Tag Archives: UAE

Dubai 30×30 Sheikh Zayed Road Run

“Say what now?! Dubai are planning to close down part of the main E11 highway, the Sheikh Zayed Road, and let people run along it. For free?! Sign me up!”

Like thousands and thousands of others the very notion of being able to experience what it would be like to run down the middle of a mega-highway completely devoid of traffic and to experience the view of Dubai that greets those hurtling along it’s main artery and that has been immortalised on screen countless times was too much to turn down. I’ve run my fair share of organised races and so am happy to fork out some cash for the chance to take my place on the starting line. It is rare, however, to get to take part in an event of the magnitude of the Dubai 30×30 Sheikh Zayed Road run and to be able to do so for gratis. The upside to the decision to levy no entry charge to runners was that people turned out in droves for the event, with every facet of the city’s population represented and not just those affluent enough to be able to throw down a couple of hundred dirhams to spend their morning off running. This was a master stroke as it gave the entire event a real sense of togetherness that made it all the more memorable.

It seems that thought had really gone into the logistics of the event as well, from having multiple pickup points for race numbers the day before to ample transport options, including opening up the metro super early to allow runners to avoid adding to traffic and to access to event from across the city. I took advantage of the fact that the Mall of the Emirates was opened up, allowing parking and metro access, which made the whole morning sooooooo much less stressful than it might otherwise have been.

Arriving at the Trade Centre by metro I will confess that I was initially a little anxious when I saw just how many people were present. However, with the crowds in jubilant mood and everyone being respectful of others the slow shuffle to leave the station just added to the sense of grand occasion that we were all part of. There was a real air of excitement, with the weather and conditions just perfect, and as I joined the swell of runners lining up for the 10km race – separate start and finish to the 5km, which was another smart decision – I was glad I brought out the 360-degree camera to record the event.

Whilst it was never going to be my fastest 10km run, on account of the sheer number of people out on the course and the desire to stop at a few points to record some memories, the final 5km that took us past the Dubai Mall and then towards the finish at the Trade Centre had enough gaps open that I was able to really find a fun rhythm and pace to feel as though I was getting a solid run in. In fact, it was really a lot of fun getting to weave in and out of people, imagining that I was driving my very own Lambourghini along the boulevard – simple things!

All told, this was a great event and I can definitely see it becoming an annual fixture on the Dubai calendar. Well done Dubai.

Eiger 101 Post 5 – UTX 50: Running out of 2017

People often describe life’s journey as a rollercoaster. The same can absolutely be applied to an ultramarathon as one most certainly experiences fabulous highs and descents into lows before almost as quickly ascending to new heights. So it was for my last big athletic push of 2017: the UTX 50, organised and staged by the fantastic Urban Ultra team.
The day started as most do when you’re into weird things like running very very long distances for fun: in the dark and far earlier than most humans would consider sane. With my race pack having been picked up a couple of days before and the requisite bits of mandatory kit acquired, nutrition and the various items of clothing I may well have needed during the day were carefully packed into my car before I started the long, somewhat hazy drive out towards Ras Al Khaimah and the pin-pointed location of the race setting. Thank goodness for Google Maps is all I can say as without it I sincerely doubt i’d have made it to the start line. As I followed the digital line on my phone’s map display off the main highway and onto an altogether narrower, more sandy roadway I soon became grateful for the fact that the organisers had remembered that not everyone in the UAE drives a 4WD. Having said that I reached a point where it became clear that to proceed may well have meant risking getting stuck in the very soft sand that the road had transitioned to, especially as I had already seen one runner do just that after taking the wrong one of two options at a forked junction. The race site, I was informed by a couple who had opted to camp overnight, was just a hundred metres on and thus easily walkable.
One thing that many people find hard to get their heads around, especially after the stifling heat and relentless humidity of the summer months is the fact that in winter it does actually get pretty darned cold, especially out in the desert. As such, getting changed into my running gear was a nippy affair and I was glad to be able to don my snood and Patagonia base layer before grabbing my CamelPak, with nutrition stowed away, and head torch before making my way over to registration. Quite a few people had, it turned out, managed to drive to the main site – the road into camp was actually passable by normal cars; these things often only become apparent after the fact – and when I arrived the music was pumping, lights were on and the inflatable arch of the start and finish line was clearly visable, with registration just to the side of it. Signed in and with at least forty minutes to go until the start I opted to head back to the car and hunker down with a book rather than freeze by standing around idly. I’d have more than enough time to spend on my feet come the actual race!
The trail and ultra scene out here is a relatively small one and so the same faces tend to pop up at most events, which makes for a really nice, familial or collegiate atmosphere. So it was as many of the Dubai Trail Runners, including head honcho, Lee, filtered into the start line huddle, exchanging greetings and comments on how chilly it was, before we were given the briefing and placed under starters orders. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1….FOGHORN!” We were off, with the eventual race winners striking up an impressive pace from the get-go whilst I found myself comfortably towards the front but in no way pushing for any kind of heroic lead. Not in this race and not generally in this sport – I respect the distance too much and recognise my own limits at present. Besides, we first of all had about 3km of sand and dunes to traverse before the more traditional trail running ensued and based on my limited experience of dune running I know how tough it can be and so wished to conserve energy as much as I was able. One thing that fairly rapidly became clear was that I could easily have done without the base layer as within about five minutes of dune-climbing effort I was well and truly ‘warmed up’ and would have jettisoned it early on had I been ok to stop. Instead I elected to push on at a steady pace before making the final breathtakingly beautiful descent down the last big dune, with the sun now making an appearance and illuminating the dunes and mountains of the area, and stopped at the bottom, where the hard track started, in order to pack away my base-layer, sand gaiters and lamp and catch a much needed breath before the main section of the day kicked off.
I can’t really say that I had any real strategy for the day other than to remember not to push it too hard in the early stages as tempting as it may have been, and to remember to remain hydrated and adequately fed, both of which are surprisingly easy to forget to do, especially in cooler conditions. I had intended to listen to some music as a way of ‘zoning out’ during the race but found myself foregoing that option in favour of simply enjoying my surroundings, brief conversations with fellow runners and to pay close attention to both the trail – an important way to reduce the risk of stumbles, falls, ankle twists and all of the other ridiculously simple to occur happenings that can befall a trail runner, especially when tired – and my general surroundings, both of which were beautiful. The first section of trail after the dunes took us out of the ‘countryside’ and into an area of housing, meaning a section of paved road running, where we came upon the first aid station – I elected not to stop at this as still had plenty of water and was feeling in a good flow state so wished to capitalise by continuing on. After that the trail took us into a narrow section of wadi before opening up into a wider, more isolated, or wilder area of proper wadi where we found ourselves for about the next 10 km. I found the initial 20 km to be comfortable and was able to maintain a steady pace that saw me overtake a few people, although I also had several people pass me in turn. My feet were feeling good and I once again thanked good fortune that I had discovered Injinji and their incredible socks as they seemed to be my saving grace as far as looking after my feet was concerned.
