If you thought staying fit for a marathon was a tough task, imagine the limits your body would be pushed to in the Oman Desert Marathon. Coffee with Y sits down with the mastermind behind this enduring sport event deep in the sands of Bidiyah.
What’s life without action and adventure? To some, that would mean cozying up on their couch with their favourite Netflix series, while to others, it means never venturing outside their comfort zone. But there remains a faction of people who believe a life without adrenaline isn’t a life at all.
Said Mohammed al Hajri is one among a select few in Oman who walk the talk and practice their penchant for the extreme while living life on the edge – even if he is an unassuming-looking 50-year-old who works for the government.
Perhaps that’s what gave birth to his latest project: the Oman Desert Marathon 2019.
‘A new project in an otherwise untouched genre of extreme sports here in the Sultanate’, we think to ourselves, heading to our interview with Said. But we’re proven wrong as he reveals how the marathon is now in its seventh year.
Said tells us: “The Oman Desert Marathon was born in 2013, after three years’ of careful planning for the event.”
That makes it one of the oldest and longest-running marathons in the nation; outdating in age even the prestigious and international Al Mouj Muscat Marathon.
“I started developing the idea behind this marathon in 2010 when I worked in the desert,” elaborates Said. “One evening, I thought to myself: why don’t we have a race in the desert? It’s so large, vast, and picturesque – and it would be the perfect location for a marathon.
“To fulfill my dreams of setting up the race, I travelled to Europe to get inspiration from extreme-sports enthusiasts and formulate some ideas. So, what you see today is a culmination of my ideas [along] with some of the best ones from parts of Europe.”
And ideas he has. This isn’t the first event Said is organising on his own. He conceptualised the famous Sand Dune Race in Oman in the early 2000s, where rally-readied cars would take to the desert for some head-to-head racing action.
The high-octane event has since been turned (in 2010) into a club and absorbed by the Oman Automobile Association.
Much of his passion for such activities, he says, is embedded in his blood. “I run marathons; shoot pistols and rifles in competitive sports across the GCC; race cars, horses, and camels – and I’ve been doing it since I was a little boy.”
Said even has his own set of race camels that he takes around the GCC for events. But he confesses that he’s shifted his priorities to the desert marathon – an event which will host some 100-odd participants from over 22 countries – including runners from all over Europe, the Americas, and even the GCC.
“The curve for the desert marathon is going upwards as the event piques interest among more people,” he states. “A lot of them want to come here to experience the Omani desert and be a part of a group that can explore so much in just a few days.”
This year’s event will witness six stages and cover a total distance of 165kms – all in the Bidiyah desert – and broken into self-sufficient stages of 21kms, 25kms, 28kms, 29kms, 42kms and 20kms. The event will run from November 15-22.
“Bidiyah’s desert will awe participants with a variety of landscapes and sand conditions,” Said explains. “It’ll also give the runner a complete desert experience, including a night stage that will take [them] through the magic of the desert, illuminated by stars from the desert, to the beautiful beaches of the Arabian Sea, which is the finishing point for the race.”
But if there’s one hindrance througout, Said says it’s the lack of sponsors. He tells us: “As the conceptualiser and organiser of this race, I face a lot of challenges – and most of them are financial.
“We don’t have many sponsors,” he says, before adding, “Most of what you see, I have to pay from my pocket. And this becomes especially harder due to logistics. We must also transport all the people and draw them into camps for the night.
“All that requires a lot of people. We currently have more than 90 people for logistics alone.”
Despite that, Said and his team are generously welcoming families to partake in the 21km Half-Marathon and the 3km Run for Kids – all of which will be free for the public, and include free lunch and water.
He adds: “The idea behind this event was never to make money. It’s to help the economy of the country by bringing in more people, and propagate the beauty of Oman through these people to the outside world.
“We’re also trying to spread the news of healthy living [by] going out to the open to exercise with this mission. I will be running the 42kms night stage with the participants – it’s one of my favourites.
“I began my marathon adventures in York, England in 1989, and I don’t want to simply stop doing that. As I said, this is in my blood. And by doing so, I think I’m fulfilling my destiny to chase my dreams and get closer to nature.
“You should too.”