Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Running on the Road

I’m in the middle of a 3 week trip to Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.  I don’t always visit countries that are runner friendly.  Recent and upcoming trips include:  

Afghanistan?  Not so safe. Stick to the treadmill.  They actually have a hash, but I’d never be so bold (stupid) as to try it.  

Nairobi?  Also, not so safe. No gym/treadmill in the hotel, so I ran in the pool.

Kampala?  A hill runner’s paradise.  

Ethiopia?  I’ll find out in a couple of days, but I’m hopeful for a week of nice runs at 7500 feet.

Myanmar?  I’m intrigued to find out, but I’m not that hopeful. 

Also note that short work trips mean that I don't get the chance to explore all that a place has to offer, so my observation are based on short-term trips to places and situations where I'm often stranded in a hotel, and need to be able to run from wherever I'm staying.

So, last week while in Nairobi, I stuck to the pool and used my aqua jogger.  Crowded streets, air pollution, and warnings from people not to venture into the street are enough to convince me that running outside is not the safest bet.  A lady on the flight from Nairobi to Kampala mentioned that there is a nice park for walking.  So, were I forced to spend more time in Nairobi, there might be some outdoor options, although probably involving looping around a small area.  But Nairobi is not a runner’s paradise—at least not for an obvious foreigner who would likely draw attention where attention is ill-advised.  Always strikes me as odd, to be in Kenya, but not be able to run.  

This week in Kampala has been nice.  My hotel sits on top of Tank Hill, the highest hill in Kampala, so any run means a considerable amount of climbing super steep and relatively long hills.  Kampala is formed around 7 hills, of which Tank Hill is not one, so there are more than 7 hills, and there’s the potential for a lot of up and down on any run.  And the hills are steep.  Steep enough that I would normally walk them if they were found anywhere after about mile 2 in an ultra.  I’ve got a nice hill repeat option of 1 mile straight down and one mile straight up.  At 6 a.m. with the sun rising over Lake Victoria and views of the many surrounding hills, it’s a nice way to start the day.  It’s dark at 6 a.m., which does cause some potential for danger, in that some of the roads are kind of crappy, and some sections are poorly lit.  I hit a speed bump the first morning which provided some entertainment for the guards hanging out not far away.  It’s not uncommon to see Ugandans, mainly men, but some women, too, running in the early morning, in a variety of shoe options, including flip flops, rubber rain boots, dress shoes and running shoes.  I've also discovered some nice loops through some quiet neighborhoods on really great rutted dirt roads--who needs trails when you've got really bad roads that are more technical than many trails?  Lots of really cute kids that like to laugh and wave, along with plenty of chickens and goats. 

I try to run wherever I end up, as it’s what keeps me sane and happy on trips where I’m often working long hours and my normal routine is otherwise completely out of whack.  It’s definitely a way to see a lot more of a place than I would otherwise get the chance to see. But I dearly miss the gorge, and am looking forward to being home in a couple of weeks.