After the second aid station, which was positioned in a picturesque little farming village and at which I did make a stop, enjoying the orange slices on offer, I did start to feel my legs a little more and on the steeper sections of short climbing elected to walk. I also stopped for a few minutes, not out of fatigue but because the narrow path that climbed up behind and between some buildings had on one side stables and out of two of the open windows popped the heads of some stunning horses. I couldn’t ignore them and so stopped to say hello, enjoying the interaction with my new equine buddies, only spurred on by the voices of another two runners scaling the path behind me. From there the road wound up and down and around the farming community, with cute little stone buildings surrounding cultivated and terraced fields of lush green crops flanked by the razer tipped peaks of the UAE mountains surrounding us. The start of the final descent of this section was marked by a rusty iron gate and once through it was a knee-pounding run down towards a long, straight, somewhat demoralising stretch of main highway running that seemed to coincide with the start of the day’s heat. I was ok for about the first half of this particular section but then felt myself hitting up against a bit of a wall before caving in to temptation and choosing to walk for a bit. A short walk was soon extended at the next to a longer walk and if it were not for the heroic efforts of one runner, Elliot Lewis, and his words of encouragement as I then ran the next twenty or so kilometres with him, I would have had a truly miserable experience and succumbed to the spectre of walking most of the rest of the race. Ultra marathons mess with your head. They’re long enough that to get through them in one piece does require constant thinking, reassessments, personal pep-talking and it is so easy for those voices of doubt to start creeping into your head before screaming at you to ‘just take it easy for a bit’ that they become hard to ignore. It may have been that some decent, motivational music would have helped at this stage, but I had a better option: another runner to keep me motivated and going. That’s another thing I do love about this sport – very rarely do you encounter a selfish athlete who is just interested in themselves and their own race. Most runners genuinely look out for their fellow race-goers and do what they can if they see someone struggling. Did my companion sacrifice some time in order to run with me? I don’t know but the point is that instead of silently cruising past me and leaving me to trudge the trails alone he made the decision to step up to the mark and be the guardian angel that I needed at that particular moment. For that I humbly thank him.
From the prospect of another thirty kilometres of painfully dull trudging in the heat I was instead in the much better position of finding myself approaching the final aid station, just 10km out from the finish, and at this point I felt strong enough to start to up the ante and pace. With the blessing of my running companion for the last 20km I struck out on my own once more and soon found myself rattling along at a blistering pace. What I should have recognised, however, was that it was too fast to be sustained and crushingly after about 5km I found myself hitting yet another wall and once more reduced to a walk-run regime as I gritted my teeth and willed the final few kilometres to pass. Those final few K’s were tough and there were several moments when I found myself talking out loud, admonishing myself for being arrogant and pushing off too hard from the aid station. If i’d maintained better control then I would have found a steady, sustainable pace and been able to at least run the entire final 10km. Still, one learns with every event. One thing I was determined NOT to do was walk over the finish line. Nah! Not going to happen. I was absolutely going to run that and so with the final 1.5km to go I dug in, willed my aching and leaden legs into action and focused on thoughts of the end. The trail entered an area of dunes and so I knew I was close, in addition to the fact that my Suunto told me the same thing, and then out to the right, in the distance I could see the runner ahead of me, Scott, turning into what I knew must have been the finishing chute, a narrow gully between two rocky outcrops that funnelled us to the end. That was all the motivation I needed to be able to punch the metaphorical biological nitrous button and sprint! It’s always amused and frustrated me in equal measure how no matter how done in you are during a race there always seems to be that small reserve of energy that is kept back especially for sprinting to the finish line. A little like always being able to find space for dessert. I could see Lee up on the rock and gave him a thumbs up as I rounded the final corner, saw the archway and locked in. It was done. 50km of running was over and another ultramarathon notched up. I gratefully took receipt of my wooden medal – a nice environmentally friendly spin on the usual metal offering – and waddled over to the gazebo where I earnestly accepted the offer of Coca Cola and some delicious soup! Just what was needed after nearly six hours of being out pounding the trails.
With some sustenance on board and my pack laid to rest I felt significantly better, joining the other runners to have finished in cheering our fellow racers across the line and enjoying the plentiful photo opportunities. One final group pic snapped, with the Urban Ultra goat taking centre stage, and it was back to the car and ultimately Dubai. My best laid plans of a relaxing evening of movie watching and feet up leisure quickly became a case of falling asleep on the sofa and thus marked the end of yet another fun filled yet tough day out on the athletic scene here in the UAE.
Finished in 5 hours, 38 mins and 9 seconds
17th place overall and 12th in my category.
(The winning time was 4’14”59! Staggeringly speedy!)
Team photo at the finish
Left: Elliot & I / Right: Louise, Pascal & I

