Dubai’s marathon man lives fast



With 54 marathons to his name, six wins and 51 of them completed in under three hours, Nick Berrill is arguably Dubai’s fastest man and, it seems fair to say, somewhat of a marathon expert. In the six years since arriving in Dubai, the 45-year-old Dubai Metro programme director has finished all but one of the city’s races at the top of his category.

Nick Berrill pounds the pavement in Dubai. Jeff Topping / The National
Nick Berrill pounds the pavement in Dubai. Jeff Topping / The National

He ran his fastest race in two hours 28 minutes while living in the UK, and in 2006 he and his wife, Anna, also an accomplished runner, set up ABRaS AC, a club that caters to Dubai’s more competitive runners.

But as the English father of three prepares for his seventh Dubai race in January, his appetite for the 42.2km race has been tempered by a desire for longer distances and tougher routes. Having won a silver medal for completing the 56km Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa earlier this year in under four hours, he now has his sights firmly set on ultra-marathons.

“Next year I’m going to go to South Africa and do the Comrades Marathon and I want to get a silver medal there,” he says.

The Comrades Marathon, which takes place on May 30, is labelled the Ultimate Human Race at 89km. “You don’t do a lot differently for the training,” Berrill says. “All I do is extend my long run. I run over marathons for training anyway, quite often I’ll run 44km or 45km. For me it’s about getting the time.”

Berrill typically runs two marathons a year and has run twice a day, almost every day, for 20 years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his hero is the former European and Commonwealth marathon champion Ron Hill, who has not missed a day of running since December 1964 – even running with a broken sternum and the day after bunion surgery.

Berrill and his wife met at a running club in Northampton when Anna was an international triathlete. “Most of the people I used to run with married non-runners and so their running faded away very quickly,” he said. “I married a runner and that’s a good thing to do.

“You can empathise, understanding you have to commit some time, understanding that if you don’t run it causes bad behaviour – that you get frustrated. There’s also mutual support.”

These days, the sport also provides Berrill with a way to alleviate work stress. “I’d say some of my best decisions have been made while running for this job,” he said.

Berrill began running short distances at the age of 15 as part of rugby and football training but claims he was never particularly talented. “You don’t have to be talented to run a marathon or even run a good marathon. It’s just about hard work and patience.”

He attributes his staggered improvement in times and distance to the running club circuit in the UK and, in particular, the group of runners he met while at Northampton Phoenix club. “That’s what is really important about marathon running, to get a great group, because you do pull each other through the training.”

By the time Dubai became an option, in 2003, Berrill was running 100 miles a week. The UAE’s summers presented a major challenge to the running enthusiast and factored highly in his decision about whether to move here.

“I did research it and it was part of the decision mix in coming here, not just from a climate point of view but from air quality, and also the running clubs, of which at that time there were really only two: Dubai Creek Striders and Dubai Road Runners.

Berrill is relaxed about January’s race. “I try to maintain a certain level of training. I’m only ever 10 weeks away from a marathon because I can just adopt a training plan that can get me through,” he says.

One of the benefits of the world’s richest race, he says, is knowing the course and having support from fellow runners. “If you have been training with people and they’re coming down the other side then there’s that encouragement.”