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SPORT

“I’m always searching for the next adventure” - Dubai ultra runner Hassan Akhras

Words by Rob Chilton

The watch blogger and endurance athlete speaks to EDGAR about motivation and mentality

First it was mountain climbing, then it was marathons, now Hassan Akhras is utterly addicted to ultra marathons. The content creator and watch blogger known as Arab Watch Guide ran the Fuerteventura half Marathon des Sables in September 2019 and was due to attempt the two-day 125km race Ultra x 125 in the Azores in April when Covid hit. Aged 36 from Syria, Akhras explained what draws him to this punishing endurance sport. We started by asking about his training regime.

What sort of training prepares you for these epic races?

I do a lot of HIIT training – run, walk, stop, run, walk, stop – because with ultra marathons, you’re never on a flat surface and breathing is very difficult. I ran the Dubai marathon and it was easy, you switch off and focus on the run. Ultra running is more interesting, the terrain is beautiful, you look around and forget yourself.

Do you train your mind?

I think about the race and the situations I might find myself in and how I will react. I rely on my little bit of experience and stories I’ve heard from other athletes.

Akhras in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

Is there a good community vibe at ultra marathon events?

There’s lots of bonding and chatting, people share experiences and stories and really get to know each other. There’s a lot of support.

What’s the etiquette about talking during the race?

Well, the top ten athletes are competitive and don’t talk, but the rest of us want to enjoy it, we’re not competing, we just want to finish. Sometimes people run next to you and you might start talking about family or something, you have all types of conversations.

What kind of people do ultra marathons?

Everyone from different countries, ages and backgrounds. I’d say it’s a 60/40 split towards men. What surprised me was the age bracket. I presumed people would be in their 20s but I’m in my late thirties and actually, I’ve been one of the youngest.

On the trail

What strikes you about the older competitors?

They’re stronger than me! Their perseverance and athleticism are great. During past races, I’ve spoken to men aged 60 who have done 50 ultra marathons.

Are they mentally stronger?

Yeah, I think older runners are much more driven, maybe they feel they have something to prove, they want to show that they’re still young at heart. I think the older you are, the more poised you are which helps in long-distance sports because it means you’re not in a hurry. They have the patience to pace themselves.

Dramatic terrain makes ultra running interesting for Akhras

The loneliness of the long-distance runner

How did you find the half Marathon des Sables Fuerteventura (120km in four days) in September?

The difficulty was having a backpack of 8kg that carried my entire life: food, shelter, medicine, everything I needed to survive. The terrain was mostly sandy, distances were shorter, the longest was 56km in one shot. There were checkpoints every 10km where you could refill water, have a snack or stop if you wanted to.

What were the sleeping arrangements?

I shared a tent with five other people in the middle of nowhere – no luxury, sleeping on the floor. We brought our own food, frozen ready meals, which taste awful. On the first day, I was the first one at the camp and I didn’t know how to turn the cooker on so I had to eat it cold.

Equipment must be key to a good race?

Absolutely. I made mistakes and didn’t wear the right shoes and they hurt badly. Now I wear the On brand and they’re good. I tried three backpacks before I found the right one, testing them on three-hour runs in Al Qudra every morning at 4am.

How was the Fuerteventura half MDS different to other races you’ve done?

I’ve done around six or seven ultra marathons but being self-sufficient in Fuerteventura was a different ball game to just running. You must rely on yourself, understand what you need and know your imitations. And you’re alone.

Did you get emotional when you finished?

It took me a few minutes to kind of understand I just did my first half Marathon des Sables. But the emotion came when I saw the last person arriving. It was a father aged 70 almost being carried by his son. During the race, the son had waited and gone at the same speed as his dad because they wanted to accomplish it together. The entire group of athletes surrounded them, clapping and singing, it was a big moment.

Luxury is not part of the experience

What keeps you motivated to run these races?

I’m a restless character who’s always searching for the next adventure that will allow me to explore my abilities and my personality. I like to put myself in different environments – it means I never get bored.

Hassan Akhras wears a Breitling Superocean Heritage

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