Arctic Triumph: UAE Ultramarathoner Conquers Coldest Race, Makes Arab History

Expert athlete Ahmed Husain Al Katheeri finished third in the Yukon edition, one of the most difficult races in the Arctic conditions, held in the final week of February, despite suffering from hallucinations, sleep deprivation, and temperatures as low as -43 degrees

Considered the “toughest, windiest and coldest ultra-foot race in the world,” the 120-mile 6633 Arctic Ultra has made history by making an Emirati ultramarathoner the first Arab to win first place.

Expert athlete Ahmed Husain Al Katheeri finished third in the Yukon edition, one of the most difficult races in the Arctic conditions, held in the final week of February, despite suffering from hallucinations, sleep deprivation, and temperatures as low as -43 degrees.

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The 46-year-old Abu Dhabi resident is no stranger to hardship; he has participated in up to 10 ultramarathons, covering over 250 kilometres over a variety of terrain and temperatures ranging from -53 to +45 degrees Celsius.

Al Katheeri became enamoured with the Arctic Ultra the moment he discovered the difficult and physically taxing competition. He was adamant about flying the UAE flag there even though he knew it wouldn’t be easy.

“I learned about this race from other competitors. Only elite competitors with a track record of success are eligible to compete in the 6633 Arctic Ultra, which is regarded as the hardest ultramarathon to finish, according to Al Katheeri.

Al Katheeri became eligible as one of the sixteen athletes as a result of his heroics in 2022 when he placed second in his age group at the “Cold Pole Oymyakon” in Serbia, the world’s coldest marathon. “The 42km race was held in -53 degrees,” he stated.

Arctic Ultra, a stretch of more than 190 kilometres, offered Al Katheeri a new frontier. His endurance was put to the strain during the lengthy trip. Together with his coach, Niall McCarthy, a plan of action was created last year to guarantee the intended outcomes.

”We worked our way back to my fitness level from the first training day by using a reverse engineering method to determine the degree of fitness we needed to have at the finish line in the 6633. I finished the US Grand to Grand Ultra Marathon in September because it was an excellent opportunity to push my mental limits and walk over sand, which sometimes resembles snow”.

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Al Katheeri performed a maximal treadmill workout known as Vo2 max testing. “I could see my calorie output at this specific heart rate and the heart rate I needed to maintain for the 6633.

In addition to physical health and mental fortitude, your body requires energy to function. Al Katheeri hiked for several hours in Al Wathba, fine-tuning his body and becoming accustomed to racing with his sledge.

“We used the StairMaster, box step-ups, lunges, and lower body strength exercises with some treadmills and an elliptical at the gym. To make sure I had the strength to pull the sledge, we worked on strengthening my upper body and core”.

He attended a training session in the Russian city of Ufa after becoming used to the surroundings. He attended a training session in the Russian city of Ufa after becoming used to the surroundings. “I worked out in -38 degrees.” It enabled me to adjust and test my equipment in preparation for the 6633.

Al Katheeri took three planes from Abu Dhabi to Toronto, Vancouver, and Whitehorse City, the capital of Yukon in northern Canada, before departing for his race last month.

“I was worn out from the lengthy flights. The two unscheduled nights in Vancouver were hectic. However, the trip was a huge eye-opener. I could never have dreamed it could be that gorgeous and chilly”. Al Katheeri recognised why the race was regarded as one of the hardest as soon as it began.

“It was beyond belief how cold it was. Everything seemed to freeze instantly. Pouring boiling water would turn into ice within seconds. The sheer thought of being surrounded by frozen surroundings was terrifying, knowing that one wrong move could be fatal,” he recalled.

Despite having a sleeping bag, finding a warm spot to rest during the nearly four-day race was impossible. Al Katheeri faced these challenges with resilience.

“I barely slept for 15 minutes over three days. The cold was unbearable, and it felt safer to keep moving forward. I experienced hallucinations, seeing people, objects, and animals that weren’t there, which was unsettling. But I had to constantly remind myself why I embarked on this journey.”

Al Katheeri isn’t just an ultra-marathoner; he’s also an ambassador for the Hayat Organ Donation Programme. “As an ultra-marathon runner, I’m driven to inspire the younger generation of Arab ultra-runners and raise awareness about organ donation and transplantation, serving as one of their ambassadors.

I always remind myself that I’m paving the way for Arabs to transform challenges into opportunities. Being the first Arab to conquer this incredibly tough race was motivating, especially when the extreme weather threatened my survival.”

Returning to Abu Dhabi earlier this month, Al Katheeri is still recuperating from the physical toll his body endured. “Even after two weeks, I’m still dealing with frostbite on my toes. But it was all worth it.”

 

This article was created using automation technology and was thoroughly edited and fact-checked by one of our editorial staff members

Tariq Saeed

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