November 01, 2023

Marathons to Mini-Runs, Qatar Has Something For Everyone

Regular running is renowned for its mental and physical benefits. It's a great all-over cardio, helping to keep your heart strong and reduce your risk of heart disease, and as a weight-bearing exercise, it helps to strengthen bones and build muscles. Consistent training also burns calories, helping maintain a healthy weight and keep you physically fit and toned. And running boosts your immune system and mood, and enables you to sleep better, which is also good for your health! Plus, running is a cheap and easy exercise that can be performed by almost anyone, anywhere and at any time. It is, therefore, no surprise that it's a popular exercise all over the world. 

It is generally accepted that, to achieve all of these benefits, runners need to lace up their trainers and hit the road at least three days per week for around 30 minutes per session (around 5 km) - which seems quite reasonable. Then why do so many runners (and non-runners) opt for more gruelling long-distance races, from 10K and half marathons to full marathons of over 26 miles/42 km or longer distances known as ultramarathons? There is a marked difference between pounding out a few kilometres a couple of times a week and training for and running a marathon, most notably the hard work, discipline and pain required to run long distances.

For many, whether it's a long-held ambition, a life goal or just the next challenge or part of the runner's journey, it is the sense of accomplishment, and personal satisfaction felt having achieved something so arduous and challenging. After all, some long-distance races are the ultimate test of mental and physical fitness, both in the race and the training, which requires as much brutal donkey work and dedication as running the distance successfully. Whatever the reason, most runners say that completing a marathon or a long-distance run gives them a sense of unparalleled euphoria, which is quite addictive despite the agony they experience!

If you are a runner or an aspiring runner keen to accept such a challenge, or someone just up for a mentally and physically demanding but exciting and stimulating experience, then Qatar has several long-distance runs guaranteed to set your pulse racing.

Qatar’s Competitive Annual Long-Distance Running Opportunities

Image: Qatar Ultra Runners

Qatar hosts several lengthy annual running events. So, if you're game, you can challenge yourself with the following:

The Ooredoo Doha Marathon

The Ooredoo Doha Marathon, probably Qatar's most well-known and popular running race weekend, incorporates a full marathon of over 42 km and a half marathon of over 21 km. The marathon races, since 2023, have been awarded the Athletics Elite Label Road Race classification - a prestigious award bestowed by the World Athletics organisation for leading global road races. Indeed, runners participating in these races run alongside some of the most elite athletes from around the world.

As a community-centred country, Qatar’s marathon event wouldn’t be complete without a few races for its residents and citizens who desire something slightly less taxing. The Marathon weekend also incorporates a 10K race, a 5K run for adults and kids over 13 years, and a 1 km race for children under 13 (accompanied by an adult).

The road-based races, held in January each year and hosted since 2013, route runners around the country's capital Doha from a starting point on the city's beautiful oceanfront Corniche. Runners pound the pavements past some of the city's most iconic and beautiful buildings, landmarks and locations along their journey - a welcome distraction from the gruelling distances covered! Though the race routes vary yearly, the most popular trails are along the city's coastline.

Races start in the early morning hours (generally around 6 am, though the various races have staggered start times) when the winter temperatures in Doha are most comfortable. The race's start and finish points incorporate warm-up areas with guided warm-up sessions, entertainment zones with live acts and kid's activities, refreshment stalls and water stations. 

Participation in the races costs (based on 2023 prices) from QAR 250 ($70) to enter the full marathon to QAR 150 ($40) for the 10 and 5K adult races and a nominal fee for kids races. All proceeds from the event are distributed and donated to local charities in Qatar - another great reason to join in the fun!

Each year in the race run-up, the Ooredoo website opens up an online registration and ticketing service. For all other times of the year, questions and requests for information can be directed to the company's email, [email protected].

