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//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.

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.

Wk.

Young, energetic & free

The crew at Red Bull took me down to Big Red, an enormous, iconic and pretty daunting sand dune between Dubai and the Hatta mountain range. With a reputation for being able to separate  the novice 4×4 drivers from the real dunes bashers, those who make it to the top are considered real heroes!

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On this occasion, we didn’t aim for the top but set our focus on a skatepark custom built for newly recruited Red Bull ambassador, Jan Hoffman. It’s tough being a skater in Dubai, with frantic roads and hoards of security guards blocking access to abandoned industrial sites. So what to do and where to go? This reportage is about thinking outside the box and going that extra mile.

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Wouter Kingma blog for Red Bull Jan Hoffman 04I came across Big Red years ago whilst competing in a desert running race. I recall around 2am, 20km or so into the race, expecting a desolate dune… little did we expect a huge crowd of local boys cruising the sand and showing off with tricks on their quad bikes. This dune certainly holds its own when it comes to action and adventure.

Wk

With Margot Robbie in The Empty Quarter

The most noticeable things about working with Hollywood stars is that the stakes are high, shoots come with lengthly pre-meetings, you’re seriously time limited and the entourage on set is enormous. But when it all comes together… when the shoot runs smoothly and the crew is happy… it’s so rewarding and such a cool thing to do. Recently, I experienced just that, shooting the gorgeous Margot Robbie for a big British Airways PR push.

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We used the stunning Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort as our base before venturing off into the desert. The Empty Quarter has no shortage of shooting options, yet a recce did prove to be a worthwhile exercise to stake out the best location for capturing the afternoon light yet remaining in close proximity to the resort. All in all, we had a time limit of 1 ½ hours on site. Margot was a complete joy to work with… hard not to be perhaps when in the company of six good looking pilots (her words…)! Dressed in Burberry, she remained effortlessly down to earth with bare feet and a sense of adventure. Here are the final three images that made it to the press along with a few behind the scenes images.

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I timed it so we would capture the very best of the afternoon light, making our way into sunset. During the recce, we picked a varied mix of dunes as the ultimate backdrop. I mostly shot using the light available supplemented with a bit of fill in flash to knock off some shadows. To keep the client in the loop with the images I was shooting, I used the CamRanger, which transfers the jpgs from the camera straight to an iPad screen. This is great as the team could stay involved with feedback and approvals and it’s easier for me to absorb images on a larger screen than on a 3” LCD one.

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Quick doodle visualising shot list. 

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Behind the scenes image by Kish

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Rehearsals / Behind the scenes image by Kish

It’s always awesome to look back and trail how shooting opportunities land in the calendar. This gig came thanks to another I did in the Empty Quarter back in 2012, when I shot golf legends Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer. Euan, who worked for Abu Dhabi PR at the time, now heads his own agency called MCS Action, so when the Margot Robbie gig came up, he called me up straight away. Thanks for reaching out.

Wk