Sometimes, It's Good to be a Follower
In 2012, something happened that no one expected in Egypt — a small group of Egyptians took to the streets and started running. And they actually enjoyed it. Prior to this, people mainly walked or ran on the tracks of private clubs or the streets of specific neighborhoods like Maadi or Zamalek. But starting 2012, Ibrahim Safwat took a step in a different direction: he gathered his relatives, friends and acquaintances for a run on the streets of Cairo. And just like that, the idea went viral and Cairo Runners was born. Their next marathon is on Friday, 23 February 2018, so we decided to chat with Ibrahim Safwat, the founder of this game-changing organization.
El Konafa: It’s been 6 years since Cairo Runners started; how has it changed or impacted your life?
Ibrahim Safwat: When you work as an employee in a company or a factory, you don’t see the impact of your work. But when you work in a community like Cairo Runners, you see the results of your hard work and its impact on people. I learned things I never expected to learn — I’m an engineer and I had the ‘engineering lifestyle’ before Cairo Runners, but after the organization was founded I started learning things like HR, event management and public relations. Every day I face challenges and obstacles that need to be solved, and it might be hectic but when you see the impact on people you figure out that solving these problems is worth anything.
EK: How do you feel when you see hundreds of people running every Friday?
IS: It’s the best part of the week for me and my team. Weekdays we do things like deal with sponsors, get permits to allow us to run in the streets and other production difficulties, but we all forget our troubles when we see people running and happy. It’s the moment we wait for every week.
EK: Based on your previous experience in runs and marathons abroad, do you feel the same vibes when you run with people on Cairo’s streets?
IS: It’s not the same, so it depends. The perks of running with Cairo Runners is that you see motivation and encouragement amongst the runners, while abroad, marathons and runs have an audience who attends the event to just see the running and to celebrate the event.
EK: Which is better, waking up every Friday morning to run with lots of people or going to the gym and using the treadmill whenever?
IS: Both cases are different. Of course it’s more flexible to run at any time and any place, but then you don’t have the motivation you would have when running with people. For instance you can run 4 km by yourself, but when you join a group of people you’ll find yourself running even more than 4 km without being conscious of the distance.
EK: As a founder, do you think you’ve reached everyone who loves running?
IS: Of course not. We’re almost 100 million, and if there’s 10,000 runners in a marathon it’ll only be around 0.01% of the whole population. In Lebanon the population is 4 million and there are 4,000 runners joining the marathons, so it’s a little bit more doable.
EK: It’s the sixth marathon for Cairo Runners, can you give me some stats about the marathon each year?
IS: Our first marathon started with 1,500 runners, the second was 3,000 runners and every marathon since then has had a relative increase. This year it’s our first time to hold a full marathon and it’ll be a special one from an organizational and entertainment perspective.
EK: The next marathon will take place in Cairo Festival City. Which do you prefer, having the marathon in a closed area like CFCM or in public streets like the marathon of 2015 in Heliopolis?
IS: I first want to clarify that Cairo Festival City is only the meeting point; it’s the venue where all the runners will gather to start and end the run, in addition to all the activities and entertainment that’ll take place there. But the marathon itself will be on the streets of the Fifth Settlement. Closed areas are more suitable from an organizational standpoint, but for the runners the public streets are better.
EK: In 10 years, do you think Cairo Runners will be a strong brand in the sporting community in Egypt, or have you already achieved this particular target?
IS: We didn’t achieve our target yet. We’re aiming to have a mother company with an event management department, training academy and many other things we need to build… the route is still long for us.
EK: What’s your dream for Cairo Runners?
IS: My main dream is to have a marathon in Downtown Cairo. I also want this marathon to be the biggest marathon in the Middle East and have media from all over the world talking about it.
EK: Bonus question — when you wake up at 3 am hungry, what do you eat?
IS: Pizza of course! If there’s no pizza I’ll eat La Vache Qui Rit, but I prefer pizza.
EK: Describe Cairo Runners in one sentence.
IS: “It’s all about the community.”
*This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Sometimes, It's Good to be a Follower