The Hairdryer Tri

We all knew it was going to be a more challenging event to years gone by as the drive down to Abu Dhabi from Dubai saw those of us taking part in Tri Yas tackle the poor visibility and buffeting gusts that accompany a sandstorm. There were sections of the drive that were akin to driving through treacherously thick fog and I must confess that I felt a wave of relief as I pulled into the F1 track unscathed from what can, on a clear day, still be a hairy drive. Still, I had left Dubai very early with the intention of making a full day of it, and my car, packed to the rafters, was testament to that fact.
Tri Yas 2015, MarinaI marshalled at last year’s Tri Yas triathlon and so got to see first hand how well organised and fun an event it was, for both competitors and supporters alike. Given that Challenge Dubai is in a week’s time, and is the primary focus of this season for me, the advice from Trace was to sign up for the sprint distance event and to focus on speed, nutrition and rapid transitions, the latter being something that I have had issues with. The benefit of arriving early was that I had the pick of the parking, collected my race pack at leisure and was first to arrive at our waterside team villa, provided courtesy of fellow SuperTri athlete, JP. Having a base – I did have the option of using the TriDubai one as well, and actually rocked up on the day proudly sporting my TriDubai shirt – made a big difference, as it was somewhere to, first of all, escape the winds and dust, secondly, relax, get changed, check gear, eat before the race and generally prepare well in. Views of the swim course were perfect from our site, with a chance to really analyse the best lines on the swim and observe the pros and Olympic race starts.
Bike transition, Tri YasIn the interests of speed in transition, as was my focus for the race, I stripped my needs for each leg down significantly from the longer distance races. This meant no socks for the bike, saving a huge amount of time otherwise spent drying my feet and fumbling to put said garments on as I wobble all over the place after the swim. I also cut the nutrition down to one gel on the bike and a single bottle of electrolytes, and relied solely on the aid stations for water (primarily for cooling) on the run. I felt a difference and can certainly say that I was faster in both transitions, although T1 still needs some work and I did run past my bike initially – a rookie error that had more to do with faffing with my Suunto than having not rehearsed the transition, which I had done several times.
The sprint race, and especially our age group (30 – 40 year old males), was very popular, with the organisers actually opting to split our wave into two in order to avoid the swim being too much of a brawl. I leapt in at the earliest opportunity, determined to get a good spot at the front on the right hand side so as to take the best line round to the right and onto the first turn buoy. It seems that this was the preferred spot of most of the other guys as well and so the swim start was a little frenetic, but nothing that some determined head-down sprinting and sticking to my line couldn’t overcome. I was very glad that I’d opted not to wear a wetsuit, donning my Sailfish speed-suit instead, and felt so much more liberated in the water, which was a refreshingly cool temperature and certainly not cold. Choppy, on the other hand, is what it was, and as we turned right into the wider marina, the full force of the winds were evident, with some decent chop providing at least two swallowed salt water moments – never a pleasant experience! Coupled with a very brief stop to clear my fogged goggles, those were the only challenges faced in the swim, which felt pretty fast, and as I exited the water I was pleased to see 14 minutes displayed on my watch.
The run from the swim to transition was a relatively long one, which thankfully provided sufficient time to rectify my error in stopping my watch by pressing the wrong button. A speedy on-the-run reset and it was time to lose the swim suit et al, don the race number, sunglasses, helmet and shoes and leg it to the cycle start line with the trusty steed in tow. An initial steep downhill and sharp turn into the tunnel, followed by a reasonable up hill, meant that the gears quickly got tested, before merging with the masses on the track and the first of what was to be four laps for me, totalling 20km of cycling.
Tri Yas, transitionThe bike leg of the race was very much one of very fast sections, with the wind sitting at our backs, and slower, tough sections when the very strong wind and accompanying dust, was blowing directly at us or, on sections, serving up a tricky cross wind that gave those cyclists sporting deep set rims and discs something to contend with. I was pleased with the cycle, feeling that my choice of lines was efficient, especially given that the “Stay Left” rule was clearly not being adhered to by the vast majority of the field. There was one fast section where I was forced to shout out to a slow cyclist who was veering to the right to get over, but otherwise there were no issues with near misses and it seemed that everyone was able to race well. Nutrition-wise things seemed to go well, with a Hi-5 gel on lap 3 being the only additional energy taken. This seemed to position me well for the run as I glided into T2 in a time of a little over 40mins, made a swift transition to the run and felt swift from the get go.
I can run. It seems to be the one part of this triathlon lark that I can do consistently well. And so it was again at Yas. The fact that it was a single lap of the track (5km for us sprinters) did make it feel easier to head off out of transition confident to push the pace from the beginning, knowing that each section of the course passed was the only time I would have to do so. Psychologically that makes a significant difference. I consciously kept my heart rate at between 183 and 186 bpm for most of the race, only pushing it to 190 in the final few hundred metres. I don’t think I could have reliably gone faster on the day, and was pleased with the pace and good technique that I sustained. The aid stations were, as at other races this season, well placed, and in spite of the overcast and windy nature of the day, it was hot, meaning the cooling effects of dousing oneself with cold water was welcome and contributed to the good pace. It was great to see some fellow triathlon friends out on the run course and as I crossed the line, accepting my medal from the stunningly beautiful Etihad flight attendant, I enjoyed instantly getting to relive the race with friends and coach alike. The other perk of having a team villa was getting to shower, with the swim being one of the saltiest I think I have yet experienced, with salt crystals present on practically every part of me that had gotten wet. A post-race swing by Yas Mall for a cheeky but well earned burger and milkshake followed by a Gold Class cinema experience was the perfect way to round off a cracking day and a generally amazing weekend.
Tri Yas is consistently reviewed as one of the most fun and inclusive triathlons here in the UAE, with first time triathletes in high number. The chance to cycle on a world-class F1 race track and take in the stunning view of the Yas Viceroy as the sun sets and the hotel comes alive with colour are both major draws. The marshaling is also first class and, yet again, they did a sterling job on the day. It was disappointing then to hear that some athletes had apparently seen fit to be rude to the marshals, all of whom are volunteers, but on the whole the majority of triathletes are decent, polite people who appreciate the fact that without such volunteers there would be no race or that the entry fees would be prohibitively high. Thank you to everyone that made Tri Yas such a success and more generally to those who make all races possible.
Final Race Time: (unofficial as the official timers on the day seem to have recorded me as a DNS – Did Not Start – which is clearly incorrect. The times here are based on what I pieced together from my Suunto)
Swim (750m) = 14’40.6
Cycle incl T1 (20km) = 42’02.7
Run incl T2 (5km) = 22’51.7
TOTAL = 79’58.3
UPDATE: They found my chip 🙂 So….. official results….
Swim (750m) = 14’23.0
T1 = 2″59.0
Cycle (20km) = 38″50.0
T2 = 1″50.0
Run (5km) = 22’04.0
TOTAL = 1:20″05
Sprint 31-40
Category Rank: 9 of 230
Your Gender: 8 of 154
Your Age: 3 of 32
Your Nationality: 5 of 93

Wadi Bih – Run with a View

The Wadi Bih race is officially the longest running expat sporting event held in the UAE, started as it was in 1992, and sees runners take on the trails through Wadi Bih, nestled in the top right corner of the peninsula and requiring a crossover into Oman.
I had heard much of the beauty of the views afforded competitors during this race and in spite of also hearing tales of caution relating to extremely lengthy waits at the border crossing, I felt compelled to get involved myself this year. This was the first year that the event was to be staged over two days, with the addition of a few new races, including the solo 50 and 30 kilometre events. Given that the team 72 kilometre relay – the main event of the weekend – was due to be held on Saturday, I was not in a position to put a team together or join another, although finding a last minute fill-in spot would not have been difficult, and so signed up for the solo 30 race. Why did I not go longer? I have the big race of the current season coming up at the end of February – Challenge Dubai – and so as much as I wanted to take part this weekend I certainly didn’t wish to sacrifice good quality training over the next crucial few weeks on account of having broken myself at the longer distances. Plus, to be honest, I have never run further than 36km and am not very experienced at trail running. As such, I know that although I’m sure I could have completed the longer races it would not have been the experience that I would have liked. Ultimately sport has to be fun – after all, I am not a professional and do this for leisure not a living. The price paid for signing on to the shorter distance was that I did not get to fully experience and appreciate the epic views that I know longer competitors did. Oh well…. theres always next year or a separate trip altogether.
tent, Wadi Bih, Oman
Perfect abode for the weekend

With a tent kindly loaned to me by friend and colleague Adri and her husband Emile, and a relatively lightly (by my usual ‘hopeless packer’ standards) packed car, I made the most of having Thursday off and set off for the east coast early, determined to miss the queues at the border. A pleasant journey via Masafi – one of my favourite drives so far in the UAE – with a quick stop off at Lulu for some last minute food items and a spur of the moment camp chair purchase (I soon discovered at the beach that I had in fact purchased a child-size chair!) I pressed on to collect my border papers, only spotting the direction sign by fluke and at the very last minute, before waiting no more than ten minutes whilst my papers were verified and the car searched for alcohol – none was found incidentally.

