Emma Phillips can run 10km in the time it takes most people to run a bath. Which makes lining up next to her on January 22 either a very brave or a foolhardy move for the majority of the thousands expected to take part in Dubai's most popular road race. The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon occasion features three events: the marathon itself, a 10km road race and a 3km fun run. Last year Phillips was the first woman to home in the 10km race, beating almost 10,000 people in 37 minutes and 25 seconds.
And she has every intention of doing so again, only a little bit faster - "If I could get under 37 (minutes) I would be happy." While for the less seasoned runner that might seem a little unnecessary (a win's a win after all, right?), and difficult, for the competitive 32-year-old Phillips it is a real possibility. Nearly two months ago, on October 4, the English expatriate finished second at the Asics Liverpool 10km, in 36 minutes and 50 seconds. "I was quite pleased with the time, having trained through the summer here," she said.
"My times are slower here but they are improving again now, I think because I have got used to it. I'm learning how to cope with the heat. It takes a while." Phillips, who moved to Dubai from Shrewsbury with her husband 18 months ago, began running 12 years ago and was instantly hooked. "I just did a couple of runs, short distances and then I went to the local running club and did a few races but nothing serious," she said.
"My times were OK but I didn't really train hard, just some cross-country track races." Five years later she "decided to take it more seriously" and attempted her first half marathon - the Great North Run. "I did quite well in my first one," she said, modestly referring to her one-hour 23-minute finish time. "In my next race I came first. I hadn't done much training." Phillips was running four times a week with some track work, "a bit more mileage and harder sessions".
"My best half marathon was at Peterborough, just before I came here at the end of 2007," she said from her home at The Lakes. "I ran it in 77 minutes 41 seconds. That was my best. That is what I am hoping to beat in February at the RAK Half Marathon." Now Phillips runs around 30 miles a week, with most of her training at The Lakes, as well as attending a couple of track sessions most weeks with the ABRaS AC.
Settling into a running routine in the UAE, she admitted, had not been easy. "I found it very hard for the first six months but I joined the running club, so that was good. I could train with them and where I live it's quite nice, it is just the heat. I needed a year to get used to it. It was quite stressful moving as well, but now I'm able to train better." At the moment, the 42km full marathon does not appeal to the injury-prone Phillips, who prefers to keep the mileage low and the speed high. With a fast-expanding group of elite female runners to compete against here, there is little danger that participation in smaller races will get boring, she said.
"At the first race I did, probably one year ago, there were about 150 people in it and now there are about 350," she said. "The female running scene here is getting competitive. They're starting to come along, in all of the age groups." Phillips, who keeps cool while running in the desert climate by placing ice under her cap, goes back to the UK at least once every three months to compete in races. On October 11 she came third in the inaugural EDF Birmingham Half Marathon, finishing in 82 minutes 25 seconds.
She also runs for her county in various cross-country events, including the Staffordshire Cross Country Championships, which she won last month. "I'm hoping I will keep improving," she said. "I would like to run well in the RAK Half Marathon. That is quite a big race in the UAE, they have a lot of international runners participating." Phillips runs alone most days, her husband holding her bags and cheering her on from the pavement on race days. She takes two rest days a week but admits to being unable to resist doing some strengthening exercises and light weight training even then.
It is not a lonely sport, she insists. "It is nice and sociable if you go to the running clubs. I just enjoy going for a run. I like to get my times quicker. I'm a bit competitive - that is in my nature and I am always thinking about my times, wanting to get better." firstname.lastname@example.org