Hamdan al Khatri and Hamed al Harthi, Oman’s two best trail runners, will soon be taking their place on the start line in Chamonix, France, for the 2021 UTMB Mont Blanc 170km trail running race. Having been forced to postpone last year’s attempt, Hamdan and Hamed are determined to make the most of the opportunity when the race kicks off on 27 August.
UTMB is described as ‘a mythical race, a unique experience’, and it is one of the most prestigious trail-running events on the circuit. Starting around the foothills of Mont-Blanc, the 170km race course will take the athletes up to 10,000 metres where each participant must rely on their strength and push their mental and physical capabilities to the limit. The event attracts up to 10,000 runners each year and is considered an essential event for trail-runners around the world.
31-year-old Hamdan and 62-year-old Hamed have dedicated the past few years to running, both competing in the inaugural OMAN by UTMB in 2018 and completing a variety of ultra-marathons around the world. Hamdan has raced at UTMB Mont Blanc before, in 2019, when he was the first and only Omani in the CCC 100km race. Hamed competed in the OMAN by UTMB, in 2019, as well as Ushuaia by UTMB in Argentina the same year. His crowning glory, however, was reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year.
Return to action
Speaking from his training camp in Chamonix, Hamdan said, “This return to action could not present a bigger challenge. Having to cancel my race plans last year and train under pandemic circumstances has not been easy but I am determined to give this race my all. Given the stature of the UTMB Mont Blanc race, it is definitely the biggest challenge in my running career to date.”
Hamed agreed and is looking forward to the test. He said, “We know this is a difficult race, but we have prepared as best we can and will be supporting each other. I love this sport and I am looking forward to proudly waving the Omani flag at the finish line.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sultanate of Oman had become known as one of the world’s best emerging sports and adventure destinations, with ultra-trail marathons in particular becoming incredibly popular. The rugged landscape and well-designed routes, which follow traditional trails between villages in the mountains, had been largely undiscovered by marathon runners but proved popular in 2018 and 2019 with the international athletes competing at OMAN by UTMB and have remained open for locals to use in between events.
Hamdan, Hamed, and other talented Omani runners have caught the attention of the national and international media with their achievements. After the conclusion of UTMB Mont Blanc, the pair are hoping to support an Omani team to take part in Thailand by UTMB in October. The training is intense and requires supreme dedication and concentration, but Oman’s trail running runners have become the symbol of perseverance and strength. Their mission to explore and conquer nature has been an inspiration to others looking to test themselves, push past their self-imposed limits and discover the great outdoors.