After months of blood, sweat and tears, more than 1,300 runners from all over the world braved Muscat’s marathon, half-marathon and 10K races at the Al Mouj Muscat Marathon 2017. Alvin Thomas was at the finish line.
It’s a nippy start to Friday: the time is 5.55am and the temperature stands at a cool 15 degrees Celsius. The sun hasn’t yet risen to reveal the race-day preparations going on at Race Village at Al Mouj, Muscat for what is to be the sixth annual Muscat Marathon.
The electricity in the atmosphere is crackling at an all-time high – and that’s electricity with a capital E. With the clock still ticking, the runners for the full marathon – all 124 of them – are jostling for space at the starting line, stretching and warming up for the arduous task ahead.
It doesn’t take long to realise that these aren’t your average Joes and Jills from next door. Rather, it’s a group of motivated individuals who are here on a mission: to complete and conquer the 42km marathon.
As a matter of fact, tensions are running so high that race officials have to signal to participants
to stay behind the rope before the start of the actual race.
But come zero hour: the clock strikes 6am and the race announcer signals the countdown of the start of the Al Mouj Muscat Marathon 2017, and after that, there’s no stopping the competitors – comprising 99 men and 25 women – who have trained long and hard for this very moment.
Now, there’s no stopping these folks. Even the lead bike, which has a set of cameras mounted on it, is no match for the sheer muscle and focus of the runners as they take the first corner just off the Al Mouj, Muscat roundabout, and onto the calm and quiet highway that encompasses the full marathon course.
After all, this is muscle-power over horsepower.
But don’t be fooled: the race isn’t all fun and games. The participants are well aware of that as they relax their speed to conserve energy and reserve that brio for the trickier parts of the marathon. After all, it’s not a sprint but a test of one’s strength, energy, stamina and willpower.
In total, the full marathon stretches over a challenging 42.195km (better known as the “mile 26.2”), which spans all the way from the Race Village at Al Mouj, Muscat towards the farthest corners of the Seeb Beach Road, then back to Al Mouj Golf Course before finally concluding at the finish line at Race Village.
It’s no wonder experts say that one never simply stumbles into a marathon but rather trains himself or herself to become a “survivor of the race”. After all, a marathon is a race that requires you to push the limits of your body.
There’s a saying that goes: “Everything you ever wanted to know about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles,” which further articulates the true nature of the race.
However, it is not just the marathon that is being held today. There’s also the half marathon (21.1km) and the 10K (10km), and a total of 1318 runners are taking part in all three events – making this the largest ever marathon to be hosted in the Sultanate.
A specific colour system has also been adopted to split runners into various categories: blue for marathon runners, yellow for half-marathon runners and red for 10k runners.
There are 177 runners from countries such as the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, while runners from 75 other nations are also taking part in the event, which has been organised by the Muscat Road Runners and Oman Sail; and sponsored by BP, Oman Air and Muscat Festival.
Faisal al Barram, an executive from Horizon Fitness, an official supplier of the event, sheds some light on how rigorous the training regime has been for the runners taking part in the marathon. “We have been conducting strict fitness targets for those taking part in each of the three races today.
“We have been working hard for the past eight weeks. But today, we are offering pre-run workouts and energy drinks to those who might require them. This will help them perform better.
“Apart from that, we have also been exposing runners who are a part of our gyms to warm-ups, high-intensity training and 10km runs. We slowly increased the distance by 1km every time we hit our target, thus making our runners fit for today.
“On the fitness side of things, we have done a lot to prep our runners, and we hope to support the Muscat Marathon in coming editions as well,” says Faisal.
Aid stations supplying water, power drinks and toilets are also on the course route and are located approximately 5km apart, as well as at the start and finish lines. Each and every runner is also provided with a timing chip along with his or her bib to time the run. Split times and post-race results are also updated online should the runner require them.
On the competition front, however, runners are still high on adrenalin, as witnessed in the final leg of the full-marathon, when Belgian Pierre Breuer takes a deep breath before sprinting to the finish line to complete his 42.195km. He also bags a RO500 cash prize, which is on offer to the male and female winners from the full marathon.
He completes the race in a time of 2 hours, 42 minutes and 51 seconds, with an average speed of 15.55kph.
Pierre says: “This marathon has been all about determination and willpower. The route is really scenic, and I feel that this has been quite a challenging track for me.
“But I believe I was able to hold a steady pace in order to have finished first.
“This has been the combined result of hard work and determination, and nothing else,” he exclaims, before congratulating other runners as the cross the finish line.
Meanwhile, Omani runner Amer al Amri finishes in second place – just 12 minutes behind Pierre – with an impressive time of 2 hours, 54 minutes and 14 seconds.
Among the women, it is Iceland’s Asta Parker who finishes first with a time of 3 hours, 23 minutes and 46 seconds. Of the 124 participants, 94 men (out of 99) and 25 women (out of 25) completed the full marathon, with a total finish record rate of 94.45 per cent.
Next to commence is the half marathon – which comprises 336 runners – with 239 men and 97 women. By now, it’s beginning to warm up as the sun starts beating down on the runners.
However, the competitors in this race complete the 21.1km run without any hiccups.
Abdullah al Qarini, 35, who belongs to the Royal Army of Oman, is first across the line in the half marathon. When asked about how he felt about winning, he says: “I am the happiest man in the world. I feel very good right now. I have trained for a very long time to win this, and it is definitely a step-up for me to take the podium this time. I have also created a new record for myself.”
Second to finish the race is Mahmood al Qarini, who is a medical professional in the Royal Army of Oman. He says: “I am extremely happy with the results. There’s no denying that Abdullah ran very well today, so I am not upset that I came second.
Both Abdullah and Mahmood trained for an entire year to prepare for Al Mouj Muscat Marathon, and also took part in four races across the GCC to prepare for it.
The third and final run – the 10K – sees a record 672 runners take part – which is more than the total number of participants who took part in last year’s Muscat Marathon. The 10km run starts from the Race Village, before proceeding to Al Mouj Golf Course and back.
Omani Yunos Abdullah al Jabri is the first to complete the 10km run, with an impressive time of 35 minutes and 59 seconds, and an average speed of 16.75kph.
Meanwhile, it is Dubai resident Maria Markovicova, 29, who is in town solely for the race, who takes female honours in an impressive time of 45 minutes and 58 seconds.
“I feel amazing winning the 10k,” says Maria, as she poses for a photograph with her friend Nadine Reader, who finished in 30th place.
“The route across the golf course was particularly amazing, and also the highlight of my run. Although it is not my first marathon, it still is my first time running in Muscat and I am truly in love with this place.
“It feels like a holiday and I love the vibes over here. I also love how energetic the atmosphere is over here. There are lots of children playing around, and it’s all very alive,” the Slovakian-born expat says as she points at the Omani traditional band and the drum parade entertaining spectators and competitors alike in the Race Village.
When asked about her training, Maria says: “I only ran one run a week but that has been good enough for me to keep myself fit and ready for the race. Unfortunately, my work does not allow me to spend too much time running or being down at the gym so I have to resort to weekends to spend some time training. I will definitely come back here, and I will bring a few of my friends next time too.”
Meanwhile, Nadine Reader points out that the Al Mouj Muscat Marathon is actually a “friendlier race than the one in Dubai”.
“People here are competitive but also quite friendly and sociable. That’s something I have seen missing in Dubai. I cannot wait to come back for the next edition of the Muscat Marathon,” she says.
According to Mohammed Mubarak al Shikely, the vice president of marketing at Oman Air, one of the sponsors of the race, it is this “friendly spirit” and “sense of oneness” that makes the Al Mouj Muscat Marathon 2017 a “grand success”.
“We need more activities like these to take place in Oman,” he says.
“You can see the size of the crowd that this marathon has drawn. This is what unites various people from different nationalities. Look around and you will find people from different parts of the world. But today, they’re all cheering together for the people who are representing an event that has been hosted in the Sultanate by the Sultanate.”
“We are delighted to be the title sponsor of this international sporting event and look forward to hosting you at Muscat’s premier lifestyle destination. Promoting the benefits of an active lifestyle is a key community objective at Al Mouj, whether you’re joining us to enjoy a game of golf, take a trip to the beach or indulge in a day of watersports and fishing. Our title sponsorship of the Muscat Marathon is therefore a natural extension of our offerings.”
“We have been partnering up with Oman Sail since 2015 in different programmes, and we have extended our partnership this year with Muscat Marathon. And so far, it has been incredibly successful.”