run

//SPONTANEOUS… Our Mad Run

Being surrounded by inspiring people brings immense value. Their positive energy rubs off on others, instilling passion and motivation. Eva Clarke is one of these people. She even has not one, but eleven, Guinness World Records to her name.

I’ve been working on a short film about her passion. During an interview, she shared her fear of heights. Time to crush that fear, I thought, as I went ahead and secretly booked a tandem jump for Skydive Dubai.

In response to my telling her what I’d done, she turned a whiter shade of pale before saying, “Well, if you want me to jump out of a plane, we’ll have to run to Dubai first.” I’m not sure if she was hoping I’d turn that mad idea down but I accepted. Not because it was a smart idea, I should add. Far from it!

So 5pm on the 3rd December, I find myself at the start of a 100+ kilometre run from Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit to SkyDive Dubai. Something inside me told me she’d be giving me a real un for my money…

We ran through the night, climbed fences, danced around sprinklers, lived Eva’s dream of being chased by wild dogs, dodged potholes in the pitch black, had crazy food cravings and pulled each other out of the occasional dark place. We actually had a lot of fun!

Thankfully, I was in charge of navigation. Had this been left to Eva, I suspect we’d still be running. We sounded like an old married couple just getting off Yas Island, when Eva wanted to run in the wrong direction toward Saudi Arabia.

In the middle of the night, we had a taxi reverse towards us on the highway (as they do). I looked at Eva and said “You know this is our exit out of here!” She smiled and he drove off,  leaving us staring at his red tail lights.

Towards the end, the run became more of an endurance challenge, pushing and clocking the mileage as we went along. Admittedly not much running anymore. The long march home. The lack of long training runs was apparent and my legs felt pretty trashed.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed over the time it took to cover the 108 kilometre total. We were on the move for just over 19 hours and I’d been hoping to take around 16. I had to find peace with this before feeling happy with the achievement. The key is that neither of us were prepared for this sort of distance and after eight or so hours of forward motion, the body starts to protest. We were dehydrated even at the start line and then ran out of water a couple of times.

The first 60km was on hard-packed surface through Abu Dhabi’s residential suburbs and more remote farm roads. It was pretty scenic and safe to assume, I think, that no expat has run through much of it before. We hit Sheikh Zayed Road just before the Gantoot turnoff and that’s when we actually had to start running next to the highway. However tempting the hard shoulder was, for safety reasons, we stuck to the sandy patch alongside which sucked every last drop of energy from our legs. Soft sand, thick bush and running on a slight decline for 50km. It was tough and completely insane.

As the run was totally spontaneous, we had no idea where our refueling stations would be, nor the total mileage or even the best route from A to B. I guess that was all part of the adventure, using Google Maps to figure out our route along the way and getting crazy looks from people at gas stations. The best ones came from fellow walkers along the promenade at Dubai Marina walk. People were staring in sheer disbelief, some with disapproval in our filthy kit. This only fuelled me more. There’s nothing like shaking up the system.

I filmed the full run and carried a recording device to capture our conversations too. Check out Eva’s Instagram page where she posted live social feeds too. I think there’s a great story in there and am looking forward to seeing where it leads to.

Needless to say, we were both delighted to reach Skydive Dubai. Big smiles. Big HUA! I was glad it was over although for Eva, the run was only the precursor to the sky dive to come. At the registration we were both put on scales for a weight check. To my huge disappointment, I was told I was too heavy. “What?!?” I was four kilos over the 100kg maximum weight limit so they wouldn’t let me on the plane. Believe it or not, I really was gutted as I was looking forward to ending this epic adventure on a true high. Eva rose to her challenge and experienced the jump of her life. She was ecstatic on landing with fellow Red Bull athlete.

