Pushing the limits

Endurance sports, involving intense physical output, often under extreme weather conditions, require fierce psychological commitment and extended periods of training. Vision looks at what lures participants to these kinds of activities

From Tough Mudder and Ultra-Triatholons to 24-Hour Mountain Bike Racing and Desert Warrior Challenges, endurance sports are not for the faint of heart. The physical demands associated with them require fierce psychological commitment as well as extended aerobic training that can consume hours on end of personal time. 

And it doesn’t stop there: the activities themselves, by nature, involve intense physical output exerted over extended periods of time and over long distances, frequently under extreme weather conditions. So what is it exactly that lures participants to these kinds of activities? The adrenaline? The fitness that’s reaped as a reward? The escapism?

According to 30-year-old Firas Masri, Chief Executive Officer and founder of The Sand Pit Dubai, the physical challenges are often analogous with the struggles faced by the participants in everyday life.

“It’s about letting go, turning inward and finding the strength to meet life’s daily challenges, overcome the obstacles and keep charging forward,” Masri, who ditched a corporate job to found the sports-endurance company, says. “And once you do cross the finish line, that sense of accomplishment and inner reward is truly gratifying.”

The Sand Pit, a ten kilometer obstacle course, is among similar endeavours in Dubai, including the Iron Man Challenge and the 7 Emirates Run that seek to transform daily stresses into challenges rather than threats by utilising fitness and stamina. To give you a sense of those challenges, obstacles at the Sand Pit include three meter high walls, a pool of ice, and crawling under barbed wire.

'Tough Mudder saved my life. It awakened a hunger in me and put a sparkle in my eye and for that I am truly grateful.'

Danielle Ryzer, A Touch Mudder participant who suffered from anxiety

The three core benefits of the event, according to Masri, are a sense of community along with both physical and mental health.

“Ultimately when you do achieve these goals you get that immense feeling of satisfaction, but there is something a lot deeper than just that. You begin learning more about what you are capable of,” he says. “Socrates said it best: ‘It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable,’” Masri explains.

Indeed, scientific studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between intense physical fitness training and improved mood and work ethic. Changes are even more considerable in individuals who have pre-existing mental health conditions, research has shown. This could, in part, explain the popularity of these sports: Tough Mudder has attracted two million participants to date, and on average 10 to 15 thousand athletes compete in each event.

sport endurance challenge physical limits body mind
Scientific studies have shown there is a positive correlation between intense physical fitness training and improved mood and work ethic

“Tough Mudder saved my life,” Danielle Ryzer, a participant who suffered from anxiety, says in a testimonial on the project’s website. “It awakened a hunger in me and put a sparkle in my eye and for that I am truly grateful.”

The demand for the subset of sport in Dubai, home to a desert climate and a vast expatriate community, is particularly high. The Sand Pit held its first event in April, and with a “modest” budget, it was able to attract 1,100 runners.

“While many saw this as an achievement, what mattered more to me and my partner, Danny Frangi, was the overall satisfaction our runners - who we call Pitizens - had with the event,” Masri says. “It can sometimes feel like another home where everyone has the same passions you do and they all work in one way or another to support each other.”