If you ask any runner which part of the world would you like to run, if he is a passionate runner he would mention any part of the world as one will get an experience in a different region with a different climate and a different surface. Some love to run on Sandy surfaces, some on Roads, some on Trails. With an opportunity write on MRR Global theme I am more than happy to write on the running culture in UAE. UAE in a way I would say is a boon for runners. Because in a shorter area it can provide all kinds of running experience that you want get involved into, it has sandy surfaces, roads, trails, etc. All these you will get in a very short vicinity you don’t need to travel too much to get a different kind of surface to run on.
I started my running around 4 years from now in Dubai. My first run was a predictors run held by Dubai Road Runners which used to be at Safa Park in which you had two options either run 3.5k or a double loop of 7 km. I thought 3.5 km would look short so went for a double loop and then after completing the first loop the whole second loop I was wishing and at the same time cursing myself for not taking the 3.5 k run but yes I did complete somehow with stitches in stomach, walk, run, craving for water and reached the 7 k mark.
There are multiple running clubs around here to name a few known ones like “Desert Road Runners”, “Dubai Creek Striders”, “ABRaS Runing Club”, “Dubai Trail Runners”,“Abu Dhabi Striders” then come the sporting brand clubs like “Skechers”, “Nike” etc. The best part about all clubs is that you are not forced to be a member of a single club ie a person can be a member of multiple clubs during the same calendar year and no one objects to it.
Each club has its own way of training and specialty, these opinions is only from my point of view. I have run with every club. There is paid membership in few clubs and few are still free to join. But the fees charged is very negligible because along with the membership lot of freebies are given which makes the fees paid equivalent to zero.
I would say that other than the branded clubs all the other clubs are being run by at least one passionate person who is too passionate about “running” and a lot of sacrifices of hard effort, time and money is being put in to run these clubs at par. Each club has its own specialty of training and each one has a well designed schedules for their preparation for the upcoming races be it a marathon or a 10 k etc. The training schedules are designed in such a way that it suits all level of runners from a Novice to the Elites all follow the same schedule at a time.Friday and Saturday being weekends the clubs meet up in the morning and mostly long runs are arranged on these two days. For a long runs as well as the weekly short and long distances there are groups formed into different pace groups so that each and every runner is accommodated and accordingly they set off for a run. In case of Desert road runners everyone gathers for at coffee shop to sip some coffee after completing their long runs.
Major Spots For running
There are multiple different beautiful spots for running in Dubai as I mentioned earlier and the count is innumerable. Some of the prominent ones I would like to mention and share my experience:
Al Barsha Pond Park – It’s a small family park with a pond in between and a 1.4 Km track soft Track around it. This is a favourite training spot for both Desert Road Runners and Dubai Creek Striders for Short Interval and Long interval Trainings
Jumeirah Beach Running Track – A properly marked soft rubber track laid right beside the beach extends upto around 7 km, going to and fro makes 14 k for the day. I mostly love to run on this track and some days I just go on the sandy part besides the water making it a straight patch of sand for 7 to 8 km and coming back to make 15 to 16 km or doubles to make it 30k.
District One Cycling and Running Track – It’s a 8 km Rubber jogging track laid right beside the cycling track. So incase you have some cycling enthusiast in your family you can take them along and while they enjoy their cycling one can complete their training runs and to add over it there is a small tunnel to pass through in between the run.
Other than these there are lot of running paths many with different views around it like Dubai Marina Walk – it’s a bit busy walk way but you can run around the whole path as long as you want around the Marina waters on one side and hustling bustling shops and restaurants on other side, there is so much happening around that in case you are having an easy run you wont even realize when the 10 k has passed on your watch. Springs & Meadows – a Gated community with beautiful greenery and ponds around – best place to run on the weekend mornings and go for long runs straight or in loops. Zabeel Area – Place where the Dubai Creek striders have their long runs – flooded with peacocks in the morning. Now with new development of the Creek we might see more than a 70 k running path all along the creek.
If one is a fan of Trail runs UAE has plenty of options. I normally go with Dubai Trail Runners for trail running. The best spot for Trail runs is in Hajar Mountains and different wadi’s of Ras Al Khaima. Wadi Shawka – a Trail runners delight, you will be greeted sometimes by the camels, sometimes by goats or sometimes even by donkeys enroute your 21 or 35 km patch of trails. Lots of village life to see with small farms and different style of path to run on from rocky to sandy patches. And incase you come across a pond at the end of your turn then you can do some water diving practice too, it just removes all the exhaustive feeling of your body and you are fresh to return back. Fossil Rock – Challenge yourself with Sand Dunes over the mountains, it’s a tough run mostly done on Saturday mornings by Dubai Trail runners, running through the sand mountains (what I can call it) sometimes digging through knee deep sand and specially the last point where you run to the top of the mountain with bulk of sand in your shoes tests the best endurance you have in your body.
