, to a slackline, which I had to have a go at. Actually, several, as it was certainly a lot harder than people make it look. I think I managed about one to two steps each time before wobbling and promptly falling off. Still, it was a laugh and there were plenty of freebies in the form of energy drinks and snacks on offer to keep energy levels topped up.

As far as a cracking start to a day off goes, even if that day off started at 5am, I couldn’t think of a better one 🙂