The Golden Tulip hotel, nestled at the northern end of the large Dibba bay, was our base for the weekend and I set about swiftly commandeering a prime pitch for my little tent and even smaller chair, sheltered by the beach wall, looking back at the hotel and race finish chute, and situated picturesquely beneath a classic palm tree, making the whole scene look like one straight out of Robinson Crusoe. The first significant difference between beach camping and traditional UK camping that I had formerly experienced as a Boy Scout was the fact that pegs are pretty much useless in sand! A solution, thankfully, was on hand as I spotted several large rocks close to my pitch and with the two larger ones placed inside the tent itself at opposite ends, and then the guy ropes secured with the help of two more sizeable slabs, my tent was up and the scene set.
Saloman, Wadi Bih, race finish
Finish line of Wadi Bih race

The evening before my race was a fairly relaxed affair, as it should have been, and after a brief exploration of the hotel – it didn’t take long on account of actually being pretty small – I made friends with a group of team 50 relay runners from Doha, Qatar (the ‘Not so dashing expats’) and joined them for a couple of beers. One of them, it was soon pointed out, bore an uncannily striking resemblance to a certain President of Russia, which provided some mirth. Fellow Dubai athlete, Chops Potter, and friend Marcus Smith, who is currently preparing for the epic Marathon des Sables in April, arrived later in the evening and I joined them at their camp for a quiet nightcap before everyone retired for an early start in the morning. The solo 72’ers were all due to set off at the early hour of 0430 and I did poke my head out of the tent to see them off before catching another hour of much needed sleep. My race wasn’t due to start until 0900, although I would have much preferred to start earlier in order to miss the real heat of the day. Still, at least I wasn’t having to run 72km!

Dubai, triathletes, Wadi Bih
Fellow Dubai triathletes, Taka and Tyrone, and I at the start of the 30km race

Even more members of the Dubai scene arrived, with Doris taking part in the 50km solo and Taka and Tyrone joining me on the 30km race. When they both suggested that I should be aiming for a podium place I dismissed their vociferations as fanciful niceties, especially given that I am not a seasoned trail runner and was sure that the field for our race was playing host to many very fast runners. With that in mind, and a plan to just enjoy myself, I set off finding myself leading the charge and quickly remembering to focus on keeping my heart rate at a sensible and sustainable level, especially with the fact that it was to be a long race. Within about 2km the eventual race winner, Doha-based athlete Stephen Gurr, passed and was soon very much in the distance, with a couple of other runners catching me and so it was that we stayed together for about the first 5km. The funny thing about races is that regardless of what your intentions or objectives for the event, a race is still a race and we are all naturally competitive people. As such, it wasn’t long before you could feel the pace quickening and the temptation to match the renewed speed, knowing full well that to do so may well result in problems later down the line. I therefore made a decision to stick to my plan, keeping my heart rate below 180bpm and essentially allowing the two guys with me to charge ahead. My thoughts were that they were either significantly fitter than me, in which case bravo and good race, or they were making a strategic error and I would be passing them later in the race. It seems I chose wisely as it wasn’t long before I duly passed both runners. Who’d have thunk it – plans do usually work!

