Few panoramas stir the soul quite like the view from atop Jebel Akhdar, the rugged, resplendent tip of the Al Hajar mountain range that clamps onto Oman’s northern border.
But beware. A monster has been unearthed from these mountains.
It is a landscape that offered the right amount of extreme for UTMB, the organisation that stages Europe’s foremost ultramarathon on Mont Blanc, to collaborate with Oman Sail and concoct an Arabian odyssey.
Odysseus himself may not have completed this one. While ultramarathons are unfathomable for most mortals, this jaunt has immediately proven itself as one of the hardest on the calendar.
The 137 kilometre trail swooped and soared across ridges and ravines, plateaus and peaks, the verdant and the vast, at a cumulative vertical gain of 7,800 metres.
Much of the trail was hammered out in just five months ahead of the start last November, meaning the feeling underfoot lacked the smoothness of age.
So treacherous was one section that harnesses were used to safely ferry competitors across and then tantalisingly through the Alila Jebel Akhdar, a tranquil retreat after a first night in the mountains that for most had been anything but.
How about the final climb? A 3km scrabble, more than half of which ascends at a fiendish rate – the frontrunners under the naked sun, the rest feeling their way up, up and up with just a headtorch for company.
There were 21 checkpoints at regular intervals – supplying refreshments and on occasion even a place to nap – but cut-throat cutoff times meant little more than catching a breather for most.
Indeed ‘The Beast’, as the Oman by UTMB was quickly christened, forced 182 of the 324 to drop out, many of whom had waved the white flag by the first sunrise.
Unsurprising, then, that this animal took a team to tame it.
Twenty hours, 45 minutes and 37 seconds since the grand departure from the mouth of the mountains at Birkat Al Mawz, Jason Schlarb and Diego Pazos emerged from the belly of the Beast in faraway Al Hamra.
It was never the plan. But Colarado native Schlarb, as slick as a freshly filled wadi, and Swiss-born Pazos, a bundle of energy wearing a bow tie, found union on a course that broke so many.
“We didn’t talk about running together until about 120km in, right before the last climb, thinking ‘how should we proceed with this?’” admitted Schlarb, the top US finisher at the 2014 UTMB Mont Blanc classic. “We both agreed that it felt right to finish the race together.”
Spare a thought to those who followed. It took a further 25 hours before brave Andrew O’Reilly, of Bahrain Triathlon Club, found his way to Al Hamra as the final finisher after nearly two whole days out in the wilderness.
The first ever OMAN by UTMB®️ event has drawn to a close as the final runners crossed the Al Hamra finish line at the end of their 137km adventure across the heights of Jebel Akhdar, Oman. Here are some highlights of this iconic event!#oman #ultratrail pic.twitter.com/x4r3W2430q— Oman by UTMB® (@OmanbyUTMB) December 1, 2018
O’Reilly and the rest of the 142 men and women, the attrition rate was eye-wateringly high.
“I think you can keep the DNA of this race, but you have to add – especially in the last climb – some ropes, or maybe four or five guys to keep checking the person is OK, not afraid, or wants to come back,” says the 34-year-old Pazos, who took up the sport in 2011 after exchanging his football boots for running shoes.
“This year I think a lot of people have discovered the track in Oman without knowing about it and they were very surprised.”
There are however plans to open a more user-friendly 50km route and even a relay event for its second edition in 2019. At the other end of the spectrum a planned 100-miler incorporating Oman’s highest mountain, Jebel Shams, is set to make things a notch crazier.
Promisingly, 70 Omani runners – including two female athletes – braved the inaugural race and going by both the raucous sendoff and reception, hundreds more locals have been inspired. Interest has been piqued – now the challenge is to get more natives on the peaks.
“We should never forget to stay authentic,” says Catherine Poletti, who co-founded UTMB with her husband, Michel, in 2003. “As it is a trail run in Oman, the trail runners want to know they are in Oman. mIf it is like anywhere in the world, others wouldn’t travel here.
“I was so happy to see the locals, the traditional drums … it is so authentic. This is the spirit of trail running.”
Beautiful and bold, it also captured the spirit of Oman.
The UAE’s Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, with his speedy mare Cha Cha Cha 7, won the H.H. Sharjah Ruler Cup International Show Jumping Championship (CSI5-star-W). The four-day event was held in the indoor arena of the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club, alongside an international two-star championship (CSI2-star).
