Abu Dhabi is one of my favourite cities to go to on a business trip. The weather is very pleasant from September to May, especially during the winter months when travelling from London. The city is modern, spectacular with a welcoming culture.
When I started to travel to the Middle East I did nearly all of my training on a treadmill in a gym as I did not really see the opportunity to run outside there. Now I do, and my hope is that you will too after reading this.
Being a keen runner and trying to improve my running by having continuity in my training, I have been looking to find good run routes in the city and around it. But before we go there, it’s worth addressing the biggest obstacle for most when thinking about running outside in the Middle East: The heat.
The heat is often exaggerated in the mind. It is possible to run during the day from October to April and at sunrise or sunset on most days in September and May. Running at sunrise and sunset might sound too early or too late, but you will be rewarded by the calls for prayer that embrace the city as you run. It is an amazing experience.
If it is warm, up to 35 C, make sure you are hydrated and run with a bottle of water in your hand. Wear a cap and sunglasses and make sure your skin is not too exposed to the sun and perhaps wear some sunscreen, especially on your face and neck. Plan your route, know where you are going and for how long, and stick with it, so you do not end up running for too long in the heat. If you choose to do some fast intervals, then make them short and fast but don’t stay out too long in the sun. If you do a tempo run, perhaps do it as a repeat circuit run so you can get out of the sun if it gets too much. If it’s really hot, I do not recommend running for too long.
My last trick is to not focus on the heat in your mind, don’t obsess with it. This was advice I got from my coach, James Beckinsale, and to my surprise it works. I applied it at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui and did not really feel the heat. This was so effective that I also tried to apply in on the steep inclines, trying to ignore the elevation by telling myself it was flat, but unfortunately that did not work!
If it is over 35 C I recommend not running outside, use the treadmill in the gym instead.
Clothes to wear
Wearing more clothes than normal is a good idea, especially for women. You will be fine and absolutely safe, but out of respect for the locals it is a very good idea to not flash too much skin. A loose t-shirt should do the job and in addition for women I would recommend knee length or long tights. This also helps combat the heat as too much sun only adds to fatigue. When running at the beach or inside expat communities, you are fine running in shorts only (men) and shorts and a small top (women). I did all my runs in the Iffley Road Thompson shorts and Cambrian Stripe t-shirt in the city and on the race court, and with the Lancaster vest on the beach. You can easily use the Thompson shorts when dipping in the ocean after the run.
Arriving at the airport at midnight there was no running that day as it was a day flight from London. Normally I get up early the next morning (despite the four hours difference) and go for a short run on the beach. The sun and the beautiful weather make it easy to get up. There is no better way to end a nice morning beach run than by jumping into the ocean followed by a solid breakfast outside. Make it a short run before breakfast to get the body started, get the dust off, teach the body to burn fat, and to just feel rejuvenated for the meetings of the day ahead.
Unfortunately, there was a sand storm when I landed in Abu Dhabi, and it was even raining. That is unusual in the month of March but it can happen. The sand from the desert will stay in the air for a day or two and take the visibility away (a bit like fog in the air in London)). It’s not too bad, but as there is sand in the air it is best to avoid running as you quickly feel the air in your respiratory system which is not good for you. That meant I didn’t run on the beach in the morning. Instead I got a great tip from a client:
Run 1 – YAS Marina Formula one circuit - 5.5 km circuit
Following a day of meetings, a client suggested to me that I could go running at the Formula One race track. Back in 2011 I had done the TriStar 222 triathlon (2km swimming, 200 km cycling, 20 km running) in Abu Dhabi in 37C and it had included two rounds on the YAS Marina course on the bike so I knew about the track. I had also heard that it was a bit of a local event, happening every Tuesday evening, so I decided to give it a go.
I talked with the concierge and it turns out you have to sign up prior to going there. This is easily done on www.yasmarinacircuit.com under TrainYAS. You just complete the form online and make a print out and bring it with you. You can run there or go cycling; it is possible to rent a bike and a helmet there. It is open on Tuesday evenings from 6-8:30 PM.
It is a fun experience. You see everyone out there. Local families on an evening stroll to people training very hard, both on bikes and running. Good fun! The run is curved with small inclines but also with long straights. It is a 5.5 km circuit, so also great for testing yourself. Give it a go! You will not experience anything like that anywhere else. On Wednesday evening there is a women's only event for the local community which could be an interesting experience, given that you usually won't see many locals around the city on a day-to-day basis.
