x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Athletes get into the thick of it in foggy Dubai Marathon

Fog threatens to ruin the early-morning spectacle, but the Dubai community rallies to enjoy the emirate's most multi-cultural event, finds Gary Meenaghan.

Athletes get off and running in the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon yesterday.
Athletes get off and running in the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon yesterday.

It is easy to appreciate why organisers often bill the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon as one of the most aesthetic events in athletics.

The annual 42.19km road race starts close to the base of the world's tallest building, it snakes around the largest mall in the world and it runs past buildings ranked 23rd and 47th in the highest-tower stakes.

From there, it crosses over and continues along the coastal-hugging Jumeirah Beach Road, offering glimpses of crystalline waters before, just as the world's most luxurious - and recognisable - hotel rises into view, the course loops back and goes past all these celebrated landmarks once again.

And so there was an undeniable sense of irony yesterday at 7am as the majority of the 2,350 people who completed the main event found themselves - courtesy of a thick, all-encompassing fog - starting a race in a host city as bland as a blank canvas. Forget the Burj Khalifa, athletes were struggling to see the back of competitors, mere metres in front of them.

Tirfi Tsegaye, the first woman to cross the finish line, said she was "afraid a lot" of the fog because she thought "maybe rain would come", while Lelisa Desisa, winner of the men's event, said he had concluded at the start that his target time was "impossible".

Fortunately for those hoping to see something special, no precipitation arrived, the sky cleared somewhat and Desisa and his four closest challengers all rallied, ensuring five people all ran sub-2:05 for the first time in history.

At 10.30am, Desisa sat in a room cradling his glass trophy and revealing to media his intentions to spend the US$200,000 (Dh720,000) prize on constructing a home in Addis Ababa, yet outside more than 6,000 amateur athletes were ready to begin the 3km fun run.

It is they who proved chief benefactors of a later start: the fog lifting completely, enabling them to gaze at the skyscrapers.

And some of their fellow competitors.

Roman centurions, firemen and a brave soul dressed as a pineapple all traversed the streets, posing for photos and enjoying what is arguably the emirate's most multicultural and community-driven event of the year. The different perspectives of the city's people was clear to see.

Leszek Stachowiak, a Polish teacher on holiday in the UAE, has run 70 marathons on five continents since 1997. He said the Dubai race was a "great experience" and that if he had won Desisa's $200,000, he would "travel to New Zealand and run a marathon there".

Lohith Naik, from Bangalore, would rather open his own medical centre in India while his colleague, JR Bhat, would start his own manufacturing business. Hamdan Ammar, an 11-year-old Emirati, walked the 3km to raise awareness for Down's Syndrome and said if he had won the prize he would buy "maybe a hotel, but probably a grocery store".

A group of women jogged with T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Every Day is World Aids Day" and a large throng of people ran to raise money for Seeing Is Believing.

Sara, an 11-year-old girl wearing a blue T-shirt supporting the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund, said if she had won the $200,000, she would "give 100 per cent to charity".

"Actually," she corrected herself, "I would give almost 100 per cent. I would keep a dollar for a bottle of water."