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RIYADH: As the sounds of Fajr (early morning) prayers are heard in Riyadh, the sun still subject to the night sky, you will find a group of women around Wadi Hanifa every Wednesday, pounding a path between 4 and 8 km.
Adidas Runners is an international community of joggers and runners that brings together people from different walks of life, uniting them with the goal of becoming a better version of themselves.
Their women-only group creates a safe space where individuals can empower each other to achieve their aspirations.
Runners see the 4 a.m. wake-up call as a small price to pay for the experience, given the health benefits and friendships it brings.
Asma Azhari, 31, never considered herself a regular athlete. From mindful yoga to swimming sessions to bike rides, she wanted to try it all and never committed to just one discipline. It was not until June 2021 that she discovered the Adidas Runners community.
The idea of a women-only running club intrigued her, but the first steps toward commitment were daunting.
“I felt like dying,” she said. “It was my first race and I thought, ‘I’m not cut out for this sport.’ But after a few months I tried again and committed even though it was way out of my comfort zone and here I am now, a runner,” she told Arab News.
While she started her journey by barely finishing the 4km run, Azhari is now training for her first 21km trail run. She aims to run a full international marathon next year.
What kept her coming back each week was the community surrounding the running group. She said: “The people, the spirit, the energy, the commitment that everyone shows every morning before sunrise, and of course the love and support that everyone receives, all of those aspects helped me get into running. I love that.”
On a personal level, running has benefited him by laying the groundwork for discipline in many aspects of his life, including work and family. It also did a lot for his physical and mental health. “Sport should be accessible to everyone, regardless of gender, age and ethnicity,” she said.
Another member, Hadeel Ashour, told Arab News, “I don’t think if I started running alone in public, I would be as motivated and persevering in the sport as I am today.”
Ashour, 23, had been physically active for years, but a year after discovering Adidas Runners, she discovered that her training was helping her supplement her participation in CrossFit (interval training) and cycling.
She said: “I generally like outdoor sports and activities that give me a sense of community. Running for me was a nice combination of those two things.
While the health benefits of running are numerous, including better sleeping and eating habits, Ashour pointed to the mental benefits of exercise.
For her, running has helped her deal with anxiety, develop her patience, and create consistency in many aspects of her life.
She added: “I started running at a stage in my life where I was most vulnerable and least confident. Running freed me from those negative feelings and gave me back my confidence.
The group is working to create the first-ever women’s training program to run a 5km, starting October 22 and free for all women in Riyadh.
Ashour now plans to compete in her first Riyadh 10k, but she is aiming even higher.
She said: “My goal now is to train to run the 20k distance at the Tuwaiq Hope Trail race in November. In the distant future, I hope to run full marathons and ultra-marathons both locally and internationally, and help grow the community in Riyadh.
Like Azhari, Ashour has found a home in the running community, which has changed her perception of women running in public.
She added: “I had the pleasure of meeting other strong and influential runners who never failed to push me forward and explore my limits.
“Although the number of runners is not that large, the presence and perseverance of a few make a big difference. We women are unstoppable when we run together.
Nourah Alshehri, 38, a member of the club, told Arab News: “I am delighted with all the wonderful positive transformations in my country and the justice that women have achieved in various fields.
“I’m very lucky to have known fair regulations and laws that ensure everyone’s freedom without harming anyone or anything.”
The first-ever women-only race will take place on December 24 with the aim of creating a safe and healthy running culture for everyone in Riyadh.