Would I recommend others to do crazy shit like this too? Yes. Hell, yes. Always. The body heals with remarkable speed and all you are left with is a handful of wonderful memories. For those toying with following in our footsteps, we went for the safe option by hugging Sheikh Zayed Road all the way from Gantoot to Dubai. I would actually recommend running parallel to this, in the actual desert (possibly on gps navigation). This way, you’re away from the traffic but you do also lose out on refuelling stops at gas stations so this needs to be taken into consideration. An alternative is to go via Bab Al Shams, which although means throwing in a few extra kilometres, the terrain is way better. Whatever the route, there’s no escaping soft sand.

A big thanks to Eva for challenging me to run my first 100k and for being a great running buddy. We made a good team. I don’t normally talk much when running but we rarely had a quite moment.

What next I wonder?! Perhaps I’ll challenge Skydive Dubai to support us with a helicopter jump to some random remote desert location  then we’ll navigate our way back to the bright lights via GPS. Then perhaps stair climb to the top of the Burj Khalifa. Why not? This would be incentive enough for me to lose those extra four kilos. Eva, is there another Guinness World Record opportunity there?

Wk.

Ultra Running; Love. Can. Do.

I always mean to write this post during a big race, when the thoughts are most fresh in my mind, but somehow I never get round to it and then on return home, reality kicks in and the routine takes over.  So I went back to a voice memo I recorded during the 50k Urban Ultra Race.

Why is (long distance) running such a key part of my life? Why am I doing this? The hours on your feet, top to toe pain, negative self talk, dizzy sun rises and complete exhaustion. Why?

It’s hard to pin point what it comes down to but I’ll give it a try. For me, it’s about being out on nature’s trails because… well, because I love it. Because I can. Because this is what I do. These three words; LOVE, CAN & DO kinda sum it up for me. It’s about putting momentum towards the stuff I love, which works for running but also other passions in life. It’s important to walk your talk, even if it’s a long walk. It’s also about sharing the field with like-minded, driven and ambitious people. We’re all here, from all walks of life, for the experience.  Being out there, running together and embracing your surrounds is all that counts.

Earlier this year, I ran the Salomon Wadi Bih 72k solo and below is the brief race recap…

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It’s 4.30am as the start gun goes off and we’re pounding through the sleepy town of Dibba. Once we pass the empty dam on the edge of the village, the race continues in a pitch black wadi (dry riverbed) filled with nothing but the meditative spotlights of fellow runners’ headlamps. After years of being on the other side of the lens and shooting the this Desert Relay, I thought it was time to sign up to run solo and give it my best bash.

Needless to say, it was tough. We basically ran through the wadi for 30 or so kilometres followed by a 1,000m mountain climb towards the turnaround point at 36km. The route returns back down the same way to finish at the Golden Tulip Hotel on the beach. The first part was amazing, running at night amongst these big rock faces and witnessing a new dawn. I even quite enjoyed the big mountain climb as a good, strong hike proved a welcome relief from trail running. I checked off the first half of the race in a little under four hours which I was pretty pleased with and I passed the 50km marker in reasonable shape, but the remainder, I recall, went downhill (no pun intended).

My nutrition was ok but my legs were screaming and the hallucinations, that all us runners can associate with, began with me seeing no other than Elvis stepping out of a 4×4 and strutting his stuff. These crazy thoughts at least brought me some much needed distraction. It’s fascinating during a long race, to observe how the brain behaves, the mad mind games it plays. And then there’s the constant inner voice telling you to stop, to give up, to reserve your body and mind for the hectic work and home life that lies beyond the race. It’s insane.

Of course, all “good” things come to an end… as does the finish arch eventually appear in the far distance followed by great applause and a well-deserved medal. Bingo. “What next?” I immediately ask myself. We’re a strange bunch, that you cannot argue!

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The following day I shot the relay race, working on capturing some beauty shots for sponsor, Salomon. Surprisingly, I had a pretty swift recovery from my own race. My legs were sore yes, but my joints had held up pretty well, which is always my biggest concern. Knowing the course and the experience that fellow athletes are going through certainly helps to create strong imagery. Knowing where to shoot, where the landscape is best, is often the hard part but luckily I’d seen it all the day before.

