Saturday, 15 September 2012

Chasing my 3 hour dream - Fitness in Dubai and the 2012 ING New York Marathon

I’ve always loved running, not as much as I love football, but I love it all the same. Like football, I’ve never really been any good. I thought I was good at both when I was 10 years old, but since there was only 11 other kids in my class at my age, compared to them I was. Moving to comprehensive with 250 kids my age put me right in my place. I was OK; that was it. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, and I stopped trying to be good at football or running. I turned into a short, fat teenager supplementing my daily diet with at least two bars of chocolate and maybe a quarter pound of sweets.
At 17, in an attempt to shift a bit of weight I started to jog. That was 1995, and even back then the Great North Run was a massive event not only in my region, but was one of the biggest half marathons in the world, so I decided to run it later that year. On Sunday 17th September 1995 I completed the Great North Run in 1h 57m and placed 9,991st.
I swore I’d run the Great North Run every year until I died. (I haven’t run it since 2004.) Each year my time improved, 1h 49m in 1997, 1h 39m in 2000, and 1h 27m in 2002 (despite all the Guinness at university!). As much as I loved the event, my running holy grail has always been to run a marathon in less than 3 hours. As an impressionable youngster I was told, “You’re only a runner if you’ve run a marathon in less than 3 hours. Until then you’re just a jogger.” Total bullshit in my opinion, but it’s still always been my ultimate fitness ambition. (Since my dream to play football for Sunderland died in 1990.) Just thinking about running 26 miles 365 yards (or 42.195km) in less than 180 minutes scares me. That’s running at over 14kph or over 8.7mph for 3 hours solid. It’s madness!
I did attempt the London marathon in 2002. I was running pretty well at the time since I’d joined a running club and was doing the odd cross country race. However, it was just after 2h 30m at mile 18 in that race that I realised just what the marathon is all about. I’d been on target for around 3h 20m, but I got cramp everywhere, the last 8.2 miles were sheer agony. My pace dropped to 10 minutes per mile and I finished in 3h 48m. Never again I swore.
On a Tuesday night two years later, I was enjoying a curry and a few beers with friends when I got a phone call, “Paul, I’ve got a friend who’s injured and can’t do the London marathon on Sunday. Do you want his race number?”. “Err, OK,” I tentatively replied. Pint down, I sobered up pretty quickly.
Without the burden of months of marathon training I didn’t have high expectations, so I just tried to go out there and enjoy it. And I did, it was a great race. I loved it, even though the heavens opened after 13 miles and my feet had blisters on top of blisters. I finished in 3 hours 31 minutes. I’m looking at my 10k split times from the race now as I write this and I’m very pleased with the consistency, 48m 03s, 48m 27s, 50m 59s and 51m 30s. That’s 12.5kph dropping to 11.7kph. Never again I swore.
Fast forward to New Year’s Day 2012. Maybe it was the hangover, or an early mid-life crisis, but I thought about what I’ve always wanted to do and the 3 hour marathon was staring back at me. So, if I was going to try one last time to run a 3 hour marathon where would I want to run it? Easy, New York baby! And what do you know; the application process for the 2012 ING New York Marathon opened the following day. It’s like they prey on New Year’s resolutions. I submitted my application but knowing how difficult these big races are to get into so I didn’t think I had much chance, if I was a betting man I’d say the odds were maybe 8-1.
On Thursday 26th April I received an email, “Congratulations, you’re in!” Holy shit, I’m in. My wife didn’t know what to make of it either, “what do you mean, you’re in?” My head started swimming at the prospect of it, here it was, something I’ve always dreamed of doing. A huge opportunity to fulfil an ambition I’ve held for so long. Logistics, flights, hotels, the costs, charities, training schedules, booking time off work, running all that way. It took me more than a few days to make sense of it all.
And then it started. The training. But more than that, it’s the constant thinking about it. It never really leaves my mind, I’m always thinking about it. Every meal, every drink, every training session it’s there looming ahead in the future, each day a day closer to happening. I guess everyone who’s entered a race or event they’ve always wanted to do feels the same. It reminds me of an exam, just much more enjoyable.
For me the hardest thing about training for a marathon is all of the questions, each one like a science project that has to be experimented with and solved. Let’s start with kit from the bottom up;
  • Are these shoes too old or too new?
  • Are they tied tight enough or too tight?
