(Sarah Attar and her sister Ameera running in abaya in Jeddah’s corniche. Photo courtesy of Sarah Attar)

Jeddah Running Collective’s The Dialogue Series: Running In Abaya

By: Rod Li Wong P


Running Club is sort of like an antiquated phenomenon that seem to gel with the athletic marquee. It’s competitive-driven and inaccessibility has disenfranchised the average folks wanting to sign-up. But for the past couple of years it has gained traction due to the advent of alternative urban running clubs — it democratized and even the playing field. We saw the figures accumulate on marathon seasons and adds more highs and renewed spirits as running slowly becoming a team sport. But while some running clubs are still grounded and leaning towards traditionalism, more and more clubs are sprouting around the world and incorporating more social elements to their set-up all while keeping some of its competitive-driven characteristics intact.

Today, there’s a whole different spectrum of running clubs —evolving, thriving and not limiting to just competitive-drive class alone. The whole gamut now turned into a new subculture of running. The collective is one example of those subsets; Jeddah Running Collective belong to those running sub-genres where the impetus surrounds the collective and run through the deeply rooted local urban culture landscape. It’s also one of the few running groups in the world where it tends to underscore it’s very existence while unintentionally contesting the status quo.

Having it’s unique position in the urban running scene in the Kingdom, it attracts people from the throngs of non-running, passive-athletic type in Jeddah. The dynamic plays a vital role in the group’s stance as it represent the city through the multicultural and multiracial sitting in an urban semi-underground playground.

In our series of conversations around the people in JRC and the unyielding commitment of the collective to the centrality of women’s running in the community. We asked around women in the local scene to talk about their training motivations, why they run/move and how significant and existential the “Running In Abaya” and making a stand in the community:

Nesreen Ghonaim

(Nesreen running in a traditional garb. Photo courtesy of Jeddah Running Collective/February 2016)

The head captain and Jeddah Running Collective’s leading lady, is a career-woman mother of 4 and is burning the candles at both ends. She dispels about her running philosophy and some valid points about #RunningInAbaya.

“I cant say that i had one revelation around my training. Every day on it’s own is a revelation especially when i could feel and see the change in my body. This inspires me and gives me self motivation. In short, what happened is that I felt healthier and stronger which gave me the persistence to carry on and commit.

Why do you run/move? What propels you to do it?

Running/moving gives me a great sense of freedom and joy. These two important factors combined definitely leads to a better mood and a high energy level which enables me to deal with stress on all levels and fulfil my responsibilities.

Despite the Kingdom’s mandates that imposed on women to wear a uniform that’s, well, not aerodynamic, the group has been trying to keep afloat the conversions about the under represented female community in the sports, particularly in running. Pounding in billowy garb does affect speed and overall performance but it does gives value to strengthen the concept of the movement. I wanna flip it out a little bit and talk about one of JRC’s popular hashtag’s #RunningInAbaya, how significant the “Running in Abaya” in Saudi. And how such shift could bring changes to the community?

“When I started running I really disliked the idea of running with Abaya, I thought that people will be looking at me and running will be difficult cause i was positive that i will trip or fall. Today i don’t care in what I run in because I do enjoy running. We should have special Abayas designed specifically for running where I don’t have to suffer from being in sauna because of wearing the wrong material. The Running Abaya should be comfortable, breathable and practical. The society is more accepting nowadays of seeing women running but we still need time and I hope this continues to improve.”

Soraya Darwish

(Soraya second from right. Photo courtesy of Jeddah Running Collective/November 2015)

Saudi Art Guide’s co-founder, a yogi and one of Jeddah’s talented creative class. A multi-faceted artist and an Athr Gallery’s YSA (Young Saudi Artist) alum. She’s also a big felinophile. In our continued converations and shaking of local women in running, she discloses her (fitness/running) motivations and dispels her formulation on “Running In Abaya” from a perspective of a newbie runner.

“It was a day where I felt slightly more confident and comfortable than usual. The first one was when I finally managed to hop my feet back into plank, when I usually just put one leg back at a time. Although I did hit my knee on the floor, I knew then that it was just a matter of lack of confidence rather than lack of physical ability. The second was when I was being assisted to do a headstand. My fears of headstand are slowly going away because I finally learned the proper technique.”

Why do you run/move?

I move because it really does feel good. I don’t think humans were designed to stay still at all and that is why the sedentary lifestyle is affecting people’s health worldwide. I am in touch with the part of me that needs to move and it feels great most of the time.

Shed some light on “Running In Abaya”

It’s a very important movement but I feel there isn’t enough emphasis on ladies running yet. It’s more focused on mix gender running and the message is getting diluted a little bit. Still it’s fantastic progress and I hope it spreads to the rest of Saudi and hopefully one day have an all ladies marathon. We definitely see a lot of women walking but I’m sure if they see more women running, they will consider it.
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