I ran the half marathon at the 2014 Amman Marathon on the morning of Friday 24 October 2014, and here is a small review of it. The race had a 10k fun run, a half marathon and a full marathon. I am not sure about the route of the 10k race, but the half marathon and the full marathon did two and four loops respectively around Downtown Amman and the surrounding area.
I ran a few long distance races abroad ever since I caught the running bug a couple of years ago, I was not planning to do any runs in Jordan after having a poor experience in my previous run there (The full marathon at the Dead Sea ultra marathon in April 2013, my first full marathon. The race overall was not that great in my opinion and I blogged about it here).
I signed up last-minute to do the half marathon at the 2014 Amman Marathon as I had to come home to sort out some documents, renew my Jordanian passport and of course spend some quality time with family. I’m sharing my experience here with the race.
A joke of a website: Well, without doubt the first experience and impression was absolutely rubbish. The registration process is a joke. As I’ve seen around the Middle East and in a couple of Asian countries, locals pay much less than expats to access tourist sites and to participate in sporting activities such as this one. As a Jordanian, I should have qualified as a Jordanian, however, as per the lovely registration site I was asked to pay the same fee as a foreigner. I eventually asked one of my very good friends to sign up for me using my passport copy as proof (Cheers Eman!) Another glaring error on the website was that for some unfathomable reason, on the registration form I could not enter + or zeros. These are basic and amateur errors.
The goodie bag is equally bad: Race day instructions, the route, a couple of promotional flyers, a juice and obviously the bib number. Not sure if I missed out anything but whatever else might have been there wouldn’t have made much of a difference really.
I hope the international runners got more goodies in their bags, maybe some discount vouchers for activities, tours, hotels and restaurants etc., maybe some information about Jordan and the main touristic cities, a brochure about the charities being supported etc., but all of that is rather unlikely. I did not explore the website to check other sections and information since it was all happening last-minute (I booked my flights a day before actually flying in).
My good friend picked me up and we went to the area where the full marathon and half marathon runners convened to get on buses taking them to the start line. There were problems with the police who did not allow the bus to go through and the bus driver insisted to drop us at a point which was apparently several kilometers away from the start line. We got to the start line after a 10-15 minute pause the bus driver was eventually given the go ahead to drive to the start line. Poor communication and coordination I guess.
The half marathon was scheduled to start at 7:30am, but there was a 15-20 minute delay as there were runners who got late to the starting point (Because of the bus chaos). Credit to the organizers, there were enough toilet cabins at the start line, which has been an issue at other races I’ve done (But having said that, these had hundreds, if not thousands of runners, I think there was less than a hundred people running the half marathon. Other than that the start was not that bad, but the 15-20 minute delay at the start line meant that it was slightly warmer when we actually started, which could have cut off precious seconds and/or minutes from people’s finish times.
The race itself went better as I expected, somewhat. The route going through downtown Amman (Which contrary to what it may suggest, it is not the classier side of town). There were thousands of people on the streets but there was hardly any support whatsoever. I understand why though , as the majority of the people there were there either selling, buying or commuting through the area. There are also some Friday markets in the area which draw in big crowds. It was a bit eerie to run with so many people in the area, but it seemed as though the marathon was more of an inconvenience to the people who come to the area often as the roads were closed off and there was a heavy police presence to ensure people do not abuse or approach the runners. Even the hundreds of volunteers along the course had little interest in cheering on the participants and some were even smoking! (pre, during and after the race).
The route was longer than the 21.1km, my watch recorded it at 21.23 while another runner had it at almost 21.5 (!). I felt it was 21.5km. The finish line was confusing as there were two finish lines, one for the 10k runners and a separate one for the half marathon and full marathon runners. I lost a few seconds trying to figure out which one I had to go to as the marshals were instructing me to do another loop. Normally at races with several loops you’d have one or two marshals barking out instructions to runners. The water stations were well-stocked with water, however the water bottles were given with the caps on which is a bit of an inconvenience. A couple of stations had bananas and Gatorade in plastic cups but that was about it. No sponges, no sprays, no gels, nothing. I forgot my Gu gels in Dubai but a couple of bites of a banana sufficed, but it must have been crap.
A positive I’d say is that the route was not as difficult as I worried it might be. Amman is a very hilly city (It’s also known as the city of seven hills), but the route was relatively flat and the hills/inclines were not very daunting and I actually enjoyed the challenge. Parts of the route were beautiful where you can see the whole of Jebel Amman in the background, and despite the lack of atmosphere, running around downtown Amman has this unique charm to it. Credit to the organizers for choosing this route, two loops is okay I guess, but having said that though, the full marathon runners must have struggled a lot mentally with the four loops of the same route. I personally wouldn’t do it. Even two loops for a full marathon can be a tough ask, which is somewhat case for the Dubai marathon (But there you go to one end of a road and back).
At the finish line I got my medal and refreshments, but It had a bit of an anti-clmatic feel to it. I got a PB (yey!) despite the longer route and I am glad for that as this was first long distance race of the season on the back of a positive summer where I focused on doing more speed work combined with some cross and core training. The refreshments were limited (juices, water and fruits), then there was the ceremony in the massive Roman amphitheatre. Did not stay long there as it was getting warmer and dull (There’s so much traditional music I can take to be honest, but that’s me. The thousands of people there thoroughly enjoyed it). Good setting for the race finale.
At the time of writing, it’s been over 24 hours since the race finished (All three categories, 10k, HM and the full marathon) yet there is no sign of the results except the news articles talking about the top three finishers in each race and gender category. I tweeted (politely) to the event organizers yesterday asking about the results and the photos (I know the latter will take some time, assuming they will be posted anywhere. I’m yet to see any official pictures from the 2013 Dead Sea marathon). I got no response to my enquiry, I tweeted again today (Less politely) and got a response from someone saying the results are posted on the website (Not the case the last time I checked). One of the basics of running events is the timing and the results, but it seems as though the event organizers in Jordan are only concerned about the finishers on the podium. Oh well.
Despite all the criticism above, the race exceeded my expectations, but having said that, I was expecting a much worse race. There is a lot of areas to improve, but it was good to see thousands of people participating in the 10k, but the recurring theme of overcharging foreigners to run is a disgusting practice considering the amounts they are being charged. For $100 one could add a little bit more and run the much more professional Dubai Marathon or even go to Europe (I think the Istanbul marathon cost less than that last year, and the route was far more scenic and interesting).
Will I run again in Jordan? Only if I happen to be in the country around the time of a race, is this race worth flying in to for international runners? Not really. There is nothing unique about it. If you are a competent runner (Something I’m not), by competent I’m talking about sub-35 minute 10k, sub 1:10 hour HM and sub 2:30 hour marathon then there is a high chance you will finish on the podium here, which might appeal to some runners. It’s even better if you are a decent female runner as the field is not that big especially for the HM and full marathon distances.
Photo credits: Rae Brookshire.