The Dubai Marathon is being used to enhance the health of Emirati women, as 20 local schoolgirls will join the all-star cast to help raise the profile of regular exercise in the region.
The entrants, aged between 16 and 18 years, will don their running shoes and compete in the emirate's annual 10k next Friday, with the goal of becoming ambassadors for a healthier lifestyle among their friends, families and the wider community.
In an initiative with sports clothing brand Puma, the team of sports enthusiasts have come together to train as a group for the past 12 weeks under the guidance of Stride for Life, the Dubai-based fitness-walking and running programme designed to help people of all ages engage in routine exercise.
Stride for Life works in collaboration with Right to Play and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority and was inspired by the Princess Haya Initiative for the Development of Health, Physical Education and School Sports. The programme has also devised a training regime specifically for schoolgirls in preparation for the race. Deborah Dixon, Founder of Stride for Life, has taken heart from the willingness of local females to compete.
"The girls have shown a great enthusiasm and commitment to the training, which has been really encouraging considering that one might expect 16-year-old girls to have other things on their minds rather than lacing up their running shoes and coming to training sessions," she said.
"The fitness improvements they have shown over the past eight weeks or so have also been phenomenal – it just reminds us again what can be achieved with a regular, gradual training programme."
The Dubai Marathon takes place next week and will include 10km and 3km races also. Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie is looking to better last year's performance and beat his own world record by clocking a time of less than 02:03:59 in the emirate, which would see him pocket the $1m (Dh3.67m) prize purse.