  • Thin socks, thick socks, two pairs of sock or no socks?
  • Vaseline on my feet or not? (Really I’ll try anything to avoid blisters, but the real bastard about blisters is what works one week might not necessarily work the next week.)
  • Shorts, how short? Or leggings? Do you wear underwear under shorts? 
  • Hydration belt or not? If so what to take, keys, money (I usually keep emergency cash under the inner sole of my left shoe), energy gels, tissues, Vaseline?
  • Long sleeved or short sleeved top? One layer or two? How to cope with joggers nipple, shave and use plasters, Vaseline or a compression layer?
  • Will it be cold enough for hat or gloves (not a consideration here in Dubai!)?
  • Music or not? If so what earphones, and how can I make sure they won’t fall out when I sweat?
  • Visor, sunglasses, sweatbands? How can I keep my hair out of my face? 
  • Can I actually face going out in public wearing this much Lycra?
And all that is just kit. Then there’s this lot to fret over;
  • What should I have for breakfast and at what time?
  • Where can I get supplies on route, and at which stage do I want to take on these supplies? 
  • What’s the weather forecast?
Anyone who has trained for a long distance event will tell you that the backbone of their training was a long run ideally once a week. This is easy running at a pace slower than what you want to run the race you’re training for (between 30-90 seconds per mile slower). These runs increase your endurance and train your body to use fat as a fuel. This is essential for the marathon, since the amount of carb your body can store isn’t great enough to sustain that much continued running.
Since May, these long runs have been my stable diet of running. And let me tell you, just because you’re running slower, these are not easy. After running for more than an hour there’s a load of mental and logistical challenges you need to learn to deal with. For anyone who has visited Dubai between May and September, you’ll know that the conditions are far from ideal! The temperature doesn’t really drop below 30c, and that includes the middle of the night. Initially I tried to do all my running outside, and I did some great runs around, JLT, the Springs, Meadows and Marina, but with my sleep cycle I found it very difficult to be able to get up early enough to avoid being caught in the midday sun. Soon I was seeking out an alternative and the treadmill became the best option. I’m no huge fan of the treadmill, but I’ve learned to deal with it as best I can.
My wife’s iPad certainly helps; I rent a couple of movies in advance and hope they’ll help me through it. Watching Forrest Gump was a highlight, watching Alan Partridge got scary when I couldn’t stop giggling and thought I’d fall off the machine. There have been some poor ones too (Goal 2, American Psycho…). Like any runner, some days for whatever reason, you just can’t perform like you want to. Its best not to over think these ones, let it go and look forward to the next run.
Last week my nerves really started kicking in. I’d had a poor run and I started downsizing my dreams, but then I thought about it and questioned why? I’ve committed so much to this, my wife has been so supportive, I’ve already raised much more money than I thought I would, and I know all my friends are family are right behind me. I want to give this my best. Like a student preparing a revision timetable I assessed all the time I have until the race. I researched marathon training schedules online, and I’ve settled on one by Hal Higdon which I really like and he’s the authority for marathon schedules. (See the plan in full here: Once I’d fixed on my plan I was totally invigorated. I entered each session into my calendar and started looking forward to each and every session. This past week I’ve followed my plan to the letter and I’m loving it. There’s times when I feel great and I want to run further or faster, but I trust the plan and I’m sticking to it. I think knowing I can further or faster makes me look forward to my next session even more.
I’m raising money for Motor Neuron Disease and Parkinson’s, two charities very close to my heart. Often during my long run I think about how lucky I am to be fit and healthy and move well and to be able to chase my dream. I think about my Aunty Maureen and my Granddad and how they suffered. And I think about how so many other people are suffering right now, not only those with the disease, but their loved ones too as they all battle the best they can with these incurable diseases. They need help, and I’d like to say everyone who supports me in every way I’m very humbled and grateful.
So that’s where I’m at. I’ve got a 10 miler to run today and 20 miles tomorrow (with Gandhi to watch on the iPad) and I can’t wait to get started. I’ve got 49 days until race day; I can’t wait to get there.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Fitness First out to find the Fittest in Dubai with top prizes of AED 50,000!

