Review: Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, UAE (January 20, 2017)


  • Race Name: Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon
  • Date: January 20, 2017
  • Country: United Arab Emirates (8th country)
  • Start Time: 6:30am
  • Cutoff Time: 6 hours (they open roads earlier)
  • Hotel: CityMax Hotel (3 stars)
  • Size: 30,000 (all races)
  • Course: Urban point to point
  • Scenery: Suburban, Urban skyline
  • Hills: Flat course
  • Water Stops: Well staffed; water, sponges, not much food
  • Bathrooms: 2 porta pottys every 5 km
  • Crowd Support: Minimal
  • Registration: Easy. Packet pickup not accessible.


All international runners will fly into DXB then take a taxi or the red line train into the city. I flew Emirates Business Class and arrived in Dubai around 8pm. I used a priority immigration pass (complimentary of Emirates) and was one of the first passengers to clear immigration. I was also given a priority tag for my luggage so my checked bag was one of the first on the belt.

I stayed at the Citymax Hotel (3-star) across from the Mall of the Emirates. CityMax is a 25 minute walk to the start and finish lines. The hotel is on the “outskirts” of Dubai so I wouldn’t recommend staying there long term. There are nicer hotels in the area and the Sheraton is probably 15 minutes from the start/finish area.

The Race

The Dubai Marathon first captured my attention in 2015 because it’s a flat course en route to Asia and serviced by one of the nicest airlines in the world (Emirates). Online registration was easy but expensive at $120 USD per person.

Packet pickup was at a hotel convention center outside of Dubai and only accessible by car or taxi. There is no public transportation to the convention center. I took a 20 minute Uber there from Mall of the Emirates for about $18 USD and, after waiting 20 minutes in a taxi queue, split a taxi back to the Mall (my half was less than $7 USD). The start and finish lines were right next to each other so it would have been nice to have the packet pickup close by. The pre-race convention was very underwhelming and had very few running merchants. You should always double check your gear and race food before traveling to international races.

The Dubai Marathon course is a long out and back along the western coast of the city. Most of the course passes various strip malls with the occasional mosque or interesting landmark. You start heading south towards Internet City, with the first turn around just after the Palm. Then you run North for a very long time. You run right past the Burj al Arab but you’re actually too close for a good selfie. The only elevation on the course is near mile 13 when you cross over the Dubai Water Canal. This was one of my favorite features of the course as it gives a great view of the Dubai skyline (see above).

The buildings on the east side of the course were too short to provide decent shade as the morning wore on and the course was in direct sun (and hot!) after the second turn around. Water stations were spaced every 5km and offered very little real food. The stops did have lots of goo and energy shots. The lack of shade + middle eastern sun + not enough water really made the course more difficult than I was expecting. To top things off, many volunteers handed out water bottles without caps and I developed a bizarre obsession with saving caps before tossing empty bottles.

Most of these inconveniences are avoidable if you run a fast marathon. I’m not fast and an injury at mile 10 added to my woes and left me exposed to the sun longer than I wanted. This race was the closest I’ve ever come to a DNF. If I hadn’t met Bogdan, my Ukranian friend, I never would have finished the race. Dubai is a truly international city and it was a great experience meeting runners from all over the world. I had an extremely tough time on the course and I openly admit it colors my view of running in Dubai. Many marathoners come from all over the world to set PRs or attempt to break the world marathon record at the straight, flat Dubai Marathon. My experience was very different.

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