If one fancies running up the mountain then there is Jebel Hafeeth in Al Ain. A group of Abudhabi Striders leaves around 2.30 am inorder to be able to reach the base of the mountain to start running at around 4 am so as to avoid the vehicle traffic. But running this mountain on a well built road upto the top is a unique experience. We also have Hatta Area in Dubai which is again a weekend place to go for a run on mountains as its on the border of Dubai and Oman and requires a travelling time of around 2 hours. Again a picturesque place to be in with good mountains to test the strength of your knees. There are few short hills in Residential area in Jebel Ali near Ibne Batuta Mall where one can practice few short hill reps. Else other easier options for hill reps for some is the multi-story mall parkings or the bridges.
The trainings go almost all through the year. Most of us expats living here get 1 month off in a year, many people tend to take that during the Summer time when the kids also get their off from school. So during summer the number of runners in the group become low. But the running continues all through the year. The summers are very hot sometimes temperature reaching upto 48 to 49 digree Celcius with 70 to 80% humidity. But it’s a different experience to run in such heat also. During summer we also get an option to run Indoors with an Air conditioned Indoor Running Track – A 650 meter running track laid in one of the Exhibition centres for around three or four months. This is a special initiative taken by the Government authorities to promote sports during summer giving multiple options of football ground, cricket play area, basket ball courts, gyms etc at some charges but the running track which is laid around these grounds is free of cost. Sometimes we do train indoors on this track taking the loop of 650 km. You will find most of the runners making full use of this indoor track during the summers.
During winters one would feel there is no other better place to run than UAE. A perfect temperature to run in neither to hot nor too cold. Rains we don’t get here much but some days when the rains show up its beautiful day to run too because the winds just make you flow with them.
Running events – multiple running events are conducted all through the year. Every event has some speciality in itself. One will never be unhappy to spend the charges charged for the event entry because with most of the events especially the ones organized by the running clubs carry some or the other non monetary benefits for the runners, eg Abudhabi Striders Yas Half Marathon offers a full day water park access within the registration fees, while Dubai Creek Striders Half Marathon goodie bag is full of surprises year on year and they try to keep the registration fee as low as they can afford to and at the same time the quality is not compromised at all, the venues, routes, arrangements etc is of best quality.
Dubai Marathon route is one of the fastest routes available for any runner to get his PB added with best temperature as a natural support. Also Dubai has the one of the fastest Half Marathon Route which you will get in the RAK Half Marathon. Along with the price money of 1million AED another 1 million is for grabs for the one who can beat the World Record, so you can understand the quality of competition that can be expected in these events.
Plenty of events to choose from ranging from flat routes to trail routes. Also almost all events are competitive as there is a multi-nationality presence in each event. There are more than 190 nationality people living within UAE so you will find people from different Nationalities in each event so it makes it more competitive at the same time it helps people learn from different training programmes people follow across the world as you meet them in different events and discuss on training porgrames etc. You even get a chance to compete head to head with some of the best known names in running in some events as they might be visiting Dubai and have entered into the event happening during that time. Even in summers one will find events happening mostly night runs, or evening events while the temperatures are still soaring at 40 to 45 digree celcius. Solomon Wadi Bih 72 & 50 km – A Trail run in the Wadi Bih Oman being organized from last 25 years, which attracts almost all runners to participate It’s an individual as well as a Team Event. . There are prices for best team name and best dressed teams also. Due to the increase in nos of participants year after year it is now held in two days. First day all individuals and second day all teams compete running upto an high altitude and coming back the same route. Urban Ultra Hajar 100 and 50 km – The organizers try and make their best efforts to make the hardest route possible. Cut off times at approximately 20k, 40, 50 and 70 or 75 k are just the beginning and to add on to it you need to cross two trechorous mountains in order to complete the first 50k.
My best experience in running during this short time of 4 years has been the 7 Emirates Run. It covers all the 7 Emirates of UAE (Abudhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah). Initially it was 537 km in 11 Days, now been reduced to 497 km in 7 days. I have run this event for two consecutive years and finished it at the the top. The race itself is like a dream fulfilling for a Runner as you need to run 70 to 90 km for the day and rest and then run the next day again and additionaly it supports a great cause to support a charity that makes limbs for Children who cannot afford it. Other than this one gets to explore the whole of UAE on foot, meet different people, be able to see heritage places, experience the kind hospitability of the Locals around, going through villages, farms which one misses out while travelling through the cars and other transporation mediums.
Though I have run with almost all clubs in UAE my trainings mostly happen with Desert Road runners. Weekly event that happens with DRR is Predictors run which happens on Saturday evening (venue is now changed to Jumeirah Beach track) whereby you need to predict your time for 5k or 2.5 km and try to reach that predicted time. You compete with yourself every week. If you hit your predicted time you are awarded with some prices on spot. DRR also conducts an “Iftaar run” normally happening in Ramdaan after breaking the fast. Other couple of events conducted by DRR are of 5 k and 10 k are held at the Dubai Autodrome. Similar type of events is followed by Abu Dhabi Striders. They too have predictors runs in Abu Dhabi. One more interesting running event that I would like to mention here is of Dubai Creek Striders “10 k Peacock Run” – 3 to 5 Runners are grouped together to run as a team. Each group is mixed with Slowest and Fastest runners and all runners need to arrive at the finish line together. The winners receive a trophy while the last group receives Wooden Spoons.