Ultimate Athletics UAE is the place to be if you want to be a professional athlete and aim to reach the next level.
Track athletes test their abilities and then raise their level under the watchful eyes of experts at the Academy week in, week out.
But can anyone take up the challenge of preparing and then competing in a major competition?
Virgin Radio Dubai’s ‘Big Rossi’ has undertaken a huge challenge – competing in the Virgin Money London Marathon on April 28. And helping him in his quest is Ultimate Athletics UAE founder Lisa Campbell.
For starters, ‘Big Rossi’ had never ran competitively before and he has accepted an offer from Virgin and Ultimate Athletics sponsors New Balance to compete at the event in the UK, along with Virgin Radio Dubai’s head of programming Alex Agishev – aka ‘The crazy Russian Boss’ – and Ultimate Athletics coach Matthew Ashton, who is coaching ‘Big Rossi’.
The journey isn’t easy and ‘Big Rossi’ had to shed a few kilos to begin the arduous journey towards marathon fitness. Inner Fight and Dubai fitness guru Marcus Smith has helped ‘Big Rossi’ lose up to 9 kilos so far.
Getting miles in the legs are equally important and Ultimate Athletics Racenight in Dubai Sports City on Thursday was the first competitive race – 3,000m – that ‘Big Rossi’ took part in. He had participated in the Dubai Marathon 4km Fun Run but this was the real deal. It was the first step towards gradually increasing the workload towards the full 42k for the marathon.
“I have spent 37 years living an unhealthy lifestyle. I would have mood swings. Now I have got two kids. I just want to be fit,” ‘Big Rossi’ explained after completing his 3k run along with coach Ashton.
“Looking at photos of myself at the RedFestDXB, I was unhappy with how I looked. So I decided to make a change.”
It’s a gradual process and he took his first proper step on Thursday. But the marathon is still some way away and ‘Big Rossi’ will work with Ultimate Athletics on a weekly basis, gradually increasing the distances.
“My aim is to go 20 miles without stopping. Ultimately, I want to show that if I can do it, so can anyone,” ‘Big Rossi’ added.
‘Big Rossi’ will also step up his training by attending the weekly New Balance Run Club and doing long runs with coach Ashton. The task is only going to get tougher as ‘Big Rossi’ needs to compete in 10k, 15k and half marathon races before April 28.
His first event on Thursday was outside his target time – he wanted to finish each kilometre in five minutes i.e. a time of 15mins for the 3k. His finish time on Racenight was 15:21.
But with dedication and expert guidance, no challenge is too difficult. Just ask ‘Big Rossi’ and Ultimate Athletics.
For any parent wanting to take up athletics, they only have to look at the achievements of Dubai-based athlete Emma Jordan.
The 38-year-old Brit stole the show in the latest round of the Ultimate Athletics on Thursday clocking a current season record time of 1.09.63 in the Masters 400 metres.
Not bad, considering the Devon native only took up athletics again earlier this month after an absence of nearly 20 years from the track.
The mother of three, who has been living in the UAE for the past five years, is a personal trainer and runs with the New Balance Run Club every Monday.
“This was my first official race. I’ve been training for the last five weeks and said to myself, ‘I want to try to see how I’d be at it’,” said Jordan.
“Running has always been a passion of mine. I used to run the 800m and do the high jump back in school. Now, at my age, it’s nice to be able to compete with people my age who also enjoy it.
“I’m going to try get a better time in the next edition. I’m only training properly two weeks.
“I want to get a time that I feel good with. As long as I enjoy it, that’s the main thing.”
At 38, she is showing that age is no barrier when it comes to competing in sport. In fact, competing isn’t the only thing on her mind.
Inspiring the younger generation, especially her kids, is the most important thing for her.
“It’s really important. It’s good for the kids to teach them and show them. Even going down to kids’ school sports day and getting involved,” she said.
“All the women I train are mainly mums. It’s good for them.
“They bring their kids along. It’s great to get everyone into fitness and to try to find something we all enjoy.”
Another athlete who sparkled under the bright lights at Sports City was London native Dima Godfrey.
