Whether you are a marathon professional or a casual runner, put on your sneakers, roll up your sleeves and hit the road. If you want to join Cairo Runners, all you need to do is brave the early morning cold and take to the capital’s streets every Friday.
The idea stemmed from a personal experience when Ibrahim Safwat, Cairo Runners founder, was in France, and observed the benefits of holding a free marathon that brings people together from different backgrounds for a useful purpose.
“The first thought that hit me when I saw a bunch of people happily exercising in the street was, ‘Why don’t we do the same?’ Egypt is in strong need of promoting a culture of sport and fitness,” says 28-year-old Safwat.
Cairo Runners provides a program involving a series of runs for 15 consecutive weeks. To keep the experience more enjoyable and less repetitive, every Friday run takes a new route in one of the city’s neighborhoods.
“Instead of just track running in a gated club, taking to the streets is an unusual experience for most locals. It gets us out of the routine and makes us enjoy the streets of Cairo in a different way,” says Mohamed Seif, a Cairo Runners organizer.
On 14 December, participants headed out at 7 am from the starting point in one of the tranquil streets of Zamalek, aiming to reach their first challenge of a four-kilometer run.
“We post meeting locations and route details on our Facebook page mid-week so participants can track down the points we will stop at during the marathon,” Ahmed Ghazy, another organizer, explains. “Each week, we gradually build up distance running until we reach our ultimate goal of a 22-kilometer marathon.”
The first run of this program attracted 65 people. By the fifth run, more than 420 people showed up, representing all ages, mostly youth between 15 and 30 years old.
So far, Cairo Runners’ popularity depends on word of mouth.
“I am glad that the rate of attendance is significantly increasing without any external factors. This is a good indicator that participants are encouraged to come again and bring others to join as well,” says Salma al-Sebaey, Cairo Runners social media marketer.
Cairo Runners’ success does not come without an effort, however. The family team, as Safwat puts it, is comprised of 20 organizers who constantly work on squeezing out all their creativity with insightful discussions.
“We select a different restaurant each time where runners can catch their breath after the workout, have a yummy breakfast, and break the ice to encourage as many people to participate,” Safwat says.
Additionally, a number of the group's organizers join the weekly marathon to make sure that the run is well-organized and safe for everyone involved, providing first aid treatment in the event of emergency situations.
In an attempt to make the running about more than simply maintaining good health, Cairo Runners is planning to offer participants the chance to run for a cause in the last marathon.
A big event will be held on the 22-kilometer run requiring a nominal registration fee, and the total proceeds raised that day will go to various charity organizations.
“We will start all over again after this event, as there are plenty of other ideas still on the table,” Safwat says.
For more information, see the group’s official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CairoRunners.
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.