Those Were the Days, My Friend

So yeah, you know how I’m running the Dubai marathon, um, tomorrow?

Well, I’d like you to meet my running buddies:

Proving once and for all that I’m Not As Young As I Used To Be (TM), my two weeks in the States - replete with late nights, cold weather, too much carousing with colleagues, and about 48 hours’ worth of time spent in airports or on airplanes - have taken their toll.

At least this is what I learned yesterday, when I finally succumbed and went to the doctor.

(I also learned that my clinic now segregates waiting areas by gender - ah, it’s good to be back in the Middle East. And yes, all doctor’s offices here have indoor palm trees and zen atmosphere fountains and sleek leather couches… I once went to a clinic that actually brought you a “welcome drink” along with a “refreshing towel” but that felt a little gratuitous, even for Dubai.)

The very nice Syrian doctor took one look into my ears with the little flashlight thing and immediately hooked me up to some kind of fancy machine which printed out a nifty pair of ear graphs. Sadly I was not allowed to keep them (I asked), so I have drawn an Artist’s Rendering for you in PowerPoint so you may share in the experience:

 

Apparently getting on a 15-hour flight when you have the beginnings of a sinus infection tends to embiggen the infection and push a lot of crap all up into your grill (yes, that’s the scientific explanation), especially your ears, not only making you feel like shit but also rendering you functionally deaf. (WHAT?!)

"But Gubbi," you say, "You don’t run a marathon with your ears!" To which I say, "I know, right?! MAN UP FOR GOD’S SAKE!" But everything above my neck is stuffed so full of junk that whenever I take a step, I feel pressure in my teeth… and then I think about taking that same step tomorrow and being like "okay, great, just 26.199999 miles more!" and then I want to curl up in the fetal position and make wounded-animal noises and probably die.

Anyhow, I know you’re all super-interested in my sinuses… the whole point of this post is really just to make myself feel better about the emerging reality that I am going to be That Girl Who Has Excuses To Not Run A Marathon (gah, don’t you hate That Girl?!) for the second year in a row.

No but really, I loathe being That Girl so much that it is making me feel dirty to continue writing this post. So to protect my own vanity (which obviously is the point of blogging, right?) I will sign off with a picture of me not being That Girl (shudder) but rather being Another Girl, a girl who is hearty and robust and prancing her way through mile 22 of a 34-mile race like it ain’t no thang because she is young and carefree and can treat her body like shit without suffering any consequences!

Those were the days, my friend.

A Haiku about Winter Running Clothes in Dubai

Tonight’s running wear:

Short shorts and a teeny tank.

ALMOST shivered.

***

Pay no attention to the zen masters of traditional Japanese poetry rolling in their graves thanks to my use of CAPS LOCK in a haiku, and instead distract yourself with my moonrise view from the track at Safa Park…

(Yes, this will continue to be a weather-gloating blog until sometime around April.)

Fridays Are For Running

30.5 kilometers / 19 miles: Trade Centre to Burj Khalifa, quick loop around Old Town, back through Za’abeel to Trade Centre, down Dhiyafah to Al Wasl Road, and then cruuuuuuuise the length of Wasl to Jumeirah Beach Hotel, where Alex will be waiting with Gatorade and sympathy and, most importantly, the car.

Podcasts are downloaded, water bottle is full, and it’s a beautiful day in the desert - 77 F with “abundant sunshine.”

Happy Friday!

No, But Seriously This Time

Aaaaaaand… registered!

After skipping the Dubai Marathon last year and failing to get my act together to run Beirut this fall, I am doing this race come hell, high water, or 6-hour finish, mark my word. 

And now that I’ve put my $120 registration fee where my mouth is… well, consider my word marked.

As of last week I’m up to 17 miles for my long run and 5 x Yasso 800s for my speed work, so while I’m not, like, “in shape in shape,” I have a decent base to build on over the next seven weeks… it’s certainly a better scenario than my first Dubai Marathon four years ago, also known as “that time I was an incorrigible 26 year-old and though I could run a sub-4 marathon on zero training.” (Moral of the story: ouch.)

Anyone else out there on the interwebs hoofing it through the desert on 27 January?

In Which I Run Beirut

Beirut is by far my favorite place to run in the greater Middle East and North Africa region.

