The 2020 Edition of the event kicked off under a typically calm Omani sky, and the sights and sounds were exactly as one would expect from a premier athletic event, a mixture of nervous excitement, apprehension and eager anticipation.
Athletes, supporters, sponsors, spectators and officials alike, all with their own mission, their own place to be, their own things to do, like a colony of ants with their own task, within the ‘big picture,’ all came seamlessly together at the start line.
Race commentator Eoin Flynn kept everyone informed, and as the clock counted down towards the 6 am start, he interviewed celebrities including Oman Sail CEO David Graham and Marathon Queen, former World’s Record holder for the Marathon, Paula Radcliffe.
The favoured elite runners including Berhanu Degefa (Canada), Meseret Aragaw Yibarek (Ethiopia), and Pius Karanja (Ethiopia), recent winner of the grueling Masai Mara event, all took their places at the front of the start line. A poignant minute of silence was observed in memory of the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, and five minutes later at the sound of the klaxon, the Marathon and Half-Marathon fields were on their way.
Meanwhile, further back in the pack a host of Omani participants milled excitedly, including Layaan al Kharusi, who with her friend Fehana al Thayer, excitedly talked about their marathon running, “Our fourth, because we’re just so passionate about running, that’s what drives us to compete. We love it,” they laughed.
A large mixed group of men and women of all ages and shoe sizes also made their presence felt, in the form of the KPMG Toastmasters. Boss ‘RK’ said “I have run five marathons, and it’s great to be part of this group of 170 runners.”
He was confident their group had prepared well, and one, Sayda, said she was “aiming for a sub-2 hours,” which she later did, clocking 1hr:52mins. Sultan al Ruqaishi and Issam al Khalifa were determined to record good times, saying “We have trained together for two months, and we are ready!” So, The Walk, Al Mouj was certainly the place to be as Radcliffe, sent the runners away with a roar from the early morning spectator crowd.
The women’s Half-Marathon finished a bare hour and a quarter later with Hawi Alemu of Ethiopia sprinting clear of Alemtsehay Kasegn, and Linet Chebet, in 1:14:43. The Men’s Half-Marathon courted controversy as the elite group of athletes took a wrong course, so finished early over a shorter distance. This did open the door however for an Omani one-two-three, with Armed Forces entrant Ali al Badawi winning in 1:16:36, ahead of Jihad al Mahrami, and Ibrahim al Naabi, with Badawi giving all the credit to his coaches.
Pius Karanja was in the leading group throughout in the main event, and was far too strong over the finishing stages winning in a good time of 2:19:05 for the conditions, which remained quite hot, as the usual morning breeze failed to eventuate. The women’s event took only 20 minutes longer with Ethiopian Astede Habtamu, leading Jerubet Perez (Kenya) and Viola Chepchirchir (Kenya), home in 2:39:51.
Among the lesser lights Oman based expatriate Sebastian was cock-a-hoop with his time of 1:29, Aiden with her 2:08, Andy from Abu Dhabi recording the same time, and Kevin also recording a good time. And Saleem Abdulatiff and his wife ran together, but Asuman strode away from her husband for a convincing win in the husband vs wife duel, maybe something for her to remember for some time.
But for both, it was the sheer joy of the event, the encouragement they received along the whole rout proving a great atmosphere to run in.
This event has grown significantly in recent years, and with Family Day still to come tomorrow promises yet more drama and delight.
— Photo by Lena Petersen