Kelly Holmes spoke to participants about her struggles and triumphs. Image Credit: Supplied

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of being part of a select 16 fitness enthusiasts from across the UAE to run alongside double Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes. The world champion runner and 2016 London Marathon finisher was special guest to the scenic 10km run in Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The event was hosted by Reebok, which saw its latest line of running shoes, named ‘The Floatride’, put to the test in a challenging course of pavement, gravel and desert sand.

We flew by seaplane to the remote island before preparing for the run at Anantara Desert Resort. There, Holmes shared her story about what got her into running.

“I started out in athletics when I was 12 years old, inspired by my PE teacher who told me I could be good at something. It was her that really got me to believe that I could be good as a runner. When I was 14, I watched the Olympic Games and was inspired by Sebastian Coe who won the 1,500m. I told my friends that it I want to be an Olympic champion. It was from that day I wanted to do it.” says Holmes.

But as in life, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Holmes recounted coping with the difficult times in her career.

“I’ve had lots of ups and downs, huge amount of injury problems, and got really bad depression in 2003. It was just before the World Championships in Paris, I was at my lowest, but I still got a silver medal at those World Championships. I look at the mirror and didn’t want to be there. Yet I’m still there, still achieving. So I always believed I could be an Olympic Champion and that’s my resolve. I was focused on that. That was my 10th major medal despite all my problems so I always still believed in that Olympic dream.” she adds.

Holmes bounced back in a big way and eventually went on to win two Golds in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens for the 800m and 1,500m events.

Her talk was just the kind of inspiration we needed before heading out from the resort and on to the picturesque landscape of Sir Bani Yas Island for our 10km run with her.

The run itself wasn’t anything competitive. Our group, composed of veteran obstacle racers, marathoners and crossfitters, enjoyed each other’s company as much as we enjoyed the pleasant weather. But if you’re running side by side with a champion, you better up your game. Holmes’ presence definitely pushed each one of us. And the wildlife we saw as we made our way around the island made the whole experience even more unforgettable.

Around the last kilometre of the run, Holmes did something so routine for her yet so amazing, we were all left eyes wide in awe. The Reebok ‘Floatride’ crew, who were with us documenting the event in a vehicle, asked for all of us to sprint. And in a span of two to three seconds, Holmes flew effortlessly ahead of the pack by 10-15 metres. It was the first time I had seen such speed up close and personal. My jaw almost dropped.

The British legend and Olympian was generous throughout, even giving additional tips after the run. Holmes, a self-confessed geek when it comes shoe technology, talked about strong performance by stressing the importance of having proper running gear, particularly footwear.

Besides training, details matter to her. “In my career and with any serious runner, the difference between a gold medal and nothing can come down to the finest of margins so getting your footwear right is very important.” she said.

This was part of our cool down session, a bit of reflection about the run. The group listened intently to the champion runner’s words of wisdom and I learned so much about how the right gear helps you stay in top shape. It’s rare that I get the opportunity to run and have conversations with a double Olympic Gold Medalist. And as running is an integral of staying fit, I took everything she said, together with this entire experience, to heart.