Run like a girl

Disclaimer: This is a very long post all about how “my life got twist, turned upside down” . sorry, S is now into The Fresh Prince of Belair and I have that stuck in my head. It is all about my journey from couch potato to 10k run. It is not, however, a how to. You may think then why write it? Because the journey was fun! And exciting and I’m proud of myself! There will never again be a first 10k for me. And I know I won’t run a marathon ever because I am not interested in black toe nails and collapsing. And this is why I wanted to memorialize it in this blog post.

I have added a ‘read more’ tab thingy so as not to bombard the people who would rather not see the ridiculously long post.

12 weeks ago… No scratch that. At the beginning of last summer I joined a summer run/walk challenge that my trainer set up in the form of a whatsapp group that challenged us to walk or run 24K in a month. I took on the challenge truly thinking there was a slim chance I would do it but luck was on my side and we hadn’t traveled so I really didn’t have much else to do besides study for my coaching certification and walk!

I walked every single day and the walking got a bit faster with a few spurts of running when I felt particularly active and by the end of the challenge I had walke 71.12km.

So, there were many reasons this worked so well. First was the fact that I didn’t travel. Second was that I was desperate to prove to my trainer (Whom I had stopped seeing 6 months before because I was overwhelmed with work) that I was serious about working out. You see unlike quite a few personal trainers I have dealt with, this one was truly invested in the health and wellbeing of her clients so there fore had no time for people who kept ditching. I felt that to get a coveted few sessions a week I would have to really commit. And this was step one! Third, I am very competitive… More than I ever realised.

I did get two training sessions a week with K and was over the moon. Once we started I am not sure how it all came about but I thought I would really like to run. K suggested that if I have a goal to work towards it would motivate me and mentioned the 10K in Dubai in January. I said yes and started a 12 week training program.

I ran three days a week and did strength training with K twice a week. And for the first time in my life I was working out 5 days a week. For those of you who know me this is not the norm. I am the person who will watch a channel I don’t want cause the remote is way to far from where I am camped out on the couch. I won’t go into the details of the training but I basically started from a run walk routine of 2 minute running one minute walking repeated 5 times and would increase the running times every third or fourth training sometime jumping by 3 or 4 minutes at a time depending on how I felt.

I discovered things about me when I run:

1- Seeing the time, whether it was counting down or up, unmotivated me. If I saw the time it would magically get very very very slow. I had to cover the screen of the treadmill.

2- Seeing the distance did the same.

3-Running to good music made the run easier.

4-Singing loudly with the bits that were motivating made it easier. Of course I use ‘singing’ in the loosest of terms because as my children would tell you, it wasn’t pretty.

5-I hate anyone talking to me or asking me for something when I am running. I am a lovely peaceful mummy when I am not running but come close to me when I am running and I will bite your head off. My daughter now does a great impression of me freaking out at them while running which she very kindly did in front of my father and mother in law over lunch the other day. It involved me saying “I’m ignoring you!” “Stop talking to me now!” and other such lovely things,

Running, I discovered, felt incredible. And I slowly started seeing a change in my body for the first time ever. Things were not as wobbly as I remembered them being. I slept well and I felt like I accomplished a goal at every run. I downloaded the run keeper app on my phone and logged in all my runs and every time I went faster or further run keeper would celebrate me and I would celebrate me!

I got to three weeks away from the run and realised I never actually ran outside… Which was an issue. Running outside, I was told, Had basically nothing to do with running on a treadmill. I had no idea where to go or what to do. K told me about a running trail which was safe and relatively secluded.A few days later I was there. I got to the trail and it was a dirt trail. At that point `I was capable of running 30 minute non stop, then having a quick 30 second recovery walk and run again. I started running and basically died about 4 minutes in. It was not going to happen. It was as if I had never in my life run. I kept going with sloppy running and power walking for minutes on end till I finally finished the 5K I set out to do. It was horrible and demoralising.

I ran the next day on the treadmill and it was a good run. Then I decided I have to try and run outside again but on asphalt since the race was going to be on a main street. The day after I asked a friend of mine who lives on a compound to sign me in and that night I ran. It was cold and my ear hurt but it was much easier than the dirt run. Still harder than the treadmill but doable. I did a half hour run and felt I had a bit of a chance in Dubai.

I ran a 6.5k outside again a few days later but I was adamant to finish a 10k before getting to Dubai. I didn’t care if I had to crawl it, I just wanted to finish it.

A week before the race I went to the compound again. I didn’t arrive till past 11 so when I started running it was hot. The second I started I got a stitch in my side which basically didn’t let up for ages. The run was terrible. I was hot, my fingers started swelling badly, the time wouldn’t pass and I messed with my run keeper app and it no longer updated me on my pace and my distance every 5 minutes. Speaking of my pace it was all over the place, way too fast or way too slow. It varied from 6.13 mins to 9 mins. But I did it! I ran, walked, hobbled the 10k. At least I knew that even when the run as terrible and my fingers looked like sausages and I wanted to die and I was running blind I still managed to do a 10k in 1 hour and 17 minutes. I was ready.

