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The sold-out inaugural AlUla Desert Blaze, which took place on Saturday, 26th August, 2023, has been deemed a resounding success with an impressive turnout of 174 runners. Hailing from all around the globe, runners from 39 nations faced the ultimate racing challenge during the hottest month of the year amidst the ancient monuments and breathtaking desert landscape of AlUla. The first edition of AlUla Desert Blaze showcased the spirit of endurance and sporting camaraderie to establish the Saudi city as a burgeoning destination for premier sporting events.
Elite male and female runners from as far afield as Ethiopia, Morocco, Spain, Germany and Oman, embarked on a first of its kind experience as temperatures soared to 43 degrees Celsius, making AlUla Desert Blaze one of the most demanding endurance races within the GCC, and on a par with similar extreme global challenges.
Rami Almoallim, Vice President of Destination Management & Marketing at the Royal Commission for AlUla, said: “As with any ambitious first endeavour, we spent a considerable amount of time prior to the race giving thought as to how AlUla Desert Blaze would unfold, especially considering that runners would be challenged by some of the toughest conditions in the region. I take great pride in stating that the event surpassed all expectations, a testament to our belief in AlUla as an exceptional sporting destination and a tribute to the remarkable athletes who came here to be part of it.
“It was awe-inspiring to witness the spirit of AlUla Desert Blaze burn bright within the global athletes who took on this challenge with unwavering determination to demonstrate their passion for pushing themselves to the absolute limit. The success of this sporting event adds a new chapter to AlUla’s legacy, inviting adventurers, sportspeople and enthusiasts alike to become part of AlUla’s extraordinary voyage of achievement, discovery and exploration.”
Spanning distances of 5km, 10km, 21km, and 42km, athletes of varying fitness levels pushed themselves to their physical and mental limits to emerge victorious. Winners across the categories included Hana Zemedkun from Ethiopia, who secured her triumph in the 42km female category with a time of 3:00:29, and Chakib Lachgar, who claimed victory in the 42km male race winning in 2:23:39. Malika Benderbal from Algeria triumphed in 1:21:42 in the 21km female category, while Robert Kimutai Ngeno from Kenya stood out in the 21km male category for his time of 1:05:09. Ruth Danies Albert Jbet from Bahrain and Yousef Al Asiri from Saudi Arabia clinched victories in the 10km adult female and male races respectively. Canada’s Carla Korpijaakko and Saudi Arabia’s Abdulaziz Al Ghamdi earned top accolades in the 5km adult female and male categories.
Tia Watson from the UK, and Amin Noor from Afghanistan were victorious in the 10km junior female and male races respectively, while Saudi’s Mohammed Al Mutairi took the top prize in the 5km junior male category.
Young Tia Watson ran as part of Team Angel Wolf, the well-known racing team made up of her parents Nick and Delphine Watson, and her brother Rio, who has a rare chromosomal disorder. As a family, they have championed inclusivity by participating with Rio in competitions across the globe.
They said: “When you have an adult child with disabilities and travel, especially somewhere new, it is always filled with natural worry, concern and apprehension on logistics. But we have to say our visit to AlUla blew us away and proved that any of our concerns were completely unneeded. From the moment we landed in AlUla, we could see and feel how welcomed, accepted and embraced our son Rio was by the people of AlUla.
“We made our participation in AlUla Desert Blaze a real inclusive team effort. Nick, Delphine and Tia pushed Rio in his disability running chair around the 10km trail track. Rio absolutely LOVED this race, he was so happy being amongst all the other participants and treated as an equal athlete, being in such beautiful natural surroundings and doing his passion in life – inclusive racing. The race was very well organised, with a fun sport spirit. We loved this race and would definitely want to return to participate again … it should be on every athlete’s ‘must do race wishlist’!
Seasoned runner Loui Blake, who has previously participated in four ultra-marathons and two marathons, was thrilled to complete AlUla Desert Blaze’s 42km race. He said: “The AlUla Desert Blaze experience was truly unique. The landscape is unlike any I have ever seen, which made the race itself so much more enjoyable despite the challenging temperatures. It was incredibly well-organised and supported, and I loved the fact that there were ice baths available at the end! I will definitely be back next year.”
Avid marathoner Mohammed Dakhil, who has a half marathon, a full marathon and one ultra 50K trail run under his belt, was pleased to add AlUla Desert Blaze to his list of accomplishments. He said: “This to me was much more than a 42k run, this was a chance for me to push my physical and mental capacity and truly explore the unfamiliar territory of running for an extended period of time in extremely hot weather under the August sun.
“Not to mention a perfectly designed route, which presented us with various challenging hills, picturesque backdrop, breathtaking landscape, and unexplainable energy that I truly believe does not exist anywhere but in AlUla’s rock formations. This event was exceptional and a true testament to what it means to far surpass expectations. Gratitude to the Royal Commission for AlUla, organisers, medics, and ushers for curating this unparalleled experience and I can’t wait to be back for the next one.”
Set amidst the visually stunning landscape of the historic region of AlUla, the route saw athletes traversing opposite the ancient monuments of Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As temperatures soared, the safety of participants remained paramount, with comprehensive medical services and facilities widely available to runners; safety measures included paramedics, nurses, physiotherapists, and water stations every 2.5km, alongside replenishment stations stationed at every 5km point with ice buckets, hydration drinks, gels, fruits, and snacks.
AlUla Desert Blaze is the latest in an exciting roster of sports events that take advantage of the city’s unique landscape, which includes sandstone cliffs, lush oases, and fertile farmlands. From hosting the AlUla Camel Cup and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup to the prestigious Saudi Tour, AlUla has championed sustainable development across its sports and adventure offerings, paving the way for a future filled with exceptional experiences.
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