'Running is my meditation': meet the Dubai resident who jogs 40 kilometres every day

Souleymane Ghani juggles running with a full-time job, and is currently planning a race all the way from the city to Hatta

Most Muslims who wake up for the sunrise Fajr prayer go right back to sleep afterwards – but not 36-year-old Dubai resident Souleymane Ghani. He wakes up, prays and then runs, and not just any 10-minute jog on the treadmill.

Ghani, who is from Togo, West Africa, goes outside and starts his day with a 20-kilometre run – and that’s just the half of it. After work, he heads to Kite Beach and runs another 20km, clocking a minimum of 40km in total every day.

I like when you start feeling pain because that means you need to keep going and you can apply that to life

He says that Kite Beach is optimal for running because water is easily accessible – and in this heat, that’s an essential factor when selecting an outdoor location. “Usually, I like using the Kite Beach area because there are a lot of water stations along the road, so I don’t worry too much about carrying a water bag,” Ghani tells The National.

He says that he has no difficulty in finding time to run outside of work hours. “I run in the morning before going to work and run after work, too, to relax,” he says. “It depends on the weather, but if the climate is good, I can do the run in less than two hours.”

Souleymane Ghani during a run in Dubai. Suhail Rather / The National
Souleymane Ghani during a run in Dubai. Suhail Rather / The National

It sounds unfathomable – even superhuman – and Ghani says that he is used to this reaction. His peers are often incredulous when they learn that he runs between 40-42km a day in the desert heat, and he, too, is at a loss when asked to explain how his body copes with it.

“I would say thank you to God for giving me an amazing body. I don’t know how exactly to explain my own body, it just comes naturally,” he says.

Ghani started taking running seriously in 2016, and has since participated in marathons and races across the globe, including South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Georgia, Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai. In the Middle East, he has taken part in the notoriously difficult Hajar 100 and Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon and has completed runs from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, and Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah.

He also had plans to travel internationally for more races, but the pandemic put a pause on some of his running aspirations.

Ghani runs before work and after work, both sessions for about two hours. Suhail Rather / The National
Ghani runs before and after work, in sessions of about two hours. Suhail Rather / The National

“I was planning to go to the Philippines next – mostly when I travel, I like choosing a country where I don’t need a visa, it’s easier for me,” he says.

For now, Ghani is making do with the desert climate of the Gulf for the foreseeable future. “I haven’t been able to run as much as I’m used to recently, because you couldn’t go outside and run during the lockdown, and then when you could, there were short times that you were allowed outside,” he explains.

I always think of running as my meditation, where I can reflect on myself

But, as restrictions ease across the UAE, Ghani’s plans to run longer distances are back in motion. “Now I’m planning to run from Hatta to Dubai,” he tells The National. “Dubai to Abu Dhabi took 11 hours to run, but this one may take more, because I don’t want to just run on the road, I want to make it harder and go through the mountains.”

Running long distances seems difficult enough without the addition of steep terrains, but he is constantly pushing himself to the edge. “What I love about running is the mental toughness that it teaches you, which you can apply everywhere in life,” he reveals.

“My favourite thing about running marathons is the pain. I like when you start feeling pain because that means you need to keep going and you can apply that to life: things are going to get hard and you don’t need to back off, you just need to focus and move forward.”

Ghani at work inside the Puma store in Dubai's Mall of the Emirates. Suhail Rather / The National
Ghani at work inside the Puma store in Dubai's Mall of the Emirates. Suhail Rather / The National

The Dubai runner says that he isn’t in a situation where running affects time that could be spent with family. “Running doesn’t take away from family time,” explains Ghani, who has two sisters living in Dubai, but doesn’t meet them frequently.

“They are working in different areas so we don’t live together. I only meet them once in a while just to be sure that they are doing well, so I’m not too stressed about juggling running and family.”

Naturally, Ghani’s running routines take a toll on his feet. “I have this problem, which is that my shoes don’t last – after a month, they’re done,” he admits.

Conveniently, he works as a sales associate at Puma, where the work culture helps keeps him on his toes. “Puma is a sport brand, so working and training with them pushes me to be more active and has given me this motivation to do more,” he says, proudly showing off the white shoes with a flash of neon green that he wears on his feet.  

His races and marathons are memorialised and forever etched in his memory, and Ghani says that this hobby of his isn’t just about staying fit or being active. He explains that running regularly is a form of self-care, and a way to strengthen the body both mentally and physically. For him, it’s a personal, even spiritual, process.

“I always think of running as my meditation, where I can reflect on myself,” he says. “Each time I run, that’s when I find myself thinking about the past, about now and about the future, and things that I’ve already done, and things that I still want to do.”

Updated: July 9, 2020 12:47 PM


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