It is a rare thing – if not completely unheard of – to be on Sheikh Zayed Road and not see a single car. Then again, it would have been unimaginable to be able to stand in the middle of the six-lane highway without coming to any harm – until yesterday, that is. For the first time, a 10-kilometre section of the busy road was completely closed to traffic. Far from being deserted, however, it instead thrummed to the sound of 140,000 trainer-clad feet hitting tarmac as an astonishing 70,000 people joined the Dubai Run 30x30 on Friday.
The event, organised as part of Dubai Fitness Challenge, shows how the month-long initiative, first launched by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed in 2017, has grown exponentially. The images alone of thousands of people taking part in 5km and 10km races were breathtaking. At the helm of the runners was Sheikh Hamdan himself, showing he is a man of action, not mere words.
When Sheikh Hamdan first launched the fitness challenge, it was with the simple call for residents to commit to 30 minutes of activity for 30 days. The idea was to integrate good habits into everyday living with a simple, easy challenge that could be continued once the month was over. In its first year, hundreds of free exercise classes were on offer, amid a host of activities that included cycling and triathlons. This year’s event has proven to be the most ambitious yet – but judging by the numbers who thronged on Sheikh Zayed Road, it has been embraced wholeheartedly by residents.
According to the World Health Organisation, everyone should be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous sport per week in order to stave off a host of preventable health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. In the UAE, more than 40 per cent of us do not meet these exercise targets, meaning four in 10 men and nearly half of all women in the country are risking developing life-threatening diseases.
The Dubai Fitness Challenge was established to reverse this trend. At a time when most of us have sedentary desk jobs that do not encourage us to move around regularly, it is all the more important to set aside time to exercise properly every week. In urbanised, built-up centres such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where the car is king, finding the motivation to get mobile is even more of an imperative.
The end goal of the fitness challenge is to make Dubai “one of the most active cities in the world”, as Sheikh Hamdan says. Given the large turnout for this year’s two races, which were filled with runners of all ages, genders and abilities, that goal is now a step closer. Among those participating were members of Team Angel Wolf, made up of former Royal Marine Nick Watson and his 16-year-old son Rio, who suffers from a rare chromosome disorder that affects his speech and motor skills. Yesterday marked the 200th race Rio had taken part in – an accolade that Sheikh Hamdan marked by stopping to congratulate him.
Aside from the sport enthusiasts, the fitness challenge has also inspired people who do not normally participate to start exercising. That was the case for Alishya Carvalho, a marketing manager who began running one week before the race. She told The National that she plans to keep jogging – just one example of the many who have taken the first step to transform their lives for the better.