The Qatar East to West Ultramarathon

The Qatar East to West Ultramarathon is a gruelling 90 km run from Qatar's east coast through the baking desert plains to Dukhan Beach on the west coast. The ultramarathon is Qatar's first and longest road running race, possibly its most arduous. The inaugural race, set up by four Doharite runners, was held in 2017 with 25 runners. Now operating as Qatar Ultra Runners - Qatar's only endurance race organisers - the QEW ultramarathon attracts almost 1,000 runners, professionals and amateurs from all over the globe each year.

The race is held annually in December, Qatar's winter and coolest time of the year. The race starts in the early hours of the morning (approx. 5 am) from Sheraton Park, passing some of Qatar's most awe-inspiring buildings (the Grand State Mosque, Education City Mosque, the National Library, and the National Convention Centre), one or two of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Stadiums (Education City and Ahmed bin Ali Stadiums), and one of its loveliest nature reserves, Zekreet. The race finishes 15 hours after the starting whistle blows at the beautiful coastal area of Dukhan - a welcome sight for all runners who make it to the finish line.

Runners can participate in the race individually or as relay teams of between two and six people, changing runners at each of the five main aid stations. The main aid stations are spread out along the course and offer runners water, refreshments, fruits, nuts and high-energy snacks. Small water stations are located between the five main aid stations. The race incorporates two cut-off time points - the first is 48 km and eight hours from the starting line at the third main aid station, and the second is fifteen hours from the start at the finish line. Runners must reach the checkpoints in the allotted time to ensure they are not disqualified from the race! Bibs, included in each runner's race pack, have a timing chip that logs said runner's times through seven checkpoints along the route.

To participate in the race costs (in 2023) QAR 300 ($80+) per single runner and QAR 150 ($40+) for individual team members. Supporters, who can follow the race in vehicles, join for free! Alongside the thrill of running, a race pack and water station goodies, all racers also receive a medal as they cross the finish line. The top three runners and top three teams are awarded prizes.

Information, registration and ticketing services are all available on the Qatar Ultra Runners website. Additional information can be obtained by emailing the group directly at [email protected]. Or follow the latest news on the group’s Facebook (@qatarultrarun) and Instagram (@qatarultrarunners) pages.

The North Challenge

The North Challenge is another lengthy race organised by Qatar Ultra Runners. However, this run is a 2-hour, off-road looped track race against the clock. Runners aim to cover as much distance as possible around the circuit during the 2-hour run. A timing chip in an ankle bracelet, given to each contestant to wear throughout the event, logs the distance travelled.

Participants in the competition can run the looped track, usually just a few kilometres long, as individuals or teams (in relay style). There are also kid's races held after the main event. The adult race categories include male and female individuals - open and masters, and relay teams - male, female and mixed. The top three winners in each category, who covered the greatest distances in the time available, are awarded prizes. The kid's contest includes a two-lap race for 7-9-year-olds and a three-lap run for children aged 10-15.

The race is usually held during Qatar's winter, with either an early morning or early evening start. The challenge is set outside of the city limits in desert terrain. The most recent races have been located at Heenal Salma Farm in Ash Shahaniyah, 30-40 minutes northeast of Doha. The setting has allowed runners to complete the track around a beautiful working eco-farm along sandy paths shaded by date palms and other native trees. The venue also offers on-site dining with healthy, farm-to-table produce and creative workshops in aromatherapy, botanical art and palm weaving for onlookers and kids during the main race.

To participate in the challenge alongside several hundred other keen runners from various nations, runners must register online and purchase race tickets, which cost approximately QAR 180 ($50) for individuals and QAR 320 ($90) per team. Kids pay a significantly reduced rate.

Information, registration and ticketing services are all available on the Qatar Ultra Runners website. Additional information can be obtained by emailing the group directly at [email protected]. Or follow the latest news on the group’s Facebook (@qatarultrarun) and Instagram (@qatarultrarunners) pages.

