DUBAI // Naser Mohammed al Marzouqi's shoulders may not be quite the size they were in the days when bodybuilding was his hobby of choice, but they are still broad enough to bear the burden of Emirati hopes in the Dubai Marathon.
Al Marzouqi, a hotel operations manager for the Jumeirah group, has run more than 30 marathons, including all but one of the 12 Dubai races.
However, he remains in one of the smallest minority groups in the race. UAE nationals will account for little more than one per cent of the field at the start line tomorrow morning.
"I am not happy about the lack of local participation," Ahmed al Kamali, the president of the UAE Athletics Federation, said yesterday.
If distance running needs an Emirati role model, al Marzouqi would be a fine candidate. He switched from free weights to the open road in 1996, and has since completed marathons in London, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, among others.
"I was getting too many injuries bodybuilding and I was not going to turn to anabolics, so rather than be a couch potato I took up running instead," said al Marzouqi, who runs for the Dubai Creek Striders club.
"It was obviously difficult at first, and I could only manage 2kms maximum. But I developed over time and now I feel in love with running."
Al Marzouqi has an impressive personal best of 2hrs 46mins over the 42km distance, and, despite now being 53, he said he hopes to cross the line in approximately three hours tomorrow.
Despite the dearth of nationals, the marathon has a cosmopolitan field, reflective of the diverse population of the UAE.
"Over the years there has been a growing interest in health and fitness not only in Dubai but all over the world," Peter Connerton, the race director, said.
"People are now taking more care of themselves and one of the best ways to do this is to run."