There were a few hilly sections on the 30km race, which did really test the lungs, legs and technique. I personally find it much easier to go up hills by pretending that I am holding poles and using my arms in such a fashion as if I am using said fictional poles. The turnaround at 15km coincided with the second aid station and following a swift downing of some electrolytes and a dousing with cold water, I set off towards the hotel and finish, in hot pursuit of the two runners between me and a second place slot. As seems to be the story of my racing career to date, the turn towards home saw me suddenly tap into an additional energy reserve and I felt great as I locked onto my targets, quickly closing the gap and moving into third. The runner now in second had put a reasonable distance between us and the next 3km saw that gap gradually close as I quickened my pace and he slowed his. Eventually I caught him and found myself in the position of having to defend my hard fought second position – my first podium slot – which is basically where the race really started for me.
Not wishing to upset the rhythm that I had established, I chose not to look behind me until the last large hill, when I found a need to walk briefly, expecting my closest rival to pass me. He didn’t and so I glanced back to see that I had actually put a decent gap between us. That gave me the encouragement to dig in, push up the hill and focus on keeping my lead for the closing kilometres of the race, knowing full well that a race is not won until the line is crossed. This is where mental reserves were called on as by this stage the temperature had peaked and I was feeling the heat. I don’t believe I broke any records over those final kilometres, slow as they were, although the pace acutely increased as I turned onto the main road near the hotel, and the 2km left mark, to glance back and see the runner who would eventually take third rapidly catching me up. “Nooooo!” was all I could think. “I have NOT battled this far to let it slip now!” As such, I dug in and was determined to push it as hard as I could right until the end. The first problem I hit upon was the fact that the signposting back to the race start was awful, or rather non-existent, which was an issue given that I could not for the life of me recall which side-street we had emerged from. A pitiful look back to Mr Third Place with a shrugged question of “Which way?” was met, very sportingly I might add, with instructions to keep going and then directions on where to actually turn. If he was set on taking second over me at any cost then he could have stitched me right up and sent me the wrong way easily. But he didn’t. Cos he is a sportsman, and I genuinely applaud and respect him for that fact. So, the final straight entered, the hotel in sight, tantalisingly close yet still far enough to hurt. I was absolutely convinced that it would be in these final hundreds of metres that I would be passed and so I gritted my teeth and just locked on to the finish. Still in second as I reached the sand. Still in second at the start of the finish chute. “Yes!” Second place as I crossed the line and brought this race to a close. I’d done it! I had secured my first UAE podium. It felt great. Well, it actually felt like my legs were about to seize up but the feeling of achievement was wonderful.
View from tent, Wadi Bih
View of finish line at Wadi Bih race from my siesta point

Heeding the advice of coach, Trace, I duly hopped – or rather collapsed into – the cool waters of the hotel pool, determined to loosen the legs up, before donning the trusty compression tights and gobbling down some protein and cool drinks. The short siesta I took in my tent – complete with prime views out of the open door to the finish – was serene, and as I dozed I allowed my thoughts to wander back over the race. I’d intended to listen to music, even wearing my ear buds the whole way round. However, as it turned out I actually ran without any music, and so was able to really listen to my body, and focus on my race strategy, which I suspect helped a great deal.

new shoes, race prize, Wadi BihMy initial plan has been to pack up and head back to Dubai after the race. However, given the fact that a) I knew the traffic was going to be hellish on a Friday afternoon, and b) it was a great chance to kick back with some friends and enjoy the post-race hospitality, I opted to hang around for the rest of the day, joining in with a few well-deserved beers and making a decent dent in the race buffet on offer. After a demonstration of several Omani songs and dances from a local group we got on to the presentation and I soon found myself shaking hands with the local dignitaries and race organiser, John Young, before accepting my prize for second: a new pair of Saloman running shoes, which were exactly in my size as well. A great result from a really great day’s event. I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun trail running race and I would definitely like to return to take part in the full distance, albeit as part of a relay, perhaps even taking up the option of doing it in fancy dress!
FINAL RACE TIME = 2 hrs 33 mins

Let Me Rescue You. Cos I Can.

Dibba Rock as seen from the dive centre
Dibba Rock as seen from the dive centre

It was a year ago that I decided to sign up online to do my PADI Rescue Diver course, the natural progression after Advanced Open Water and a qualification that I had heard was well worth doing. A year whizzed by, with the occasional dive thrown in but nothing much done about the course owing in large part to the sudden draw on the majority of my spare time that has come with training for my Ironvet race in September.

With the online course about to time out it was time to knuckle down, do some studying and get the course finished, which I duly did, and then booked my practical training with Freestyle Divers in Dibba. The course covers everything from how to recognise potential risks whilst diving, to managing situations involving tired, panicked and unconscious divers, including those who have gone missing. With the theory firmly established in my brain I was looking forward to getting stuck into the water-based practicals.

Emergency First ResponseThe first thing we had to do before starting the Rescue Diver practical training was complete the Emergency First Response course, a one day training programme that equipped both myself and my buddy for the course, Sabah, with the skills to manage an emergency as a first responder, focusing on essential CPR and first aid. I now have the right to be able to utter the words “My name is Chris. I am an emergency first responder. May I help you?” if ever I find myself in a situation during which to actually say them.

Sabah & I celebrate becoming Emergency First Responders
Sabah & I celebrate becoming Emergency First Responders

With day 1 spent getting our EFR training out of the way, day 2 was all about starting the Rescue Diver practical training, with 10 distinct sections to get through, including how to respond to a tired diver in the water, approaching and, if necessary, controlling a panicked diver, and rescues from the boat. We also ran through how to surface an unconscious diver from underwater, and how to get said victim to safety, including the various techniques for getting them out of the water and either into a boat or the beach. One thing that became very evident is just how tough it is to lift and otherwise move around someone who is unconscious – no where near as effortless as they seem to make it out to be on films!

Freestyle DiversWe didn’t quite manage to get through everything on day 2 so Sabah and I arranged to return to Dibba on our next mutual day off to complete the course and claim our titles of Rescue Divers. Day 3 was more involved, with the most important exercise being learning how to manage an unconscious, non-breathing diver in the water, including towing them to safety whilst providing rescue breaths and removing their diving gear – again, not an easy task and well worth practicing! The final part of the course, apart from the written exam at the end of the day, was a scenario whereby our instructors staged a real rescue situation in which one of them had gone missing, with their buddy reaching out to us for help. As such, we had to gather essential information from the missing diver’s buddy, formulate a search plan and pattern, locate the missing diver and surface them after confirming unconsciousness, and then tow them back to the safety of the beach before removing them from the water and instituting essential first aid, including CPR.

