I took part and finished my fourteenth full marathon last weekend in Dubai. It was the third time for me to take part in the Dubai Marathon, and I completed the race with a new personal best (PB) time of 3:19:58, which is a PB of three minutes (The previous PB was 3:23 hours, set in Tokyo almost a year ago). My experience at the Dubai Marathon, while it was a great day out, but it still left me with plenty of food for thought, but as they say, a PB is a PB.
Why did I mentally switch off after just 25k when I had plenty of gas left in the tank? Did I really race that hard considering that I was able to hop on a plane the same day of the race and then went on an easy jog in Beirut 48 hours after I completed the race with hardly any soreness? I know that “A PB is a PB”, however, it’s good to take stock after a race, and take your learnings into future races.
Training and the weeks leading up to the race:
I had not been training for any marathons in particular this season, but I had maintained a training routine that was not that far off from what I’d do if I were (i.e. two speed sessions in midweek, one or two recovery jogs and a long run on the weekend), I combined those with some cross-training (cycling and swimming primarily, and the occasional bootcamp) in addition to some laid-back mixed football games. My aim was to be prepared for a half marathon if I decided to race one last-minute, or if I felt like racing a full marathon with a few weeks to spare (which is exactly what happened).
The decision to take part in the race came to me while I was taking photos for Inphota of the finishers of the ADNOC Abu Dhabi Marathon in early December, you could call it FOMO if you want. I realized how much I missed the feeling of taking part in marathons, and seeing the exhalation and the plethora of emotions of friends and fellow runners of the community (and to be able to capture these moments as well) convinced me of the decision.
Yes, I know I had blogged about the race and how mediocre it is, I fully stand by my words. It is still mediocre for us non-elite runners (with a late start at 7 AM for the masses, which includes yours truly and pretty much 99% of the participants), the route is boring (with an out and back on Sofouh Road followed by two miserable loops of Beach Road), the lack of support that you’d expect as standard in ‘big city’ races and the cost (at $150, it is priced more than so many world-class races such as Berlin, Paris, Rotterdam and Valencia).
The few positives for me and for UAE residents: You know what to expect in terms of the route, the weather, where to park, how to get there etc. In a race, you try to control what little you can control, and the Dubai Marathon allows for that. You’d be familiar with the weather, the route and be able to have foods you are used to in the lead-up to the race, plus the benefit of not traveling and possibly dealing with jetlag and unfamiliar surroundings. Additionally, because the ‘field’ is so sparse, it is easy to have friends pace you (even on a bike or a scooter, which would be unthinkable in many races), and I was very lucky to have two friends who are fantastic runners pacing me for most of the race (Cheers Hazim Darwish and Nick Little, you guys are legends!).
When you’re marathon training, you’re bound to have good runs, some mundane and average ones and a couple of crappy ones every now and then. For this race, in all honesty, most of the training runs went smoothly and were straightforward. I was able to push harder than I had expected in a few of them. The only one that did not go according to the original plan (but was still a decent hard workout when looking back), was the last ‘hard’ long run, which I could not stick to the original plan and just powered through to finish (Long story but not worth going into the details). I was comfortable doing a two-week taper rather than three weeks, as I did not feel fatigued going into the last week of hard training.
I was lucky when it came to registering for the race. I was willing to pay the ridiculously high fee of $150, but luck intervened. I got an email in early January inviting me to an event for launching some golf products, which I could not attend. When I informed the PR agency that had invited me that I could not make it, I was informed that they are also doing some PR work for Adidas Running, and they had a few spots for the marathon (across all distances). They had asked me if I were interested, which was a definite yeah (I had originally planned to pay up the same week I got the email). It is great to see big brands supporting the local running community, so a huge thank you to Adidas Running, Sian and her team at Sticky Ginger PR.
The night before the race, I organized a ‘pasta party’ buffet dinner at a very good Italian restaurant called Don Corleone at the Metropolitan Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, which was the property I slept at the night of the race as it was very close to the race village. The party was a good way to calm the nerves, catch up with friends who were running the race and other close friends who weren’t taking part, but wanted to join in the carb-filled evening.
I made sure to wake up early on race day, to take as much time as I can to follow my usual pre-race ritual: Gulping down coffee, some fruits, dates, croissants while chit-chatting to family, friends and fellow runners online before making my way to the race village. I found a parking spot that was less than half a kilometer away from the race village, went to the portable loos, which were definitely not sufficient for the number of people racing (What’s with that? It’s a small problem with a simple solution, but it seems the organizers never learn or seem to have any interest in fixing). I was at the race village early, so I did not have to wait for a very long time, but the queue kept on getting longer and longer as the race’s start time drew closer. Oh well. I dropped off my bag soon after, and then I found a couple of training buddies from Super Sports Abras Athletics aka Abras (the running club I’ve been training with for several years now), we could not locate everyone for the customary pre-race group photo, but I was able to do a warmup with the gentlemen I managed to find.
