Distance runners looking to qualify for the Paris Olympics in midsummer next year get two early opportunities in the United Arab Emirates, with the Dubai Marathon opening the athletics year on January 7. Dubai will be followed by the Ras Al Khaimah half-marathon, now under the same management, on February 24. 

Heading the Dubai women’s entries so far are Haven Hailu Desse of Ethiopia and Betty Chepkwony of Kenya. Hailu Desse scored two notable victories in the last 18 months, taking the Rotterdam title in 2022, in 2hr 22min 01sec, and the Osaka Women’s Marathon two months ago in 2:21:13; while her best remains 2:20:19 from Amsterdam 2019. Chepkwony made her breakthrough on the international marathon scene by winning in Rome nine months ago in a personal best of 2:23:02.

Betty Chepkwony, photo credit: Dubai Marathon

In the men’s field, Ethiopians Workineh Tadese Mandefro and Kebede Tulu Wami lead the way with the former’s personal best of 2:05:07 coming in Hamburg 2022. Tulu is only a few seconds slower, his best of 2:05:19 earned him second place Seville in nine months ago.

Traffic restrictions in downtown Dubai last year saw the first post-pandemic marathon staged around Expo City, where the COP 28 climate conference has just concluded. But next month’s race sees a return to the flat, fast, coast-hugging course, which has proved such a hit in the past. Peter Connerton, race director for the organising company PACE Events, says, “The athletes are excited about the event returning to the flat course around Umm Suqeim, the Burj Al Arab and the Jumeirah Beach Road, which is renowned for delivering fast times. The elite field is looking strong with several more names to be confirmed in the coming days”.

The Dubai Marathon was inaugurated in 1998, and the Ras Al Khaimah ‘half’, in one of the smaller, coastal emirates half a dozen years later. Both races have become celebrated for fast times, with the latter results regularly under 59 minutes. For the first time, both races come under the umbrella of PACE Events, who are adding an RAK international 10k to the programme. Race Director Connerton says, “We are honoured to be entrusted with organising the Ras Al Khaimah Half-Marathon. Over the years, the race has produced some fast times and world-class winners; and with 2024 being an Olympic year, we expect to have an even better field. Similarly, by adding a 10k to the schedule we aim to make race day in RAK bigger and better than ever”.

For more information please visit www.dubaimarathon.org