Emirati running to Makkah battles through sandstorms and exhaustion
Khaled Al Suwaidi - who has about 600 kilometres to go - reveals the highs and lows of his journey from Abu Dhabi to the Holy City
While the mantra of ‘head down and keep on going’ might seem straightforward enough – running mile after mile across empty desert is no easy task.
Yet despite the challenges Khaled Al Suwaidi, an Emirati academic, remains resolute in his effort to run from Abu Dhabi to Makkah in just 38 days.
Now in Saudi Arabia with some 600km still to go, the super-fit 34-year-old has revealed a little of the highs and lows of the journey so far.
He described the hardship of battling intense sandstorms on his own and the elation of having total strangers decide to run with him.
“The terrain and weather is tough but the people have been incredible, he told The National.
“Running in the middle of Saudi Arabia is a tricky thing but I’ve been invited in for so many meals by families I’ve met along the way.
“I was running through a sandstorm and it felt like I was running through hell. It’s a totally different environment to Dubai or Abu Dhabi.”
Dr Al Suwaidi is undergoing the mammoth 1,850km run in an effort to inspire others to get “out of their comfort zone”.
He also said the challenge was in part to highlight the importance of the close relationship between the UAE and its neighbour Saudi Arabia.
His first 20 days were spent mainly running on highways, though small towns and villages.
But he revealed the terrain had now given way to vast stretches of desert as he ventured deeper into Saudi Arabia.
He hopes to reach Makkah by March 4, leaving him a remaining target of around 55km a day to complete the challenge.
“When we reached Riyadh there was a lot more traffic and people about,” he said. “Everyone wanted to stop and speak with us so it was slow going.
“That was the only place I’ve seen any action really - it was incredible meeting the other runners who joined us.”
Dr Khaled is now around 200km past Riyadh and close to the village of Ar Ruwaidah.
As he gets closer to Makkah, his progress will slow as he takes time out to visit a number of hospitals and schools to talk about his trip.
“When you see the map it is just empty where I am now,” he said. “I didn’t see a house or a traffic light for 12 days.
“I’d heard of the love and appreciation the people of Saudi Arabia have for the UAE but it has been incredible to see it in person.
“A Bedouin came out of nowhere and ran with me, barefoot through the desert for 10km in Al Ahsa.
“They call me a traveller here and to see the Saudis in person and their reaction to what I’m doing – it makes me feel proud.”
Updated: February 21, 2019 11:56 AM