Now, I should be clear that a statement like “Beirut is my favorite place to run in the Middle East” is akin to saying someone’s the smartest student on the short bus or the skinniest kid at fat camp - damning with faint praise, to be sure.

But in this particularly running-unfriendly part of the world, Beirut’s got a lot going for it - namely a corniche footpath that hugs the Mediterranean coast for mile after breathtaking seafront mile - and hence I try to make a point of getting out for at least one long-ish run whenever I’m in the city.

Last week’s trip was no exception, so undeterred by a heat wave that pushed Lebanon’s temperatures up into Dubai-like triple digits, I plotted out a 10-ish mile course from my hotel in Achrafieh to the Pigeon Rocks on the other side of town…

… being sure to maximize my Med exposure, of course. 

Now of course, one of the downsides of running in Beirut (in addition to the horrific drivers and the occasional threat of political instability) is the men. 

Imagine, for a second, that you are a woman in a mini-skirt walking through the most vulgar, catcalling, whistling crowd of construction workers you have ever seen in your life. Multiply this feeling by a thousand. Increase that sentiment by an additional 50% worth of Arab male bravado, and then add 10 times more shame and humiliation because you are obviously a slutty, straight-to-the-sack Western woman. If you’ve done the calculations correctly, then hopefully you can understand an inkling of what it feels like alone on the streets of Beirut. 

But never fear! I am, after all, a seasoned expert in such matters, and hence I present to you…

… my “Blonde Girl Running in Beirut” Head-to-Toe:

  • Baseball cap, pulled low over face
  • Headphones, with iPod volume on max to drown out hecklers
  • Baggy-ish nondescript t-shirt 
  • Running tights (not shorts, NEVER shorts)
  • Fierce stare
  • Lips locked and loaded with culturally relevant epithets, i.e. imshee ya kalb - get away, you dog!

Preparation finished, let’s enjoy our beautiful run, shall we?!

Okay, well, first we have to make our way past the many abandoned bullet-pocked buildings of Achrafieh, an area that saw heavy fighting during Lebanon’s civil war. 

Next we begin the leg of the run that I like to think of as centering around former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri. The mosque he built in downtown Beirut…

… the posters of him that line Martyr’s Square

… and finally, the monument marking the spot where he was killed when his motorcade was blown up in 2005. 

[Moment of respectful silence.]

Man, I’m not doing much to sell this run, am I? Downer! But trust me, we’re almost to the good part now - less political assassinations and strife, more palm trees and skyscrapers!

And finally, several miles in, we emerge from the urban morass out onto the corniche and you begin to see why I love running in Beirut so very much. 

Yadda yadda yadda, fast forward through several more blissful coastal miles, and we reach our turnaround point, the Pigeon Rocks - or raouché if, like many Lebanese people, you prefer to be faux-French and fancy. 

Sweaty self portrait at the halfway mark.

Then we turn around, we take it all in, and we retrace our steps. And rather than taking you through the second half of the run, I will simply share with you how disgustingly sweat-soaked and makeup-smeared I looked at the end of it.

In fact, I was so gross that I accidentally left this epic sweat angel on the couch after I sat down on it without thinking. 

Don’t worry, I’m not sharing these gory details all for naught. I’m sharing them because even as disgusting and maniacal as I looked at the end of the run… I was still getting heckled and habibti'ed all the way to the door of my hotel. 

To hit so brazenly on something that looks (and probably smells!) like a drowned rat… I mean, that’s commitment to an ethos, man. 

The Canaries in My Coal Mine

This weekend marked a great seasonal milestone here in the desert…

… the return of the Pakistani cricket players in the empty lot behind our apartment!

You see, I use the level of pick-up cricket activity visible from our window as a gauge for whether it’s too hot for me to go running outside during daylight hours. From June through September, you’re hard-pressed to see more than the odd batsman or two - those rare die-hard fanatics who just can’t enjoy their day off without playing an… inning (?) or two of the gentleman’s game, 120F temps be damned.

But lo and behold, I woke up yesterday morning and there were several dozen Pakistani cricket players even at the usually sweltering hour of 9 AM! Encouraged by this auspicious sign, I checked the temperature and it was only 91F - totally runable weather.

As I jogged by them a few minutes later at the beginning of what proved to be a quite tolerable 6-miler, I gave them a silent salute for their service. 

Coal mines have canaries… here in the desert, we have cricketers.

