“Boy did I bite off more than I could chew? Or so I thought”. – Ayman
As someone who has been vying for a spot on the RunKuwait team since its inception, I was quickly running out of hope. So imagine my surprise when I was contacted by LetsGoForward and asked to take part in season 5 of RunKuwait! I was beyond ecstatic.
I went to the first meeting dressed as my favorite superhero, The Flash. I got to meet the team for the first time, several of whom I had previously known through all the races we participated in together in Kuwait. The organizers kept building suspense by sharing tales of previous seasons, previous runners, their trials and tribulations, the comradery that came out as a result of a 6-day camping/running expedition. I was hanging on their every word, until I addressed the elephant in the room, when was this run to take place? With 4 words, my hopes suddenly came crashing down, “first week of April”.
I dress as a superhero whenever I race because all runners are superheroes
What was I to do? I bit the bullet and during my introduction, informed the team that I sadly would not be able to participate in this epic journey due to a family commitment. Yousef, much to my amazement, said I should stick with the team, and that he was sure I would find a way to rise to the occasion.
I joined the whatsapp group, discouraged as I saw each and every member from different walks of life suddenly brought to life and sharing their runs, thoughts and experiences. The team trained together, I attended a few sessions begrudgingly. I kept waiting for Yousef to axe me from the group for lack of participation, but it never happened.
Then one day, during the week leading up to the National & Liberation Day celebrations, I had an epiphany. A revelation. What if I did the run, but differently? Instead of focusing on the adventure and the bragging rights of running a country north to south, I can focus on the distance and the bragging rights of doing it in the same time frame.
I immediately texted Yousef and got his blessings. Problem was, I now had to put my money where my mouth was. And I only had 2 days to prepare.
I was riding the coattails of my experience as a runner. Ever since I was a child in school, I was averse to running despite being surrounded by positive role models. My father used to run for recreation, doing distances of 10KM. My older brother was always chosen as house captain or team captain in sports. Despite this, I was averse to running, choosing instead to chew on pizza during sports day at school from the spectators’ seats, instead of participating in races. When I joined university, my uncle would take us for a 6KM run every Friday morning, with the promise of a hearty breakfast afterwards.
That was when the flame of passion for running began to flourish in my chest. 4 years later, it would be burning with immense energy, seeing my appetite grow from 6K to 10K to 15K to 21K. I even attempted a 120KM cross-city run!
Running headfirst into a challenge is foolhardy – it was imperative for me to succeed as it would set a precedent for all the office drones like myself who wish to aspire to Ultra status, however feel chained to the office and unable to commit to taking time off to run such mind boggling distances.
The first day saw me start at 5PM, from the Kuwait towers straight down towards Anjafeh beach. I hit the dreaded “wall” at the 31st kilometer, I kept pushing through till I reached the starting point, surprising myself at the tally, 43KM (every extra KM reduces the burden the next day). It took 4hrs 48 mins (average pace 6:40).
Throughout the training that I missed I kept hearing the word maintain a pace, as a runner I could never do that. I always start fast, slow down mid-way then pick up the pace near the end. I don’t partake in warming up, treating the run as the warm up.
The next day, I started at the same time, and found myself hitting the wall much earlier, at almost 15KM (half the first day), it took me 2hrs44mins to do 22.5KM at Shaheed Park (average pace 7:20). I then packed up and drove home, choosing to reminisce and indulge in a run I always did in my earlier days, managing to squeeze in an extra 16KM in 1hr54mins (average pace 7:08). My target distance was 42KM, I ended up falling short at 38KM.
Friday morning, I set out to recover the missing distance, starting off with a 7KM run at Shaheed park again in the morning in 39mins (average pace 5:38). It is worth mentioning that day by day, you find yourself drained for energy but more able to keep going. The pain that started in my thighs had migrated down towards my knees, then my calves, and now I was able to run without pain, you slowly start to notice how your body is adapting to the inhuman strain you are putting it through. I took a prayer break and drove to the Boulevard, for a 14KM run in 1hr28mins (7 times around the track, average pace 6:22). I now had 12KM to go, which I did in the evening, around Jabriya park, in 1hr18mins (average pace 6:29). Afterwards I treated myself to a large, carb rich dinner and turned in for the night.
