It’s that time of year again, I’m back in Dubai soaking up some much needed sunshine and doing what any runner on holiday does, a marathon! I did this last year and ran a pretty decent time but didn’t like it very much as it’s just a straight 13 mile out and 13 mile back pancake flat course (certainly no Kielder!). I ran it too conservatively so I thought I’d try it again and really go for it this time. The only appealing thing about it is the start and finish at the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
90% of the field of about 2000 consists of expats from Britain, South Africa, Australia and the US. It’s a major draw for the elites though because of the $250,000 winner’s cheque and $1 million bonus for breaking the world record. The winner last year ran the fourth fastest time in history and three women finished under 2:20 for the first time. The course is on par with Berlin for flatness but I suppose the temperature is a turn-off for many. Crowd support is also quite minimal with just small groups of people cheering the runners on from outside their homes on the beach road.
Obviously, it was far from ideal training in the cold winter of Newcastle but having grown up in Dubai, I’m used to running in the heat (45C in the summer!). Still, going from -6C to 25C in a week is quite a shock to the system. It was only last Saturday that I was trudging through the snow on the moor at parkrun.
Come Friday morning, I was in for a surprise. Dubai was blanketed in a thick layer of fog which made conditions perfect as the temperature at the 7am start was only 17C and it stayed cool for a couple of hours. It was also a relief to not be able to see the Burj Khalifa from the 13 mile turnaround point because that towering monstrosity just doesn’t seem to get any nearer.
I set my Garmin for 7:30 min/mile but right from the gun I was having trouble keeping up the pace. I’d done a greater weekly mileage training for Dubai than any previous marathon and stupidly hadn’t tapered sensibly leading up to race-day. I was feeling the effects of that in my tired legs so I just decided to ignore the Garmin and pace myself according to what my body was telling me. Thankfully, after about four miles, I got into a good rhythm and managed to maintain a steady 7:40 pace for the rest of the race. At 9.5 miles, the elites flew past me in the opposite direction already 18 miles into it! After about 17 miles, the fog dissipated and the sun eventually came out in full force.
With three miles to the finish, as is usually the case with me, I was really starting to tire. I just kept telling myself what any parkrunner does, “only a parkrun to go”. There was a bit of back and forth going on between myself and a couple of runners and as this got really annoying, the competitive spirit kicked in and I kicked it up a gear. When I saw the 800m to go sign, I launched into a full on sprint and crossed the line in a photo finish with a lady.
After collecting my medal and goody bag, just like last year I had my photo taken in front of the Burj Khalifa. So tall, the camera could only capture a third of it!