I was in Dubai to visit my brother but thought it would be nice to do the Dubai Marathon while I was there. The course is, on paper at least, a fast one. My previous marathon best was just under 2 hours 59 minutes (in Dublin) and I thought I’d try for just under 2 hours 55 minutes (which is a 6 minutes 40 seconds per mile pace).
I’d just had a day to acclimatise and even though it was a 7am start (just before sunrise) it felt fairly warm. I started fine but even after about half an hour began to start to feel quite warm. The sun was starting to rise but the buildings shielded me from the sun on the first long straight. As the course doubled back on itself it was great to see the elite athletes come back past us amateurs! Once I turned onto the main long straight I began to experience the direct sunlight. I was going okay by halfway in 1 hour 28 minutes 34 seconds but was starting to feel the heat. I was liberally applying water over my head whenever I got the chance. There was some support on the side of the course but nothing like in the Dublin Marathon. Also, as this was a relatively small marathon (with 2160 entrants), I had the unusual experience of running a lot of it on my own. At one stage the nearest runners in front were about 400 metres away and when I glanced over my shoulder there was nobody behind me for a similar distance. After about 16 miles my breathing became a bit more laboured.
At one stage I caught up with an English woman and we got chatting after I offered her a gel. It was good to talk for a few minutes to take my mind off my pain! She was aiming for under 3 hours but I think we were both off that pace at that stage. I knew my sub 2 hours 55 minutes and even a sub 3 hour time had gone. The English woman overtook me and I managed to hang on for a couple of miles before she began to move off into the distance. At that stage I was running just to finish and was struggling with an overwhelming desire to stop running and take a little rest. Bizarrely I passed a couple of elite athletes (one Kenyan, the other possibly Eritrean) who had dropped out but there didn’t seem to be any system to shuttle them back to the finish so they were just walking along the road. Then in the final 4 miles I had my first ever marathon cramping experience. Three times I had to stop briefly curl my toes up and give the back of my thighs a slap and start running again.
At last I turned towards the home straight and with about 100 metres to go a guy caught me so we did a little sprint (which he pipped me) across the finish line which got a cheer from the stands. My finish time was 3 hours 12 minutes 45 seconds which was 155th overall (124th of the men) and I was just relieved to get across the line. Obviously I was slightly disappointed with my time but I’ve no regrets about going for 2 hours 55 minutes. I might give it another go in a cooler climate, with a bit more focussed training, and I probably need to lose about 5kg in weight.
Excitingly the men’s marathon was won in world junior record time of 2 hours 4 minutes 32 seconds by eighteen year old Tsegaye Mekonnen Asefa of Ethiopia in his first marathon. Mula Seboka Seyfu of Ethiopia won the women’s race in 2 hours 25 minutes 1 second.