Countdown to ultra-trail challenge starts

Hundreds of runners are making their final preparations for the first Oman by Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) on November 29. The ultramarathon trail running, which will be inaugurated by Mohammed bin Salim al Toobi, Minister of Environment and Climate Affairs at Birkat Al Mawz near Nizwa, will see 450 runners from 56 countries competing in 37 km — 85 mile — mountain course crisscrossing deep wadis, ridges, ancient villages and desert in Jabal Akhdhar
When announced, Oman by UTMB proved so popular that event organiser Oman Sail expanded the entry limit to meet the demand. The field now includes runners aged from 21 to 70 years.
The inaugural event has attracted enormous international interest, including many high-profile members of the global ultra-trail racers.
Among the leading women runners are Swiss nurse Andrea Huser, a triathlete, mountain biker and the 2017 Ultra-Trail World Tour champion and Meredith Edwards from the US, 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, 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 125 km 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 42 km 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.
The event will also see 69 Omani runners including three women: Budor al Salhi, Nadhira al Harthi and Hamida al Jabri, who are also participating in the week-long Oman Desert Marathon.
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.
“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 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.