Running in Egypt 2008

It is late November 2008 and we are settling into our new surroundings , a community on the eastern side of the Nile River called Maadi. Maadi is a popular choice for the expatriate community , as it is about 20 minutes south of the main city of Cairo.

We arrived in August just a few days after I had run the Dartmouth Natal Day , in time for the peak of the summer heat. To run in Cairo in the summer, you either run early ( be finished before 7AM) or risk the perils of heat where the sun gets temperatures up in the high 30s before midmorning.

I discovered before arriving that there was a local running club in Maadi that meets every Friday morning ( weekends here are Friday and Saturday) and so I got involved with the group.

The members come from all over the world and range from the serious ultra types (Western States 100 miler belt buckle holder) to folks who just want a social run. Our runs are now increasing in length as the group is training for either the half or full marathon in Luxor Egypt , February 2009.

The highlight of my running time in Egypt to date occurred on November 13, 2008 when I took part in a relay race called the Pharaonic 100K Relay race. This race is a lot different than the Cabot Trail and so read on and I will explain.

The origin of the race is traced back to the time of the Pharoahs at the time of King Taharka's reign from 690-665-BC where pharaonic soldiers ran from the Sakarra pyramid into the Fayoum oasis.

About 10 years ago the current relay race was started. It is a 5 person team event, although this year about 10 guys did it solo. I partnered with runners from the USA, Britain, Lebanon and Egypt on a team.

The relay now starts in the Fayoum oasis and finishes at the Sakarra pyramid( now also a popular beer brand in Egypt).

The relay starts at 6:30AM and so to get everyone there in a coordinated way, all runners must check in at the race hotel in Giza by 3:30AM. The organizers provide a van, driver and a security guard for each team. First time in 30 years of running that our support vehicle included an Uzi machine gun carrier.

The relay is not in the style of Cabot Trail, it has a mass start and then you have to get to the finish as quickly as you can. There were just over 20 teams in this year's event and it did not take long for the field to spread out. Teams also had the option of deciding how long each runner ran before passing on to a teammate. Our team decided to each do 10K to start and then we moved to 5Ks for the second part.

It was around 15C at the start but peaked to about 28C in the afternoon. Because we started in the desert, the first 40K were literally run with little appearance of civilization except for the ruins of Pyramids and the odd Bedouin tribe member with a rifle slung over his soldier. After 40K, we got to the Nile and ran along the western side of the river. Life out in the villages and farmland has not changed very much and you would be hard pressed to see the effects of the 21st century on these people. We ran by women washing clothes in the river, children herding sheep and donkey riding seemed to be the main mode of transport. Imagine you are running to the finish of your leg and the children in the village are either running by your side or riding donkeys along with you, really amazing We considered the donkey riders as a form of a pace car.

My last 5K portion of the relay was through a small village to the Dahshur Pyramid and I will never forget rounding a corner to find a camel coming my way, we were only 10 feet apart when I stepped off the road and let him go by. I have attached a picture of our team at the end of the relay.

We finished in 4th place overall and were the 2nd place international team with a time of 7:40. We all look forward to doing it again next year.

Good running and may the best of times greet you in 2009.

By Brian MacDougall