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Insights Pushing the limits from Dubai to Riyadh

09 April 2020 

Mohamed Badawy's inspiring running story

image of Mohamad with his medal

Meet Mohamed Badawy, Associate Director - Project Controls at the AtkinsRéalis Group, including Atkins and Faithful+Gould. His chief superpower is collaboration. From skyscrapers to resorts, commercial buildings to community developments, he enables multidisciplinary teams to clients' vision into reality. After recently relocating from Dubai to Riyadh he discovered his other superpower – running. In just 5 months he went on to surprise even himself by training for and completing a 50 km ultramarathon! #InsideAtkins recently caught up with him to hear his story...

How are you finding life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)?

After relocating from Dubai, my life did a 180° about-turn. My first question was, "How will I spend my time?" So, I started searching for something to do. To my surprise, I found several running groups. One of the common misconceptions is that because KSA is a conservative country, life is boring. But you can find what you enjoy here, you just need to search for it!

Have you always been a competitive runner?

When I came across Riyadh Road Runners (RRR) through the International Expat Forum, I was only running max 8 km a week. RRR organize running events over the six temperate months of each year. As I started late in the season, I signed up for my first run in November. It was a big challenge to run the first 16 km of my life with no training. I asked a colleague for advice on how to prepare for 16k in just 10 days. He gave me a running plan, which I followed carefully. I took part in the event and did it!

"If I go, there's no telling how far."

I'd only been running for a month, so the achievement was a thrill. But the season has four big events – the 21k, 30k, 42k and 50k runs - for which you can earn a pizza-shaped medal. When you complete all the big races, the combined pieces form a complete circle. I knew I had to attempt my first half marathon. But I just had two weeks to get ready.

"Mission completed!"

Again I turned to my colleague, seeking another plan, and followed it without argument. I was so excited on the day of the half marathon. However, as I am a relatively new runner, I didn't know how to hydrate myself during the run. So, with some difficulty, I finally completed it, feeling dizzy as I crossed the finish line. 

What lessons did you learn from these incredible runs?

image of Mohamad with a half marathon medal

From my first half marathon, I learnt how to take care of myself during a long-distance run. My next challenge was the 30 km marathon. But I'd made another mistake. I'd done a long-distance run six days before the race, so with two days to go, my muscles had started cramping. On my coach's advice, I went for a good massage. I was afraid to do the run but told myself I would just stop if I felt any cramping. Despite the challenges, I completed the 30 km. My time was almost 4 hrs. Mission completed, I'd earned half the pizza!

And then you were planning to do the Full Marathon in just two weeks?

Yes! I was determined to win my third medal of the season. From the last challenges, I learnt that I needed a really good rest between the long runs. So, I did not run four days before the full Marathon. 

"My biggest challenge yet."

For the 42 km run, I bought a CamelBak and filled it with Gatorade for electrolytes. With all this preparation, I completed the marathon in over 5hrs, and achieved my third medal!

What made you push on for the ultramarathon?

It was all down to that last piece of pizza. I had cramps the week before the race, and almost decided not run. I told myself that's really enough for my first season. On the other hand, I just needed one more medal to complete the pizza. So two days before the run, I went on a Pilates Reformer with my friend Candace, who is a practitioner. It helped, so I changed my mind at the last minute and found myself at the race at 5am the next morning.

What was your run like?

image of the medal

I had never experienced anything like it in my life. It was one of the biggest challenges of my life. The course had three hills that we needed to overcome, and the trail was mostly off-road. The run was different to all the races in Riyadh and very, very long. I ran more than 7 hrs on this day. 50 km – I thought I'd lost my mind to go for something like that. But for my effort and perseverance, I'm now the proud owner of all four medals. 

Do you have any advice for people thinking about a personal or professional dream?

1. Don't overthink the problems, focus on solutions instead.

2. You can do anything if you make it your goal, put together an action plan and work gradually to achieve it.

3. Stretch your limits, break the limiting beliefs about yourself, you can do a lot.

4. Discipline and consistency make anything possible.

5. Surround yourself with positive, healthy, supportive people, and you'll transform your life.

6. It's all about mentality, have the right mindset to win.

7. Don't listen to people, listen to your heart. Start small and don't quit until you achieve your big dream.

8. Look at the bright side of each difficulty. When I relocated from Dubai, it was a shock to the system, but I focused on spending my time enjoying positive activities instead.

9. Have a mentor. Someone who has already achieved the goals you seek. Listen to them, ask about how they achieved their dream, and just don't argue. Listen, understand and apply. Your mentor will help you overcome the bumps so you can reach your goal.

What do you enjoy the most about the company?

I've always aspired to work here, as it's one of the most prestigious consultancies in the region and the world. It's given me opportunities to work on mega construction projects with qualified professional engineers. I also love the people at Atkins. The Saudi team gave me a warm welcome and did everything they could to help me to settle in. We're a big family now, and we've started running together on weekends. It's helped us have fun, relieve tension and has brought us closer.

Congratulations on your great achievements, Mohamed!