As the clock ticks down to the start of OMAN by UTMB® at 1930 on November 29, no fewer than 450 runners from 56 countries will be focused on the challenging 137km – 85 mile – mountain course that lies ahead.
Teams have been out running and checking the route in recent weeks to ensure that the breakthrough Middle East event delivers every element expected of the prestigious international UTMB® brand.
When announced, the pioneering OMAN by UTMB® proved so popular that event organiser Oman Sail expanded the entry limit to meet demand. The field now includes runners ranging in age from 21 to 70 years-old.
While 69 local Omani runners, including three female athletes Budor Al Salhi, Nadhira Al Harthi and Hamida Al Jabri, seized the opportunity to take part, the inaugural event has also attracted enormous international interest, including many high-profile members of the global ultra-trail community.
Among the leading female runners is Meredith Edwards from the USA, a professional athlete and UTMB® regular who has worked as a counsellor with disabled children.
Also likely to feature near the top of the women’s rankings is Samantha Chan, now one of the best known female runners in Hong Kong who was a schoolgirl track star and a flight attendant with the Cathay Pacific airline, and recently came third in the 2018 Gaoligong by UTMB® 125km race in China. She and Edwards are both event ambassadors for OMAN by UTMB®.
They are joined in the ambassador role by the 39 year-old Lithuanian star Gediminas Grinius. The 2016 Ultra Trail World Tour champion took up ultra-trail running to help him cope with the consequences of PTSD after military service in Iraq.
Grinius will face stiff competition in the men’s event, not least from extrovert Swiss athlete Diego ‘Zpeedy’ Pazos who exchanged football for ultra-trail running. While known for his bow tie and flamboyant moustache, Pazos also has a string of race wins, including the Mont Blanc Marathon, to his credit.
Another high-profile entrant sure to be in the mix at the Al Hamra finish is Jason Schlarb, the top American finisher in the 2014 UTMB® Mont Blanc.
“Everyone involved with preparing the OMAN by UTMB® course knows what an exciting challenge it is going to be for the athletes involved,” said Salma Al Hashmi, Chief Marketing Officer at event organiser, Oman Sail.
“Everything is now in place to deliver a great event for both those taking part and the whole of Oman. The excitement is growing and we cannot wait for the start.”
Described by UTMB® Mont-Blanc Race Director Michel Poletti as “a must-do event”, OMAN by UTMB® has been carefully designed to produce a challenging course that will immerse the runners in the natural beauty of Oman’s dramatic interior.
At its heart is the 2,200m high Jebel Akhdar, the Green Mountain, along with deep wadis, ridges, ancient villages and desert landscapes in a unique Arabian environment.
The involvement of local communities along the course and the creation of a long-term legacy has been a key objective from the start. Oman Sail worked with local groups to plan and improve the route, sections of which are based on traditional village to village paths.
OMAN by UTMB® starts at Birkat Al Mawz, near Nizwa, at 1930 on Thursday, 29 November.