Four of the passionate runners behind the ever-growing Cairo Runners initiative showed up to our office, clad in their Reeboks, and sat down to chat with Hassan Abdeltawab about how it all began.
What do you usually do on Friday mornings? I'm talking real mornings, people, not the 11 AM to 3 PM that we define as mornings; the actual after-dawn mornings. Yes, this is the part where you start calling me crazy because, like me, you define that morning as your extra well-earned sleeptime after a long week of work and a longer Thursday night out. Sounds pretty on point, doesn’t it? Would you believe me if I told you that, at 6 AM on Fridays, hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of people meet up in one spot just so they can start running together? I thought it was insane, too, because, seriously ya3ni, sleep is too precious. Well, we met these early risers and they kind of helped change our lazyass perspective on things. Oh, and hear me out, because I am for a fact the fattest and least healthy person at the office who's about to seriously join in on this running thing. Let me tell you about four of the amazing people behind Cairo Runners: Ibrahim, Dania, and the two Abdullahs – the group that is powered by Reebok to take it back to basics and be more human!Let me cut to the chase like they did with me. This is basically how they started: Ibrahim called Dania and a few other friends one day, four years ago, and asked them if they would like to run on Friday morning with a group of people. Everyone was in, so he asked them to come up with a name for it. A few minutes later, one Salma Shahin – now the Community Manager – comes up with the name Cairo Runners. Come Friday morning, you have 80 people running together in Zamalek. Now, this coming Friday, four years later, the number has been multiplied by a hundred because 8,000 people are meeting up to run with their Reeboks on. So the real question here is: how does something as simple as running become such a widespread trend that attracts so many people and grows so rapidly? According to Abdullah Ali, “The simplicity of it is the main attraction; all you need are your feet and a pair of Reeboks – no excuse.” Dania Halaby, on the other hand, said, “What makes it attractive is its convenience as a package; early in the day in great weather, Friday morning with no traffic, running in groups providing safety, the constant motivation from everyone, and the support from one of the biggest sport brands out there.” Yeah, that made me feel guilty for being a lazy fatass.Speaking with Ibrahim Safwat, the man who started it all, it is nearly impossible not to be inspired. The passion in his voice and on his face speaks so much louder than any words. Once a somewhat overweight engineering graduate who used to work as a sales manager, Safwat decided to jog off his excess fat using treadmills at the gym or the track at the club. To him it was unnatural; he just wanted to be more human because the artificiality was just boring. “I would run for an hour or an hour and a half, but running in the same place is kind of boring. So, we decided to run in the streets but the question was how; they're wrecked, girls were going to be harassed, pollution, and so on. So we decided to come up with an idea, which was to run on Friday mornings at 7 AM. No cars, most people are asleep, there won’t be a lot of harassment, and we can pick the streets we want to run in,” he said. So he decided to kick off his Cairo Runners idea, inviting friends to jump in and join.The essential goal was to turn this whole hobby into an ongoing passion that motivated people to become better and lead healthier lifestyles. Ultimately, Safwat wanted people to be ready to run a half marathon (21 km), which he acknowledged to be impossible to start with. Here's how he put it: “We came up with a system that, every Friday morning, we would start with four km and would add another kilometre every Friday until we reach 21. The second goal was that every time we would run somewhere different so people can discover this country we live in. It is easy to run four km in Zamalek on the Nile every week, but that’s not the goal; we want to introduce the people to the country a little bit. So we would do it in Zamalek, Heliopolis, Maadi, etc.” To his surprise, the people just kept piling in and the numbers never stopped growing.Abdullah Hussein, one of the co-founders, having been part of Cairo Runners from the very beginning he seems to be that guy who works through most of the technicalities of the runs and the half marathon. He expressed the many difficulties they go through in order to set up any one event, mostly with regards to permits and government-related paper work. “When large numbers are participating, it is necessary to make sure no one thinks we are out rioting or something,” said Hussein, but he also exclaimed that the efforts and precision required to make a half marathon come true would not be possible without the support of the many volunteers. “For a half marathon, we start working eight months ahead of time with volunteers. We have meetings, orientations, and trainings with the support of the professionals from Reebok, so that on the day of the event we wouldn’t have someone standing there not knowing what to do,” said Hussein. “Some of our volunteers don't sleep ahead of the big event because they're under a lot of pressure to pull everything together and impact the lives of those who come out for every run," Safwat said. Well, don’t worry Safwat; the word is out.Safwat, Halaby, Aly, and Hussein are just four dreamers amongst a team of 35 ambitious organizers with a passion for brewing motivation and inspiration in the hearts of people. So what is it that motivates the motivators? According to Safwat, “For me, I believe that a person on his own is nothing; without a team, it can't work.” As for Abdullah Hussein, it was simply a matter of “impact to be more human.” Abdullah Aly put it differently: “Impossible is nothing; if you want something bad enough, you will get it.” Unlike the boys, Halaby defined it through a particular moment. “Back when I was running the eight kilometres, we started motivating the runners with just 100 metres to the finish line, and I grabbed this girl's hand and told her ‘you're not going to stop’ and I made her finish the last 100 metres," Halaby recalled. "Two seasons later, she came and told me ‘you are the reason I started running and chose to continue on to the second marathon’ and thanked me. This made me realise how a small word or motivation can push people into doing great things.”
Find out more about Cairo Runners and the great people behind it by clicking here for their Facebook page.
Photography by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb.