It’s that time of the year again. The time of Jeddah’s yearly “marathon” event. And every year I think, “Shall I join this year? Shall I just be brave and run this race? (Which, by the way, is not a real marathon but only a 21 km run that in other countries is called a HALF-marathon.)
The reason I’m doubting is not because I’m not in shape. Or because I’m afraid of the 5 p.m. heat in Jeddah in April. Or because the stories I heard from friends about the lack of water stops, lousy organization, cheaters who go by bus and get dropped off 200 meters before the finish line, the 1.5 hour cut-off time. It is because I am officially not allowed to run this race as a woman.
While I think it is important to respect the rules and culture of this country I find it extremely difficult to accept that the marathon is a “male-only” event and that women have so few opportunities to exercise. Especially when you realize that in the beginning of Islam, women used to ride horses and fight alongside men! So what’s so unislamic about women running or exercising to get fit?
A friend of mine spoke to the organizers of the marathon recently, and they told him they are interested in organizing a female-only running event as well, but they cannot find women able to organize it. That, obviously, is nonsense. Women here organize and run anything, from wedding parties to their own restaurant and from private Arabic schools to universities. Finding a women-only venue would be a tad more difficult, but even that could easily be overcome. What about the university campus? Or what about all those palaces with enormous gardens?
I know joining the race under a man’s name would not solve anything and get me into serious trouble. As a foreigner, I would not be afraid to end up in prison, but I could easily be sent back to my home country, without any prospect of returning legally to this country. That would go a bit too far for me. Plus I believe change should come from Saudi nationals, and not from expats living here. If I went to protest the inability of running freely outside, they would say I want to impose my Western mentality and culture on the country. Which is exactly why I think the West should not pressurize Saudi Arabia to allow women driving.
Rather, I would like to see this whole “marathon” boycotted, and I can’t help but regret that most of my guy running mates have signed up for it this year again, despite all the criticism about last year’s organization. Some of the critics I hear:
– Why do they call it a marathon if it’s only a half-marathon? It used to be even only 20 kilometers, a totally random distance for anyone who is into running.)
– Why is there a cut-off time of 1.5 hour? Anyone who runs knows that running a half-marathon in 1.5 hour is possible only for elite athletes and very good amateur runners. If the organizers, as they claim, want to promote a healthy lifestyle with this event, they should allow also those who just started or are not that fast to finish in glory.
– Why do they organize the race on a weekday at 5 p.m. in April? Jeddah has a very warm climate, so we usually do our runs early in the morning or close to sunset. The Jeddah Road Runners’ yearly marathon (which is not an official one) is held at the end of January, when the temperature is at its lowest. The marathon runners start at 4:30 a.m., and the half-marathonners at 6 a.m. And, needless to say, the marathon is held on the weekend. Most probably, the organizers of this marathon did not want to work on the weekend and decided to hold it on a weekday. (And who would still be working after 2 p.m. anyways?)
– There isn’t enough water for all participants. This is another serious shortcoming. When you’re running 21.1 kilometers at 30 degrees Celsius you need some water (and preferably some carbs as well) to prevent dehydration. How can you organize an event and not provide enough drinks for EVERYONE? And with anyone, I mean also the amateur whom you said you were targeting to get fit, but who is still 20 kilos overweight and sweats like a haram animal! This can lead to serious cases of dehydration and hyperthermia.
– Cheating. There are people getting unto a bus after 1 kilometer, to be dropped of some 200 meters before the finish line! Sigh, what do you expect from a lousy organization?
It is praiseworthy that the organizers try to introduce a major sports event in a country where 70 percent of the locals are obese, but there is clearly still a lot to be learnt. Perhaps they should hire some advisers who KNOW about running, including some ladies?
P.S. Did I forget any complaints regarding the organization?