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On the run: Dr Layaan al Kharusi shares the experiences gained en route the 50km race of Oman by UTMB

On the morning of the 50km race, if you looked around you, you would have seen a sea of runners and their families, all decked out in different colours, everyone wanting to take that next picture or selfie to highlight this moment in their life. You unexpectedly meet friends and celebrate in the excitement of what you are about to embark on, and the energy of the place is simply indescribable. That half hour, just before the race, was filled with so many excited smiles and hugs, that you felt yourself dipping into the magic of the day.

Who am I? I am just a regular Omani girl who works more than eight hours a day, a mother who has to feed her family on a daily basis, a daughter who manages to visit her parents twice a week, and I have a group of friends who don’t share my interest in running or hiking. So, the time I had to train for my first ever 50km Ultra race was the bare minimum.

My true joy

The 50km trail was definitely challenging and, in some parts, gruesome. But, it was not an impossible feat. As I walked and jogged that day amongst many others challenging themselves, something began to occur to me. I realised my true joy in life was not in finishing a race, but in meeting that young Palestinian from Gaza who was giving out mini chocolates to random strangers, in finding that kind, young girl who let go of the race to sit beside an injured person who was waiting for help.

My true joy was also in finding that middle-aged man who felt weighed down by the journey and in me extending my hand to him, saying “Come with me, you are not alone in this.” It was in meeting that British mother who was missing her children so much that she walked out of the race at 50km (2km short of finishing). It was in having the unlikeliest friend call you up and check where you were, and who came all the way back to the race to walk some of the journey with you.

There were so many lives that I touched that day and so many stories that I wish I could share. However, most of all, it was in finding a friend who took every step of the journey with me, celebrating the small wins and helping me push through the hard parts.

Christopher McCandless wrote in his journal just before dying in the wilderness of Alaska that he ‘Happiness is only real when shared’, and I agree because I got to share that day with my friend and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We crossed the finishing line together, neither of us trying to compete, but doing it together.

Gratitude is a powerful emotion

I remember a feeling as I watched the sunset at about 35km into the race. I remember feeling grateful to God that I was healthy and fit enough to be a part of this moment. From so many others the simple pleasure of walking is stolen either by birth or accidents.

Gratitude is a powerful emotion, and when you truly feel it, as I did at that moment, you feel humbled by life and the gifts within it. We cannot all be the great heroes of the day; we must realise there can be only one that we all aspire to be.

However, we can all be heroes in our little space of life, the hero for our parents, partners, children, friends and colleagues. I find Oman to be the most wonderful place to experience such a challenge.

A big Thank You’ shout out to the unnamed heroes of the UTMB – the event organising team, – the wonderful volunteers before the race checking our bags and handing out our bibs, volunteers at the checkpoints, the command centre, the photographers and the ‘search and rescue’ team. They all worked tirelessly to make the weekend the success it was. They went above what was asked of them, they volunteered their time to help strangers achieve their goals. In a world filled with strife, what a beautiful thing it was to see such goodness, selflessness and dedication. I am sure many of these volunteers would have loved to participate.

Searching for meaning

The next day, I ran the 10km, and found a young Omani girl injured and taking it slow. And because I was not in any hurry, I walked along with her. I found that she simply just loved being outdoors and hiking. As we talked, she mentioned that she was not there for any medal or recognition. She was happy to be there, and was still searching for her purpose in life. Aren’t we all? It is only where we go looking for it that varies. Some of us find it in the top of the peaks, others in the depths of the oceans.

Some of us search for it in the books of the past, while some of us may find it in the comfort of our homes.

Would I do the UTMB or other competitions like it again? Yes, I would, because I won something far more valuable than recognition. I discovered more of who I am and who I want to be. The famous mountaineer and writer Jon Krakauer in his book In To The Wild wrote, “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

I recommend everyone to join in these challenges, not because you are out to finish a race, or gain a medal/rank, but because the journey itself will surprise you in the most unexpected way, as it did to me.