Jeddah: Two years ago, Jeddah-based health enthusiast Rasha Al Hambra founded Bliss Runners to encourage other Saudi women to adopt a healthy lifestyle through running.
Health experts worldwide regard running as the best form of cardio, and Rasha is determined to promote a walking and running culture in Saudi Arabia.
Rasha, a Saudi national picked up running while she was living in the United Sates.
When she returned home she conducted a survey amongst women in Jeddah to gauge their interest in running as a fitness activity.
The response was overwhelming and Rasha decided to form an all-women running group.
She decided to call the group Bliss Runners because, for Rasha, running generates a feeling of pure bliss.
On her first run, 15 women joined her—mainly family and friends.
As word spread, more women joined the group.
“It is the only form of exercise that does not require any equipment or office space,” she tells Gulf News.
The group, which promotes itself through Instagram, is steadily building a strong following.
Today, Bliss Runners has 100 registered members, including 65 active runners.
The group meets thrice weekly to practice running drills, a special workout technique to improve running posture, speed, and duration. It also strengthens legs, core and upper body, and helps build stamina for longer runs.
The group does not have a specific outdoor place for members to gather and run.
Sometimes, they can be seen running along one of the numerous beautiful walking tracks in Jeddah, or along walkways near the Red Sea. They can also be seen near historical sites or in and around commercial compounds and stadiums.
“We take our runs anywhere in our beautiful city. Each run on an average is 4-6km,” Rasha says.
She said that they draw attention while running, but it is usually passersby cheering for them or giving them the thumbs up.
The group takes care to ensure that runners are modestly dressed, in comfortable yet fashionable jumpsuit abayas.
“The abayas we wear are designed by local abaya designer Emaan Johaarjy, and meet the requirements of active ladies. The abayas accommodate the needs of Muslim women who work out and lead an active lifestyle, and at the same time are fashionable,” Abeer Al Bayouk, one of the team leaders tells Gulf News.
In November last year, for the first time, 10 members of the group participated in Dubai Women’s Run at Massari Village.
Saudi CrossFit trainer Amal Baatiya, who was also awarded the title of Woman of Substance at the event, had trained the participating members.
The group hopes one day to participate in other international running events, too.
The group recently introduced a teens training programme for both boys and girls aged between 14-18.
The intensive programme is conducted twice a week.
The General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia has supported the group by opening up its training facilities around Jeddah and at the King Abdullah Sports City, Rasha says.
“They have also shown willingness to collaborate with us and support us with legal issues and permits.”
Bliss Runners hopes to start a national youth runners team, and create and implement a running programme in schools. It is also looking for sponsors to help it realise its goals.
“I believe physical education is extremely crucial for a healthy society, and sports programmes and competitions should be a top priority in schools and universities,” Mona Shaken—the team coach, told Gulf News.
The group is open to anyone interested in running and staying fit.
It has also set up a WhatsApp chat group where its members can exchange information and advice about fitness routines.