Map Credit: Strava.com
Run 2 – Beach Run on Saadiyat Islands - 7km beach run
When choosing hotels on business trips I apply the following rules:
1) Is there a good running course near the hotel?
2) Does it have a nice gym with a treadmill?
3) Can it make a nice club sandwich 24 hours?
With those rules you don’t go wrong!
In Abu Dhabi I tend to stay at St. Regents at Saadiyat Islands. It is located close to the airport, Ferrari Land/YAS Marina and close to the city itself. Saadiyat Islands is a triangular sandbar off the coast of downtown Abu Dhabi. Driving from the city it is past Port Zayed, over the rising Sheikh Khalifa Bridge and just past the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Louvre Abu Dhabi is an amazing project and perhaps one of the most stunning architectural new buildings in the world completed in 2016. I cannot wait to get inside and see the more than 600 pieces of art that the ruling Al-Nahyan family has been collecting.
The hotel is located on a 9 km long pristine sand beach. You can run on soft sand 20 meters from the water or on hard flat sand at the edge of the water. If you really want to go wild you can also do knee high water runs, as in the movie “4 Minute Mile.” For these runs I recommend using an old pair of racing flats, five-fingers or Vivo Barefoot shoes to feel the sand but avoid any cuts from stones and shells that might be on the beach.
Running in sand is a great way of activating your spring-off and can also be quite demanding on the strength of the legs in general, especially the quads.
I tend to run on a mixture of hard and soft sand, typically soft sand out and hard sand back. This afternoon I ran slowly 3.5 km from St. Regent’s Hotel to Saadiyaat Islands Beach Club (formerly Monaco Beach Club – they like to copy known brands from the Western World) and back, making it a nice technical 7 km run. Ending the run with a dip in the Arabic Sea and a plate of fruit on the beach for recovery is something that is not easily matched anywhere else. Alternatively you can swim to the beach club and then run back, which is a nice brick session for triathletes.
Obviously you can run the whole beach and make it a nice long run in the sand. At one end you can see the Louvre and the city of Abu Dhabi, at the other end it is just a nice sandy beach. All you see is turquoise blue water when looking over the Arabic Sea. The water is safe and very salty.
Map Credit: Strava.com
Run 3 – The Corniche - 8km stretch
The Corniche is the road that forms the beachfront of the city. It is reclaimed land from the sea in 2002/2003 which is mind boggling to comprehend. The original city is just behind the skyscrapers that today defines the city. It is formed as a “J” and goes from the port at one end to the UAE Flagpole at the other end. The Flagpole in itself is impressive as it is the tallest flagpole in the world. You also have the Marina Mall and the Emirates Hotel at this end of the Corniche. Along the beach you can run and bike on the official running and bike paths and the stretch is used in the Abu Dhabi ITU Triathlon as well as in the Tour of UAE.
The stretch is around 8 km long and you can buy drinks and find restrooms along the street. You can also choose to run on the beach. It is a beautiful beach and the sand is apparently imported from Zanzibar, as the local sand was not deemed to be white enough.
Other runs in Abu Dhabi
- Zayed Sports City with plenty of open space but no dedicated tracks for running. There are outdoor lights in the evening and if you fancy running up some steps you can go up the stairs inside the tennis stadium.
- Al Raha Beach which has a nice 4 km. Start from Al Bandar and run toward Al Zeina past Muneera. It is a canal road on pavement.
Local tip: The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is the local mosque, is definitely a must see while you are in the city.
A few other tips for running when on business travel:
- Think about what time-zone you are in. If going West then very early morning runs work well and if going East then evening runs feel better.
- Think about what and when you eat so you are able to run after or before a busy day of meetings without going cold?
- After a long flight take it easy. Better to run long and slow than fast as your body is still recovering from the long flight which puts a lot of pressure on the body.
- If you travel like I do, flights, taxi, meetings, good runs, then make also sure that you find time to stretch and do a little core exercise as all the sitting followed by strong runs tighten up the body. You want to feel relaxed and supple.
- Use your runs to explore the city, the culture and see the place you are visiting. Often, this is the only chance you get and it often is a great way of meeting local people.
Photo Credit: Photos by Rune Sanbeck.