x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

More than 30,000 jog, sprint and limp across Dubai Marathon finish line

Some were there for personal achievement, some to spread a message and some just for the fun of it but everyone who took part and came to cheer at the Dubai Marathon enjoyed the buzz of the big day.

The winner of the Dubai Marathon was 18-year-old Tsegaye Mekonnen Asefa, from Ethiopia, who set a world junior record after crossing the finish line in two hours, four minutes and 32 seconds. Antonie Robertson / The National
The winner of the Dubai Marathon was 18-year-old Tsegaye Mekonnen Asefa, from Ethiopia, who set a world junior record after crossing the finish line in two hours, four minutes and 32 seconds. Antonie Robertson / The National

Ramola Talwar Badam

DUBAI // More than 23,000 runners sprinted, jogged and limped their way across the finish line in Friday’s Dubai Marathon.

Spirit, camaraderie and enthusiasm was evident in every entrant – from super-speedy professional runners to those making their race debut.

The race was won by Tsegaye Mekonnen Asefa, 18, from Ethiopia, who set a world junior record after crossing the finish line in two hours, four minutes and 32 seconds.

The fastest woman was Ethiopian Mula Seboka Seyfu, who clocked in at 2:25:01.

People in wheelchairs, firefighters from France and a host of people in costume also took part in the 10th year of the marathon.

Some were intent on achieving personal goals, while others were keen to raise funds and awareness of diseases. Many others ran simply for the love of the sport.

“This was the only way to get home, I had to complete the race,” said Thor Ranthe, a Dubai business consultant who hobbled across the finish line in just under 2 hours and 30 minutes.

“Cramps are not dangerous, so I continued running. The pain started after 35 kilometres and I couldn’t do much but run, stretch, run and stretch.”

Crouched low, pushing his wheelchair, Ali Suwalne, a government employee from Jordan, said his hands were bruised and he was drained by the effort.

“I started to train two years ago because I want to improve myself and show everyone that if I can do it, others can also do the same,” he said.

Among the 30,900 entrants to the marathon, 10K and 3K fun run were thousands of veteran runners and an equal number of first-timers.

As the sun began to beat down on the marathon runners, many required oxygen support and medical assistance after collapsing along the route or close to the finish line.

“I didn’t know how I would feel after a marathon, now I know – I feel terrible. But maybe I will feel better later,” said Ataka Toru, a visiting Japanese engineer who combined a business trip to the UAE with his marathon debut.

Like several entrants, he suffered from cramps but recovered after drinking fluids.

“I wanted to have the experience of running the marathon. Running keeps me healthy and helps me forget my work, I just run,” he said.

It was tourist Roberto Boiano’s fifteenth marathon. The hairdresser, from Caserta, near Rome, who is visiting the UAE for the first time, said long-distance running was relaxing.

“My stress goes out of me when I run,” he said. “You are very, very tired but it makes you become very, very calm.”

Hundreds came out to cheer on the runners. The most visible contingent of supporters was a group of Ethiopians wearing red, yellow and green t-shirts and waving their national flag.

They stomped, sang, beat drums and whistled for every Ethiopian athlete whose image flashed across giant screens at the finish line.

“We are singing spiritual songs to be thankful for this day,” said Sara Moges, a housekeeper at an Abu Dhabi hotel who attended with friends. “We are here to cheer for our athletes because they are the best, always.”

The crowds reserved their loudest cheers for contestants with special needs.

Coline Gaultier, a professional musician from France, was lifted out of a joelette, a specially designed one-wheel chair, and walked a few steps to the finish line helped by her Parisian firefighter teammates.

“Before the chair, I was a sporting person. I want to enjoy the same now and they help me,” said Ms Gaultier, who suffers from dystonia, a condition that causes the muscles to contract and spasm involuntarily.

A team of seven firefighters from the Pompier Raid Aventure group took turns pulling the chair across the 42-kilometre course.

The team aims to give people with special needs the chance to take part in sporting events and they have their sights set on marathons in Australia and Tanzania this year.

“It’s a great challenge for me because, with every race, my condition is at a different stage and gets worse. But I want to show that if you want to, you can do it,” Ms Gaultier said.

Wearing a bright blue and red suit with a flowing red cape, another contestant was keen to spread a health message.

“Marathon Man”, also known as Trent Morrow, from Australia, ran 158 marathons last year, taking him to 11 countries on five continents.

“I put on this suit to inspire others to take a leap of faith,” said Morrow, who took up running in 2006.

“I was 30 kilograms overweight and I want to show others what is truly possible if you believe in yourself, and with a fitness and lifestyle change.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae