Q&A with Sean Burgess

Next week, on 23 February 2021, Sean Burgess will set off on his journey running through the seven emirates in seven consecutive days. 650km from the Saudi border to Fujairah. Thus, he will attempt the Guinness world record for the fastest crossing of the UAE by foot.

During his 7 Emirates Challenge, Sean will use the Secret Training products and follow nutritional advice from the Sported Team. During the preparation, he also tested running wear and accessories such as the Naked Running vest, the Runderwear anti-chafing underwear, the BV Sport compression gear and the Kitbrix bags.

As he puts the final touches on his preparation, we asked Sean a few questions about the logistics of the 7 Emirates Challenge, his state of mind so close to the start and his ambitions:

Tim Lawson’s advice for Sean’s nutrition

1. How are you feeling just a week before the start of your Challenge?

I’m ready to get going now and just want to be on the start line. I’m fortunate to have a great support team who are taking some pressure off, but there are still lots of things that need to be sorted. This logistical organisation is all part of the challenge and focusing on these issues is at least taking my mind off of the physical and mental challenge I’m about to undertake, which is a good thing.

2. How did you come to the idea to do this project and what is driving you?

Every year for the last few years, I’ve taken on a big endurance challenge and last year I’d been signed up for the Marathon des Sables. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, this race was postponed (I’m now signed up for 2022’s race) and so I was left trying to find a challenge that was relatively Covid-proof.

Post lockdown and coming into the UAE summer, I started doing some big days running and walking around the UAE. As the distances got longer, I started thinking about a big challenge here in the UAE. Naturally this led to a Google search and eventually to the Guinness World Record to cross the UAE by foot.

Originally the motivation was to challenge myself both physically and mentally, however this challenge has now become about so much more than that, including the charity fundraising and also inspiring other people to take on their own epic challenge.

3. How did you prepare for it physically and mentally?

I don’t think anything can fully prepare anyone to run/walk 100km+ a day for a week, but my coach Rob Jones has done a great job of toughening me up over the last few months.

This has been through a variety of running sessions each week, strength & conditioning workouts, plus doing some big challenges at the weekends. These challenges include 24-hours non-stop and the Goggins Challenge, with each one designed to break something about my strategy so I can make the mistakes before the challenge rather than during it.

4. Which were the biggest challenges in your preparation?

Physically and mentally I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be, and financially I’m grateful to have a number of sponsors to take the pressure off.

Logistically, traveling 650km along the main highways of the UAE and through 7 different Emirates presents hurdles with getting the right permissions and permits, then add into the mix the uncertainty around Covid restrictions and this really has been the part of the challenge that’s been the toughest, simply because so much is out of our control.

5. How are you going to do this project logistically? Is anyone following you or will you carry everything you need?

I’ll be carrying only the essentials when I’m on the move, with a support team close by at all times. Luckily, the Guinness World Record doesn’t distinguish between supported and unsupported attempts, so the aim is to travel as light as possible and restock regularly from the support team.

In my Naked Running Vest I’ll be carrying hydration & nutrition for 1-2 hours, mobile phone and my back-up GPS tracker (my primary GPS tracker is my Garmin watch).

We aim to establish camps every 50-60kms along the road where the support convoy can park and I’ll use these bases to take my 3-4 hour rests.

6. Give us a few numbers about your Challenge:

  • Running/Walking for 18-20 hours a day
    • Sleeping for 4 hours a day
    • 100km+ distance to cover each day
    • 420km just to cross Abu Dhabi, then only 230km for the other 6 Emirates
    • Pack weight approximately 4kg
    • 7,000 calories burned each day (based on previous 100km days)
    • 3,500-4,000 calories in each day (based on nutrition strategy)
    • USD 10,000 fundraising target ($3,900 raised so far)

Lastly, the fun one I worked out the other day is that when I’m walking, I can cover 10,000 steps every 8km. So, based on this, I should take around 825,000 steps during the challenge – I wonder if that’s a record too!

7. We believe in you and are convinced that you can cross the emirates in 7 days and set the Guinness World Record. But what if things get more difficult than expected? What are your strategies for coping when things get really tough?

Over the last few months I’ve had failures at a number of the big challenges coach Rob has set for me. Whether it was getting sunstroke and severe dehydration on my first 100km back in September, or serious stomach issues on my 24-hour event that wiped me out for several hours, before I then ran another 75km. What I’ve learned is that these ultra-events never go perfectly so getting used to the ups and downs is all part of it, plus nothing that happens is critical – only giving up and going home is final!

With these experiences I know that things are going to go wrong, and not just the usual ones like heat, exhaustion, blisters, stomach issues, etc, but things that I’d never even considered. Knowing this takes the surprise element away and when they happen, I just adapt and carry on. In the end, I have no doubt in my head that I’ll reach Fujairah. If I can’t run then I’ll walk and if I can’t walk then I’ll crawl!

8. There will certainly be ups and downs during the whole challenge. What are you most looking forward to?

I know it sounds strange but I’m really looking forward to finding my breaking point. I want to reach the point where I’ve still got hundreds of kms and days of pain to go, my mind is telling me that I can’t finish, that I want to quit, that I want to go home and rest, which gives me the opportunity to ask myself: am I the type of person that quits? Or am I the type of person that has the mental strength and grit to continue?

Honestly, whilst I hope I know the answer, I won’t be sure until I’m in that position and I’m very excited to be there!

9. One of your motivations for this challenge is to raise funds for the charity Soft Power Education, whose mission is to improve the quality of life of Ugandan children. Why them? Did you visit them in Uganda or are you planning to?

Soft Power Education is a wonderful charity that helps children and communities in some of Uganda’s poorest areas. The main reason I’m involved with the charity is that they have a program that supports children with special needs. These children would otherwise be ostracized from society, but Soft Power help them to lead fulfilling lives and become a part of their community. I feel it’s my duty as someone who has been fortunate enough to be dealt a pretty good hand in life to support those that have been dealt a more difficult hand.

When the challenge is over, I’m planning for my wife and I to travel over to Uganda to see the charity’s work on the ground and hopefully handover a big cheque at the same time.

10. Are you already thinking of which challenge you are going to take on after this one?

Absolutely! There are already some events in the diary like Marathon des Sables 2022 and I’ve planned a few others like climbing Mont Blanc, Eiger and Matterhorn this summer, if Covid allows it. I’m sure I’ll also add in some more ultras (I’m thinking Fire & Ice in Iceland or one of the 4 Deserts races), plus I’m looking at signing up for my first Ironman for 2022.

However, my big goal over the next few years is to get into the mountains and specifically high- altitude, with the ultimate aim to climb an 8000m peak in the Himalayas.

Although, someone asked me the other day whether ‘The Fastest Crossing of Saudi Arabia by Foot’ had been attempted. I’ll see how the UAE goes first before I think about that one.

At Sported and Secret Training, we are very proud to support Sean in his Challenge and wish him good luck on his journey!

If you want to support and donate, go to www.7emirateschallenge.com or follow Sean on Instagram @seanburgess_me. The fundraising process is supported by @GulfforGood.

Posted on 17th Feb 2021