I spent the 5 days before not doing much but a couple of 30 minute runs. I went to my fathers a few days before traveling and he said: “what exactly are you doing?” and I said: “ Running a 10k” He said: “for?” I said “me… I wanted to know if I could do it!”.

Honestly I get why he asked. I know running is good for me but after I pass a certain point I’m just running and I can’t help thinking… why? I’m just running from nothing and it hurts and I can’t seem to remember why I started and how this is benefiting me.. Why can’t I stop? Why don’t I stop?


I get there the night before. With kids in tow. Long day, short flight, tired kids, B punched K smack in the face in the middle of a restaurant, I died a bit of embarrassment, took them home, went back out for dinner. I received my pre race pack and it looked like this.


I have yet to understand what the cocktail chips are for but the bottle with the yellow lable is apparently a “magic potion” which I didn’t take cause it’s just a 10k I’m running. I was in bed by 11.30 and asleep by 12.

I woke at 7 feeling pretty good. I had my coffee and a croissant with honey and was out of the hotel at 8am.

Now there were so many levels of strange to this:

1- I always wear an abaya in Dubai. I can’t obviously run in an abaya. So i was wearing long running pants, a huge football shirt and a hat. No one gave a rats bottom besides me what I was wearing. But it felt weird no less.

2- I was kind of totally alone. I knew I would be but it was a bit daunting not to have someone to walk from the hotel to the start line with me. Someone to turn around to and say “this is a bit insane isn’t it?”

3- This time last year I would be winded going up one flight of stairs… I kept feeling like that person cannot possibly be about to run 10k… in public.

The race start time was 9 am. I was there at 8.05 am… alone. You know when you feel like your entering a club where everyone knows whats what and you’re a newbie and you start to wonder if there are any rules of conduct you don’t know about pre race… Not a nice feeling.



I was told not to stand too far behind the start line so I don’t take ages to cross it. I was also told not to stand to close to the front so I don’t get caught up with the fast runners and burn out. So I chose a spot in the middle… and waited.

Then I got bored.. So I gave my back to the start line and walked in the opposite direction back and forth for about 20 minutes. When the majority of the crowd started heading towards the start line I turned back and stood not too far back and not too close to the start and right in the middle. Then they started closing in and my claustrophobia kicked in full force along with all the voices in my head rationalizing that if I did decide to quit I wouldn’t be letting anyone down anyway. Bravo to me for getting this far. And besides, why am I doing this? It’s not benefiting anyone or changing the world. I mean really what would happen in the grand scheme of things if I decided to go back to the hotel. I had these thoughts as I pushed my way as politely as possible to the left side of the crowd and stood at the edge by the barrier. No longer surrounded by people from all sides I could breathe easier.


I could also shut the voices up slightly. It also helped that when I looked around I saw that about 5 people in front of me was a woman who looked like she was in her early 50’s and more importantly she was very alone. Everyone else was at least with one other person. So I edged forward slowly until I was standing right behind her and I no longer felt like I was the only one who was alone. We were two alone people. Hooray.

Each runner was given a bib number with a chip in it that we had to wear to record our time. It would start recording when we pass the start line and the coolest thing is I set it up to update my Facebook during my run! So my people could see where I was. I told them if they see the little dot that is me not move for 15 minutes to send someone out to find me.

Race no no’s: If you are entering a race it is BEYOND (and yes I used all capitals I know) bad form to jump over the barrier into the crowd of runners because you want to be closer to the start line. Line up properly like the rest of us. I don’t care how wide you smile or how much you apologise you are being an idiot.

The start line was under an arch. the arch wasn’t as wide as the street so I imagined a stampeded as people pushed to get passed and I imagined myself being trampled and consequently dying. then I imagined this conversation:

“Oh my God, I am so sorry! How did she die?”

“She got trampled when she was in Dubai”

“Trampled! Doing what?”
“She was about to run a 10k”



BEEEEEEEEEEP (or what ever the buzzer sounded like). Everyone started filing towards the start line in an organised, polite and totally non stampedy way thank God. I crossed the start line and I was elated. I had decided to follow my alone woman as long as possible but in reality I forgot about her totally as soon as I crossed the start line!

Normally when I run I rely on my playlist. I mentally calculate how much time has passed by counting the songs. I rely on the songs to motivate me and sometimes to keep my pace. I cannot imagine running without my songs! During the race, for the first time, I had no idea what was playing! I didn’t care! The time just kind of passed. My pace was perfect and steady from the beginning and I walked when I felt like it but never had to walk for more than a minute at a time and somehow, before I knew it, I was at the 5km point!

I realised at that time that my running song was on! (Can’t hold us by Macklemore)I took out my phone and snap chatted it! Then I sent my husband a voice note saying “5 down 5 to go” an he sent back “ Mashallah! go go go you can do it! But don’t look at your phone anymore!” so I didn’t.

