Pioneering runner Fatema Hussain recently became the first Bahraini woman to qualify and run the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), a grueling race considered the pinnacle of ultra-trailing in the world.
The 30-year-old saw ‘all seasons’ in less than a day as she covered the 101 kilometer Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix (CCC) course with over 6,100 meters of elevation gain in 22 hours and 24 minutes.
“I’ve been running since 2013, but started training longer distances less than four years ago,” the endurance athlete, who also works as a senior process engineer at Bapco, told GulfWeekly.
“Ultra-trail is a completely different sport from road running. With these courses, elevation gain is a very important metric because it tells you how steep you can expect it to be, as well as how long it will take to get up and down the terrain.
Trail running combines running and, where there are steep hills, hiking. It usually takes place on any unpaved surface and usually takes place on hiking trails, often in mountainous terrain, where there can be much steeper ascents and descents.
The UTMB started in Courmayeur in Italy, went through Champex-Lac in Switzerland and ended in Chamonix in France, all around Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe.
To qualify for this race, Hussain completed other ultra-trail races around the world in Italy, Oman, USA, Turkey and Spain.
His first-ever ultra-marathon, which is over 42 km each, was held at Bear Mountain in New York State, USA.
She also completed the Salomon Cappadocia Ultra-Trail – a 120km race, with over 3,700m of elevation gain in Turkey – where she was ranked the sixth fastest woman among an international peloton of runners.
Just four days later, she cycled 300 km in one day in Bahrain with her cycling team, the Cyclones.
The UTMB, characterized by courses at altitude and difficult weather conditions, requires very good training, suitable equipment and a real capacity for personal autonomy.
“We have to carry gear to help us deal with any situation we come across – and my bag added about 5.5kg of weight,” Hussain explained.
“This included extra layers of clothing in case of colder weather, a waterproof jacket, extra trousers, waterproof gloves, 1.5 liters of water, a few headlamps and batteries, and a first aid kit. .
“I also carried food, including dates, date bars and plenty of carbohydrate and electrolyte supplies.”
Training for these races is no small feat, especially in Bahrain, where there are few hills to climb. Hussain has a holistic training program that involves finding the highest hill in Sakhir and repeatedly walking up and down it.
Along with this, his gym work includes running on the treadmill with the maximum incline, as well as cycling.
“The hardest part of these races is the practice beforehand and knowing exactly what to expect,” she surmised.
“With the UTMB, the first climb was the steepest. Even though 2,200 people started the race together, at the 70km mark there were more and more fights where I was running alone.
“At 30km my ankle started hurting so I had to adjust my gait accordingly and at 60km my stomach couldn’t take solid food which forced me to pass to electrolyte drinks.”
Along with her endurance training and racing, Hussain is also part of the first group of the women’s national cycling team, which was formed in February this year.
For now, she is resting her legs, but intends to find and run longer, more challenging marathons. A small community of trail runners called the Bahrain Ultra Trail Runners (BUTR) have also trained with Husain, and with enough practice they aim to make off-road running as smooth as butter.