Abdulla AlShehhi On Becoming The First Emirati To Complete The Six Major Marathons

Lindsay Judge   |   05-07-2024

Eight years ago, Ras Al Khaimah born Abdulla AlShehhi embarked on a personal mission to complete six major global marathons.

At the time, he was at university and had never run for longer than a few minutes on a treadmill. After setting himself a weight loss and lifestyle change challenge, he realised his passion for running and decided to take it further. 

AlShehhi soon learned about the prestigious Abbott World Marathon Majors (WMM), a championship-style competition for marathon runners working on a points-based system, awarding those who take part in the most high-profile marathons in the world. The competition covers the cities of Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York and after an eight-year mission, AlShehhi has now completed all six, finishing with Boston this year.

The runner is keen to share his story with others and hopes to inspire more Emiratis to take part in this and similar challenges. He sees huge potential for the younger generation and hopes that by raising awareness of his achievements, others will follow in his footsteps. Here we find out more about his journey. 

Congratulations on completing six major marathons – how does it feel?

Completing this challenge makes me feel very proud. It meant a lot because I became the first Emirati to do this, which makes me so proud. At the same time, I’m proud of myself for achieving the goal I set eight years ago when this journey started in 2017. There have been many challenges and struggles throughout the years so for me to complete the challenge finally was amazing. 

Why did you decide to embark on this challenge?

Running was not part of my life before I started this challenge. During my years at university, I did not have a healthy lifestyle; I was not doing any sports at all, and I was overweight. So I made the decision to challenge myself and change my habits, getting into healthy eating and sports, not only to cut the excess weight but to have a healthy lifestyle. Within two months, I lost around 30kg after being very strict about my diet. I also remember the first time I tried running. I was in the gym on a treadmill, and I couldn’t even run for two minutes. Every day, I would add another minute to the time I ran, gradually building on the time, and I fell in love with running. 

My story with marathon racing began when I found out about the RAK half marathon. It is the fastest half marathon in the world. I started to see advertisements for it and my dream was to be at the start of this race. At the time, I wasn’t even aware that the general public could take part, but it was a dream. I started with the We Run DXB 10k race in Dubai, and I fell in love with the atmosphere and the community. From here, I met others and asked questions about how I could take part in other races, and I soon registered for the RAK Half Marathon. 

After taking part in regional races, I started to look into international races that I could sign up for, and I decided to set myself a goal to run these six major marathons. It was a dream, but I was determined. 

What was the biggest challenge along the way?

First of all, there was a lack of Emiratis participating in international races. During the initial years, I was the only Emirati participating in some of these races out of 30 or 40 thousand people. There was no one to guide me on how to register and take part so I did it all by myself. 

The second challenge was that I needed to travel a lot to take part, and for some of the races, I had to enter a draw to get a place, and there was no guarantee that I would be successful.

COVID-19 was another major challenge. When I finally got a place in the Tokyo Marathon in 2019, I unfortunately injured my back two weeks before the race, and I had to withdraw. Then COVID-19 came, and Tokyo was shut down. The race was cancelled in 2020, and international runners were banned in 2021, 2022, and 2023. So, I waited four years to complete this race. 

What was your favourite marathon to run and why?

If I had to pick, it would be Tokyo. I love the city, and it has always been my dream to visit, which was very special. And the long delays made it even more special once I finally got there. 

What kept you motivated?

I work offshore, and during COVID, we had to quarantine for a week before accessing the sites. So I was in a hotel room, running back and forth in a standard room, and I finished a half marathon in my room during that time! So this is how I kept motivated and my fitness levels up. It was a very hard time, but I kept my hopes and mental strength, and that kept me going. 

What kept you focused during this time?

Mostly music. I love to listen to music while running. 

There is a lot of press around weight loss why do you think you did it in the right way?

Yes I definitely recommend setting yourself a very specific goal as I did. When I started my diet I was on a summer internship during university and initially, I had two months to achieve my weight loss goal. It helps to put a time limit on it and to monitor yourself every week. It’s about having a balance between a healthy diet and exercise, not just focusing on one or the other. It was a struggle but I am so proud to achieve it. 

What went through your mind when you crossed the last finish line?

It felt amazing but it was also a relief. I was really happy but very tired! I kept smiling; it was a special moment. 

What does it mean to you to achieve something like this for your country? 

I believe it opens the door for more Emiratis to embark on challenges like this. A lot of people didn’t know much about marathons, and I hope I am helping to raise awareness and encourage others to take part in future marathons both locally and internationally. I hope it is a good starting point for changing this sport in the country.

Why do you think it’s important for us to have sport in our lives?

Sport should not only be competitive but also as a means for a healthier lifestyle. The UAE has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world, which is something that needs to be addressed and having a lifestyle that incorporates sports is very important. 

There are a lot of very young, talented Emiratis who, if they have the support, can get to the Olympics. But so far, they have not been exposed enough or have not had the support they need for this. 

What advice would you give to anyone looking to embark on a challenge such as this?

They don’t need to think about it too much but block your calendar, and everything will follow! 

Is there another challenge you would like to achieve? 

Yes, there is. I have set myself the goal of participating and finishing a marathon on each continent. I still have four left: Australasia, Africa, South America and Antarctica.  I hope to finish all of these in two or three years.  

By Lindsay Judge