My thanks to John Young and the entire Wadi Bih team for putting on an amazing race. Anyone considering an epic mountain running experience, stay tuned to their webpage. Next year’s race marks their 25 year anniversary so it will no doubt be a special one.

Wk.

 

I ran 555km!

Last summer I decided to do something different… to run every day that I was in Europe. This meant 55 days straight, with the aim of clocking 555km. The adventure started as soon as I touched down at Amsterdam airport. As I loaded my family and luggage into the taxi, I tightened my laces, waved goodbye and got started…

I ran mostly on trails, away from tarmac and cars, away from the concrete jungle and urban surrounds. It wasn’t about clocking mileage… more about the spirit of adventure… about exploration, about discovery, about checking out new sights and sounds in my running shoes. I relish the simple things that life has to offer, like drinking water from source, smelling fields full of flowers, breathing in fresh mountain air, enjoying the sunrise, watching cows graze, picking berries and chasing wildlife. I pretty much always returned to base long after I’d promised my wife…

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I’ll be honest though. It was a push to run every day. Trying to fit running time in with family time and a pretty ad hoc holiday schedule didn’t come easy but often the runs that started with a “because I have to” attitude, turned out to be the most awesome.

My biggest fear throughout was getting injured and a pretty serious ankle injury lingering from last summer acted as a strong reminder to be cautious. The key, I think, was to build up slowly mileage-wise and hit the rocky trails with respect. Thankfully, my body didn’t let me down. Towards the end of the summer as my runs got longer, there was little or no time for recovery. At the start of the last few early morning runs, I felt like a stiff, old man but once my body warmed up, I loosened up and fell into a nice rhythm. Lesson for next time? More yoga in between.

I got lost multiple times, ran out of water, got caught out by darkness and was attacked by dogs. I ran in the mountains, got to the top of Mount Ventoux, turned around and raced back down, played around the Matterhorn, ran through farmlands, across rivers and amongst vineyards and fruit farms. I ran races, with a hangover once or twice and shared runs with friends, family (always a highlight) and with strangers. I clocked up some insane elevation gain, enjoyed an awesome night run in Switzerland, upset mountain bikers by running on their tracks, got soaked in the rain and found myself bruised, cut and chaffed in all manner of places. Need I mention that I loved it all?

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Memorable runs

My love for running really took off when I moved to Dubai in 2002. It all started with my first half marathon in Abu Dhabi. Marathons and triathlons followed then eventually I discovered that my true passion lay in long distance trail running. There are so many reasons to love trail running. I love exploring new places. Nothing beats heading off in a random direction and just discovering where the path takes you. Trail running also unites interesting people and amazing places. On longer solo runs, I get to munch on business topics; my keynote at World Art Dubai came together during the 30k night rebel race. There’s alot to be said for using solitude to feed your creativity.

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These are my top most memorable runs over the years:

> My best run last summer was with my friend Ilonka, who runs a mountain lodge in the France Alps. We both love alpine runs and got up early one morning to hit the mountains. I don’t own any cold weather running gear and can remember it was a bitterly cold start in just shorts and a light fleece at 5am. Still dark, we used our head torches to wind through the forest trails, past little mountain village Narreyroux and on to Col du Bal. Running on the high ridges with spectacular views and fresh mountain air is when I’m in my element. These are truly magical moments.

> A run filled with anxiety and excitement… or perhaps more an escape run! I fled my parents house back in 2003 to run free. It was my wedding day and the house was full of family and friends… it felt like chaos and I just needed to get out there on my own. I enjoyed an amazing run through the forest and remember feeling so free.

> Day seven of the Gobi March, a 250k self supported running race in remote China. Day seven marked the final stretch to the finish line and I can remember running the entire way, despite the blisters, aching limbs and immense fatigue. Running through the Flaming Mountains and ending at a Buddhist village made for an incredible setting. It was pretty much all downhill at that point. Crossing that finishing line came with such immense relief and pride before receiving the biggest medal ever. I felt on top of the world.

