Run 183 : Saudi Arabia – Riyadh

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Date : 5th December, 2019

Time : 54’ 25”

Number of runners (total to date) :  75 (6915)

Run map and details :

I’ve been trying to get to Saudi Arabia for years but have never been able to obtain a visa. And then, in September 2019, in line with Saudi Vision 2030 – the plan to, inter alia, diversify the Saudi economy away from oil – the regulations changed and I could apply for a tourist visa.

So I applied online – and received my visa an hour later. Which was great. But now we needed some local contacts if I was to make the most of being in Saudi Arabia!

And then, as luck would have it, I met Asem, a Saudi journalist working for the BBC, on one of my runs in London. Asem introduced us to Albara. Who introduced us to Rod. And it went from there.

By the end, representatives from most of the running clubs in Riyadh were involved and they did a fantastic job of organising the run. (Please read Rod’s piece about the run and Riyadh’s running scene which I’ve copied and pasted below.)

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The net result was that 75-80 of us met at the park in Wadi Hanifa which is a 120 kilometre valley (wadi) that cuts through Riyadh. It’s an excellent place to run – even at night – and, after a warm up and a welcome speech, we set off in three groups based on expected pace.

I’m not going to try to describe the run in detail because, to be honest, most of the way I was talking most with my fellow runners and, thanks to my impromptu translator, with one of the many picnicking families along the route.

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Once we’d finished we had the largest Run the World group plank to date

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followed by a bilingual happy birthday to sing-along

And then countless photos with runners

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including those who’d just set new 10km PBs

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my translator

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and any number of the brilliantly friendly people who’d come along to support the run. (I’ve added some more photos at the bottom of the blog.)

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A group of us then went for dinner where we discussed some of the recent changes in Riyadh life. Pop stars and sporting events are coming to the Kingdom (Usher and Joshua v Ruiz were due to take place two days after the run ) ; cinemas are open ; women can drive, eat in restaurants, and have their own changing rooms in shops. And running – and particularly social running – is becoming ever more popular. (Again, please see Rod’s piece below.)

To cap it all off they also somehow arranged a birthday cake for me!

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What more can I say ? It was a great run and a great evening and I owe a huge thank you to Rod, Asem, Albara, Guido, Mamdouh, Aabeda and the Riyadh Road Runners, Amal and the Riyadh Urban Runners, the R7 Run Club,  Badr, Vivian, Nezar, Ibrahim, the British Embassy and Council, DQ Running Club, Al Bustan Runners, Thalia Street Runners, KatakboJuan Runners & KSU Movement, Rima, and many others!

I’d love to see you all in London on 4th July 2020 for the UK and final leg of Run the World!

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If you’d like to help fight cancer then I and, far more importantly, cancer sufferers around the world, would be immensely grateful for any donations to Cancer Research :

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 From Rod

The idea that we as runners have demonstrable cultural practices is super cool to me and last night was a revelation, we maybe run for different reasons & purpose but our testament of putting one put in front of the other were indeed remarkably powerful. Coming full-circle and watching runners both season veterans and new bloods pounding hard to finish the 10KM is undeniably wonderful. It’s rad to see everyone at Wadi yesterday for this organized-confusion with Dan Thompson’s incredible project “Run The World” in Riyadh. It’s a potent endeavor that bring together people from different culture and celebrate life as it’s core. Dan Thompson is such a silent towering instigator!

The running boom in Saudi particularly in Riyadh has been evolving for years now and all of these groups that sprouted were drawing inspo to each other. Would like to point out that these city clubs and groups don’t want to change the direction of the sport in The Kingdom. They just want to contribute to the community. If anything, I hope they’ve been able to paint a picture of the full dimensionality of running in Saudi Arabia, opening that space to build ties with people from different spectrums, social class, genders and orientation.

And we’d like to help push the understanding that elite runners aren’t fetishized superhumans from the other side of the planet; they’re just like us: runners who have highs and lows like everybody else. If anything, we have hope to mix it up, add some nuance and some storytelling and problematize people’s assumptions about what running culture looks and feels like in Saudi and in the region  — what it is and what it could be tomorrow, for all of us.

Again, if you would like to help in fighting to eradicate cancer, you may check and/or donate at

Would like to acknowledge some clubs/groups that showed up —DQ Running Club, Al Bustan Runners, Thalia Street Runners, KatakboJuan Runners & KSU Movement (let me know if I miss anything) and throwing huge shoutout to Guido Tavares of Riyadh Road Runners and his amazing legions, Amal Maghazil of Riyadh Urban Runners and her incredible diverse squads and of course to Nezar Altuwaijri and his tour de force beast of minions —amazing to see different crews and clubs supporting Dan’s and his moving project and coming together as one lovely running community of Riyadh. This run would’ve been impossible if it’s not this grassroots movement that sprouted all over the city. Grateful for everyone and your individual’s effort & support.

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Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

From Saudi Arabia is a country in Western Asia constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula. With a land area of approximately 2,150,000 km2 (830,000 sq mi), Saudi Arabia is geographically the largest sovereign state in Western Asia, the second-largest in the Arab world (after Algeria), the fifth-largest in Asia, and the 12th-largest in the world. It is the only nation with both a Red Sea coast and a Persian Gulf coast, and most of its terrain consists of arid desert, lowland and mountains. As of October 2018, the Saudi economy was the largest in the Middle East and the 18th largest in the world. Saudi Arabia also has one of the world’s youngest populations; 50 percent of its 33.4 million people are under 25 years old.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud. He united the four regions into a single state through a series of conquests beginning in 1902 with the capture of Riyadh, the ancestral home of his family, the House of Saud. Saudi Arabia has since been a totalitarian absolute monarchy, effectively a hereditary dictatorship governed along Islamist lines. The ultraconservative Wahhabi religious movement within Sunni Islam has been called “the predominant feature of Saudi culture”, with its global spread largely financed by the oil and gas trade. Saudi Arabia is sometimes called “the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca) and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (in Medina), the two holiest places in Islam. The state’s official language is Arabic.

Petroleum was discovered on 3 March 1938 and followed up by several other finds in the Eastern Province. Saudi Arabia has since become the world’s second largest oil producer (behind the US) and the world’s largest oil exporter, controlling the world’s second largest oil reserves and the sixth largest gas reserves. The kingdom is categorized as a World Bank high-income economy with a high Human Development Index and is the only Arab country to be part of the G-20 major economies.

The kingdom has the world’s third-highest military expenditure and, according to SIPRI, was the world’s second largest arms importer from 2010 to 2014.

World Bank Data

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Saudi Arabia – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

GDP $786.5 bn 2018 $189.5 bn 2000
Population 33.7 m 2018 20.7 m 2000
Primary school enrolment* 100 % 2018 96 % 2005
CO2 Emissions** 19.4 2014 14.4 2000
% below poverty line*** NA NA
Life expectancy at birth 74.9 yrs 2017 72.6 yrs 2000
GNI per capita $21 600 2018 $8 150 2000

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

** Metric tons per capita

***The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While much of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)

Greatest Sporting Nation Data

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Saudi Arabia performed in the global sporting arena in 2019:

Global Cup – 118

Per Capita Cup – NA

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive annual ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce an annual per capita ranking.


About Run the World

I'm running 10 km in every country in the world - a total of 205 countries - by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I'm doing the Run the World challenge to promote the benefits of sport and physical activity and to raise money for cancer research following the death of my mother from cancer. If you'd like to donate to Cancer Research - - then I know they'd be very grateful.
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1 Response to Run 183 : Saudi Arabia – Riyadh

  1. says:

    WOW! After your previous attempts and difficulties to arrange a run

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