Whether Saudi women want to improve their physical health, de-stress, or simply find a new outlet to bond with likeminded women, the Riyadh Urban Runners collective encourages them to lace up and get running. The crew’s captain Amal Maghazil tells us what it’s like to be at the forefront of the country’s rapidly developing new running scene.
First up, how did the Riyadh Urban Runners movement begin?
It actually started with the Jeddah Running Collective (JRC), which was founded in 2013 by three expatriates who used to run in their countries and wanted to continue running in the Saudi city of Jeddah. The goal was to spread the running culture in the community by making it accessible to anyone, in addition to developing the skills of their growing members. Riyadh Urban Runners was founded by two JRC members, Duaa and Eslam, who moved to Riyadh in 2016 and wanted to stay a part of the emerging running culture in Saudi.
How is the running culture in Saudi Arabia developing?
The running culture in Saudi is relatively new, but has become more popular in the last few years. Now you see more people running on the streets, but they are mostly male runners. We also see increasing numbers of females interested in trying running outdoors for the first time. In February 2018, Riyadh held Saudi’s first half marathon, which attracted hundreds of local runners of all age groups and fitness levels. It was amazing to see such a well-organized community sport event being held in Saudi and supported by the government!
Why do you think it’s important for Riyadh to have a group like yours?
Running is a sport that can be done anytime, anywhere, by anyone who wants to lead a healthy lifestyle. The General Sports Authority (GSA) conducted a survey two years ago which found that fewer than 13 percent of Saudis perform any type of physical activity on a weekly basis. Their goal is to increase the weekly activity rate of Saudis to 20 percent by 2020. We believe we can contribute to our community and want to be part of this healthy change in Saudi! We participated with the GSA in a couple of community events to help raise awareness about the benefits of exercising and disease prevention.
Have you seen the benefits of running with the Riyadh Urban Runners cross over into other areas of members’ lives?
When we gather as a group, we connect through running by motivating each other and pushing ourselves physically to perform better every time. Everyone was attracted to running at first for a different reason, from losing weight to running a race or just trying something new, but generally we all want to be a better version of ourselves.
Slowly, I started sensing that members are motivated to run not only for the physical benefit, but also for the mental benefits that running left us with. We all have busy lives, and running really elevates your mood, reduces stress and motivates you to keep going! Also, connecting with others reminds you that you’re not alone. So, the social connections that we make in a group go a long way.
You run in your Abayas. How does that affect your run?
This is a question we get asked a lot! Running is challenging both mentally and physically, and as a runner you continuously have to adapt to your environment: for example, the weather, type of track, the distance, or even your mood that day.
For us, an Abaya is another one of the things that you need to adapt to in order to run in the streets in Saudi. There are emerging fashion designers that have lines of sporty abayas that are comfortable, breathable, and fashionable. But in general, running in an abaya is comfortable if the material is light and not too long. After your first run in an abaya, you will know if you need to adjust anything for your next run.