'We will run even if it rains': UAE residents gear up for 7-day ultramarathon for Sudanese refugees

The seven-day ultramarathon in seven emirates is aimed at educating people and raising funds for refugees of Sudan


Rituraj Borkakoty

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The 777 Ultra Marathon team in Dubai on Sunday. — Supplied photos
The 777 Ultra Marathon team in Dubai on Sunday. — Supplied photos

Published: Mon 12 Feb 2024, 11:28 AM

Undeterred by the inclement weather, a group of seven Dubai running enthusiasts is all set to start its seven-day ultramarathon in the seven emirates of the country on Monday.

“We are all ready to go even if it rains tomorrow (Monday),” Stephen Muller, a Dutch expat and the leader of the group, told the Khaleej Times ahead of their 777 Ultra Marathon which starts on Monday (February 12) and finishes on February 18.

This group has come too far to stop now and their spirit to run for a cause is too strong to be dampened by the threat of rain and thunderstorms.

After all, this ultramarathon is aimed at raising awareness and funds for Sudan where more than 7.8 million people have been displaced from their homes due to a raging war between two rival factions of the Sudanese government.

“We are doing this because we believe in this cause, because we want to raise awareness and because we feel that this issue (the humanitarian crisis in Sudan) is highly under-reported,” Muller said.

“And for us, we're so blessed that we choose to run voluntarily while refugees around the world are forced to run from their homes, from their families and even from their countries.”

UNHCR partnership

The 777 Ultra Marathon team, which will run 350 kilometres over the next seven days across the seven emirates, has joined hands with UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) to help the stricken African country.

“We created a partnership with UNHCR to raise money for the Sudanese refugees. It’s a three-month fundraising process. We will raise money until February 18, the last day of our run,” Muller said whose team will start their run from Abu Dhabi on Monday morning.

“We will run 50 kilometres in each emirate. We go to Abu Dhabi, we stay the night there, then we run at 4 in the morning, probably until 10, then we eat, we get an ice bath and then we drive to the next emirate. We recover there, then sleep and repeat the routine the next day. And we do that for seven days.”

Huge challenge

Muller, a former tennis player who now owns a marketing agency named Uncommon, says this unique idea to run for a cause came to his mind after he participated in a 100km run in Italy last year.

It was still an uphill task to reach the starting point of their run. The first task was to identify the other six runners who would volunteer to run for a cause like this.

But as Muller found out, there has never been a dearth of people with a deep-rooted desire to speak up for those in desperate need of aid.

And soon six other Dubai residents — Mohammad Akkaoui (Lebanon), Ian Riddick (USA), Jade Palmer (New Zealand), Loui Blake (UK), Callum Nicholls (UK) and Jaap De Graaf (the Netherlands) — from different backgrounds, but all of them armed with long-distance running experience, joined Muller in his mission.

“None of the other six runners in the group are from Sudan, but they will be all running for Sudan,” Muller said.

A huge physical challenge still awaited them and the team had to undergo almost a year-long training programme to be ready for the gruelling seven ultramarathons in seven consecutive days.

“We had a 10-month training programme. We have been training since April last year for this. And now I see it as a blessing to be able to do this with this group of people,” Muller said.

“To be able to do something this challenging, to be able to raise money for a cause and do good, all through an act of running is a beautiful thing.

“It’s also going to push us through, the day three, four, five of our run, the challenges are going to be extremely difficult. But by understanding why we are doing it, it’s going to give us that extra push.”

Helping the refugees

Through this one-of-a-kind initiative over the next seven days, Muller’s group, in partnership with UNHCR, hopes to provide the Sudanese refugees with food, medicines and other essentials.

“The 777 Ultra Marathon runners aim to provide 3,000 displaced Sudanese families with essential cash assistance to meet their basic needs, including shelter, water, food, and medicine,” Abeer Amir, Senior Private Sector Partnerships Assistant, UNHCR UAE, told the Khaleej Times.

“UNHCR and 777 Ultra Marathon are harnessing the power of social media to raise awareness about the initiative and encourage the audience to donate through UNHCR’s webpage dedicated to the 777 Ultra Marathon (https://giving.unhcr.org/en/sudan-marathon/).”

Abeer Amir with Stephen Muller.
Abeer Amir with Stephen Muller.

Apart from their online campaign, the 777 Ultra Marathon runners also held weekly community runs at Kite Beach in Dubai to raise awareness and educate people about the Sudanese crisis.

“This initiative is not only a testament to the runners’ dedication but also a symbol of solidarity with the plight of refugees,” said Abeer, a Sudanese national who was born in Dubai.

Abeer is deeply moved by this group of UAE residents which has come together for those suffering in the country of her origin.

“It is heartening to see individuals (in the UAE) coming together in solidarity to amplify and highlight the challenges faced by my fellow Sudanese people,” she said.

“The collective efforts being made not only showcase the urgency of addressing the pressing needs but also demonstrate compassion, and our shared humanity. It also serves as a reminder that, regardless of our different backgrounds, people are willing to stand together and support those forced to flee.”

Israa Sharaf, another Dubai-born Sudanese expat and a marathon runner who dedicates all her runs to the people of Sudan, said she was overwhelmed with emotion when she first came to know about 777 Ultra Marathon campaign.

“Running sees no nationality, creed, colour or religion, it's just humans running for humans,” said Israa.

A qualified dentist who has run marathons in Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Beirut, Israa hopes to run a full marathon in Sudan when peace returns to her homeland.

“Now to have seven athletes (777 Ultra Marathon) who are not Sudanese come together for Sudan in these challenging times when we don't feel heard or seen during 300 plus days of conflict and 40 plus hours of complete Internet blackout, my faith in humanity is being restored,” she said.

“Soon peace shall prevail across the world through these giant initiatives by everyday people.”


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