Our marathon began last night, in real terms. We went to bed around 11pm Dubai time, hopelessly unable to sleep. It would only have been 7pm back in the UK, and so our bodies were still in that time zone and nowhere near ready to switch off for the night. Regardless, we knew we had a 4am wake-up call in the morning, so we really had no choice but try and get even a few hours sleep before our room service breakfast delivery would arrive at 4.15am precisely. We both shuffled around and stirred until we jointly admitted defeat, and agreed to switch the lights back on. We had a snack and read until around midnight – there was precious little else we could do. Even whilst purportedly asleep, my mind was alert and fully aware of all my thoughts. I felt calm and restful, but it wasn’t what could be described as any kind of real sleep.
As planned, our alarms blasted us out of our semi-slumber at 4am. I leapt out bed like I’d been connected to jump leads. I was insanely awake and alert. Adrenaline, I think they call it – that and sheer panic. Our breakfasts arrived right on cue at 4.15am – this resort is run on military precision, and it’s a good job too. Danish pastries were about the last thing we felt like tucking into at that ungodly hour, but with only two hours until the start of the race, we were left with no choice.
Quick change into our race gear, baggage packed and labelled, we did one final check before heading off for our 5.15am taxi. So far, so good. The highways of Dubai were thankfully empty of virtually any other traffic. There was something strangely satisfying about knowing we were up and off on our marathon adventure whilst most of the city slept. On arriving at the drop-off point, it was still dark a real novelty as diamante dazzling street decorations lit up the central reservations – we would expect nothing less of Dubai, of course. Already it was like nothing else I’d ever experienced. Once our bags had been dropped off, we headed to the start of the marathon. Thankfully, there was hardly time to dwell on what was to come. By the time we were settled in the starting area, it was time for off. They do things on time around here, we discovered. Like clockwork, in fact.
We would begin the marathon in the dark, at 6.30am precisely, and the sun would rise shortly after, around 7.15am. Standing in the darkness, yet with sunglasses on my head, waiting for the punishing sun to rise over the desert (which is what this place is!) I remember thinking to myself how utterly bonkers it was. I’d never experienced anything of the kind. Obviously, it was organised this way to avoid running in the midday sun. Ignorant bliss meant that we wouldn’t know what that heat would feel like until there was no escape from it. It would happen gradually, over the course of the marathon, but we didn’t know when or how the heat would affect us. And that, it most certainly did…