I did it! I finished my first marathon. Last Friday morning in Dubai, to be precise. In this post, I’ll tell you all the ins and outs about this experience that I will not soon forget. (If you’re not interested in running, please bear with me. I have a post coming up with some nice pictures of my stay at one of the most amazing hotels in Abu Dhabi!)
Ahmed and I flew to Dubai on Thursday. The whole week I was asking myself whether I had taken enough rest – maybe I should have taken more days off and not done all those runs the week before? My legs felt heavy and I felt exhausted – maybe I was anemic again? I was supposed to carbo load, but wasn’t the fact that I didn’t do long runs anymore not enough to fill up my stores? Miraculously, I managed to have good sleeps the days prior to the marathon.
But then was there the Thursday afternoon that we flew to Dubai. Thinking about the run made my heart skip a beat, and sleeping in the plane was impossible. Luckily, I had packed my own lunch, because I foresaw a hungry stomach and no possibilities to eat carbo-rich food without too much fat. The plane was a bit delayed and we landed around 7 pm. The ride from the airport to the hotel went smooth, and I felt relieved when I got my running pack, which the wife of one of my running friends had picked up for me and delivered to our hotel.
We had dinner at an Italian restaurant and the cook didn’t mind I created my own meal of whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce and some vegetables. While waiting for the food, we quickly went to do some last groceries: pre-marathon breakfast of yogurt with oats and banana, and some bananas to have along the way. So far so good.
But then came the moment that I had to lie down and fall asleep. I did lie down, but falling asleep? Impossible. Not only was my body full of adrenaline, our room was right above the bar and loud music entered our room. I closed my eyes, wore my headphones, and slept a few minutes, but then woke up from a crying baby in the next room, who obviously had trouble sleeping too. At 3 in the morning, the music finally stopped and I could sleep for 2 hours, because at 5 am I wanted to eat my breakfast.
The only good thing about the hotel was that it was near the start of the marathon, so we could walk there. From that moment, everything went rather smooth. I got overwhelmed by the crowd I saw at the start, but soon we realized most people were doing the 10 km, which started 15 minutes after us. I made my way to the start, had my first energy gel (so disgusting!) and found my running mate.
The marathon itself went very well too. I had to curb my enthusiasm so as to not run too fast in the beginning. My plan was to start slow and if I felt halfway that it was going well, I would speed up. The kilometers passed in the blink of an eye and soon I noticed the 10-km mark, where I saw Ahmed for the first time after the start and ate another energy gel. It surprised me I could actually swallow it while running! Meanwhile, my running mate had mustered a great team of pacers and supporters.
When I passed the half marathon mark, I still felt like I was flying. Only after 30 kilometers things got more difficult. My hips, knees, and ankles started to hurt and I was unable to keep my pace, or so it felt. That part was also more quiet with less audience, and we went further and further away from the start – and finish! It took an eternity until the last U-turn came, which would take me back toward the finish line. It was true what someone had said halfway: Now the real race started. And while I am used to having some pain towards the end of the race, it is different when you know you still have to run another 10 kilometers. I cursed the one who had decided to make the marathon 42.195 kilometers. Why wasn’t it ‘just’ 40?
However, I managed to increase my pace in the last kilometer and finished in a time of 3:20:48. The moment I stopped running felt incredibly weird. My legs had forgotten how to walk. But I didn’t feel bad. I received my medal and although I did not feel like eating or drinking at all, I forced myself to drink the Gatorade I found in the bag I was given. Soon I found Ahmed and we sat down on the grass while talking about the whole experience. We also saw our running mates from Jeddah, chatted a bit with everyone, and made some pictures. Approximately 1 hour after I had finished we walked back to the hotel, ready to leave Dubai and revisit our love Abu Dhabi!
All in all, it was a memorable experience. I am happy with the way things went. However, to say that running a marathon is a life-changing experience is an overstatement. Perhaps for some people it is, but not for me. I think maybe because I had been ready to run a marathon for the last 1.5 years, so it didn’t feel like I had overcome a major challenge.
Running my first marathon definitely made me want to run another one! And another! I am not sure I would be able to improve my time though. The course in Dubai is very fast. It is basically one street along the sea that you run up and down. The weather was perfect – around 14 degrees at the start and maybe 20 in the end – and there was hardly any wind.
For the time being, however, I focus on my recovery. My legs were extremely sore on Friday and Saturday. I could hardly walk down the stairs and after we had dinner the first evening it was impossible to walk normally! On Sunday, I already felt much better and today I only feel a slight soreness. I will take my time though to fully recover both physically and mentally, focus on some other (pending) things, and think of my running goal for the next months.
Pictures by Ahmed AlQassem