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Date : 5th December, 2019
Time : 54’ 25”
Number of runners (total to date) : 75 (6915)
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/4318903331
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.)
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.
Once we’d finished we had the largest Run the World group plank to date
followed by a bilingual happy birthday to sing-along
And then countless photos with runners
including those who’d just set new 10km PBs
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.)
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!
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!
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 : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dan-Thompson11
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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.
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.