x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

More than 20,000 expected for Dubai Marathon

In addition to the full marathon (26.2 miles), there will be a 10-kilometre and 3-kilometre race.

Lee Ryan trains in Safa Park in Dubai for the big day, his eighth marathon and third in Dubai. Razan Alzayani / The National
Lee Ryan trains in Safa Park in Dubai for the big day, his eighth marathon and third in Dubai. Razan Alzayani / The National

DUBAI // It has been 15 years since the inaugural Dubai Marathon and its popularity continues to grow, with record numbers expected to run on Friday.

Organisers expect a total of well over 20,000 runners, from beginners to professionals, to take part in either the full marathon (26.2 miles), a 10km race or 3km race. The number of competitors is up from 19,837 entrants last year.

Since the event began, there have been more than 100,000 runners. In the last 10 years alone, marathon numbers have increased from 3,000 to 10,000.

Lee Ryan will be using the marathon, his eighth, as a practice run for his second attempt to beat the world record for wearing a 20lb backpack the entire distance. He attempted it in 2012 at the London Marathon but was four minutes short of the then 3hr 58min record. He did, however, raise Dh36,000 for research into prostate cancer.

The record now stands at 3hr 20min and the British-born Mr Ryan, a personal trainer in Dubai, said failure on the last attempt only helped him become more determined this time.

Friday’s race, his third in Dubai, “will be my benchmark”, he said. “A marathon is never easy but I’ve learnt a lot of lessons, like the importance of just resting the day before the marathon.”

He has seen the Dubai event grow since starting in the UAE seven years ago.

“It’s a great event to be involved in. When I first did the Dubai Marathon in 2009 there were only about 500 competitors so this increase is superb.”

Roads along the course – including Jumeirah Beach Road – will be closed until noon. The race will start beside the Burj Al Arab and finish in Umm Suqeim Road near the police training academy.

The route has reverted back to the very straight one used in 2008 and 2009, moving away from Downtown which organisers said was impractical because of construction and necessary road closures.

Margaret Rafferty, 51, is a veteran marathon and ultramarathon runner, and this will be her sixth Dubai Marathon. As a committee member of the Dubai Creek Striders, she has seen running rise in popularity since arriving eight years ago.

“Running is such an easy sport to pick up as your only real outlay is your running shoes.”

Each week the group’s Friday run attracts 200 people, a number that has doubled the last two or three years.

“You can see that growth in the Dubai Marathon too,” she said. “The growth is amazing. When I first did it, it was just a few hundred people. It’s such a social thing with so many of us knowing each other and with so much local support from people’s friends and family.”

The world’s richest marathon, with Dh734,600 in prize money, attracts more than elite runners from around the world.

Off-course, Robbie Fowler, the former Liverpool and England footballer, will be running a shoot-out competition, with the winner being able to win a walk on to the pitch of the Premiership team.

Sophie Levett, 24, is a first timer for this year’s marathon. The trainee legal consultant from the UK has been in the UAE for five months. It is her second marathon, having done the Brighton Marathon last year, and she is training for the London Marathon in April.

“I hadn’t heard of the event before I knew I was coming to Dubai but as soon as I found out about moving here I started looking up local races, and knew I had to do a marathon out here,” she said.

“I was actually surprised as it’s much more well-known than I had realised. People do travel from all over to race here and there’s even an elite field.”

In spite of the cool weather, by UAE standards, Sophie is anxious about the race conditions.

“I think this will be much hotter, even in Dubai winter,” she said, though its flat, straight route will be much easier than the hilly route of Brighton. “I am very excited. It will be a fantastic achievement.”