Champion joins amateur runners for Abu Dhabi marathon training
For months, amateurs and professional athletes alike have been supporting each other at open air training sessions
Cassie Hambleton is preparing for the 2.5km fun run. Marius Kipserem, meanwhile, won the first Abu Dhabi Marathon last year.
Currently ranked as the ninth-best male marathon runner on the planet, the Kenyan is hoping to retain his title this year with an even faster time.
But despite their different goals, both athletes were among about 60 people who trained alongside each other in the capital on Monday night, ahead of December’s event, which also includes 5km and 10km races.
They are among hundreds of runners who, over the last five months, have taken part in some of the free, twice-weekly sessions run at Al Hudayriat Island, where professional coaches are on hand to help participants prepare.
“We’ve been coming along since it started,” Ms Hambleton, 49, from the United States, said.
“It’s a lot of fun, the group is like a little family where we all encourage each other. I walk, others come early so they can run further, but it’s very inclusive.”
Organisers have pledged that this year’s race, sponsored by state-owned oil company Adnoc, will be “even bigger and better” than the 2018 event, when around 600 people completed the full marathon.
Some are running for a personal challenge, while others are using sport to support causes close to their hearts. Leen Al Masood, 26, rfom the UAE, is hoping to run the 10km in under 45 minutes in Abu Dhabi, but is also running a half marathon this year to help promote female sport in Afghanistan.
“I decided I wanted to support an organisation called She Can Try, which aims to train and empower Afghanistan’s first female triathletes to compete in the world championships in 2020,” she said.
“Obviously, the conditions there are not that great, it’s very hard for them to be outside and the facilities are scarce."
Ms Masood said she had started running at the end of 2017 - had since become hooked - and now completes triathlons. She ran the marathon in Abu Dhabi last year, but for this year’s event decided to focus on speed rather than distance.
“I didn’t know how to swim or bike before I got into triathlon and these girls [in Afghanistan] are also just learning," she said.
"Getting into the sport really made me happier, more confident. So just being able to support them, and be able to empower other women, is something I’m very passionate about.
“It’s hard to say what I like so much about running. It’s the feeling you get when you’re pushing yourself beyond your limits.
"Sometimes you feel like you really can’t go on any further, but somehow you find a way to break that mental barrier. And crossing that finish line, it’s the best feeling in the world.
“It sounds cheesy, but the big running events are filled with love, everybody wants to support each other.”
The podium at last year’s event was dominated by Kenyan and Ethiopian runners. Mr Kipserem, 31, set a personal best at last year’s event, with a time of two hours, four minutes and four seconds.
The fastest man and woman to complete the 42.2km marathon will each receive $100,000 in prize money.
“I am here because I like Abu Dhabi,” Mr Kipserem said, before he took part in stretching and a run around Al Hudayriat Island with fellow participants on Monday night.
“I came to see happy people and train together. I like to train with a lot of people.
“I was very happy to win last year and I was very happy to be invited back. I am coming to defend my title and to win, and with a better time than last year."
Updated: September 24, 2019 09:44 PM