On Friday, thousands of runners spilled across Sheikh Zayed Road as part of the Dubai Run, and for the first time, I was one of them.
The annual event, which marks the culmination of Dubai Fitness Challenge, has been on my bucket list since it first launched in 2019. However, the fact that the event was cancelled during 2020 because of Covid-19 put a dampener on my plans to participate.
When I heard the event would make its grand return this year, I excitedly signed up the minute registration opened.
If anything, the pandemic may have spurred me on, as throughout it I've fostered a greater appreciation for the outdoors, more interest in fitness and had more time to practise jogging.
And the fact that Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, was also going to lead the way, was just the icing on the cake.
Not one to push my luck, though, I still cautiously signed up for the 5-kilometre fun run as opposed to the 10km. I'm not quite there yet.
Here’s what I learnt from my first Dubai Run:
Plan, plan, plan
Perhaps this point goes without saying, but I quickly learnt even the best laid plans go awry. Planning your arrival ahead of time is everything.
Many major roads are closed as the city turns into a giant running track, which means taking your car is an absolute no-no. Instead, the metro starts operating earlier and is the recommended form of transport.
While I thought I was well prepared, I hadn’t accounted for the crowd at the metro station.
If you're planning to participate next year, here are my top tips for getting there: figure out which metro station works best for you – and has ample parking nearby; take only the stuff that you’re prepared to run with (in my case, my mobile phone, car keys and Nol card); and top up your Nol card in advance, otherwise you'll queue for ages.
Once you reach the assigned metro station, there are clear signs on how to get to the start line. Water stations and portable toilets are also available.
You don’t have to be super fit to participate
I started practising for the Dubai Run the minute I signed up earlier this month. As someone who had never tracked my distance while jogging, 5km sounded intimidating, and I wasn’t sure I could do it.
I needn’t have worried. While the 10km route is for more seasoned runners, the 5km fun run is simple enough for almost anyone to do. There were loads of children on the streets, and parents with strollers as well.
So, even if you’re not in the best shape of your life, a mix of jogging and walking shouldn’t take you more than the assigned three hours to complete. A healthy adult should be able to finish it within an hour.
Make way for others
While there are some who take their race time seriously, many are there for the novelty. So while there are people blazing their way through the track, most are walking, and there is plenty of stopping for photo opportunities in between.
With thousands of participants, it can get crowded, so it’s best to watch your step and maintain a respectful distance as much as possible.
There were some points where I would have liked to keep jogging, but slowed to a walk so that I was in line with the people ahead of me. This happened especially where the route bottlenecks.
At some points I noticed that runners instinctively divided themselves up: more serious runners to the right of the track, walkers on the left.
Just another reminder of why I love this city: the people really are considerate of each other.
Enjoy the view
Ignore that urge to simply make it to the finish line and get it over with, as the view throughout the Dubai Run needs to be savoured.
This is, after all, a once-a-year chance to appreciate and take in the city from an otherwise inaccessible vantage point. Whether you’re seeing the sky lighten against the Burj Khalifa or getting a closer look at the Museum of the Future, it’s definitely one of the city’s most picturesque routes.
I won't advise stopping to take pictures mid-run – if you do, make sure you’re not obstructing other runners – but be sure to take it all in. Appreciate the moment. That 5km (or 10km) will be done faster than you realise.