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Amin Maalouf

Running Man

INTERVIEW Taking on one of the toughest ultramarathons in the world is no mean feat - and certainly not for the faint hearted. But Dubai resident and Asics Frontrunner ambassador, Amin Maalouf is not your average athlete. He's completed the infamous race and lived to tell the tale... specifically, to EDGAR.

Q.

How did you get into endurance racing?

A.

I’m very curious by nature and always looking for new experiences. My passion for nature and fitness started from childhood, I was in the Scouts, which taught me commitment, connection with nature, and challenged my capabilities. I learned to take care myself and others, which helped build my character and develop and an understanding of our physical and mental potential. When I was a bit older, I was inspired by a friend who had completed a 10km race. I became curious to see I could do one myself. There was only one way to find out, so I signed up without much thought about the training – that would be figured out later. Which I did. The challenge was a wakeup call. It showed me that I could achieve anything with proper dedication. I moved next to 21km and then to 60km. It was so satisfying that I had to try different sports, so I started cycling and swimming and this led to signing up for Ironman 70.3 in Dubai. I have learned that endurance racing is a 50/50 split between physical and mental training. It was a natural transition for me to add trail running to my weekly routine, as it helps me disconnect and be in tune with nature. The energy you get from nature helps you to ignore the voice in your head telling you to stop or slow down.

Q.

Tell us about the Jungle Ultra race you did and what makes it so unique?

A.

Jungle Ultra is considered one of the toughest races -- physically and mentally – anywhere in the world.It is a five-day multistage race in the Amazon rainforest in the Peru, totaling 230km, with very high humidity and temperatures between 10 to 30 degrees celsius, partially raining and partially hot. The route is dense jungle, opened up by a team before the race, which naturally closes behind the last runner within days. It’s extremely muddy, and you cross over 70 rivers, steep mountain climbs and drops, not to mention encountering wildlife such as spiders, fire ants, anacondas, jaguars and more. You have to carry all you need in one bag on your back for the whole race, around 11-12kgs, which includes food, sleeping gear, clothing, medical kit, and technology. At checkpoints the only thing you get is water. What makes this race so different from other races is that on top of the physical challenge of covering 230km in such terrain, you have to handle the mental stress of being in such a dangerous environment and keeping yourself focused on the goal. To finish this race you need to find the balance between physical exhaustion and mental calmness to enjoy where you are with all the overwhelming factors added to it. During our night runs, the jungle comes to life and everything is flying or crawling at you, it either lands, hits, climbs, or bites you. Now add to this a slippery muddy trail... and all after running 30-40km. I started this race with my friends, but on the 4th and 5th days we split as there were cutoff times to beat. We totalled 53 participants of which I was among the only 19 participants who completed it within the specified cutoff times. My time was a total of 57 hours and 16 minutes.

In Pictures. Amin Maalouf at Jungle Run Ultramarathon

Photos. Amin Maalouf

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Supplied Crossing the Amazon

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Supplied Crossing the Amazon

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Supplied One-the-go snacks

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Supplied Amin amongst the foliage

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Supplied Amin amongst the foliage

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Supplied Hitting the trail

Q.

How did you mentally prepare for such an endurance race?

A.

You can't prepare 100% as you never know what to expect. During my training, I asked those who had done it and they all said that it's different than any race. Being great at running is only a tiny part. I started training in Asics FujiTrabuco terrain shoes, testing them in the UAE over rocky and sandy mountains. They are incredibly comfortable for a race with multiple terrains, and it’s crucial to get the right footwear or your race can be over thanks to blisters and sore feet. Mentally, I wasn't sure how to prepare for the race, so I decided to treat it like every other challenge in life. I broke it into multiple sections and used meditation and visualisation to prepare my mind. Meditation helped set me free from the worries and to focus on my goals. Visualisation trained my mind to imagine myself in that environment and visualise the issues I would encounter and how to handle them. I made a decision to think big. I taught myself to believe that I was capable of doing it. Physically, I practiced new training techniques to really push my limits physically. For example, I did long training sessions without eating, which pushed my body to the limits of fueling and helped me understand where my fitness stood and what I needed to do to optimise it.

Q.

What was the weirdest thing that happened during the race?

A.

On the last day of the race, as I reached my final 15km before the finish line, I was running in the night through dense mountain trail and I suddenly saw the race director and a few other race marshals had joined the course – which was strange. At first, I didn’t say anything because after running 17 hours that day, I couldn’t be bothered. After a few minutes I asked what the issue was, when they told me that the team before us reported seeing an anaconda snake on the same trail we were crossing, so they came to check on us for safety reasons. On a normal day, this would be shocking and terrifying. But by that point I laughed. I didn't care at all, I just continued running/fast walking, as my legs were quite messed up. My mind was so zoned out from the issues around me due to extreme pain in my ankles, that the snake issue didn’t bother me. After finishing the race I remembered this incident and it made me think about the state of mind I was in.

Supplied Meeting the locals

Q.

What will be your lasting memory of the Amazon race?

A.

The last day of the race gave me three main learnings for life:

A Support System
Having injured both my ankles and pushing through pain against the cut-off time, my friend Moustapha helped me. He ran with me and helped me to ignore the pain so we made the cut-off time. Looking back at that moment, I understand the true power of a support system. Without him it would have been extremely challenging. This is one of the great features of being an Asics FrontRunner today, being part of a community that supports your goals and empowers to be a better person and athlete.

The Power of Mind
The fact that I managed to run through such high levels of pain by the sheer power of mind was incredible. It transformed my outlook because I experienced it myself.

Emotions have a powerful effect on our body and therefore our performance:

If you're nervous, this reflects in your cadence and the impact of your feet landing on the ground. Overcoming nerves requires more brainwork which in essence results in higher risk of fatigue and injury. When we calm down and focus, this helps us feel relaxed and more driven to achieve the required results. That’s why Asics founding philosophy is true, in a Sound Mind, Sound Body – they are interconnected to unmatched levels.

END OF INTERVIEW

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