RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first international marathon brought more than 10,000 runners onto the streets of the Kingdom’s capital on Saturday — more than double the number expected by race organizers.
Elite competitors joined runners of all ages and a host of nationalities in events ranging from a full 42-km marathon all the way down to a 4-km fun run.
“Since this was our first (full) marathon, we were expecting half the number of the actual turnout,” said Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini, managing director of the Saudi Sports for All Federation.
“Having more than 10,000 people compete today shows that the physical activity movement in Saudi is growing massively. I think we hit a record and I’m very proud of that.”
The SFA, which was established in 2018, works to drive community sports in the Kingdom. Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, the federation’s president, launched the Riyadh Marathon 2022 last November.
The 42-km course started at King Saud University and wound its way through the capital, with top finishers receiving prize money of more than SR2 million ($533,030).
Other races allowed people of all ages and athletic ability to take part, with food, entertainment and recreational activities also on offer at the Marathon Village.
Notable results for Saudi Arabia included Ali Al-Sharani, who finished third in the non-elite full marathon with a time of 2:28:51.4; and Yousef Alasiri, who finished second in the half-marathon (21 km) with a time of 1:08:47.9.
Badr Ali won the 10-km run with a time of 31:33.7, followed by Wesam Alfarsi in 31:35.1.
In the women’s category, Miznah Alnassar finished first with a time 42:57.5 and Fatimah Aljedaani finished third with a time of 43:56.3.
Saleh Almalki came second in the 4-kilometer fun run with a time of 13:20.5.
Al-Husseini said: “Only 2 percent of the world population are elite athletes and after the pandemic, that number decreased to 1.2 percent in 2020. We wanted to increase physical activity across the board and show people that everyone can be a winner.”
Almost 60 percent of runners were Saudi, according to officials, highlighting the growing popularity of sports and physical activity in the Kingdom.
Khaled Bana, 28, from Jeddah, said that the marathon is a great platform for raising awareness of healthier lifestyles and fostering a healthier community.
“A bunch of people in the gym were joining and I thought it could be a good idea to challenge myself,” Bana said.
“The last one I did was almost 14k. This is 21, so it’s an upgrade. I’m glad I finished and it was a great opportunity to see a very active community in the Kingdom.”
Harry Taylor, 25, from the UK, completed the half-marathon in about 1 hour, 30 minutes — 15 minutes behind first place.
“It was a big day for everyone. It’s nice to get together as a community and see people from different parts of Saudi all here in one place,” he said. “We might even do the full marathon next year.”
Under the Quality of Life program — part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 — the SFA has held events, programs and initiatives to help fulfill its mandate of increasing physical activity levels to 40 percent by 2030. That goal was achieved ahead of its target date.
“We wanted to change the perspective that only expats are active, and we’re hoping that this will be a driver for people to be more active in the future,” Al-Husseini said.
42-km elite, males:
1. Tadese Tsegaye Getachew from Ethiopia, 2 hours, 6 minutes, 22.2 seconds; 2. Shiferaw Andualem, Ethiopia, 2:06:23.1; 3. Kiptum Barnabas, Kenya, 2:07:30.09
42-km elite, females
1. Nare Tadu Teshome, Ethiopia, 2:26:32.1; 2. Workenesh Edesa, Ethiopia, 2:26:48.6, 3. Mekhasha Waganesh, Ethiopia, 2:26:55.2