Though you will occasionally find people running around the perimeter of the military stadium, or some random complex that has a pavement, running has a long way to go in Egypt. Even Cairo’s famous Al-Azhar park, does not allow running or cycling inside.
Cairo Runners is a running group that seeks to change this and give Cairenes the chance to experience what a marathon feels like, or at least half of one.
The group will organise a series of runs that will take place in different neighbourhoods in Cairo over a period of fifteen weeks. The first event was held on 14 December and was a four km run in Zamalek. Other places will include Maadi and Korba and the weekly runs will build up to the ultimate goal of 22km, in a half-marathon that takes place in March.
The idea aims to make people realise that they can run in the streets, without expensive membership fees for clubs or gyms and in their own neighbourhoods. Incidentally, the final 22km run will require a small fee which will go to various charitable organisations.
Ibrahim Safwat, the founder of Cairo Runners, says the initial idea was to get people to run in the street. “We wanted to make sure people understood that you do not have to have access to a gym or a track to go running. We wanted to raise awareness that Cairo’s streets are safe to run in and we try to pick places that are not empty,” Safwat said.
Safwat says that for their first run, 80 people showed up. “We had around 80 people of both genders. Some were experienced runners and some were beginners. It varies from trainers who wanted to come join us, to amateurs who have never run before.”
Cairo Runners gives appropriate advice and information for beginners as well as the appropriate supplies. “We always carry first aid kits and we have someone selling water halfway through any route, at retail price so we do not make any profit from it.”
The runs always start at 7am on a Friday, and the organisers usually provide some kind of incentive to get people in an upbeat mood. “For the first three runners, we give freebies of some kind. We also had Redbull come and give away free merchandise even though they were not sponsoring the event, merely encouraging us,” said Safwat.
The next run will be in Korba and each location is being decided on by the group shortly in advance of the run and announced through their Facebook page and their Twitter account. Safwat said they might face some logistical issues with the bigger runs but the focus will remain on the street. “We will try to make the bigger runs in locations that keep things exciting but we do not want to spoil the surprise of the bigger runs’ locations,” he said.
The future of Cairo Runners does not end with their half-marathon, “our ultimate goal is the 22km run but after that we will continue to operate as a running group, depending on our members, and we will plan accordingly,” said Safwat.
The runs are free as long as you are able to complete them. Bring appropriate footwear and do not worry if you cannot run the entire distance, Safwat said, “you can always walk it too.”