Yasmine Salaam, a Dubai-based woman is on a mission to accomplish what many of us have probably never thought of; running on every street of the city, from historic commercial districts like Baniyas Square to metropolitan hotspots like JBR. We caught up with the athlete to talk about how the journey started, to her inspirations, the fitness scene in Dubai and her roadmap ahead.
Hi Yasmine! Tell us about yourself and what got you into long-distance running
I am a late bloomer runner as I only started running when I was 42 years old, making 42 my lucky number as it also represents the 42 kilometres of any given classical marathon. My first marathon was in Dubai in January 2014 and it took 6 months of training. I mostly chose two marathons a year, giving me 6 months to train for each. I have run 11 classic marathons so far, in Dubai, Beirut, Geneva, Zurich, Jungfrau, New York City, Nice and Athens.
Photograph credit: New York Marathon
How long ago did you start running in Dubai and what led you to the idea of running every street in the city?
I started running in Dubai when I heard that ultra runner Ricky Gates ran every single street of San Francisco I believed I could do the same in Dubai because I was always looking for new routes to discover, because nothing intimidates me, and because it is possible as Dubai is a very safe city and I have always seen Dubai police patrolling all the neighbourhoods at all times.
Which is your favourite street for running in Dubai?
I don’t have a favourite street but I am proud of having run Al Assayel street because it is one of the longest arteries, starting in Zabeel and ending in Jebel Ali. I have affection for certain neighbourhoods like Deira and Jumeirah where I grew up, and Zabeel is majestic and peaceful. I found Silicon Oasis to be very interesting too.
Photograph credit: Dubai Media Office
What are the different experiences of running in busy areas like Deira and Al Fahidi versus commercial areas like JBR and Downtown?
The variety of neighbourhoods offer different experiences. Firstly, the density of the areas are very small and have numerous streets in traditional old neighbourhoods and gated communities versus the larger streets in business districts, commercial areas and throughways, and sometimes isolated places or under construction. I most often run in the quietest of times with the least traffic but it has happened that I ended my runs in busy Deira or Al Wasl Road during rush hour. Dubai never really sleeps and people stare at me in incredulity, like ‘What is this woman doing running in my neighbourhood before sunrise?’ This was most common in Al Quoz.
Talk us through your most memorable moments in long-distance running
My most memorable moment of long-distance running is being at 42km out of 57km at TwoOceans Marathon in Cape Town, having opted not to get on the bus at 42km and continuing with the bravest. I was the slowest of the brave and the paramedics’ car followed me for the 4km I was able to add on before I gave up. The car held all the traffic behind it for me! I knew I couldn’t finish 10k in the one hour cut off, with my exhausted legs. The failure is remembered with fondness.
As for every single street project, I was in the desert and now reaching AlQudra, but in the opposite direction of my car. If I turned around I would be doubling up in the same street I had already covered so I called my brother to the rescue. It took him 45mins to reach me but I was still running in the opposite direction and covering miles of street.
What’s your take on the fitness scene in Dubai?
The fitness sector in Dubai is very diverse and varied in its activities, programs, sports and the city has very good coaches and instructors. Dubai tends to follow trends so the client base is always looking for the latest, quickly abandoning outmoded activities, but often settling for a single favourite activity like I have with cross-fit and running.
Photograph credit: Dubai Fitness Challenge
Are there any fitness groups, gyms or people part of your long-distance running journey?
My endurance team is Neil Flanagan Coaching. Neil has been my one and only run coach for an uninterrupted 7 years of training, 11 marathons, 2 Ultras, many trail races in the Alps and a score of half marathons and 10k. I also go to InnerFight, Orange Theory Fitness and Flywheel for indoor cardio and strength training.
A lot of athletes take up the challenge to run from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. Do you plan running between the two emirates?
The Run to Abu Dhabi doesn’t appeal to me because I have run ultras in South Africa and I’m preparing for one in California. I need a more varied landscape for a very long run. I have run to the borders of Ajman, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi from Dubai in my every single street project but that particular course doesn’t fit in my agenda.