ABU DHABI // More than 7,000 people descended on Al Ghazal Golf Club in Abu Dhabi to take part in the gruelling Spartan challenge or support friends and family in what is one of the toughest desert races of the year.
An estimated 3,000 competitors took on the course. Adult and children’s challenges included rope climbing, burpees, spear throwing, atlas carrying, a barbed wire crawl and a tyre drag.
Competitors pushed themselves to the limits of their strength and endurance as they jumped through fire and clambered over walls.
Families from Abu Dhabi were joined by competitors from around the GCC in the Spartan race – inspired by the feared warriors of Ancient Greece.
Saudi national Raed Ahmed, 31, travelled to take part in the event, the first time it has been held in the emirate.
“Last year I took part in Bahrain. On Thursday I landed here to take part again,” he said. “It’s a fun activity, and I am going to take part in the 5 kilometres-plus Sprint. This is not a normal, boring jog, and you can bring your family as there is always something for them to do.”
The Spartan races are organised in three categories: a 5-kilometre Sprint race with 20 obstacles; a 13km Super race with 25 obstacles, and a 20km course with 30 obstacles.
Children aged 4 to 15 can take on their friends in a 1.5km race, also with obstacles and challenges.
“This is first time we held this race in Abu Dhabi and the response has been overwhelming,” said Rayyan Agha, managing partner of Spartan. “Our plan is to hold this event in each emirate.
“There are lots of youngsters in Abu Dhabi, and we wanted to introduce them to Spartan. We had an amazing response from families and residents.”
The first Spartan race in the UAE took place in Dubai in 2015. In 2016, races were held in Dubai and Sharjah, where 10,000 people signed up.
“We are the world’s biggest obstacle-race organisers and we are in more than 30 countries,” Mr Agha said. “The race is more about promoting the sporting and athletic activities, and also to show sport is fun for youngsters. Ultimately, a person challenges their abilities.”
In the last two years, Spartan races have also taken place in Bahrain, Oman, Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
The many Emiratis who took part were keen to send a message to their children about the importance of using sport to stay fit and healthy.
“We want to set an example for kids for these kind of events,” said Mohammed Al Mazrouei, 42. “When they see us doing this, it inspires them to take up sporting activities, too. These events give us all a chance to socialise with people from different nationalities.”
Mr Al Mazrouei took part in the Spartan Super and was supported by several family members, including his 4-year-old son, Rashid.
French national Michael, 28, enjoyed competing, but admitted it was tough at times.
“It helps to be mentally and physically fit, but it’s a great event. I took part in Spartan Super.”
Total prize money topped Dh9,000 for individual race winners. Each male and female competitor finishing first took home Dh1,750, with second place collecting Dh750 and third Dh500.
Sergy Perelygin took first place in the Spartan Super race male category, with Goire Rezzonico second and Marco Castro third.
In the women’s event, Natalia Molodtsova, Angélique Chetaneau and Sandra Fuselier stood first, second and third respectively.
Abu Dhabi resident Dagmar Reich, a 48-year-old from Germany, attended with her daughter, Marie Florence, 16, and took on the Sprint.
“This was my first time Spartan race, I usually compete in traithlon events. We were very impressed with such a huge gathering.”