The 2020 Dubai Marathon – Should you run it?

The Dubai Marathon is around the corner, and there have been several conversations online and offline amongst runners about the race, so I thought I’d share my two cents on it. For established runners who are familiar with the race, you’re probably aware of where this is going. For new runners, this is not to deter you from taking part, but merely to manage your expectations and plans in case you decide to run the race. The 10k at the Dubai Marathon back in 2012 was my first ever race, so it has (more like had) a special place in my heart, but it’s far from being the best option out there. It’s the biggest race in the country for sure (Will be overtaken soon by the ADNOC Abu Dhabi Marathon though), but there’s a lot of work to be done there.

Q. When is the race?

A. Jan 24, 2020

 

Q. Where is it going to be?

A. Starts on Umm Suqeim Road, opposite Madinat Jumeirah.

 

Q. What are the distances?

A. They are as follows:

  • 42.195 (Full marathon)
  • 10km
  • 4km fun run

 

Q. What time do the races start?

A.

  • 42.195 starts at 7:00 AM for the masses (6:00 AM for the elites)
  • 10km at 8:30 AM
  • 4km at 10:30 AM

 

Q. When does registration close?

A. While the website states the deadline being on the 31st of December, 2019, every single year, they extend the registration till the day before the race, so don’t worry too much about this bit.

 

Q. Are there any discount codes?

A. The race has never given out discount codes in the past, and they are unlikely to do that now.

 

Q. What are the routes like?

A. Pretty much identical to last year’s courses – Same boring slog up and down Sofouh and Beach roads for the marathon, and up and down Sofouh for the 10k and 4k races. The routes for all three races are flat.

 

Here are the common questions/conversations I get/hear/see online and offline:

Q. started running a couple of months ago, and I did a few 10k runs comfortably recently. I want to do the full marathon, do you recommend I do it?

 

A. If you’ve only done a handful of 10ks and have not done any long runs at all, then I’d strongly advise against doing the full marathon. It takes a few months for established runners to train for a full marathon, and for a new runner to go from 10ks to 42.2k is asking for trouble.

You might be able to finish the race, but the strain on your legs and body, in general, is going to be enormous. I’d say do one or two half marathons in the first half of 2020, and aim to do a full marathon towards the end of the year, as you’d have had plenty of time to train this way, and you’d also have more experience in racing a long distance.

 

Q. I’ve been training well and doing many long runs (21k and above) as part of my training, and I am considering doing the marathon. What do you think?

 

A. If you’ve been putting in the hours and the miles in training, then yes you can do it for the following reasons:

  • If you live in Dubai/nearby, you can literally train on the course whenever you want to (preferably early in the morning on weekends when there are not so many cars).
  • You would be familiar with the course and you’d know what to expect.
  • You don’t need to get used to the climate and/or have jetlag since you’d be familiar with the weather.
  • Very flat course.
  • The race is not crowded, and there are no rules against having people pace you. You can have someone pace you with them being a scooter or a bike (or running with you portions of the race), this sort of support can help enormously in keeping you on target pace.

 

Now, on the other hand, things going against the race that you should keep in mind:

  • It’s a VERY expensive race ($150 for the full marathon).
  • The route is quite boring (but flat).
  • The race starts at 7 AM for the masses, which is a bit late, and it would be getting hotter and hotter as time goes by. The ADNOC Abu Dhabi Marathon started at 6 AM in comparison.
  • There are no pacers (The ADNOC Marathon has pacers).
  • Apart from the area surrounding the start/finish and a couple of support stations that are organized by the local running clubs, there is hardly any support along the route.
  • They had major problems in the 2019 race with the portacabins/loos, there were hardly any and the ones that were there were clogged and messy.
  • The water stations only had the bare minimum- Water and electrolytes (No fruits or gels as far as I recall).

Having said all that, I am planning to run it myself :).

Q. I want to beat my 10k PB at the next Dubai Marathon’s 10k, what do you think?

 

A. Well, it is not impossible to do so, but, it is not the best race for setting fast times due to the following reasons:

  • It starts late, 8:30 AM is quite a late time for fast times. It is true that the race is in January when it is generally quite pleasant, it is still quite late when it comes to racing and getting a fast time. If you think otherwise, I’ll ask you to do this: Go for an easy/light jog this Friday at 8:30 AM, and then go on a similarly easy/light jog on Saturday at 6:30 AM and you’ll definitely feel the difference.
  • It is INSANELY crowded. The race is notorious for having thousands upon thousands of people of varying abilities in the 10k. This makes it challenging and annoying to overtake people and to zigzag for an entire 10k. You will lose time and exert a lot of energy doing so.
  • Everyone starts together– this is related to the previous point. There are no starting pins (e.g. one for the super-fast runners, one for people who expect to finish in sub-40 minutes, sub-50 minutes and so on). This means that people of mixed abilities start at the same time, so let’s say you are aiming to finish in 45 minutes, you’d have hundreds of people in front of you who will walk the whole race and not even jog any part of it.
  • It’s expensive. The 10k costs more than 300 dirhams (!). For the experience and the overall organization (or lack of), that is a LOT of money for a 10k, take into consideration that you could run a very well-organized half marathon in AD, Dubai or RAK for less than 300, this is a rip-off race to me.
  • Getting to and out of the area is tricky, parking in Barsha, MoE or the inner roads of Jumeirah will be an option, but expect a long walk and heavy traffic on the way to and from the race (There is no proper race village either).

Okay, so, now you’re wondering what should you do? Should you still do the race?

A. While I am not advising you to avoid it at all costs, however, if you decide to run it, keep in mind all of the above points and manage your expectations accordingly. Treat it as a fun day out running with friends and thousands of runners, but if you’re running to get a fast time/PB and to judge your ability and performance, then it’s not a true reflection of your actual pace in a more normal race…

 

Q. So, I suppose the next question would be this: What should I do instead?

A. There are countless other races that are:

  • Not as crowded.
  • Better organized.
  • Way cheaper.
  • Start at an earlier time when it’s not as warm as it will be at 8:30 AM.

I highly recommend all events organized by Super Sports Events (Primarily in Dubai) and Gulf Multi Sport (Primarily in AD and Al ain). Some upcoming races to consider:

  1. Super Sports Run at Meydan in Dubai on 10 January, 2020 – https://www.premieronline.com/event/super_sports_run_10_miler16k10k5k3k_race_35_4362
  2. ADCB Make-A-Wish Zayed Sports city 5k and 10k in Abu Dhabi on 10 January, 2020 – https://gulfmultisport.com/?page_id=14&eventid=136740 
  3. Al Ain Zoo Run in Al Ain on 8 February, 2020 – https://gulfmultisport.com/?page_id=14&eventid=137396

 

Q. How do I train for these races?

A. Every person would have their own preference when it comes to training, some like to run alone, others prefer groups, but the majority vary between the two (Like I do).

We are blessed in the UAE to have so many running clubs and communities. I’d say do some research online and see which one works best for you in terms of times, days, locations and training sessions. For new runners, I recommend checking these clubs out: Super Sports Abras Athletics, Dubai Creek Striders, Adidas Runners, Run 4 A Purpose and 5:30 AM Run.

I hope these questions and answers clarify some of the common questions that have been popping around recently, and I wish all runners the best of luck in their upcoming races.

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