Fitness warrior: I took the challenge and live to tell the tale

The Ice Warrior Challenge, an obstacle course in the indoor ski slopes in Mall of the Emirates

Sara Hamdan
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There was my husband, one of thousands crawling through muddy water beneath a net of rope while a military voice booms over loudspeakers to GO FASTER in the midday heat. There I was in the shade with a book sitting beside old people and moms with kids. I seem to be the only able-bodied person in Dubai not participating in The Desert Warrior Challenge and sitting on the sidelines sipping water instead. Is it really just me who thinks a 10 km obstacle course under the unforgiving sun is not a fun way to improve fitness levels or (let’s be honest) maintain a beach body?

Seriously, this is the standard these days. At dinner, friends regularly exchange tips for Iron Man competitions. At work, one of my colleagues uses a medicine ball instead of a chair at his desk to stay in shape for marathons, while a former colleague drops her husband off in the middle of the desert at 4 am so he can run home as a ‘workout’ before heading to work (workout? There are movies based on the agony of making it out of the desert alive in less time!).

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all black and white – that doesn’t mean all I do is sit on my couch scooping ice cream with potato chips every night. That’s a special occasion. I enjoy circuit training and, now that the weather is cooler, I love a good game of tennis, which I played competitively in my glory school days. But this challenge craze that has swept over our fair city is a bit much for me.

So I did what any inquisitive journalist would do. I decided to try it out for myself, for a “fun” column. Yes, fun for everyone. #fakesmile.


I had to choose my options carefully, so I spent time perusing to find the right course. I could go for the 18 obstacles spread over a 10 km course for the Men’s Health Urbanathlon, or maybe the Spinney’s 92 Cycling Challenge – that’s 92km of cycling and looking at Dubai’s landmarks through sweat and tears. Too easy? The Dubai International Triathlon is a joyful 90 km bike ride followed by a 2k swim and a 20 km run. But it takes place at Atlantis, The Palm and that’s pretty so it would feel like a holiday, right?

And then, I found it. The Ice Warrior Challenge, an obstacle course in the indoor ski slopes in Mall of the Emirates. This is actually very cool (pardon the pun) – where else in the world can I do a challenge in an indoor ski slope with the desert just outside? And let’s be honest - I’m not out to win this thing. All previous winners are Norwegian anyway, so it’s clear they have a genetic advantage. I’m not even out for a little competition, since there are people who clearly enjoy this more than I do (let’s do a rope climbing class this weekend to get ahead of the game, says sis-in-law. She bribes me with brownies). No, to me, this is a cultural experience.

The night before the event, I harked back to one of my favorite rituals from tennis days: carb loading. By the second plate of pasta, I’m wondering if I really am an idiot for not trying these challenges sooner. This marked one of hundreds of “idiot” moments to carry into the next day.

In the morning, bundled up in ski gear I bought years ago for a holiday, I was shivering with nerves. I was also asked to take off the jacket (it looks like a sleeping bag) because I would get too hot.

It started with a pep talk and a warm up run, but it all went downhill from there… well, actually, uphill in literal terms, since we were asked to run up the snowy slope. I can’t remember whether it was the part when I was eating snow while trying to crawl beneath a mesh of rope or when I was falling off monkey bars that I started to hallucinate that I was in a LOST episode set in Antarctica. And then, crossing the finish line, I had the strangest feeling… I felt good!

Later, with hot tea and hindsight, I figured this was for two reasons: 1) I had survived and 2) I felt a nice sense of accomplishment. I did it! Pat on the back! Ouch that hurts…

I’m glad I participated in a fun challenge and did not come out with one of my senses impaired. But if I’m looking for a tough workout or a thrill or a chance to feel like a kid again, I’ll stick to a tennis court. Now pass me some more pasta, I earned it.

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