'Running is best medicine'

Despite the growing pressure on him to set a 27th world record, Haile Gebrselassie could not appear more relaxed ahead of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon.

The marathon legend Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia is always able to put on a happy face, no matter how arduous his path may be.
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DUBAI // Despite the growing pressure on him to set a 27th world record, as well as the incentive of a $1 million (Dh3.67m) bonus if he does, Haile Gebrselassie could not appear more relaxed ahead of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon. Juggling a full programme of media and sponsor commitments yesterday, the man who has a fair claim to being the most laid-back in sport was left in no doubt as to what everyone expects from him this weekend. After all that, it seems the prospect of a 42km jaunt around the streets of Dubai, starting at 6.30am tomorrow is all the more appealing.

"Running is the best medicine for stress," Gebrselassie, 35, said with his trademark smile as broad as ever. "That is why I am always so happy." The Dubai race is now established among the best marathons in the world, thanks mainly to the richest purse on offer. Its appeal has been broadened for the past two years by the presence of the Ethiopian icon, and by the very real prospect that the world record of 2hrs 3mins 59 secs is achievable over the fast course.

Gebrselassie arrived 12 months ago, for his first race in the emirate, with similar pressure on him to set a new world's best. He failed to do so, but still clocked the second-fastest time for a marathon. "Breaking the world record is not a major issue," he added. "I have been running for 20 years. If it happens, then good. If not, I'll try again next time." The organisers of the race make no apologies for the fact they have geared the changes to the course with the record in mind.

The marathon is in its 10th year and the course has changed every year. The latest redesign means the incline leading from Jumeirah to Zabeel near the end of last year's course is not applicable. Cyclists will also be on patrol at the Madinat Jumeirah junction with the task of making sure the athletes follow the fastest racing line. Paul Hodgson, the course designer, said: "I believe this year's route is faster than last year's.

"It is virtually flat throughout, with the only slight downhill section being on the return leg. "The last 8kms are in a perfectly straight line, with the towers of the Dubai Marina looming large, and hopefully that will inspire Haile to break the world record." Meanwhile, Birhane Adere is also bidding to stave off several young upstarts in the women's race. Gebrselassie's closest rivals in the men's event are all within a year of his age, 35. Adere, meanwhile, is giving away at least 10 years to the two biggest threats to her Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon title.

Adere set a course record in last year's race when she came home in 2hrs 22mins 42secs. She was spurred on by two fellow Ethiopians Askale Tafa, 24, and Besunesh Bekele, 25. Both have returned for tomorrow's race. Adere said: "We will see how we are going to the race to see if we can break the course record again. "We will see what the conditions are tomorrow to see if it possible. It is quite cool in the mornings, which should be helpful for us.

"Having Haile in the field for the men's race is nice as it brings a lot more supporters out, and everyone is always very happy to see him." The marathon starts at 6.30am tomorrow, from outside the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina. The 10km road race starts at 6.45am, followed at 11am by the 3km fun run. pradley@thenational.ae