Days until Wadi Bih: 14
The morning of the Dubai marathon and 10k dawns chilly and a little misty: from my apartment in Downtown I’m awoken pre-sunrise by the strains of 2 Unlimited’s ‘No Limit’ blasting from huge PA system set up at the finish line. Luckily, living within a stone’s throw of the start means I’m spared the stress of negotiating the road closures that seem to have the whole of Downtown on lockdown, and I arrive at the start, banana in one hand, Gatorade in the other, at 6.45am on the dot.
I still can’t quite believe I’m here. I only signed up five days ago as part of my training for the Wadi Bih run on February 10, and I’m pretty apprehensive, having only done a couple of training runs. Yet I’m pretty confident I can make it round the course in one piece. Whether I finish anywhere near my personal-best time is less certain.
The atmosphere is buzzing, and there’s more than a little tension in the air as nervous runners try to shake the chill from their limbs. The hardy marathon runners set off first, many with a look of trepidation in their eyes; to be fair, I’m sure I’d look more than a little scared if I had at least four hours of running ahead of me. As the 10k-ers gather in the holding area near the start, I try to position myself about half-way back, iPod at the ready, then attempt a couple of rather feeble stretches – partly to try to force some life into my muscles, and partly to try to make it look as though I know what I’m doing.
I sense a few psychological mind games going on as fellow runners size each other up: there’s a big group of giggly girls just in front of me, joking loudly about how they’ve ‘done absolutely no training’; on the flipside, a professional-looking guy in long running socks and a headband is limbering up to my left.
The klaxon sounds: a cheer goes up from the group and runners jostle for position as we shuffle towards the start line. It takes me at least six minutes to inch forward to the gantry, then those around me break into a trot and we’re off.
One of the top tips I’ve learned about running is to ignore everyone else and go at your own pace: easier said than done when the over-enthusiastic runners all around me set off at a break-neck speed, carried away by the crowd and the occasion. Yet I force myself to plod slowly, sticking to my tried-and-tested six-minute-per-km pace. Amazingly, I find myself overtaking walkers within 500m of the start line: yes, I know not everyone has talent to rival Paula Radcliffe, but surely if you’ve entered a ‘running’ race you’d at least try to run for more than three minutes?
The first couple of kilometers are hard going as I try to settle into my stride and dodge walkers left, right and centre (top tip: if you know you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, try to start near the back, rather than the front: you’ll cause everyone else a lot less grief). As we approach the 3km marker, I fall into stride behind a duo dressed as ketchup bottles: I glance down at my watch and see I’m doing pretty well, pace-wise, passing 3km at 16 minutes and 40 seconds. The sun’s starting to climb and I’m glad I wore my shades.
The next four or so kilometers pass in a monotonous blur as I plod on, keeping time with my music, forcing my legs to stick to the rhythm: I start to try to focus on what’s going on around me to take my mind off the stitch that’s creeping into my right side. I pass a guy dressed in a monkey suit (rather him than me), and am cheered by the sight of a guy draped in an Ethiopian flag standing on the sidelines outside The Dubai Mall, yelling encouragement to each and every runner. I give him a high-five as I jog past, and the buzz carries me another 30 seconds closer to the finish line.
Another glance at my watch and I’m astounded to discover I’m still sticking to my blistering pace: at this rate I’ll smash my personal best and then some. Surprisingly, I’m not suffering too badly either, my stitch abating somewhere around the 8km marker. The crowds also start to pick up the closer we get to the finish line, and the sound of applause and shouting does plenty to lift my spirits.
At the 9km marker I hit the wall: my legs are suddenly leaden, I feel slightly sick and my breathing comes in gasps. Yet at that moment the opening bars of Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’ kick in on my iPod and I break into a grin: yes, I can do this, I’m nearly there, and my personal best is about to be demolished. The 200m marker comes and goes, then the 100m; I force my legs to move faster for a final push to the finish. I cross the line and hammer the button on my stopwatch. 53:51. My lungs hurt, my back is aching and I’ve sweated so much my lips are dry and my face feels salty. But I’ve done it.
Next time: Wadi Bih looms closer: it’s time to up the pace
Did you compete in the marathon, 10k or 3k races? How did you find it? Were you pleased with your time? Were you the man dressed in the rhino suit? Post your comments below…
Catch up with Rebecca’s progress by clicking here.