There was also competitions for youths with the young horses’ category for horses between 6-7 years old (CSIYH1-star); a children’s category for 12–14-year-olds (CSIOCH), a junior riders’ category for 14–18-year-olds (CSIOY), and a young riders’ category for 16–21-year-olds (CSIOJ) that made up the finals for Group VII.
The main championship included the finals of the Arab League qualifiers for the Jumping World Cup, and the names were announced of the three Middle East riders and two North African riders who will participate in the Show Jumping World Cup that will take place in Sweden in April.
The three Middle East riders who qualified are Saudi’s Ramzy AL Duhami with 67 points, the UAE’s Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi with 57 points, and Saudi’s Khaled Abdulrahman Almobty with 53 points. The two winners who will represent the countries of North Africa in the World Cup are Egypt’s Abdel Said with 65 points and his compatriot Mohamed Talaat with 52 points.
The CSI5-star-W H.H. Ruler of Sharjah Cup, presented by Longines, consisted of two rounds with a course designed with jumps ranging between 145cm – 160 cm. In total, 44 riders participated in the competition, 11 of whom succeeded to move to the second round, all with no faults, except one rider who had only one fault for exceeding the allocated time of the first round.
Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi presented the best performance in the second round and completed atop Cha Cha Cha 7 with a time of 43.12 seconds, securing him the championship cup and enabling him to qualify as one of the top three Middle East riders to go to the Show Jumping World Cup.
The Swedish rider Evelina Tovek and her horse Dalila De La Pomme won second place by finishing the round in a competitive time of (43.78) seconds. Third place went to Swiss rider Janika Sprunger and Bacardi VDL who finished the round with a fraction of a second difference from second place, registering (43.79) seconds.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Majid Al Qassimi, Chairman of the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club and Honorary President of the Championship attended the event and crowned the winners alongside Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Sharjah Media Foundation, Head of the Sharjah Government Media Office and Head of the Championship; Dr. Ghanem Al Hajri, Secretary General of UAE Equestrian and Racing Federation; Sultan Mohammed Khalifa Al Yahyai, Director of the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club and Director of the Championship; Patrick Aoun, Regional Brand Manager of Longines – the sponsor of the Championship Cup; John Roche, Director of Jumping at the International Equestrian Federation (FEI); and Stephan Ellenbruch, Chair of the FEI Jumping Committee.
After crowning the Grand Prix winners, Dr. Ghanem Al Hajri praised the CSI5-star competitions saying: “The meticulous organization and quality of the competitions have garnered quite a reputation and following as demonstrated by participation of more skilled riders who came from 42 countries around the world; some of whom are participating for the first time.” He continued, “We have witnessed the qualification of a number of Emirati riders who have improved and sharped their skills over the years to match that of their fierce international counterparts.” Speaking on the show, Dr. Al Hajri said, “Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club was chosen to host the highest level of five-star international show jumping championships andwe are in the best covered arena in the Middle East – this is testament to the good reputation of the equestrian clubs in the UAE.”
On the heels of a successful Super 6s League, rugby lovers can continue to compete in the first Touch Championships this Friday.
To be held at Al Habtoor Polo Club on February 8, the tournament is set to once again bring together rugby enthusiasts from across the UAE to showcase the region’s talent.
For those wanting to play in the Super 6s League, the competition gets under way on April 16 and runs for 10 weeks until July 2.
Victoria Hepworth, partner at Corporate Affair Event Management and organiser of the Super 6s League, said: “We’re very positive about the potential for touch to keep growing strongly in Dubai this year.
“Our Super 6s League has grown substantially from 16 to 32 teams of men’s, women’s, mixed and vets’ players in just over 12 months and highlights the popularity of the sport.
“It seemed only natural to take the league one step further and develop a tournament to both showcase the expertise and advanced levels of touch being played in Dubai, and also to encourage more competition and skill-sharing by inviting international teams to participate.
“Unique to Touch is how it’s completely inclusive – anyone and everyone can play, no matter their age, ability or gender. For example, kids and parents can play in the same team – there really are no barriers.
“It’s also a highly social sport, with a real community atmosphere.
“There’s always a great vibe at the league games on Tuesday nights, where most people stay around to watch games and chat, even if they’re not playing themselves. It’s also a fantastic and fun way to keep fit and active, especially after the festive season!”
For more information and to sign up for the league or tournament, visit www.super6s-dubai.com
WHAT: Touch Championships
WHERE: Al Habtoor Polo Club, Dubai
WHEN: Friday, February 8
CONTACT: Visit www.super6sdubai.com