The 39-year-old, who works as a sales manager in Dubai, claimed both the Masters 100m and 200m in emphatic style, clocking respective times of 11.61 and 24.08 seconds.
The towering Englishman is no stranger to life on the track having previously ran a personal best of 10.8 seconds for the 100m many years ago.
Now, living in the Emirates since 2013, Godfrey has been balancing his life between a busy job, two kids and testing his mettle at sprints and endurance sports. He has ran eight marathons and competed at the Ironman 70.3 Dubai twice.
A serious effort for a man who turns 40 later this year and still looks as sharp as somebody in their late 20s.
“I just want to beat my time every time I run, which I’ve been doing so far,” he said. “I just want to get quicker and quicker each time. I want to enjoy it.”
Godfrey has lowered his times at each attempt this season – reducing his 60m time from 7.74 to 7.41 seconds and lowering his 100m from 11.7 to 11.4 seconds. With two races remaining, he aims to go as close to 11 seconds as possible while also inspiring others to get involved.
“I want to show people, that you can have the full-time job, have kids and still have time to train and keep in shape. My three-year-old daughter likes to come to watch me too, so I want to inspire my two kids and keep them going,” he said.
“This event is like the Diamond League. You train for four weeks and then you have a race night. I’ve told Lisa (Campbell, Ultimate Athletics’ founder) the more people you tell, the more will come. It’s grown a lot. The next time there will be more too. It’s fantastic what they are doing.”
Elsewhere, Rafael Roots clinched victory in the Masters 60m with a time of 7.31 seconds. The Cameroonian is the fastest qualifier so far with a personal best of 7.30.
In the 800m, Irishman Conor O’Donovan continues to set the bar for middle distance running in the UAE. The 17-year-old JESS student glided around the track to record a third-successive win this season in 2 minutes 02 seconds.
Round 4 of Ultimate Athletics Racenight takes place on Thursday, February 28.
After a stunning race in 2018 that ensured the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon would end the year as number one in the world in terms of race results, the 20th anniversary of the Middle East’s biggest mass participation sporting event gets underway on the streets of the emirate on Friday.
Twelve months ago, two course records and historic finishes in the men and women’s events again underlined the region’s only IAAF Gold Label Marathon as one of the world’s premier races. And on Friday a powerful field will assemble for what is sure to be another classic battle over the 42.195km distance that runs through Jumeirah.
Staged under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and held under the aegis of the Dubai Sports Council, the Dubai Marathon will see world-class athletes take on a course that is arguably the flattest and fastest in the sport of long-distance running.
Among the elites to look out for: Ethiopian Guye Adola who clocked the fastest ever Marathon debut time in Berlin in 2017 (2:03:46), fellow countryman and current Seoul Marathon champion Asefa Mengstu (PB 2:04:06), 2015 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon winner Lemy Berhanu (2:04:33) and Swiss athlete Tadesse Abraham.
In the women’s field, Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich – a two-time winner at the Istanbul Marathon – boasts the fastest personal best time of 2:18:35 but will face a strong challenge from former Dubai winner Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia (2:19:53), and a fellow Kenyan in the shape of the highly-experienced Sharon Cherop (2:22:28).
“This will be the 20th time we have staged the Marathon in its current format and I’ve no doubt the athletes will once again provide us with a race worthy of the occasion,” said Event Director Peter Connerton.
“Last year saw new course records in both the men and women’s races, while we had seven men finish in sub 2:05 and four women in sub 2:20. Those were both unique results in marathon history and emphasised the depth of quality in the fields we put together in Dubai.”
Over 1,000 volunteers will be on call along that route when the wheelchair athletes and the elites tackle the course at 5.55am and 6am respectively, before the mass runners in the Marathon hit the road at 7am, followed by the 10km runners at 8.30am and the 4km Fun Run entrants at 10.30am.
And such is the demand from a global audience for a race that provided the best Marathon race results in 2018, this Friday’s race will be streamed live through an embedded feed on the event’s official website (dubaimarathon.org) and on YouTube.