This Friday, more than 30,000 runners are set to take to the streets for the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon 2020. Whether it's your first time running or your'e a seasoned racer, The National's Ashleigh Stewart shares some tips she picked up from taking part in the race ...
1. It's actually not "boring"
When people found out that I was running the Dubai marathon, I could always count on a screwed-up face and a hapless “WHY?” in reply – and not just because I was running 42 kilometres. For fun.
You see, the Dubai marathon seems to have got itself stuck with the unfortunate reputation of being “flat and boring”. While I do concur it is relatively flat – which is frankly the best possible thing a marathon can be, no? – it is far from boring.
For a start, you're running through the towering skyscrapers of Dubai Media City, past the front doorsteps of some incredible beachfront properties, and then past one of the world's most recognisable buildings – the Burj Al Arab (twice!). There's no Big Ben (London) in Dubai, nor is there an Empire State Building (New York), or a bustling Japanese metropolis (Tokyo). You have to work with what you've got – and what we've got here are very tall buildings, the quirky eateries of Jumeirah Beach Road, and the only seven-star hotel in the world, got it?
2. The crowd is fantastic
Leading on from the above point, the next grievance some people (who also conveniently have not run the Dubai marathon...) have with this race is that it's a dull route and the crowd doesn't help. While the crowd does, indeed, thin out in parts (fancy that over a course of 42km), the people who have given up their mornings to come and cheer you on are far from boring. Expect more people to crowd along the Media City end of the race, and things really start to thin out the further down Jumeirah Beach Road you get, especially near the turn around point.
At about 25km in, I almost tripped over a man who was passing me a piece of chocolate from a platter he'd been doling out treats from since 7am, because I was so completely floored by the kindness. And also because that's how much I love chocolate.
Complete strangers are going to cheer you on, period, and that in itself is quite wonderful. Especially when all you have on your personal cheer squad is one poor, overworked human who has just zoomed from the start line, to the 12km mark, to the 20km mark, to the 28km mark etc, all to give you a quick wave before moving on again – and really, he may as well have run the thing himself.
3. It's not that early
The entire time I'd been training, I'd simply expected the race to start at 6am, the same time my other races had begun elsewhere in the world. So each Friday ahead of my long training run, off my alarm went at 5am – to allow enough time to eat, digest, and bang into a few things as I sleepily attempted to exit my apartment and hit the streets. Needless to say, I was more than a little displeased when I discovered I'd effectively lost a fair few hours of sleep waking up far earlier than I needed to on my sacred weekend mornings. The race begins at 7am for marathoners, meaning an extra bit of kip – and less crashing into things ahead of race day.
4. It's rather hot
Considering you're waking up before the sun has even thought of creeping up from beyond the horizon, one would describe the temperature at the start line as "mild", if not "cool". However, don't be fooled. By 9am, about halfway into your run, the sun is well and truly into the sky and it's also well and truly bearing down on your poor, sweaty skin.
By 10am, the temperature could be well over 20 degrees Celsius - which is about the point the London marathon hit in 2018 when everyone started describing it in words like "scorching" and "heatwave".
Luckily, there are plenty of stations with sopping wet sponges filled with refreshing, cold water to pour all over yourself, before it intermixes with all that sweat and just makes you even wetter. Delightful.
5. When they say arrive early, they mean it
For starters, you'll have to park quite a way down Al Wasl Road and walk back to the start line – if you're smart, the double back to the start line can serve as your warm up. However, if all the excitement and/or anxiety gets the better of you and you find yourself in need of a nervous pre-race bathroom stop – be prepared for a journey. The toilets are about ten minutes walk from the start line – and there's really no need for you to run any more than you need to that day; you're already looking down the barrel of a solid 50,000-ish steps, you overachiever.
6. You'll be fed along the route
Sure, it's not exactly part of your official information pack because most of the people doing it are kindly strangers feeding you out of the goodness of their own hearts, but it's a good thing to note. On my run I indulged in no less than three samples of chocolate, some watermelon, and a strange marshmellow-y substance I actually really regret as it clogged up my throat and almost resulted in me tackling another runner to perform the Heimlich on me. However, the kindness of these generous strangers is a beautiful thing – whether it's the family of a fellow runner, or a Jumeirah Beach Road restaurant owner – you might forgo your gels for a mid-race fruit salad instead.
7. You're going to chafe in places you never knew existed
Underarm chafing? Is that even a thing? Rather than dressing for the weather (which we're going to go out on a limb here and say is important, but not as important) how about donning activewear that will not leave parts of you red raw? I wore a new piece of clothing last year (ignoring all advice everywhere that openly warns against this) and after about 8km the tags were digging into the skin under my arms, leaving me to somehow conjure up superhuman strength in the middle of the race, whilst trying to run in a straight line and also rip annoying little pieces of fabric off a very expensive garment. And that is definitely not the photo you want to be taking away as a post-race souvenir.
8. Get someone there to cheer you on in your last 10km
Sure, your cheer person might want to head away from the race early to get a good seat at the finish line – but that's a big mistake, unless you've got multiple people dotted around the course still. My singular cheer squad abandoned me at about the 32km mark to get ready for the big finale, but honestly, I would've preferred if he wasn't at the finish line at all. The home stretch is where the going really gets tough, and I cannot overstate how much even just a clap and a wave can do for the old morale. Do yourself a favour: prioritise a lift of the spirits near the end over the finish line photo – you'll thank me when you're feeling like your legs are detaching themselves from your body at kilometre 37.
9. Do talk to strangers
If the above point simply doesn't transpire, and you are left hoofing it alone for the final quarter of the race, make as much eye contact with random people on the sidelines as possible. It's creepy in probably any other life situation, but in this instance it actually might help you from keeling over. The lift you get when a person looks at you and eggs you on is like a shot of adrenalin right into the bloodstream, and it is genuinely better fuel than any Gatorade or gel will give you.
10. The finish line is kind of underwhelming
By the time you finish, you're well behind all the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners (by about two hours or so, to be exact), so all of their merry, loud and singing supporters filling the stands have packed up and gone home. Sure, there's still a bit of cheering and waving, but the immediate vicinity behind the start line is devoid of supporters, as they're not allowed back there, so you'll have to make do with a stranger handing you a medal and not wanting to hug you as your marathon-finishing moment. Yes, all hopes for a triumphant picture whilst crossing the line, and fist pumping the air a la Rocky will likely be dashed. Sorry. It's still a great feeling, though.
This article was first published in January 2019