‘AN ULTRAMARATHON IS A LOT LIKE LIFE’
▶ Dubai businessman Haysam Eid went from reluctant runner to elite racer in little over a year. He tells Sophie Prideaux how he did it
Only 12 months ago, Haysam Eid had never run a marathon. In fact, he had not done much running at all. The Dubai entrepreneur says he has always been sporty, as a competitive showjumper and keen CrossFitter, but running is not something that came naturally to him. “I never ran in school,” he says. “I was never the kid who was going to reach the finishing line first or anything like that.” But not only has Eid, 35, well and truly found his stride, but he also completed one of the toughest races in the world last month.
A little over a year into his running career, Eid took part in the Ultra X Jordan, a 250-kilometre competition through the Jordanian desert. The race, which is split across five days, passes through some of the world’s most extreme conditions, with temperatures reaching up to 40°C in the midday sun. Eid ran the Ultra X Jordan for charity JustWorld, which helps to transform the lives of children in impoverished communities by funding education and nutrition programmes.
So how does one go from novice to marathoner in such a short space of time? “I started running as a way to boost my fitness for CrossFit,” Eid says. “I went out a couple of times a week with my gym, InnerFight, and realised that I wasn’t as bad at running as I had remembered.”
One of Eid’s coaches at InnerFight is extreme athlete Marcus Smith, who ran 30 marathons in 30 days during last year’s Dubai Fitness Challenge. Eid was so inspired by this effort that he decided to join Smith for one of the races, getting his first taste of long-distance running. It was enough to push Eid to set himself a huge challenge of his own. With Smith’s help, Eid followed a gruelling training plan to help him prepare for his first ultramarathon, which he took on in early October. “The thing I was worried about was the training,” he says. “I thought I could cope with the race – it’s only five days. But I’m a husband and father, and I was worried about how the training would fit into my lifestyle and working schedule. But Marcus made it sound simple – only four runs a week. And I thought ‘OK, that is manageable.’”
And despite being a husband, father of two and founder and chief executive of the Eideal hair tool brand – and spending most of the summer travelling – he managed to never falter on his four weekly runs. As a result, not only did he complete the Ultra X Jordan, he came in seventh place. “I went into it with the mindset that I just wanted to finish. I told myself that, worst-case scenario, I could walk the whole thing. I was relaxed about it,” he says. “I could see some of the participants panicking a little bit, stressing. I was in a different zone, which probably helped me a little bit.”
On the first day, in which runners complete 40km, Eid experienced severe cramping after starting too fast, causing him to have to walk for sections of the course. But by the second day, he had found a comfortable and steady pace, and was astonished to find himself rapidly climbing the leader board.
“I’m a competitive person by nature,” he says. “I started off competing with myself – that was my only aim. But then, when I saw my chance to be on the leader board, it turned into a race for me. It got me going and I wanted to finish in a good place. Knowing that I was [in that position] for my first ultra, there was no way I was going to stop at any point – even during the last day that was physically very tough for me because I was already in so much pain. I pushed through because I wanted to improve my position – and I did.”
Eid also finished fourth in his age category, which enabled him to qualify for the 2021 Multi-Stage Ultra World Championships, a race between the best Ultra X runners in the world. It’s just as well, then, that Eid has caught the ultramarathon bug. “I went into it with the mindset that it was just going to be a one-off, because it takes up a lot of time and preparation, but now that I have done it, I feel like I want to do more. It’s a good opportunity to travel the world and see different destinations, connect with like-minded people. And it’s really a learning experience,” he says.
“In fact, an ultramarathon is a lot like life. It’s a long race. There will be many times when you feel on top of the world and there will be times when you want to give up, but a setback doesn’t mean you won’t make it to the finish line. It might not always be in sight, but it is always there.”
Ultra X Jordan takes runners along a tough but scenic route through the country’s desert
Haysam Eid takes part in his first ultramarathon