> A memorable run to be that remains in the pipeline will be a dash with one my boys, either in a competition or just a run down the street. Having seen other dads during that proud moment of first running with their sons, I can’t wait to do so with my own.

> Living in Dubai means living pretty much in the desert. In just a 30min drive, you can hit spectacular dunes which make for perfect training ground. Running in soft sand builds character, turns a run into a serious workout and requires a decent sense of navigation. Followed by setting up camp with the family, these runs can turn into a really fun weekend. I remember one run not far from Bab al Shams, when off I started, with a loaded pack at the usual crazy hour and there, beautifully lit by the early morning sun, was a stunning white Arabian Oryx. It was perhaps only 100m away, staring intensely at me… probably wondering what on earth I was doing… for what seemed an age. I stood still, staring back at him and then he just dashed off. And so did I.

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New Nike brand images

Nike seem to shift their brand creative at a rate even more frequent than I buy new gear… and that’s saying something!

Wouter Kingma Blog for Nike Running Middle East 05We took some amazing environmental shots last year to put Dubai on the map at Nike Global. And now, we’re working in an entirely fresh direction. After going through an extensive 77-page brief, we’ve brought together this new set of creative content, a set of strong, black & white images, guaranteed to make an impact.

This epitomises what I really love shooting, in terms of both subject and art direction. And the style reminds me of an industry piece I want to put together called RAW. Just that… RAW. Strategically strong yet unpolished, crafted images, seemingly un-staged, moody and easy to connect with, a bit of dirt perhaps but not dirty, a blend of motion & unfiltered energy.  Sure, the focus may be a little… (more…)

New Nike brand images

Nike seem to shift their brand creative at a rate even more frequent than I buy new gear… and that’s saying something!

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We took some amazing environmental shots last year to put Dubai on the map at Nike Global. And now, we’re working in an entirely fresh direction. After going through an extensive 77-page brief, we’ve brought together this new set of creative content, a set of strong, black & white images, guaranteed to make an impact.

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This epitomises what I really love shooting, in terms of both subject and art direction. And the style reminds me of an industry piece I want to put together called RAW. Just that… RAW. Strategically strong yet unpolished, crafted images, seemingly un-staged, moody and easy to connect with, a bit of dirt perhaps but not dirty, a blend of motion & unfiltered energy.  Sure, the focus may be a little… off or there may be an added strain of lens flare which might otherwise render a shot an imperfect picture, but RAW is a lifestyle and an approach to how we see the world.

So how does this filter through to the imagery we see today?

With this Nike shoot, the timing and location threw in some challenges. I knew it had to be dark and the location on the iconic Palm Jumeirah was pretty much a given. But how do you then deal with the combination of faint darkness and furiously fast athletes? Five years ago, I would have struggled badly but now we have great camera’s where you can just keep on cranking up the ISO. Most images here are taken in the range of 8.000-12.800 ISO, shooting borderline handheld shutter speed. The Canon 1DX is a master machine in such conditions, made even sweeter by my beauty lens, the 50mm f1.2.  When darkness falls, there’s just no need to call it a day!

My thanks to Tristan and Dania at JWT for their support and ideas and a big hands up to Coach Tom at PTX Dubai for coming out on his birthday and bringing his awesome crew along. Together, we made it work. Wonders! And we created RAW. In all its glory.

Wk.

Wings for Life Dubai

I’m so proud of my great buddy Chris for pulling off the Dubai chapter of the Wings for Life World Run.  Putting on the show was a bit of a spontaneous ad hoc decision which, by the very nature of organizing a running event, proved a little overwhelming with the sheer amount of work involved. Still, he pulled it off with aplomb… called the right people and connected with the community. Within a mere matter of weeks, some solid sponsors were confirmed and around 200 runners at the starting line. That’s our Chris!

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The Wings for Life World Run is a global movement, a 10k race run in aid of those who can’t.  At precisely 10 am UTC last Sunday, a global charity race saw … (more…)