The amazing thing about this was that I felt no pressure, no worry, no panic. If I wanted to walk I walked. It helped that when I looked behind me I saw literally thousands of people so my competitive self was sure in the knowledge I wouldn’t be last and my easy going self was happy enough to just finish it. There were all kinds of people running. Young, old, athletic, not athletic. Regardless of who you are you would fit in. There were woman, in fact, in abayas! But they were walking.

The whole way along the run there were people scattered around cheering us on. Some held signs for friends and family members. Others were from the race organisation. Many were little kids waiting for mummy or daddy with their little hands outstretched to high five anyone who passed by.

It was all beautiful and exciting I almost just wanted to stop and bask in it. But I was at 6.5 kilometres and already 50 minutes in. I started to get worried I wouldn’t beat my original 1 hour 17 minutes. So I got to it.

I really didn’t think I would make it in time. I kept running and on my way saw a couple of people collapsed. A bit daunting. Some people were panting so hard right at the beginning I really felt like telling them to slow down. There were also a lot of warnings of not running when you’re not 100 percent. I didn’t expect to see anyone collapsed in a 10k but I later found out there were many, especially the closer we got to the finish line.

I asked our nanny to bring the kids close to the finish line. As I approached I expected them to be just before the final turn. I couldn’t see them. This threw me off a bit. I ran on looking a bit lost until I saw hands waving frantically behind the barrier on the right. I was on the far left.

You know those £@&*^%$£@“s in the street who decide to take a right turn when they are on the far left and cut in front of everyone else because they think they own the road? That was me. I apologise to everyone I threw off at that point. I held out my arm to high five their outstretched arm and I could see S and J’s hands but not B’s. At the last second his head popped up over the barrier and his hand reached out and I high fived the three of them and we shouted ‘I love you’s.

I couldn’t breath. this was it… I was not  going to be able to finish this race because I was so choked up.  I also couldn’t see the finish line… I was supposed to be able to see it at this point and I couldn’t. It felt like it would never end. I started to get angry at the race and thinking things like “have they pulled the finish line back? are these people going the wrong way? where the hell is the finish line?”.

Then, as I was loosing all enjoyment I heard “GO B! YOU CAN DO IT!”. It was K my trainer. That put a huge smile on my face and right after she said that I heard, in a very British accent “MASHALAH B! YOU CAN DO IT B!” from some random person which made me laugh. I could see the finish line and I started running as fast I can weaving between people and very conscious of the chip in my bib that would measure my time. I want to get across that finish line!

I crossed. I checked my time on my run keeper app and it was 1 hour 13 minutes! How? I don’t know! A few things happened right after the finish line. First someone stopped, I mean totally stopped dead right in front of me when crossing the finish line, another race no no. When you cross the finish line just keep moving. I pushed past that person and saw that there were hundreds of people, just milling around, meters from the finish line. No one was moving and no one was trying to move them. To the side I heard my trainers voice calling to me so I went over and had to hug her. After all if it wasn’t for her summer run challenge I wouldn’t be there. Then I saw my kids coming up from behind the bleachers and went to hug and kiss them and we started walking back towards the hotel.


I had done it… I was as red as a beetroot and I felt fantastic! I was smiling at everyone and my family treated me as if I had made first place in the marathon. J tho looked really distressed and her eyes were welling up. I asked her what was wrong and she started to tell me how worried she was because there were so many people who collapsed in front of them close to the finish line. Some were getting assistance by paramedics, others were hauled off to the ambulance. J was worried I would collapse poor thing.

I went to the hotel and signed on to check my times. I had done 1 hour 13 minutes and 28 second. A couple of hours later they sent me my overall ranking (out of 14800+ runners) I was 1583. Not bad! and our of women of my age group I was 365. there were about 800 women of my age group. This is now what I have to beat the next time I run a 10k.

Later that day I opened up my instagram account and saw a picture of my trainer holding up her medal. Her medal!! BLOODY HELL! I forgot to pick up my medal! The medal tent was somewhere after the finish line and because there were so many people just standing there and no one directing us in anyway it wasn’t visible and I walked off the street and back towards the hotel as opposed to walking forward towards the medal tent. And thus began the “give me my bloody medal” saga that is still on going. I call, I find no one, I call I find someone who says email, I email I get no response, I email again I get a call telling me to send someone to pick it up (cause at this point I am back in Riyadh) they call them, they get no response, I email… etc.

I found out later as well that they take pictures and videos of us close to the finish line and email them straight to us! I run like a girl… And proud of it.

The moral of the story is don’t forget to get your medal at the end of any race. Oh, also, if I could do it anyone can do it. Running is unbelievable. And all the cliché things you hear about runners high and it being a kind of meditation and the elation you get from running in a race, it’s all completely true! Next race is in about two weeks! I want to beat my last timing so wish me luck!


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