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Classic challenge.

Runners from across the region will be putting their minds, bodies and will to succeed to the test on Friday as they compete in Bahrain's demanding Cross Island Classic race taking in the toughest desert terrain.

It is not for the faint-hearted. The event attracts the region's competitive athletic enthusiasts who crave a taste of adventure.

They will be running for 17km through uneven sandy terrain, uphill and downhill, from 2pm.

The rough route, which top athletes look to finish in around an hour-and-a-half, starts on the east side of the island from Durrat Al Bahrain highway and ends at the Bahrain Sailing Club on the west side.

The 29-year-old annual race organised by the Bahrain Road Runners (BRR) attracts around 100 men and women.

Former BRR chairman and real estate agency owner, Mustafa Fulad, 59, from Tubli, has taken part in the gruelling event more than 25 times. He said: "Since my childhood I have always loved playing sports including football, volleyball, swimming and cycling.

"At the age of 22, I started running and in 1980 I took it seriously. In 1981 I became a member of the Hash House Harriers, now known as BRR. In those days the total membership was around 400 made up mostly of expatriates, with only about 16 Bahrainis.

"The first Cross Island challenge was held in 1983 from the east coast of Bahrain near Jaw village, across the desert to the west coast, finishing at Bapco beach and later it changed to Bahrain Sailing Club.

"This race is the toughest in Bahrain because you have to run in the desert and face a lot of obstacles, such as jumping over gas pipes or crawling under them, running on loose stones or soft sand, uphill and downhill, falling down and getting the occasional bruise or injury if you are not careful.

"Also, you might end up losing your way to the finish line! But people do it over and over again because they like it. It's more a challenge against yourself rather than others and, of course, many people like to be competitive. Running is a healthy sport, makes you physically fit and gives you the opportunity to mix with people of different nationalities and cultures.

"This event in particular is surrounded by a friendly atmosphere that takes away all the hatred in this complicated world because it brings you closer to peace within yourself and it's also a social gathering.

"At the end of the race all the participants gather to talk about the ordeal! We relax on the grass and join together for tea, coffee and snacks."

The race is sponsored by Seef Properties and there are water breaks at approximately every 4km with marshals also offering bananas and chocolate bars for those needing an energy boost. Flags are set at 2km intervals which are bright and visible from a distance to help guide exhausted runners along the trail. Marshals will also be on standby spread along the route to help any participant in need of assistance.

Friends and participants Karla Solano, 30, Viva public relations consultant, from Seef, and Nada Jamsheer, 27, a banker, from Umm Al Hassam, leaned on each other for support in last year's challenge.

Karla said: "I have done many races and triathlons, but running 17km across Bahrain's desert is one of the most challenging.

"I did the race with my friend Nada who had a knee injury at the time. She didn't want to miss the opportunity as we had been training for months in the lead up to the race. Everything was fine when we started but 6km in, Nada's knee started flaring up and somehow the rocky terrain affected my right foot and we were both in a lot of pain.

"You just can't stop and give up though as there's no way back! You are in the middle of the desert so you must finish it off. We both supported each other along the next 11km. She pushed me when I was feeling great pain and I supported her as well.

"We finished together and suddenly we realised we weren't competing against each other, but instead we were friends supporting each other. It didn't matter who was fastest -- all we wanted was to finish what we both had started."

Karla continued: "Since then we have done many races together including one in Jordan and we are now preparing for a marathon in Dubai in January. What we experienced in the Cross Island was the start of a long-lasting friendship between a Bahraini and a Mexican.

"That's what the Cross Island teaches you -- when life gets very challenging, there's no way back. You must push through and support your friends to overcome obstacles along the way." BRR advises runners to stay hydrated, wear protective sun block even if it is cloudy and to take it easy on the uphills as well as on the downhills.

Karla added: "While they do have stops, we also carry our own water supply. There are a few marshals but because you are in the middle of nowhere you have to make sure you have your own provisions. It is really hard core.

"Members of the American Navy base sometimes use Cross Island as a training exercise. They run 17km with 35kg backpacks and finish perhaps an hour after we do but they consider it as one of the best training events of the year.

"This race attracts people from all over the region because none of the other races are as challenging or staged in such conditions."

The victory ceremony will feature cash prizes for the top three in the Men's Open category and top three in the Ladies Open category. Refreshments including dates, chickpeas, tea and coffee will be served at the finish line.

For more information email or visit You can also follow them on twitter @bahrainrunners or the Bahrain Road Runners Facebook page.

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Dec 12, 2012
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