The conditions were good, in fact, they were the best they’ve been in my 8 years of running (six and a half of which were in Dubai). There were some light showers overnight, thankfully not heavy enough to create any puddles of water, it was slightly humid and there was some headwind, but the most important factor was that there was a cloud cover for most of the race’s duration, which made for ideal running conditions.
The race started bang on time (7:00 AM for us commoners, with the elites starting at 6:00 AM, while the 10k race started at 8:15 AM). The race strategy I was hoping to follow was something along these lines:
- Try to maintain a pace between 4:30 min/km and 4:40 min/km pace until the 32k mark.
- Hold on to dear life for the final 10k of the race at sub-5:00 min/km pace.
The race started off well, I felt confident and relatively comfortable, completing the first 10k in 45:05 minutes (exactly at 4:30 pace). The first of my two amazing pacers, Hazim joined me from the 15k mark onwards, and I was okay, going past the half marathon in 1:35:32 hours (4:32 pace- which would put me on course for a 3:11 hour marathon if I were to maintain that pace throughout).
That didn’t last, at the 25k mark, I don’t know why, but I pretty much started slacking by walking and running. I was not tired, I did not hit the wall, my legs were okay, I had plenty left in the tank and I knew I did not have to dig deep, I just had to put in slightly more effort, but I simply could not get myself to it. I know it sounds absurd that I got a sub 3:20 PB while slacking, it is proof that I could, and should have ran harder, and that I did not have it in me to finish the race as strong as I should have.
From that 25k mark onwards it was pretty much a mini-running party for me, Nick (who joined us from the 26k mark onwards) and Hazim with running and walking breaks. We played music on Hazim’s phone, bantered with fellow runners and strolled at cheer stations. Hazim and Nick kept me going at a pace faster than what I’d have ran at if I were on my own, so I owe the time I finished the race in to them (Hazim was supposed to be with me from 15k to 35k, with Nick from about 26k to 38k-ish, but both stuck around till around the 40-41 mark).
I had arranged with the awesome Hanan Harb to see her somewhere close to the the bend leading to the finish line, where she’d give me my Palestinian flag. I was so high on adrenaline in that last stretch that I ran the last 200 meters at sub 4:00 minute pace (!). Doing that after covering 42k is further proof I did not really put in 100% effort. Maybe mentally I found it hard to push myself further, especially after I figured out I will get a PB even with jogging/walking, but in that case, why race if it’s only to get a PB rather than to test one’s true ability and limits? Food for thought.
Right after crossing the finish line, I lay on the ground for a few minutes as my hamstring was a bit tight, but the medics sprayed something on them and I was okay to get up, Hung out around the race village and cheered on friends and complete strangers who were on the home stretch to the finish line, I even jogged for a few hundred meters with two friends, one of them completing his first ever marathon (Well done Ahmad Karaman!) and Mazen Mroueh, the Lebanese super athlete who completed his 59th full marathon by doing this race (!).
Post-race, I had breakfast with a couple of friends, went back to my hotel, showered, checked-out and joined the Abras squad for celebratory drinks before heading to the airport to catch a flight to Beirut (Will talk about that trip in more detail in another blog post). The morning after the race my legs were a tad sore, but not as much as I would’ve expected after a marathon (the least it’d take me to feel somewhat normal after one is 4-5 days). I was even able to join a friend in a morning jog (aka. kazdoora) on Sunday morning along the breathtaking Beirut corniche. I was supposed to join them for 8 to 10k, but ended up doing 15k with them at a very easy and conversational pace and felt no pain or soreness whatsoever, and was able to go up and down stairs normally (ask any marathoner what would be their biggest enemy after 42.195k, and flights of stairs would definitely be high up on their list). At the time of writing this part of the blog post (Monday night), the legs are completely normal, and I feel I could even do a speed session tomorrow, but wisdom and common sense prevail in such cases.
What to take away from this race:
Well, considering the weather, the temperature and how the race went, the pacers, and in hindsight, it was a missed opportunity for a stronger race and a better time. I should be more aggressive and stubborn mentally in the future. I signed up for the Valencia Marathon in December later this year, and I am in the ballot for the New York Marathon, I do not know whether I will be able to do either race (assuming I
As usual, I will end this blog post with the screenshots of the stats. Some km are completely off, as the case tends to be when you have skyscrapers and u-turns.