It is 5:30 am and the quiet city of Aswan witnesses around 1,000 men, women and children marching along the scenic Nile corniche to reach Doret El-Nil garden in front of the Aswan Governorate building.
Far from any usual Friday morning, the first-ever marathon to take place in the Upper Egyptian capital was due to start, honored by the presence and participation of renowned heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub.
The organizing company, The TriFactory, had set up the location for the starting point of a 10km flat track along the Nile to the north where the runners would enjoy the view while doing the half and full marathons, saving lives through donations and raising awareness about the importance of sports for healthy hearts.
The attendance of Professor Magdi Yacoub gave the event an additional glamour and the message that this event was to support The Heart Center.
"We are running to celebrate life, to save hearts, and to have fun," he said in a simple but eloquent opening speech to participants the previous night, inspiring everyone ahead of the marathon.
Nearly 30 staff from The Heart Center ran next to their leader for 10 km. "It's first time in my life to run [in a marathon], and now I will start doing this more often," a young nurse told Ahram Online, although she said she was "embarrassed" that she could not run for 10km, walking the rest of the way.
Families arriving from Cairo found the experience of running with their children in Aswan most intriguing. "We get to run for a cause, visit a beautiful city and enjoy family holiday," said a mother of two children running with their father. The kids' race was taking place separately for 2km and parents were encouraged to run along.
'We have to come back'
A South African couple arrived in Aswan on the occasion of the marathon and decided to spend a week to tour the city.
"We missed the Abu-Simbel event, but it means we have to come back," the gentleman running a half-marathon said.
Ayman Hakky, founder and manager of TriFactory, said the year-long efforts to hold such a huge event yielded tangible results.
"Together with Sir Magdi, we knew we wanted to hold this marathon but kept wondering who would come to Aswan just for running! The turnout was a happy surprise. We believed we would welcome some 500 runners, but instead we registered over 1000 runners, including 100 foreigners from 33 nationalities," he told Ahram Online.
"Cooperation and encouragement from Aswan authorities was a big support, with the governorate securing the event and clearing streets on Friday morning in addition to volunteers handing out water and bananas for participants."
Hakky looks forward to holding this event annually.
"Many more were planning to come but we had to stop registration, and also many failed to arrive because all flights and hotels were booked," he added.
EgyptAir scheduled five flights to Aswan on the marathon's eve, up from the usual two flights a day. Nile Air followed suit, scheduling three flights instead of one.
Sleeper trains to Aswan added carriages to accommodate the increase in demands for tickets. "We will send Magdi Yacoub a thank-you letter," a booking agent at the railway station smiled happily.
Hisham, the 51-year-old marathoner who pledged to run in 20 countries including in the North Pole, said he feels responsible to keep running and encourage younger generations to do the same.
Not a single runner passed by Hisham without receiving a thumbs up and a big encouraging shout "aash" [live long], the official running greeting in Egypt.
Hesham Sewilam, senior manager in a private sector company, completed his first ever half-marathon in a personal record time at Aswan and renowned professor Mona Abulghar successfully finished her 10km run after extensive training, all lavishing praise on the event.
In response to Magdi Yacoub's call for volunteers for research study, Aswan Heart Center was over-flooded all afternoon with marathoners who finished their course and completed their day at the Center to conduct health checks for the research, spending over 3 hours to finish all the procedures, waiting patiently while the staff cope with the increase of excited visitors.
The historical city of Aswan welcomed the marathon and the tourisms after a number of difficult years. Tourist numbers visiting Egypt have dropped since the 2011 revolution, with a further drop since 2015 when a Russian passenger plane crashed in Sinai, killing all 224 aboard. Several European countries imposed flight bans on Egypt, although some are now starting to lift the restrictions.
The Magdi Yacoub Foundation overlooking the Heart Center is a charity body fully dependent on donations to support its buildings, operations and growth. With a board of trustees headed by Sir Yacoub and once including the late Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zeweil, the foundation aims to continued developing the centre and equipping it with state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and top-class professionals, and offering the services free of charge to the underprivileged.