Happy Birthday to Me

Last weekend I celebrated my birthday in Dubai. If you’ll recall, last Fall I had the brilliant idea to run the Dubai Marathon on my 36th birthday. It really seemed like a good idea at the time, but as the big day approached, I found myself getting more and more anxious about the race. Since this was the first time I’d ever run close to this distance, I wasn’t sure my body would hold up. Would I be able meet my time goal? I wished I had actually paid a little more attention to my nutrition during training. I probably didn’t sleep more than 5 hours/night for several days leading up to the race.

The weekend began when my wife and I arrived in Dubai late last Wednesday night. We actually flew into the neighboring city of Sharjah and had to take a 35 minute taxi ride to our hotel near the Mall of the Emirates. In Cairo, this would’ve been a bigger deal, but as we’d come to find out, Dubai is about as opposite from Cairo while still being in the Middle East as you can get. Arabic was being spoken, but it was orderly, clean, there was no haggling, people obeyed the traffic laws and everything looked new. We even had a female taxi driver. It was like we had just entered the Arab Bizarro world.


The next day my goal was mostly to relax (easier said than done) and pick up my race package.  Around noon we ended up making our way to Skydive Dubai to register and pick up our packages.  They had a few sponsor displays, which we took full advantage of.


posing with a cardboard cut-out of olympic champ Bekele


Signing the Adidas wall

After returning, we decided to check out the Mall of the Emirates.  If there’s one thing Dubai likes, it’s their malls.  They have numerous large shopping centers that are tourist destinations unto themselves.  The Mall of the Emirates has a real-life ski hill, complete with a chairlift.


We spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the hotel room getting everything ready to go for the race the next day.

On race day we got up bright and early and headed downstairs for breakfast.  Unfortunately there were quite a few other runners staying in the same hotel and they had mostly cleaned out the continental breakfast, but even so we were able to find enough to eat.  The hotel was only about 1km from the start line so we could walk.  This was great because we found out the day before there were ~25000 runners registered (in the combined marathon & 10km race).  It was a gong show for sure, but I will say that at this point I finally began to feel excited.  The apprehension was still there, but there’s something to say about the energy at the start line of a race.  It’s pretty electric.


Since my wife was running the 10km race, she was able to accompany me down to the start line and bring my jacket back to the bag drop off after we began.  Shortly after taking my place behind the start line the elite marathon runners were off (race organizers always let the elites go first so us regular folk don’t get in their way).  And then before I knew it the crowd began to surge and I was running!

The volume of runners at these kinds of event always requires some time to reach an equilibrium, where runners of the same pace are running alongside each other.  This event seemed to take about 6 or 7 km to get there, which meant there was a decent amount of dodging slower runners (and having a few faster ones whiz by) before that point.

In the early stages of the race I was feeling really good.  The temperature was ideal and the course was flat and straight.  The course route was entirely along a 20+km stretch of road near the coast.  There and back.  Piece of cake.  

At about the quarter point of the race I remember feeling like I could run like this forever.  My time at the halfway mark was about 1 hour 52 minutes, which is actually a pretty decent half-marathon pace for me.

Unfortunately that good feeling began to subside around the 25 km mark.  It was at that point I made the decision to stop for a bathroom break.  I’d had to pee for about the last 45 mins and I knew I couldn’t hold it much longer.  In addition to losing a couple of minutes with that, I found it a challenge getting back into the flow of the race.  The fact that the weather was warming up probably didn’t help matters either.


at 30 km

Here’s me at 30 km, where the fatigue is really starting to set in.  My pace is continuing to decline and I’m feeling a little frustrated because I’m unable to do anything about it.

The last 5 km or so are a bit of a blur.  Aside from a short walk while I guzzled back a bottle of water, I was able to continue running despite an overwhelming desire to take a break.  After what seemed like an eternity, I finally passed the 42 km sign and was able to see the finish line.  I ended up finishing with a time of 3:54:23.  Not quite as good as I’d hoped, but under the 4 hour goal I’d set for myself.  Perhaps it’s a little strange, but my overwhelming emotion wasn’t joy or even a sense of accomplishment, but rather relief.  Relief that it was finally over.  Relief that I achieved my goal and that now I could finally say that I’ve run a marathon.



After some rest and a few pictures, we headed back towards our hotel, but first I needed a bite to eat.  Poutine seemed as good a choice as any.


My wife ran a great 10 km race of her own, but since it was “only” 10 km, she was keen to do some sightseeing later that afternoon.  After a few hours of rest we decided on heading up the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest man made structure at 828 m (more than 250 m higher than the CN Tower in Toronto!).  Despite some sore legs we also wandered around the tower a bit, visiting the Dubai Mall and surrounding fountains and courtyards.  We ended the night with a fancy sushi birthday dinner before eventually getting back to our hotel for some much needed sleep.



So that was my birthday weekend in a nutshell.  Dubai was a nice place to visit for a weekend, but since I’m not much of a shopper, there’s probably not a big reason to return.  All the same, it was a weekend I won’t soon forget! 




  1. golddh · January 30, 2015

    Congrats, sounds like a fantastic first marathon!

    • marcusoneill79 · January 31, 2015

      Thanks!… Likely my first and last. I think the half-marathon is much more my distance.

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