Now it was time to face the dragon, the daunting challenge, the culmination of the ultra-run, an 85KM distance. I chose to start as early as possible, 5AM, so as to give myself plenty of time to finish, knowing full well that once the afternoon rolled in, the crazies would be out in full force on the Gulf Road, and that hydration would be the least of my worries.
My first surprise of the day took place when I discovered that, much to my chagrin, I had failed to charge my iPod shuffle, resulting in the longest time period I ever spent on my feet without music. I did however learn a valuable lesson at this point of running free, free of music and free of devices that track, to constantly have your eyes glued to your watch. I tracked the distance for the map, but kept my phone firmly in my jacket pocket. We set limits to ourselves as we go by the clock, whereas if we go by intuition, we end up surprising ourselves. I kept wanting to run 12KM and then walk, but I ended up running all the way from Safir Fintas to Jumeirah hotel and down to Blajat st. without taking a break. By the time I reached Pizza hut I shifted gears to walking, getting to the scientific center lackadaisically then picking up the pace towards Marina, our first designated rest stop. I lay down, took my shoes off and kicked my feet up for 10 mins, downing Gatorade for replenishment and some quick carbs for energy. I found a friend to join me on the expedition, and we kicked off by walking from Marina to the first traffic light near Maidan Hawally. I tried to run the 3KM to the 3rd ring road intersection, however my ankles had started to rebel against me, so it was intermittent running and walking. We got past the green island and walked ahead to the officers club, then ran in the grass area till Chili’s, and walked the rest of the way to the towers, where a rest was scheduled. Unfortunately, there was no Gatorade here, so we again took off our shoes, kicked our feet up and waited for 20 mins.
Starting to feel tired (distance covered around 30KM) we walked from the Towers to Souq Sharq, then we started running, and didn’t stop till we reached the Ministry of Oil (almost 13KM away) where we had a nice 30 minute rest. The smell of left over water balloons boiling on the unforgiving asphalt was nauseating, but we persevered. For me, I was half way done, and unfortunately, the sun was high in the sky bearing down upon us, and the water hooligans had come out in full force. Another friend had kept by our side since Seef Palace on a bicycle, carrying supplies for our rest. By the time we got there, he also helped massage our legs to get the blood circulation going, which helped immensely. It started with a water balloon to my foot, followed by back-to-back attacks once squarely in my chest (which disrupted the GPS tracking) and another one immediately to the face. As we were walking, we thought it best to mingle with the crowds and become harder targets.
We kept walking longer as my left ankle was starting to throb, in addition to my friend starting to feel light headed. We lost contact at Burj Hamam, and I attempted to run between the 3rd Ring road and Maidan Hawally. A police officer in a car gave me the thumbs up as I had moved to the other side of the street to run, however once I saw the onslaught of water start to increase, I quickly returned to the shelter of the trees on the other side, hungrily passing through tent after tent of tasty food, unable to muster up the courage to ask for any sustenance.
I passed Marina without incident and kept walking, forgoing the break in hopes of finishing at a reasonable hour. Seeing traffic thin on the other side I decided to defect, and was rewarded with a balloon to the back along the way as I closed in on the scientific center. I kept hoping the craziness would end but my prayers were ignored. The insanity continued, for 33KM. every car that passed by was a potential threat, so I lurked in the trees and bushes, with tunnel vision looking towards to the end of the Gulf road. By the time I reached the Bida’a roundabout, I was famished. I spied a box of food a passerby had probably gifted the workers laboring with the construction, I noted that there was some food left over, after I got about 200M away from it, I reconsidered and walked back, as I had left my wallet in my bag and was in need of food. As I looked into the box, I came to the distraught realization that the food was merely the leftover top bun of something that was undoubtedly delicious, and unfortunately covered in mayonnaise. I had standards, so I walked away.
I was near Radisson Blu when I took another balloon, this time to my left thigh, although I was not perturbed by this, as I had involuntarily ended up saving a bunch of ladies sitting on the roadside, the intended recipients of the water balloon attack.
As I got to Anjafeh beach, I decided to take one last break, for 15 mins, to kick off my shoes and kick my feet up, munch on half a banana I was carrying
Finally, the end to my turmoil was in sight, or so I thought. I had reached Jumeirah hotel, meaning the end of the balloon throwing maniacs. From here on forth it was a mere 10KM walk to where I parked my car. I thought it would take two hours, I did not factor in the fatigue, and the fact that I had no food and very little water left. I initially started walking down route 30, but quickly, and tiringly, jumped the fence to the inside road to avoid the high crossings.
