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Text by Conor Barrasford
Runners of Dubai
Sport has always been a major part of my life and I’ve dabbled with a number of sports to a ‘respectable’ level. During university this commitment to sport turned up a notch and I went from 104kg rugby lad to 78kg triathlete. I was fairly obsessed through 2017-2019, training 15-20h a week & I eventually put together some solid races. There was a time where I was compelled by a life of professional triathlon but ultimately, knowing the financial reality of many elites, this didn’t satisfy my long-term plan.
At the start of 2020, I stepped away from such a one-dimensional life & emigrated to Dubai. From everything I had seen & heard, Dubai was likely going to be the opposite of all the training haven’s I had been fortunate to train in but that wasn’t an issue, triathlon was a distant memory & I was here to work.
As I have now learnt, this was naïve. First, my performance at work bears a positive relationship with my concurrent discipline/performance of non-work endeavors. Secondly, a life of work is equally one-dimensional. Fortunately, Dubai is a lot more than just a concrete jungle laden with influencers. Yes, it doesn’t compare with the absurd beauty of the Alps but as a local stomping ground – there’s plenty on offer. The climate is unforgiving, the terrain is bone dry & the trail network is nascent. I’ve always enjoyed training in the mountains but this is a very, very alien playground. In 2021, we had five months where daily temperatures topped 40 degrees.
Every now and then, you are given a stark reminder of just how brutal this environment is. My last was during what should have been a relatively straightforward long run. I failed to factor in the impact of work stress/inadequate sleep in the prior week and 2.5 hours into my run I lay faintly on the side of the trail, spewing & delirious. I got back to the car 1.5h later and I had lost 4kg. My body drained of all its resources & my urine was dark orange for the next 3 days.
On the other hand, the environment forces you to dial in the specificity of your training & optimize admin (nutrition, equipment etc). This is something I love about this climate – there is no room for error, the consequences are too severe. We have long alpine-esque ascents, technical trails & a rapidly growing outdoors community – things you don’t often hear about Dubai. And this momentum is growing; a group of us recently recce’d the Highlander 55 route, a brand-new trail taking on some of the most arduous yet beautiful terrain the UAE has to offer.
What’s next for me?
This summer will be my first foray into a unique style of ultrarunning; self-sufficient, multi-day and with no official event – no crowds, aid stations or support crew. I plan to run the full Kungsleden, a 450k trail in northern Sweden. I settled on this for a number of reasons: 1) I adore Scandinavia & I've had an eye on this route for 6 years 2) I am searching for my limits and I think combining long bouts of endurance with intense loneliness should help me on this quest 3) I have a roaring fire inside of me for adventures of this magnitude.
How am I training for this?
Its an odd one to train for, there are few people you can write to and ask how best to prepare for something like this (part of the allure). I love the planning side of endurance sport; researching training methods, equipment, nutrition etc.
I believe to be successful on the Kungsleden, I need to focus on physical robustness. I have the required base fitness but I see physical deterioration as the most likely cause of failure. Running 10-15 hours a day for 7 days with poor sleep & a minimalist diet is going to be savage.
In pursuit of robustness, I settled on three strategies: 1) Frequency – As with most of us, I am a time-constrained athlete so I have to make the most of what little time I have. Instead of doing single session slogs, I try to string together multiple sessions in short time frames. In doing so, I hope to condition my mind/body to constant motion & for my metabolism to be firing as often as possible. I have started looking at my week in terms of hours, for example if I run 3x in 36 hours my body is having to react & reset frequently & off limited recovery 2) Maximal Stress – As it’s very difficult to mimic the levels of fatigue I will have during Kungsleden, I am trying to add unique stress shocks to my regimen – for example, I am currently doing back-to-back long runs where I finish the second run with a hard weights session 3) Consistency – this doesn’t need explaining, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
*I should add - beyond the scope of cardio - I am putting a lot of time into understanding biomechanical efficiency & immediately applying specific S&C in response to any sign of weakness.
I’ve spent most of my life immersed in the outdoors so this is a relatively simple task as I have tried & tested almost all of the kit I will use. There is one question mark that remains and that is my pack. I am fairly set on Ultimate Direction for this (having reviewed gazillions of blogs). I plan to go as minimalist as possible but this will still require a 20L. Ultimately, I am at the mercy of the weather God’s for this jolly. I am praying it stays dry but it’s more than likely it will be a very wet week with snow underfoot. The southern section should be mild with the majority of the snow being in the northern territory…extra climactic!
Reading, reading & reading. I have scoured all corners of the internet when it comes to Kungsleden. Four people have run the full route, all of whom I am in contact with. I have reached out to all the local mountain hut owners to gather further insights. This challenge has a lot of unknowns & I am not familiar with this part of Sweden so I am trying to be as diligent as possible. I follow all the Kungsleden hashtags on Instagram & if I see anyone is spending a lot of time there, I’ll reach out to get their advice. It may seem haphazard but it’s a unique challenge so I’m trying to piece together information from as many sources as possible.
And that’s me in a nutshell – hopefully I’ll live to tell the tale.