It is true what they say about the PADI Rescue course being the most fun of the PADI courses, and the skills developed are defintely ones that will help expand my enjoyment of diving, in addition to feeling as though I can now be useful if an emergency situation ever does present itself.

With my new temporary licence :)
With my new temporary licence 🙂

Many thanks to the team down at Freestyle Divers in Dibba, and especially our instructor for the course Amir El-kader, who did a sterling job of taking two enthusiastic open water divers and morphing us into bona fida Rescue Divers. Also thanks to both Rhys and Andy, both of whom played diving victims amiably, putting up with our efforts to ‘save’ them, including dragging them from the water somewhat unceremoniously, in the true good-natured spirit of the course.

Climb. Jump. Repeat.

Last month I had the pleasure of yet again donning my swim shorts, climbing shoes and chalk and hot footing it over to Oman with a bunch of fellow adrenaline junkies, where we piled into a boat and spent the day scaling sea cliffs along the Musandam coast.

Deep water soloing, for those who are not familiar with the activity, involves climbing without the use of ropes, over deep water, with this acting as a ‘safety’ in the event of falling or, eventually, jumping from a chosen finish point. It is insanely fun and one of the best ways to spend a glorious day with like-minded friends, exploring one of the most stunning coastlines on the planet. There is simply no way to access the sites that we had the pleasure of climbing other than by boat, and the combination of puzzle, physical exercise and sheer natural beauty makes the endeavour all consuming. One cliff we found ourselves climbing saw divers surface close-by, a surreal experience in and of itself.

Check out this video I edited, which incorporates footage from both last year’s trip and this year’s. Enjoy!


Started From The Bottom from Chris Queen on Vimeo.

IronVet – Into the furnace

May 2014

It’s getting hot. I mean really hot! My car thermometer registered 41 degrees Celsius over the weekend, officially marking, in my mind at least, the start of summer and the need to move ever more towards more nocturnal training. The fact of the matter is that in spite of having the privilege of living in a locale that sees almost year round sunshine, perfect for fair weather athletes such as myself, once April creeps into May that warming sun rapidly becomes a toasting sun, sending training athletes scurrying for cover as it reaches it’s thermal crescendo, which is normally by about 10am! As such, the desire to train effectively as opposed to die effectively means early mornings and late nights: a great combination for a normal, balanced life. Not particularly.

Hill training is a big part of training.
Hill training is a big part of training.

Yesterday saw the start of May’s training programme and the fact that the volume/ time/ distances to be completed have shot up in conjunction with our move into summer means that training is set to get a lot tougher. Take last night for example. I had a 105 minute turbo training interval session on the bike followed by a 50 minute run, all in all that saw me roll back in at just after 11pm. Evenings, it seems, are going to get very single-streamed. It’s perhaps a good thing then that my very recent dabble back on the dating scene appears to have fizzled to nothing, as it appears that the only ladies I am going to have any time to devote to are both “Miss Pain” and “Miss Constantly Tired & Hungry.” And something tells me they’re going to be around a lot.

Pool sessions, in addition to distance work, is also key preparation.
Pool sessions, in addition to distance work, is also key preparation.

For those of you following the IronVet challenge I thought it might be interesting to actually offer some level of insight into what training is actually being done up to this point. Following Abu Dhabi’s triathlon, the emphasis has been back on base training to gradually build up my stamina level and prepare me for the challenges of endurance work. Given the relatively long hours and variable shift pattern of my job as a vet, Trace gives me my sessions for the month, split into weeks, and allows me to then organise when to get them done. At the moment that generally ends up meaning a swim early in the week, with a run, a bike-fit (interval) session midweek, and the main, long cycle being reserved for Friday, when many other Lycra-clad loonies tend to descend on the hills of Hatta or the bike track out at Al Qudra. The May sessions are generally seeing me do two swims a week – one pool session and a long 2-2.5km swim – followed by two bike sessions – an interval session and a long ride, always with a run off the bike – and two runs, with a mix between long, base efforts and shorter sessions, such as hill training or intervals. It is tough to get them done and I am appreciating more and more the sacrifice that training seriously for an Ironman entails, including the real compromises that invariably have to be made in terms of private and social life. Still, I am certain that the pain and sacrifice will all be worth it as I cross that line high up in the beautiful mountains of Lake Tahoe.

Vetting in Dubai – How did I get here?

I have been asked a number of times how to go about seeking employment as a vet in Dubai. I have endeavoured to set out the basic process as I understand it, but it is worth bearing in mind that the processes and requirements are very much subject to change, and may indeed change very suddenly. Any good potential employer will be able to assist you in getting registered properly, and you should perhaps be cautious if they suggest that you have to do it all yourself.