Auto-pilot kicked in, I knew I had to get to Safir Fintas, and that I just had to keep walking straight down the road. My photographic memory kicked in as I started seeing things I had seen almost 14 hours ago, adding to my excitement that I was on the right track. As I walked down a desolate stretch of desert and abandoned buildings, a large Black Envoy came hurling down the road, the silence was pierced with the delighted shrieks of little devils that had found their target, me. I immediately turned around and fortunately got hit in my lower back. They did not turn around. It’s good that runners clothing is water proof.
The hour was drawing on 9PM, earlier I had seen that I was 4KM away from my goal (by mathematics) and found that I could not for the life of me run without looking like a centenarian trying to escape death. As I found myself in near-familiar territory, adrenalin kicked in and my knees were actually responding to my brains signals for them to bend, as I saw the buildings on the other side of the street in Fintas, I knew I had reached the promised land, and was elated to almost tears when I saw my park, parked in the parking lot of Safir Fintas hotel. What a sight for sore eyes! Total distance, 86KM, time, around 16hrs, pace – probably 12:45.
I took off my shoes and drove barefoot, walking up to my house the same way. I had preemptively wrapped my toes in duct tape so as not to get any moisture on them. It was a success, mostly. I only had two blisters on my toes. One giant one beneath my left toe, and another on another toe of the left foot. Righty was alright.
What was really amazing that day was that despite having a large dinner the other night, I had not needed to use the bathroom, at all, all day.
Sunday was a day of rest, and I could not take two steps without needing to pop an anti-inflammatory to keep the pain away. I asked for a needle and some heat and proceeded with popping the blisters to walk with a semblance of normalcy.
On Monday, I had the last run scheduled, a mere 22KM. I started at the Kuwait towers, the first 500M were agonizing, so I popped another Brufen-600 tablet and found my stride. As I ran towards Marina, opposite the culture center, I found an unopened lollipop on the green grounds. I decided that on the run back, if I were to find it, I would pick it up as I was low on sugar. I got all the way down to the scientific center, 11KM, then turned around for the agonizing run back.
As I’m probably sure you are eager to know, yes, I was able to find the lollipop, even in the cover of night. As I was proceeding with removing the wrapper however, I realized it had gotten wet as a result of lying in the grass for 2 or more days, so I sadly threw it away again, not before it left its sticky residue all over my fingers.
By the time I reached the 3rd ring road, I was drained of all energy, my pace dropped from 6:30 to 9:45 as I agonizingly put one foot in front of the other, eager to finish this challenge. As I looked up, the Kuwait Towers beckoned, bedecked in their dazzling black, green, red and white colors, egging me on. I reached the officers club and got my second wind, starting to increase my pace slightly, as I closed in on the final tree-covered path leading straight to the towers, I kicked into 5th gear and bolted down the path, smashing my average pace back down to an amazing 5:45 for the final KM.
I decided to take a victory lap around the towers, as it was dark, I noticed a bathroom to my right where I decided to wash my hands from the sticky residue of the lollipop from earlier. I distinctly remember checking the gender pic on the bathroom door before entering. I found out to my horror however, as I was shooed out by an angry cleaner, that I had mistakenly used the women’s bathroom!
One might wonder, why would one go through the agony of an ultramarathon without enjoying the camping and the scenery provided on the RunKuwait run? How is it possible to find the motivation to keep going, despite the comforts of our everyday life surrounding us, warm bed, hot water, plentiful food etc.? How can someone keep going for 16hrs continuously, with over 10 hours spent with their own thoughts?
The thrill of finally being chosen, coupled with the horror of discovering I would not be able to attend, served as the answers to the aforementioned questions.
I dress as a superhero whenever I race in acknowledgement of the fact that all runners are superheroes, putting their bodies through strenuous exercise that the normal, average, everyday person chooses to avoid. To them, a distance of 5K is equivalent to a marathon.
These challenges are meant to help us enlighten and inspire others to follow in our footsteps, to take the first step towards the rest of their lives, guaranteed to be healthier.
I did it for me. I did it for Prince.