Math professor
Haitham Solh, Professor of Mathematics at the American University of Dubai (AUD) Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A Dubai-based Mathematics professor is attempting the ultra-hard David Goggins challenge.

Pioneered by the ultra-marathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist and retired US Navy SEAL, Goggins’s challenge requires those trying it to run four miles (six-and-a-half kilometres) every four hours in 48 hours. And Haitham Solh, Professor of Mathematics at the American University of Dubai (AUD), is taking it one step ahead.

Solh will be running the challenge to raise funds for the Smile Train Foundation — a charity specialising in children’s cleft lip and cleft palate repair. “The campaign is authorised by the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Acts Department in Dubai, and the funds are collected only through the authorised vendor, YallaGive,” explained the AUD professor.

Solh’s attempt to complete the challenge began on March 10 at 2.30pm, and his target is to reach Dh5000 by Sunday, March 12. And this is not the first time Professor Solh has attempted the David Goggins challenge. Last year, he raised Dh10,000 for the Al Jalila Children’s Hospital Farah Pediatric programme. “Last time, I ran with a friend. This time, I’d be doing it alone,” he said.

Some of the monetary contribution towards the cause comes from Solh himself. He donated a few 100 dirhams on behalf of his children. “The aim is to raise the rest for the children who are in need. In case we cannot reach the target by Sunday, I will donate it myself,” he added.

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Solh says he took up running and exercise in 2013 after he suffered a heart attack Image Credit: Supplied

A heart attack was a wake-up call

A professor of Mathematics for the past 14 years, 48-year-old Solh took up running and exercise in 2013 after he suffered a heart attack. “Nearly ten years ago, I had a heart attack. I used to weigh 124kg and led an extremely sedentary lifestyle. I was a couch potato, always watching TV, and this was pre-video streaming services,” he told Gulf News.

Solh said he was always stressed out for many reasons, including caring for his aged mother and his financial situation. “After I underwent surgery for my heart condition, my doctor told me if I am not careful, I wouldn’t have a future. I have two kids, and I wouldn’t have been able to see them grow up. I had to lose up to 34kg,” said Solh. After spending some time working out in a gym and controlling his diet, Solh managed to lose some weight.

However, regular running helped him overcome his mental health challenges. “I met up with some members of the running community in Dubai and began running with them. It was like therapy, and as more time progressed, I began getting good at it,” said Solh.

Over time, Solh began meeting more like-minded people and running for causes. “I started getting merging my run with charitable activities. I got very active with members of the running groups and communities here. And every year during Ramadan, I would meet with other runners, and we would later pack Iftar meals for those in need,” he added.

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Running for a sound body and mind

Solh believes that running helps him achieve a sound body as well as a sound mind. An avid runner, the professor also runs with his students whenever possible. “One of my students who I taught in school, I also ended up teaching him at University. We now run together, and he recently invited me to his wedding as well,” said Solh.

“I’ve run three full marathons so far, and every year on my birthday, I try to run my age,” he said. Solh added, “I will travel in May to run the Mainova marathon in the Frankfort area. And then, I got selected to run in the Chicago Marathon. This is one of the big six marathons, so I will be going in October to run the Chicago Marathon,” he said.

Solh’s dream is to complete the big six marathons. They are — the Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, TCS London Marathon, BMW Berlin Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon.

“I got committed to running at the end of 2017, and I don’t believe in taking any half measures. I want to get better with my time. My competition is with myself, like the David Goggins principle. It took me 47 minutes to complete a 5km last December. Now, I can run a 5k in 23 and a half minutes,” he added.