The good news is that all suspicions of any dishonesty with regards to the race are completely unfounded. The bad news is that this is because it was one of the most disorganized events I've ever been a part of. This is a photo from a local newspaper called The National. (You can read the whole article by clicking on the above link.) Clearly, in Abu Dhabi's quest to be an international recognized city as far sporting events, concerts, and high culture, they planned a half marathon and invited elite runners. Unfortunately, they didn't think much past the invitations.
First of all, they had the start time in the middle of the afternoon on a workday for most people. Also, there was no information available in English. I only heard about it by word of mouth. There were only about 300 men and women combined running the half-marathon. There were a few more running the 6 kilometer race and thousands of kids running the 3-kilometer race. I really got the impression that they were expecting more people for the half marathon and were surprised that no one showed for it.
One of the more frightening things about the races was the start of the 3 kilometer kids race. I was warming up in the parking lot near the start line. Because I had heard that the last time they organized this race (two years ago, not last year) they started it 30 minutes early with very little warning, I wanted to make sure that I was ready. Suddenly, A huge group of 10 to 15 year-olds came running towards me. At first, I was annoyed that I had to stop running. Then I had to stop walking and shield myself from all the kids that were stampeding towards me. As it went on, I realized that the kids were running to be first in line for the start. The problem was that a majority of the kids were on the wrong side of the fence of the start line so they all began climbing the 10-foot fence that wasn't even grounded. It was held in place by cement blocks. Luckily it didn't topple over but within minutes, the starting line was so packed, that kids had their faces pressed against the fence and were unable to move. A few minutes later, some kids were climbing back over the fence because it was too crowded. The whole thing is similar to what you used to hear about in European soccer stadiums with people getting crushed.
In my last posting I mentioned how there was a sudden venue change. Originally it was scheduled to be on the the new race track that hosted a Formula One car race a few months ago. They had to change things after they realized that they were going to have a hard time shuttling everyone out to the track which is way out of town. This worked out well for me because the start of the new course was a few miles from where I live and the race passed past my apartment twice. That meant I was able to get some cheering from my wife and kids twice (along with a few photo opportunities). I imagine you can see the difference between the beginning of the race and end of the race in the photos.
Also, it was poorly advertised not only for people who wanted to enter but for people who wanted to drive down the road that they had to close off for the event. For the first half, it was fun to run down the three-lane main thoroughfare and watch all the people in the cars in the oncoming lane stopped in traffic and all pissed off because no one told them about the half-marathon and they couldn't go anywhere. On the way back though, they started letting cars go and for a while I was running next to the curb with a huge embankment while three lanes of cars were zooming past me. After a little of this, the police started driving up to the runners and yelling at us to get on the sidewalk. I did at the first chance I got, but that meant instead of running on soft, paved roads, I had to run on a hard, brick sidewalk for the last third of the race.
You'll notice that on the course map the start and the finish aren't really all that close. When I was starting I figured that I'd want my car with stuff in it close by while I gauged whether I wanted things or not. It also gave me a chance to get sips of water or throw my warm-up sweats in the truck as needed. By the time I finished, I was sore, my knees were screaming, and I was wondering how I was going to make the 3 kilometers back to the start line. Walking it wasn't that bad, but I noticed that a few people I run with on Sundays were limping a bit from the run so I made a sweep between the start and the finish to pick up people I knew that may need a ride back. Looking back, the best thing would have been to lock a bike near the finish and leave my car at the start. Now I know to do that but I'm sure if they ever run this again it will all be completely changed.
In the end I think I did pretty well. I had a watch on but screwed something up on it at the finish so didn't get an accurate time. The organizers had a clock running at some point but must've stopped caring after the top people finished because when I crossed the finish line, it said zero. Based on people who finished near me I must have had a time about 1 hour and 47 minutes. That's not bad considering that I hadn't any plans to run a half-marathon a week ago. Most of the people I asked said to not be too optimistic about the organizers posting times or places so I may never know the real time.
One person I met while signing up for the race was a Japanese guy who's living here who graduated from Fukuoka University, where I used to teach, in 2002. While he wasn't a student while I taught there, I thought it was pretty coincidental that we met while signing up for this race. I ran with him for a while but was pretty happy to have beat him by over two minutes. It just goes to show what a small world it is.