Fitness First have announced their competition to find the fittest man and woman in Dubai, and with a cash prize of AED 50,000 (£8,700) I’m sure there will be lots of interest! The cash prize isn’t only for the winner, the top 15 men and women will each get a cash prize or at least AED 3,000 (£522).

The competition is open to members and non-members of Fitness First. Registration starts from 1st July in all UAE clubs. Qualifying starts from the first day of Ramadan for only two weeks (TBC but probably Friday 20th July to Friday 3rd August) in the following Fitness First clubs; Uptown Mirdiff (ladies only), Deira City Centre, Meadows and Mirdif City Centre. Registration is AED 100 (£17). The qualifying circuit is a mix of rowing, running, push ups, squats, sit ups and dumbbell jerks, see the picture to the right. Attempts of the circuit will be timed and judged by a Fitness First representative according to standards of movement (see link to video below).

The fastest 15 males and 15 females in the qualifying circuit will qualify for a final round that is scheduled to be held at the Mirdif City Centre mall. The Women’s final will take place on Thursday 9th August while the Men’s final will be held on Friday 10th August.

For more details like Fitness First Middle East on facebook here:

Standards of movement will be posted on a video here:

Good luck!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Fitness in Dubai's news update - May 2012

It’s only a couple of weeks since I was writing about so many new gyms and events going on in Dubai, yet now there’s even more! Even with temperatures soaring past 40 degrees, nothing can slow down the rate of expansion being witnessed by the fitness industry in Dubai.

JBR Hilton Tower Race, 18th May 2012
The Hilton Tower Race, in JBR is on Friday 18th May from 8am. Take on 35 floors, 925 stairs and 120 runners all to raise money for underprivileged children to get an education. All proceeds will go to Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian & Charity Foundation. For details go to:

Nike Running Club in JBR
Nike have been providing a free running club for a while with sessions in Dubai Festival City and Downtown on Tuesday and Friday nights respectively, but now they’ve added a Saturday morning session in JBR too. The fun starts at 7am, meeting at Al Fattan Towers (outside Frankie’s restaurant). Join their Facebook group for more:

Ignite Aquathlon, 11th May 2011
What’s set to be a great event is taking place on Friday 11th May at The Shack, Kite Surfer’s Beach, Umm Suqeim. There’s a race for juniors (200m swim and 800m run) at 6am and adults (400m swim and 2km run) at 7am. Register at:

InnerFight’s "Become Superhuman" seminar with Ben Greenfield, 11th & 12th May
The author of one of my favourite fitness blogs, Ben Greenfield ( is coming to the Evolve Gym in Dubai to deliver a two day seminar entitled "Become Superhuman". It’s an interactive fitness, nutrition and lifestyle workshop discussing the seven crucial modules necessary for developing a superhuman body and mind: performance, fat loss, recovery, digestion, brain, sleep and hormonal balance. Participants in the "Become Superhuman" workshop will be given all the systems and components necessary to maximize physical performance, body appearance and mental function. For more details contact:

SHP Dubai have opened their gym in Swiss Tower, JLT
This gym focus on 1-to-1 sessions and small (4 or less) group sessions, and aim to offer a holistic approach that evaluates and addresses the key aspects of your health and performance. Their aim is to take care of all of your needs so that you can turn up and give it your best. No excuses. One of their membership packages even includes personal gym kit and a laundry service! I’ve always been jealous of footballers who turn up at training and have all their kit prepared and laid out for them, now you can enjoy that too! For more details go to: or email

Stay healthy!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Dubai’s fitness explosion! Dubai fitness news update!

