The Desert Double
Howard’s Nordic adventure last year has inspired me to do a marathon in every Gulf country. Not all in one year though because Gulf marathons are bunched together during the winter months for obvious reasons. This race, in the capital of neighboring Oman, conveniently takes place a week after Dubai. I was apprehensive about entering because I’ve never done marathons in successive weeks but when the organizer told me I couldn’t be guaranteed a finisher’s t-shirt if I left it till after December to enter, I was sold! I was going to take it easy in Dubai so my legs wouldn’t be completely shot for Muscat but that didn’t exactly go to plan.
The race, organized by local club Muscat Road Runners, has a small field of 130 runners. There’s a 10k and half, each with 200 runners, starting at hour intervals after the 6am marathon. Timing for all locally organized races in the Gulf is done with a ChampionChip, the same one we use for Baltic Mile sessions, and needs to be purchased along with the entry fee but is yours to keep for life and can be used for other races. Much more convenient than getting a disposable chip with your race number.
The route, starting and finishing at the Intercontinental Hotel, is a 21km loop around the Muscat coast which the marathoners do twice. I’m not a fan of multi-lappers but as the first half hour along the beach is done in the dark, the second lap in the sunshine gives it some added novelty. It’s mostly flat apart from a couple of very gentle inclines. For a local race, it’s definitely one of the best organized I’ve done. The entire route was marked out with a blue line along the side of the road, there were water stations every 4kms, and while not closed to traffic, crossing points were manned by marshals and police to ensure a trouble free run. Best of all, the goody bag which was given out the previous day at registration, contained a t-shirt, Muscat RR buff and water bottle, key ring, finish time magnet and a traditional Omani trinket. For half the price of Dubai, it’s certainly value for money!
Not too bothered about a time, I started very conservatively, hoping for a decent finish of around 3:45. I hung on to a couple of guys for a few kilometers but once they pulled away, I ran virtually on my own for the rest of the race. Not a problem, as the amazing scenery and cheery marshals made up for the lack of company. I was expecting to tire quickly but my kilometer splits were gradually getting quicker so I decided to ignore the watch and just run by feel. The first half was done in 1:40, a minute quicker than Dubai.
Adopting the same nutrition strategy as last week, I was feeling great. My average pace was 4:43/km which would give me a sub 3:20 finish. I couldn’t believe it but I kicked on, hoping my legs wouldn’t crumble. Because the other races started so late, I was passing loads of 10k/half runners and even marathoners at the end. That buzz just made me push on even harder. The last 10kms were all under 4:30s. The second half was done in 1:35 for a 3:15:47 finish and ninth place! Over four minutes quicker than Dubai. The possibility of a sub 3:25 was always in the back of my mind but the very conservative start makes my PB all the more surprising.