Image Credit: Supplied

On February 2 and 3, the 26th Reebok Wadi Bih Run took place. To give you the backstory, Wadi Bih was first started in 1993 by John Gregory, whose passion is hiking and climbing. From this passion he was inspired with a vision for a cross-emirate relay run. 

I was part of the Team 72 category. We were a team of five, who would run a total of 72km. The distance was divided into 12 checkpoints going both up and down the course. The checkpoint intervals ranged between 1.9km and 4.1km. 

When initially asked if I wanted to do the race, I was hesitant. Running is not really my strong suit. I’ve heard stories about how the trails are difficult, steep and rough. I had competed in obstacle races but never a half or full marathon, much less a 72km relay race. But hey, it’s 2018! I can always start doing something new to test my limits. 

Here are ten things I learnt as a beginner in a long-distance running and relay race:

1 Take your training seriously

“The hours of training depends on someone’s fitness level, but generally speaking, train no more than 90mins per day,” says my friend and Gulf News’ resident fitness expert Dwynn Trazo. “The focus of the training also varies with experience. If you’re a beginner, train for strength, and muscular and cardiovascular endurance.” 
“Pace yourself. This means you do not sprint out of the gate only to gas out after a few kilometres. Practice running on stairs and elevated surfaces.”

2 Research

Acquaint yourself with the details of the race — ignorance is not bliss in this scenario. Find out the type of terrain you’ll be running on and establish whether it’s smooth, cement, mud, sand or gravel. It is important that you know the distance between stops and/or which parts are the most challenging. Talk to runners who have done the race before and ask them about the challenges they faced. It’s best to ask them for tips and pointers too!

3 Get to know your teammates

Since it is a relay race, each team member plays an important role. In an ideal scenario, you would train together with your teammates a couple of weeks before the race. Learn each other’s running or fitness level. This way, you’ll know who will run those long-distance stages and those treacherous tracks. If you’ve established rapport with your teammates, communication becomes smoother and it’s easier to help each other out during the race.

4 Know what to pack

The best time in the year’s 72 Team result was 04:54. It meant, we were on the road for probably double (or more) than five hours. Ensure you have enough water or electrolytes stocked in the support vehicle to keep each of the members hydrated during the entire race. Aside from the liquids, hoard bananas or energy bars too. And since you’re running a long distance, it doesn’t stop you from needing bathroom breaks, so it is essential to carry toilet paper or tissue inside the support vehicle (all women will agree with me on this!). Finally, running in between those huge rocks in the wadi can turn a little creepy sometimes, so update your playlist and pack earphones too.

5 Wear proper clothing

Check the weather forecast or the average temperature in the area before the race. When I join obstacle races, I wear leggings and long-sleeved rash guards, to protect myself against mud and all those crawling or rolling obstacles. I did this during the Reebok Wadi Bih Run only to realise that it was a little uncomfortable, especially when it was noon and the temperature rose. The best outfit would have been running shorts, and a light, breathable top. Invest in socks that are suitable for off-road running too.

6 Logistics are important

Seventy-two kilometers in the middle of nowhere can make your stress level shoot up, especially if you run out of gas. So check the tyre pressure and fuel tank of your support vehicle. As most trails are dusty, don’t fret if you’ve not taken your 4x4 for a car wash before the event.

7 You don’t need leaders, just a pep talk

I’m sure every team would excel if they had leaders directing the training sessions and presiding over the strategy on race day. Our case was different since we were all just introduced via email. For each of the challenges we brainstormed and listened to each other’s opinion, then followed the most logical and sensible points. What was striking was that there was always someone who stepped up during the race and motivated us, every time we asked ourselves why we were doing this in the first place.

8 Be ready for anything

The highlight of all my teammates’ experiences was when they thought I was lost. A friend of mine joined me in this race and he knew I am directionally challenged. In one of the trails heading back, there was a part where the road branched into three. To cut it short, they thought I took the wrong turn and had to spend a good 30 minutes looking for me. They’d had to involve the police and organisers in the search. So while exhaustion is sinking in, always be vigilant and aware of the fact that anything can happen. From someone getting lost to injury in between stages, be prepared!

9 Help each other

Drive slowly, especially when a runner is nearby, to avoid them eating the dust. Instead, offer your fellow competitor a bottle of water and something to eat. And of course, phrases such as ‘You’re doing a good job’ and ‘Keep going!’ go a long way.

10 There is life after the race

Post-race healthy practices are as important as pre-race preparations. “After-race care includes mild stretching, rest and proper nutrition for a quick recovery,” explains Trazo. “Applying cold compression to aching areas is good practice as well.’

The list and learning vary with each athlete or runner joining the race. I hope, and I find it important, that each individual had fun while they were competing. As I was running alone and inhaling the breeze, I was taking in the beauty of the surrounding — enjoying the here and now!