Half-way around the globe in a land bursting with materialistic insanity and sand â€“ seriously, just malls, hotels and sand â€“ I recently had the opportunity to race the worldâ€™s richest half marathon, the Ras al-Khaimah (RAK) Half-Marathon in the United Arab Emirates.Â Had I ever thought about going to the Middle East to go and race on the Persian Gulf? Yah, like most of us just tossing the idea around our heads it had rattled around once or twice before, but never really stuck â€¦ or maybe people really do think about it and Iâ€™ve just reconfirmed the space oddity that I truly am.Â Regardless, a Sasquatch ventured forth into the desert, raced, survived and is now here telling the tale whilst still picking the sand from his fur.
Prior to the race I flew into Dubai where I stayed with Team Sasquatch member and all around badass @Runs2NY, who will be running the grueling Marathon de Sables, a self-sustained 6-day race across the scorching Moroccan Sahara desert, a race routinely described as â€œThe Toughest Race in the World.â€Â That race is just nuts and I am honored to have Kirsten as a runner, not to mention that I am in complete awe of her strength and determination.
Anyway, after the LONG flight over I had the privilege of experiencing the disgustingly drawn out customs process not only as part of my layover at Charles de Gaul in Paris, but also again once I hit Dubai.Â God I love to queue! Â Somehow I managed to choose the one line that never seemed to move, or did, but at a pace equivalent to a de-shelled snail sprinting for safety on a frozen metal sheet.Â My attempt to enter the UAE reminded me of Lancelot running to the â€œrescueâ€ inÂ Quest for the Holy Grail, repetitiously traversing corridor after corridor, each as long, non-descript and mind-numbing as the one before it, featuring countless doorways that never lead to anything resembling the outdoors, and never getting anywhere.Â But, as fate would have it, I did finally reach door number 27, which just so happened to magically slide open and instantly slap me in the face with a beautiful 70-degree, dry breeze.Â After recovering from the initial shock that I would not be requiring additional layers to continue my journey I saw a handmade sign that read, â€œSpeedyâ€ and there was much rejoicing â€¦Â cue Sir Robinâ€™s minstrels!!
The rest of the week leading up to the race was filled sites adorned with a vast assortment of superlatives.Â To be completely honest, it became so tiresome that after this report I think I will retire from the use of the suffix â€“est.Â The list is long, so here are the greatest hits (I swear, not going to use it ever again after this post):Â Tallest building: Burj Kalifa. Â Worldâ€™s only 7-star hotel: Burj Al-Arab.Â Largest mall:Â Dubai Mall, with a ginormous aquarium, SEGA Zone, hockey rink, gold souk and pretty much every brand name you could ever possibly think of.Â Mall with an indoor ski slope: Mall of the Emirates.Â Â Seriously, I could go on and on about all of the weird ridiculous stuff thatâ€™s in Dubai, but you should really just go and see it for yourself even if only once, it is a pretty amazing place.
Personally, I found my other activities to be far more interesting than the materialistic commercial ones.Â I ran the shores of the Persian Gulf just as the sun came up.Â I rode an abra along Dubai creek with my now trusted travel companion â€œRustyâ€.Â I wandered the traditional and contemporary versions of a souk, or Arabic market.Â Oh yah, and there is that whole richest half marathon in the world thing that I was working my way towards all week.Â I will say this though, Iâ€™m thankful that I went during their winter, because being there when it is 120-degrees outside just sounds sooooo pleasant â€¦ my fur would instantaneously burst into flames and the smell of scorched wildebeest is not a cologne worth testing out, but then again Sexxx Panther is pretty amazing â€¦ 60-percent of the time it works EVERY time.
Getting back on task with the race itself, the wake-up call that morning was at approximately 04:00, and yes Iâ€™m using the international standard notation, because the â€œ0â€ definitely stood for â€œOH MY F-ing GOD ITâ€™S EARLYâ€. Â Furthermore, my alarm clock had apparently been replaced with the loudest, annoyingest (just to throw another â€“est in there) sound ever!! It was soooo much worse than Lloyd Christmasâ€™ meager attempt inÂ Dumb and Dumber.Â This remarkable auditory phenomenon of an â€œalarmâ€ was the family dog and a stray feral cat having a beef outside my open bedroom window, which sounded more like a good watchdog barking at a leprous feline in heat being put through a petrol-less, stalling wood chipper.Â Needless to say, when their bout erupted into the otherwise peaceful morning air I was up.Â Aside from that, the morning was S.O.P. and then we jumped in the car for the hour-long ride out to Ras al-Khaimah
When we arrived at the start, the sky was adorned with a soft haze burned through with the shadowy imposition of the distant mountains silhouetted off in the distance.Â We reached the start/finish area, the parking lot to yet another mall, and I hastily made a beeline for the loos, which were fantastic!!! No nasty Porta-Johns like we see here in the US, but rather nice, clean portable bathroom blocks with stalls and sinks!Â They were glorious and made me wish that we had such fine facilities back home.Â Anyway, when I came back out I realized that the 2-3 mph wind that the news had projected was a total farce and that the haze that I was seeing was actually particles of sand being blown around by the 15-20 mph winds with gusts around 25 mph or so.Â Oh joy!Â But honestly, this was par for the course for me lately.Â Every long run and tempo/threshold workout I have done in 2012 has been just like this, the only difference here is the airborne desert making it that much more interesting. Â I really wished I had the buff I got in my 2011 NYC Marathon schwag bag before I attempted my Tom Cruise Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol impersonation.
I went through my usual 15-minute warm-up routine along the first/last half-mile of the course before getting into the corrals and then it was go time. As the gun went off, I got myself in race mode and repeated the White She-Devilâ€™s race plan in my head a few times and went to work.Â For the first time ever I wore my Garmin 610 in a race, something which I am NOT a fan of, but since the course was marked at every 1km, instead of miles, I was going to have issues executing the plan and was thereby forced into wearing it.Â The headwind seemed to have lightened up and my brain started looking forward to the back half of the race and having some nice wind assist to the finish line, which would be awesome.Â Notice I said â€œwouldâ€, not â€œwasâ€.
Mile 1 â€“ 6:20
Mile 2 â€“ 6:19
Mile 3 â€“ 6:10
Mile 4 â€“ 6:15
Mile 5 â€“ 6:13
Mile 6 â€“ 6:14
Mile 7 â€“ 6:14
Mile 8 â€“ â€¦
Yah, so remember that head wind?Â At mile 8 it slapped the ever loving sh*t out of me and everyone else on the course.Â Everyone that I passed from that point on was cursing the weather gods and working so hard and getting so little reward.Â The gusts were unruly, the sand was starting to fly with greater influence and the â€œfastâ€ race RAK is known for was fading fast.
Mile 8 â€“ 6:21
Mile 9 â€“ 6:21
Mile 10 â€“ 6:14
Mile 11 â€“ 6:22
Mile 12 â€“ 6:19
Mile 13 â€“ …
The last mile and change the sand put me in my place.Â I had enough of it in my mouth drop kicking my uvula that I felt like I was gargling a sand-cake a 2 year old makes at the park.Â The conditions were officially testing the sensitivity of my gag reflex and seeing the finish line in the not too far off distance I decided to ease it back and NOT puke.Â Mile 13 â€“ 6:28.
I finished the RAK Half-Marathon in 1:23:20 (6:17 pace), 55thÂ overall, 42ndÂ male.Â Â It was AWESOME that I could get my race certificate AT the race village, but sadly the medal stunk.Â All in all, it was an experience and race that will live long in my memory and an opportunity that I will forever be grateful that I undertook.