For runners all over Egypt, the wait was finally over. The Cairo Runners have come back in force after a two-year absence owing to Covid-19, and last week they made the Cairo Marathon dream came true with an unforgettable event.
Cairo’s annual Marathon returned for its 9th edition last Friday in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis under the auspices of the Ministry of Youth and Sports. It prides itself on upholding values that are essential to the wider community. With thousands of runners, it is one of the largest sporting event in the world, and it has attracted over 7,000 participants on an annual basis since its first half marathon in 2013.
Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi and actress Razzan Maghrabi launched the event this year in a partnership between the Cairo Runners, the city’s first and largest street running organisation, and ievents, a top events supplier. There were 3,000 registrations on the event’s associated platform, and more than 5,000 contestants of all ages participated.
The announcement of the new version of the Cairo Marathon came during a press conference in the presence of Sobhi, Ibrahim Safwat, founder of the Cairo Runners, Amr Mansi, chair of ievents, Karim Akram, a member of the board of the Egyptian Athletics Federation, Tamer Mohamed Nasser, managing director and CEO of the Heliopolis Housing and Development Company, and Mohamed Alaa, CEO of the Shezlong Company, along with a group of ministry representatives and journalists.
“It has been a year and a half since we started planning for this marathon,” said Safwat. “There were multiple changes of venue. First, we chose Downtown, but then the route changed many times, and finally our proposal of Heliopolis was approved by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of the Interior,” he said.
“Our last marathon was planned in 2019 but was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Preparations for this one started two months ago with months of hard work planning the routes, getting sponsors, coming up with the cause, marketing, bringing up the team, and practising during Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr,” he added.
“We dreamed of making this marathon a perfect one and one taking place in a glorious location. We wanted to see Cairo’s streets given over to runners for the day, just like what happens all over the world during other marathons. It was a struggle to organise in such a lively neighbourhood as Heliopolis. It took us a lot of effort to coordinate with various ministries and government entities.”
The Cairo Runners had the idea of making the goal of raising awareness about depression and how to deal with it part of the marathon. “Running is widely regarded as one of the most effective antidepressants. It isn’t a cure-all, but it’s a start, and every step is a new beginning, and every drop of sweat is a type of release. That’s why we focused on depression, a frequent condition today,” Safwat said.
“Mental health is often disregarded in Egypt, and we think that it is our responsibility to help eradicate the stigma associated with it and spread the word about mental health and wellness.”
Because family comes first, many of Safwat’s supporters are also family members. Aya Safwat, Cairo Runners’ co-founder, is his sister, for example. “Besides my mother, who had been always by my side, my sisters, and even my uncles and aunts, many of my plans would never been executed. They would never have been executed without the Cairo Runners either, a group that really believes in what they do.” Safwat said.
“Our plan is to make the Cairo Marathon into an international one. We want to receive participants from all over the world next year and be on the international agenda, like what happens with other marathons outside Egypt,” he added.
Last week was also Heliopolis Anniversary Week, and the marathon participants kicked the event off with their event. It brought people together and celebrated the efforts and determination of runners throughout the year. To help to ensure that everyone could participate, the marathon offered a variety of routes and five different running categories, including a 21km half marathon with three male and female champions.
There were prizes for the half marathon, with first place for men going to Salem Mohamed. Abdalla Adel won second place, and Noureddin Bakr took third place.
For women, Rahma Hosni won first place, Malak Fathi second, and Habiba Mohsen third.
“I knew about the marathon from the Cairo Runners’ Facebook page. I always participate in their events, and it’s not even my first time to win. I took first place in the half marathon back in 2018,” said Salem Mohamed, the 28-year-old winner in the men’s category.
“One of the things that encourages me to join running events is the organisation and safety. My friends always come along, and I enjoy it every time,” he added. Mohamed is a member of the Egyptian national athletics team, and he has participated in the Olympics more than once.
“I was thrilled with everything on the day last week – the number of participants, the warming up, the organisation, the safety in everything, and every single detail such as the toilets, energy drinks, massages, and first aid. The organisers were everywhere, and there was professional photography and much more. Of course, I also enjoyed partying after the event,” he added.
“I suggest that next time prizes be offered for all marathon categories, not only for the half marathon, to lift spirits,” said Rahma Hosni, 19, winner in the women’s category. “I’m an athlete at the Zamalek Club. My participation in the marathon happened because my coach, Kareem Kamal, induced me to try,” she said.
“I have taken part in one event with the Cairo Runners before this. I love competition – it gets me more excited to train and work on myself, and I believe it always pushes someone to perform better and know her level. I thank everyone who was in charge of the day. Everything was great and very professional,” Hosni concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.