So, how did I go about getting a job out here? Well……

1. I found the job advertised on a UK veterinary job agency – the job sounded interesting, Dubai sounded fun and I wanted to do some more skydiving. So I enquired. Simples. Another option could have been to send an email with my CV to the vets in Dubai, enquiring about any potential vacancies, although unless they’re actively advertising

2. Interview via Skype – once my CV was reviewed by the clinic, a Skype interview was arranged so that we could have a bit of a general chat initially. The registration process was explained to me in addition to learning about the clinic and, probably most importantly of all, just a chance to get to chat to the clinic owners.

3. Offer – I obviously did something right during the Skype interview as I was offered the position (pending successful submission of the relevant registration documents) and so the whole process of moving to Dubai began.

4. Registration – in order to work legally as a fully registered vet in the UAE, I had to complete various steps, which took a few months to complete. The first criteria, however, was that I had to have a minimum of 5 year’s experience as a veterinary surgeon. The process was:

Notarise copies of my education certificates (from GCSE right through to degree), official university transcripts and letters from my previous employers over the past 5 years. This was done by my local solicitor.

– The documents above were then sent to the UK Embassy in London to be legalised by my home Government before being submitted to the UAE Embassy to do the same.

– Once legalised, the documents were sent to Dubai and I then traveled out to submit my education documents in person in Abu Dhabi. Once that was done, it was a case of waiting to hear that I was being granted my labour visa before flying out to start.

– After landing in Dubai, one of the first things I had to do was have a medical, which involved a blood test and chest X-ray. This is standard and was all ok.

– The final step in getting fully registered was to sit the ministry exam, a short hour long test sat in person at the ministry. Once this was passed then I was fully registered and good to go 🙂

As I have already said, the process that I went through took several months and the rules are subject to change, so I would thoroughly recommend you check things with any clinic that you are looking to be employed by. Also, I was not expected to do any of the registration myself here in Dubai, which was good as it is quite a confusing process and can involve a lot of back and forth between various ministries, something that as a new arrival in Dubai would have been very very stressful. Thankfully, my employers handled everything on my behalf and were really supportive, and guided me whenever there was anything that I had to do in person. I would therefore be a little cautious of any potential employer who advises you to head over to Dubai before a lot of the pre-registration work has been done or who tells you that you need to go over and do it all yourself, as at least one person I know had to do. It took her months and a lot of headaches to finally get registered.

Anyway, hope this is of help and interest. Good luck and maybe see you in Dubai 🙂

An Ode to a Snappy Pair

DWS, climbing in OmanAlas, I am in mourning. Not one to usually subscribe to fashion trends or fork out for ‘designer labels’ I must confess that I joined the crowd last year when I purchased a beautiful pair of ‘designer’ sunglasses whilst skydiving in the US. Adorning my head at any opportunity when the sun is present, which means most of the time now that I live out in the UAE, we sadly parted company yesterday but in a pretty awesome way 🙂

A group of fellow adrenaline junkies and I here in Dubai all headed over to Oman yesterday for a day of Deep Water Soloing, or climbing up sea cliffs with only water to break our falls. I must confess that I have tombstoned before – an experience that I engaged in as a foolish youth (well, as a newly qualified vet anyway) and which resulted in my friend and I jumping from a cliff that was, in hindsight, stupidly high – but had never climbed in this fashion before. The experience was amazing and I am convinced that there is no better way to spend a hot, sunny day than with a group of like-minded friends bobbing round a stunning coastline looking for daredevil acts to engage in, whether it be climbing or diving.

So, what happened to cause the loss of your beloved then? Well, good question. I am glad you asked. The second cliff we climbed up led to the jump being significantly higher than our first stop and in hindsight choosing to wear my Gatorz sunglasses, a cap and hang on to my GoPro Hero3 was folly. Anyway, I jumped, landed and very quickly realised that the only items I still had on me were my board shorts and climbing shoes – who’d have thunk it but landing in water from a height actually involves a fair amount of force so it should have been no surprise that my oh-so-cool headwear and I were separated.

Gatorz, magnumCaps float so that was ok, the least expensive and most easily replaced item being easily retrieved from the ocean. Metal sunglasses – expensive ones at that – and considerably more expensive GoPro cameras, however, do not float. Which sucked! Thankfully, with the swift deployment of my snorkel and mask, which I was so glad I took along even just for the fact that there was some amazing sealife to observe during the day, I spied the GoPro (phew!) and was able to dive down to retrieve it. If it were another metre down, however, then I think I may have had issues as it was just about on my free-diving limit. Still, camera and footage saved it was then time to hunt for the illusive Gatorz. In hindsight, gunmetal blue may not have been the best colour to take along as everything looks sort of blue at depth and it soon became apparent that I was not going to find my sunnies. Boo! So, a gift to the ocean they were to remain and who knows, maybe some diver will come across them and be the new owner of what are an awesome pair of quality sunglasses. As for me, I had best get ordering a new pair – maybe red would be a good idea for next time, although the lesson I took away from the experience was NOT to wear sunglasses when climbing and then jumping down – they rarely stay with you!