RAK half marathon, Emirates – 8th February 2019

I’m on my annual visit to the Gulf for some much-needed vitamin D replenishment and my race of choice this time was the Ras al Khaimah half marathon. It’s one I’ve done before (and done well in) but the course was moved this year from RAK city centre to a rather spectacular location; a man-made island that’s been created by dredging sand from the sea. Those of you familiar with the Emirates will no doubt know of the Palm Jumeirah, another man-made island shaped like a palm tree that juts off the Dubai coast. There are more of these things popping up along the coast these days and this one, shaped like a crescent, is still quite new. Other than a hotel and some private apartment complexes, there hasn’t been much development on it, so I imagine the race has been moved there as an advertising opportunity for the emirate to attract investors.

This was only the 13th running of the half marathon but it’s already got a bit of a reputation. The Emirates is obsessed with superlatives; the biggest, the longest, the tallest, the glitziest, the richest; and while most of these adjectives describe the skyscrapers, their ambitions extend beyond mere real estate. Dubai has its marathon; the world’s richest with a $250,000 winner’s cheque and ridiculously fast times (last year’s edition featured six men under 2:04:45) and Ras al Khaimah has its half. It’s billed as the world’s fastest and for good reason; the average finishing time of the elites is the quickest anywhere and both men’s and women’s world records have been broken there.

The course is pancake-flat and there are only two hairpin turns, with the rest being smooth flowing curves. Add to this the fairly benign climate in the Gulf (20 degrees and hardly any wind to speak of at this time of year) and this makes for some fast times. The temperature at the 7am start was 10 degrees, which in the strong sunshine, was ideal. I had a decent spell of training this winter so instead of a conservative pacing approach settling for a sub 90, I decided to gamble on running flat out, or as close to 5k pace as I could manage, and hope for the best. It’s only 21km, what’s the worst that could happen?

My 5k splits were fairly consistent at 20:30 or thereabouts, didn’t fade at the end as I had feared and finished in 1:27:03, a PB. As for the elite race; eleven men finished under the hour with two going sub 59. That’s the most in history. Rising Swiss star Julien Wanders was one of them, going sub 60 for the first time and smashing Mo Farah’s European record in the process. Perhaps Mo should race here next year to reclaim it. Although, I suspect he has bigger ambitions in the marathon…