x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Long-distance running in Dubai

An early-morning run with the Dubai Creek Striders is a great way to train for long-distance competition see the city.

Running with the Dubai Creek Striders. The group goes out regularly, first thing on Fridays.
Running with the Dubai Creek Striders. The group goes out regularly, first thing on Fridays.

I approach the public car park opposite the Novotel on Sheikh Zayed Road a good 20 minutes before the sun has even managed to rise. Bleary-eyed, I expect to see a few cars and some weary-looking runners limbering up.

But as I pull on to the service road, two or three runners are already coming towards me, glistening with sweat, and a crowd is gathering along one side of the car park.

The 100 or so members of the Dubai Creek Striders (DCS) all look frighteningly alert and ready for the task ahead: a 20km run around the city.

After almost four years of meaning to run with one of Dubai's most popular long-distance running groups, I have finally managed to join them, but now I'm wondering if I have bitten off more than I can chew.

I haven't run long-distance for a good nine months and even when I was training regularly I never got beyond 18km because of an injury that I shan't bore you with. While I regularly do shorter sprint runs, I'm not sure how my creeky knees, or easily wearied mind, will hold up against the relentless pavement pounding.

I give the Dh100 note in my back pocket a quick tap to check it is still there. The DCS's founder Malcolm Murphy recommends keeping taxi fare about your person so that people following a programme requiring a shorter run, or those like me who simply cannot complete such a distance, can just hail a cab when they have had enough.

Murphy founded the group in 1995, having taken up running with a colleague at work, and their regular Friday morning outings soon began to attract others.

Today they have at least 120 members and the Friday morning runs are now divided into three groups, according to ability, with Murphy leading the most sociable and relaxed of pace. This is, of course, the one I join.

Some runners have been up and out since 4.30am in order to get in an extra 13km in before the main groups head off. Some will be taking part in the New York Marathon.

After a word or two about road etiquette and forthcoming events from our 62-year-old leader, who has done marathons and ultra-marathons in the 15 years since he took up the sport, off we go, heading across Zabeel roundabout and over towards the park, passing the Etisalat building.

What little traffic there is on the road so early on a Friday actually stops for us, without our having to force the matter. I feel as though I am seeing, and experiencing, the city in a whole new light.

In such a large group - there are about 40 of us - it is easy to settle into a comfortable pace without feeling like you're slowing anyone down, and I suddenly feel more optimistic I'll at least make it halfway. The group is made up of mixed abilities, from those who have been running with DCS for years and have completed marathons, to others who have just begun a marathon or half-marathon training programme and need the support and motivation of running in a group to get them through their weekly long run.

Every three to four kilometres the group stops at a petrol station for a drink. The humidity this morning is wretched and the Dh10 everyone donates at the start of the run goes toward much-needed water and isotonics as well as supporting the events the DCS runs throughout the year, such as a forthcoming half-marathon.

The staff at the petrol stations seem unperturbed by the mass of runners descending on them. Apparently, they are used to it after so many years.

After a pause at the Al Karama petrol station we head along the streets to Oud Metha, stopping at another petrol station before making our way over to Al Maktoum Bridge.

This is the first time I have seen Dubai as a large city, having spent the best part of four years travelling everywhere by car. Now, I find myself a little disoriented.

Getting up and over the Maktoum Bridge, we head down towards the Dubai Creek, Deira-side, passing a group of yoga students who, at 7am, are already out stretching on a lawn near the Rolex towers. Unfortunately, my journey ends soon after that as my runner's knee kicks in and I decide not to risk the wrath of my physiotherapist by continuing any longer.

I hail a cab, almost immediately, and make the Dh15 journey back to the car park to collect my car.

The others soldier on, some alternately walking and running, others jogging at a steady pace.

While I'm irritated at having to cut my run short, and despite the humidity, I have really enjoyed being up and about so early on a Friday morning. I felt privy to a side of Dubai that relatively few have the fortune to see, and there is nothing quite like a bit of exercise in the morning to kick-start a good day, particularly when you're part of such a friendly group.