ABU DHABI // Only 300 runners turned out to attempt a 21.1-kilometre course when the annual half-marathon started four years ago.
But with about 1,500 runners set to pound the pavements of Yas Island next month, the team behind the race are hoping to keep the spirit of the event intact.
"We're not doing this to make a profit, we're doing it for the community," said Jonty Summers, a member of Abu Dhabi Striders, the event's organisers.
"The race is organised by the running community for the community of Abu Dhabi."
The event is funded through registration fees and sponsorship from local companies.
This year, profits will be donated to the Special Care Centre in Abu Dhabi, a school for children with intellectual and physical challenges.
Entrants do not have to be competitive runners.
"You can always improve your time but you're only competing with yourself," Mr Summers said.
The key to training for the event is to build up gradually.
"You have to start by walking. And then maybe when you've built it up, you can walk for half an hour. Walking is great exercise," Mr Summers said.
"Then maybe you can jog for a bit, and take a break and walk for a bit, until you can eventually jog for half an hour."
There is plenty of time to finish the race, with a cut-off point of three and a half hours. But the fastest runners of the half-marathon will finish in less than 70 minutes.
"Assuming they're healthy and don't have any serious health issues, most people could even walk the 21km," Mr Summers said.
The 1,500 runners would be a record turnout for the race and provide some healthy fund-raising for charities.
The event features two races - the 21.1km half-marathon and a 10km course - across a new, scenic route on Yas Island.
The event, on November 8, raised Dh90,000 for charity last year.
Previous races have been held on the Corniche and the roads surrounding Abu Dhabi Country Club.
Sponsors include the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and the Yas Viceroy Hotel.
All entrants will have free entry to Yas Waterworld after the half-marathon, with reduced rates for their families.
The Yas Waterworld deals and a planned children's run are aimed at getting families involved.
Running events are becoming more popular across the country every year, Mr Summers said.
"The UAE is always attracting more people from different countries who like to do sports," he said. "But it's not just expatriates doing these events.
"We get people from all sections of the Abu Dhabi community and the Government is really promoting healthy living much more.
"You should see Yas Marina Circuit's TrainYas event - it has about 15,000 registered people. I think it's the biggest community sports gathering in Abu Dhabi.
"If you go on a Tuesday night, you'll see hundreds of people walking, jogging or cycling."
Some Abu Dhabi Striders members train in the early morning at the Corniche, while others run routes in Al Bateen, Khalifa City and Yas Island.
Steve Watson, the half-marathon director, said the group was proud of its work in promoting fitness and health.
"Last year, we welcomed runners from Europe and the Americas, as well as other countries from the Middle East and Asia," Mr Watson said.
"We're looking forward to creating another event with a great international flavour this year."
Entry to the half-marathon costs Dh230 for adults and Dh150 for juniors.
This includes a breakfast catered by Yas Viceroy.