It was an early start. Abu Dhabi is just over an hours drive from Dubai and the race started at 6:30, with runners to arrive no later than 5:45 for registration. What a shitter. We arrived early at 5:20 or so in the car park of Yas Waterworld (a massive waterpark in Yas Island) to find a Red Bull van blasting ‘The Rock Show’ by Blink 182 in the dark. Very weird. Someone had laid carpet down in the corner of car park and labelled it ‘stretch area’. We made our way inside Yas Waterworld, a park themed on a story of a pearl hunting Emirati girl called Dana (obviously), and found lockers. The sun started to rise over the turrets and it was nearly time to go. Even weirder.
Over here I have a lovely running partner in crime called Chloe. When we were drunk I convinced her to run the Dubai marathon with me and, within two weeks, we’d both signed up to four races over the coming few months. She’s run one half marathon before and I am beyond impressed with her balls to take on a marathon and a 72km mountain relay in this heat. She admits she isn’t the fastest but she always run with negative splits and a sprint finish and never stops. Basically she is a total badass and every week I find myself taking lessons from her in mind over matter (for a start, I am terrible for stopping mid-run when the going gets tough and/or a bit boring). I was grateful to run this race with her.
The race was put on by the Abu Dhabi Striders and we found ourselves at the start line surrounding by a mix of skeletons clad in compression gear and nervous looking beginners in inappropriate shoes (3 pairs of Nike Free training shoes, a pair of converse, some Gola slip ons and some Lacoste pumps. Ouch). There was a field of ‘elites’ (sub1:15), preferred (sub 1:40) and then mass start. We positioned ourselves towards the back of the mass start with a plan to aim for sensible 10:30 minute miles.
The course was pancake flat, which I think is why it had attracted so many speedy runners and beginners alike from all over the Middle East (we saw running shirts from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Doha, Bahrain and Jordan). The first half was more interesting than the second, taking us down multi-lane roads through Yas Island, past several big chain hotels and some fake greenery. It then took us in to Yas Circuit (the location of the F1 the previous weekend) which was a pretty cool jaunt, and we also ran round Yas Marina, past several fancy pants yachts. Unnervingly, the road hadn’t been shut, but rather had just had the inside lane cordoned off with some sporadic cones, and a few times we found ourselves being trailed by taxis confused by this arrangement.
Unfortunately the second half took us off on some back roads, with nothing to look at but sand, motoways and underpasses (shade!). By this point the sun was up and getting its angry hat on and at 12km I went from feeling very comfortable to a total mess very very quickly. My feet were burning and my whole body was sore and dehydrated. Chloe has been suffering with ITB tightness in her hip and this was also getting its angry hat on, which made things even harder.
The course was littered with cheerful marshalls in bright orange t-shirts, often on their own, clapping and cheering runners, playing the guitar or drums and handing out water. They were amazing and I am forever grateful to everyone who got up at a ridiculous hour to stand out in the desert so we didn’t feel alone. Heroes. The aid stations were also amazing, handing out water, delicious energy drink (Aqualyte?), Gu gels and sponges straight from an icy bucket. Words cannot explain the excitement of being given something ice cold when you’re running a half marathon through sand.
4k, 8k and 15k had been flagged as ‘hills’ and, while technically accurate, I’d say that 15k was the only real hill in the course. 4k was an incline up past some hotels that was about 40m long and came straight back down again (we saw some people walking this). 8k was a steep ramp up in to the F1 circuit but it was about 20m long, if that (again, saw some people walking). 15k was quite a steep incline up a bridge over a road, about 300m long. It was a head down, pump your arms moment and we both sped up to the top, overtaking two or three people who never caught us up.
By 19k Chloe’s hip was really giving her hell and my entire body felt like it had been beaten with rods. My feet were hot and sore and every step hurt. Definitely having deep internal conversation with ourselves at this point. We took a couple of short walking breaks to give respite to Chloe’s hip before deciding that all we really wanted was for it to be over, so we gritted our teeth and finished the damn thing.
Despite the pain, we had set off at a 10:15 m/mile and gradually increased to a 10:03 m/mile, which we maintained. As we ran down the final stretch and the finish line came in to view, Chloe turned to me and said “Come on Soph” while speeding off. I picked up the pace to catch her and it was awesome. We saw a man approaching the finish line and agreed to take him down, so dug in even deeper and ran past him on either side to cross the line in 2:11. This is a PB for Chloe by 9 minutes – bearing in mine we’ve only been training for 4 weeks, we’ve only done 3 ‘long’ runs (9, 10 and 7 miles) and it is really quite hot. Told you she is a total badass.
Post-race was a dream of a free breakfast buffet (I’m talking bircher muesli, cereals, fruit platters, yoghurts, pastries, fresh juices, full cooked breakfast complete with omelette live cooking station) and complementary entry in to Yas Waterworld. We spent the day whizzing down water slides, many of which had disco lights (made me think of Rhalou) and topped it all off with a marshmallow fro-yo. That, my friends, is what’s called living the dream.
It was a tough one and it’s a medal that I am really proud of. I had a lot of fun running with Chloe and I am so proud of her awesome running. Thanks to ADS for putting on a cool race! I’ll definitely be wearing my t-shirt with pride.