It seems to me that Dubai has an insatiable appetite for everything to do with fitness right now. New events, new gyms and group exercise classes are popping up everywhere. Maybe it’s all of the Friday brunches that guilt-trip everyone into making amends the other six days of the week. Who knows? Who cares! I think it’s fantastic! All of these new events, gyms and classes mean that there’s surely something close to you in Dubai, no matter where you live. No more excuses of not being bothered to get to the other end of town!

New events

This last month has seen the Open for the Reebok 2012 CrossFit Games ( take place. For the past five weeks athletes from all over the UAE have been making their way to the CrossFit affiliates in Dubai (Reebok CrossFit LifeSpark and The Burn Room to test themselves against the very best in the world and see how they fare. Though it’s too late to enter there’s nothing stopping you trying out these WODs to see how you stack up against over 60,000 other athletes of all ages and abilities.

On Friday 6th – Saturday 7th April 2012, Dubai Marina-based gym Core Direction ( are hosting their inaugural Corefit Games at the Dubai International Marine Club. The heats take place on Friday 6th, followed by semis and finals the following day. Entry is AED 100 per person, and the prizes include flights and four nights’ accommodation in Thailand for two! Great prize! One sure to bring out the best in the region!

Reebok CrossFit LifeSpark (who are soon to move their box to JLT) are hosting a CrossFit Gymnastics certification course on Friday 20th – Saturday 21st April 2012. This is a gymnastics course open to everyone to develop your CrossFit-specific gymnastic skills. Sign up soon, this is sure to be very popular!

New gym

Fitness Zone JLT ( is a very comprehensive gym which also allows guests to pay-per-visit rather than signing up for a membership fee scheme.

Dubai-based blogs that are new to me: (though unless you speak Norwegian you’ll need to enable translator on Google)! – This site gives more information on a whole range of personal trainers in Dubai so you’ll be sure to find someone who suits your needs.

New group classes

The Circuit Factory ( have expanded out of Al Quoz and are now also running daily sessions from JBR (next to Barasti) and the Meadows.

Ignite Fitness ( have some Easter special offers for both of their locations, The Shack in Umm Suqeum and RIVA Beach Club on Palm Jumeriah.

Abu Dhabi

And this explosion isn’t just in Dubai, but it seems that Abu Dhabi is also catching on. Read this great article in The National for more details:

If you’re reading this in Abu Dhabi and looking for some CrossFit style training, look no further than Stop The Clock Fitness:!/pages/StopTheClock-Fitness/314785138564979

I hope this update encourages you all to get your trainers on and get involved. It’s happening now, don’t miss out!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Athlete’s Foot in UAE is now selling Vibram Five Fingers

The Athlete’s Foot in UAE is now selling Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs). They have stock in the following seven stores across the UAE; Ibn Battuta Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Mall, DFC, Arabian Centre, Sharjah Mega Mall, Mushrif Mall Abu Dhabi. The models and price available are listed below.  

Men’s models and prices: 
KSO – AED 569
KSO Trek – AED 799
Bikila – AED 669
KomodoSport – AED 699 (available in two colours)
TrekSport – AED 649

Women’s models and prices:
Classic Paillette – AED 549 (available in two colours)
Jaya LR – AED 649 (available in two colours)
Jaya – AED 549
KSO Trek – AED 799
Bikila – AED 649
Speed – AED 599
KomodoSport – AED 699
TrekSport – AED 649

Kid’s model and price:
KSO – AED 349 (available in various colours)

This is just the start for The Athlete’s Foot and Vibram. They’re expecting an order of 8,000 pairs of VFFs in the first week of February 2012 which will include the full range from Vibram, not just those models listed above. They also plan to push stock of VFFs out to their other stores in the GCC, in Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.

For anyone reading in Lebanon, a full range of VFFs are already available from Aleysa in Kaslik Tower Building, Ground Floor, Jounieh. Call +961 9 636 852 for more information. Tell them I sent you.