The South Challenge

The South Challenge, also organised through the Qatar Ultra Runners group, is a 20 km off-roader over sand, stone, rock and dune. New to the Ultra Runners race portfolio, the details of the challenge are yet to be fully confirmed. However, based on current information, the race will be located south of Doha in Al Kharrara - a desert area of rocky, sandy terrain. So, for around two hours on a looped trail, runners can expect to race over the flat, plough up inclines and climb the odd sand dune. Plus, there is always a chance to spot camels that graze the area.

The race will be organised into categories, including male and female individuals - open and masters, and relay teams - male, female and mixed. The top three winners in each category, who covered the greatest distances in the time available, are awarded prizes.

Information, registration and ticketing services are all available on the Qatar Ultra Runners website. Additional information can be obtained by emailing the group directly at [email protected]. Or follow the latest news on the group’s Facebook (@qatarultrarun) and Instagram (@qatarultrarunners) pages.

Qatar’s Annual Community Based Running Events

Image: Qatar Running Series/Facebook

In addition to the shorter and less arduous (depending on your perspective) and community-style fun runs hosted by the Ooredoo Doha Marathon, the Qatar Running Series also organises an abundance of short to mid-range races throughout the year. The races are open to anyone medically fit to run. They are attended by hundreds of the country's running community, amateur runners, and other competitive souls, including the youngest athletes, who range from just three years old to six

The Qatar Running Series

The Qatar Running Series  is a not-for-profit series of annual running races originally initiated by marathon and ultramarathon runner Ziyad Rahim through the bespoke running adventure company Z Adventures. The adventure group organise running adventures worldwide, as well as a host of community-based events in Qatar to promote health and fitness. 

The Series, held across the year from September to June, includes the QRS Winter Edition, Spring Series, Ramadan Challenge, Summer Sizzler and Fall Edition, the Gulf Madhyamam Qatar Run, the Haya Run (new in 2023), the Qatar Trail and Track Series', and the Run For A Cause races. Each series comprises a set of races, from 10K and 5K, to 3K and down to 1K runs, or timed circuits from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, and are categorised by age, from +40s down to 3-6 years olds. Races are held at various locations across Doha and beyond, including green parks, sports clubs and tracks, and road-based and off-road venues.

While everyone's a winner for participating in the races and receives a custom-designed finishers medal, only the top three male and female runners for each race and category are presented with 1st, 2nd and 3rd awards. However, all participants can enjoy the festivities at each race, have access to water stations, medical support and public liability insurance, and are provided with racing bibs (complete with an electronic chip for race timing) and, for some races, free t-shirts.

All but the Run For A Cause race are entered for a fee. The rest of the series races charge a fee per race or a full series of races. For example, a single race for an adult (in 2023) is generally around QAR 120 ($30+) and QAR 60 ($16) for juniors (though Qatar Trail Races, the Haya Run and the Gulf Madhyaman cost slightly more for a single race). However, if a series challenge has several race days, participants can also choose to compete on each day - the cost for a full series of races varies per challenge, from QAR 180 ($50) to QAR 480 ($130) (for adults).

The charity-based Run For A Cause event is free to join, but donations are welcomed and encouraged, with proceeds granted to Qatar Charity - a humanitarian NGO supporting causes and projects across the Middle East.

Information for all Qatar Series Races, including registration forms and waivers (to be signed by all participants), is available on the Z Adventures website, and any related questions can be fielded to the company’s email, [email protected]. You can also catch up with all the latest news and happenings on Facebook @qatarrunningseries or Instagram @z_adventures_org.

If you plan to join any of the above races, long or short distance, getting plenty of regular training under your belt is a good idea. Qatar has an array of running tracks, trails and paths to clock up some kilometres and numerous running clubs to join (for motivation, advice and support). Check out our Running Routes in Doha and Beyond and Fast Moving Running Clubs for Doha’s Joggers articles for more information.

Main image: Mahesan Chandrasekara/

Published: July 07, 2023
Last updated: November 01, 2023
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