Yesterday’s Awkward Cross-Cultural Running Moment, Brought To You By Rihanna

Scene: Running a quick 3-mile loop through the back streets of Satwa at dusk.

Me: [Singing out loud to Rihanna’s “S&M” using iPod as pretend mike, as is my wont.] 'Cause I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it…

Me: [Look up; realize I am passing one of the roving groups of conservative Pakistani men who stroll the ‘twa between prayer time and dinner time; deem it too late to stop singing.] Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me—

Pakistani Men: [EPIC DEATH STARE AND CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS.]

Me: —na na na come on, come on, come on, I like it like it! [Usain Bolt victory arms upon passing.]

End scene.

I Don’t Need Your Judgment, iTunes

I am currently in the midst of downloading and compiling an epic iTunes playlist for the daily two-hour runs I plan to embark upon in Germany / California / South Carolina (basically: destinations where it is not currently 120F) in the coming weeks as the training kickoff for my triumphant return to the Beirut Marathon this November.

While I initially got annoyed with iTunes for pigeonholing me into what is clearly the thirteen year-old girl demographic based on my recent purchases from Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never (The Remixes) album…

… I realized upon further reflection that I have actually purchased songs from each of the above artists (ahem - “artists” is perhaps more fitting) in the past year.

So I suppose I have to concede and say: well-pigeonholed, iTunes. Although I do feel like I may be the only person (besides my sister, that is) who alternates Miley and Ke$ha with Bollywood hits and Lebanese pop.

(Incidentally, if you don’t already uphold the Bieb’s eponymous tune on Never Say Never as a running song par exellence - up there with the likes of “Right Now,” dare I say it - then we might need to talk about your priorities in running music.)

Since we’ll be spending the last week of our vacation at my family’s ancestral beach town on the South Carolina coast - a place we went every summer growing up but haven’t been back to since 2000 or so - I’ve also been nostalgically trolling through the depths of the late-’90s hits that used to fill my Discman (!) on the long beach-side runs of my late teens, and I’m just going to go ahead and throw this out there…

… "MMMBop" by Hanson? TOTAL FORGOTTEN RUNNING GEM.

You heard it here first, and I am not ashamed even though I should be.

A Triumphant Return to the Beirut Marathon?

Why yes, that’s me on the right, and a Lebanese soldier with an assault rifle guarding the race course… does that not happen in “normal” races?

Earlier this week, I had the chance to catch up with my running buddy (and fellow Dubai Tumblr!) Yousef and his lovely wife Meredith. Over massive steaks and many glasses of Kefraya, our backyard conversation turned to the Beirut Marathon, and we marveled at the fact that Yousef, despite being a devout regional marathoner / ultramarathoner (and half Lebanese, to boot!) had never toed the line for this particular race. 

After a few more glasses of Kefraya, someone grabbed an iPhone and looked up the date of this year’s race… and while I won’t speak for Yousef (I’d have done Comrades several times by now if people held me to my tipsy running promises), I think by next November I’ll be able to make a triumphant return to 26.2 on the streets of Beirut. 

Since I haven’t been writing much about running lately (mostly because I’m only now getting back into shape after my craptacular Nike Free-induced tendonitis), I dug up the recap I wrote on my old blog from when I ran Beirut back in 2008… in doing so, I was reminded that it’s a pretty epic race - and nothing gets me fired up to train through a Dubai summer like an epic race.

Click the here for the recap!

An Open Letter to the American-Looking Runner Girl I Saw on Last Night’s Run

Dear American-Looking Runner Girl I Saw on Last Night’s Run,

I have to say, our encounter came as a shock. 

There I was, running through my neighborhood in Dubai at dusk, head down. We were somewhere between Metro Falcon Cafeteria and the Union Co-Op covered by the giant picture of Sheikh Mohammed - I’m sure you know the landmarks, right? - and the only people I expected to pass on the sidewalk were Pakistani men headed to the nearby mosque. 

But then I looked up, and boom - there you were. An American-looking woman, running in shorts and cranking 8-minute, maybe 8:30 miles! You had a pink cover on your iPod, and your running tank might have even been lululemon. You were a girl just like me, and you must know how exciting that is in these parts!

American-Looking Runner Girl, I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve seen your species pounding the pavement in my ‘hood, which is why I felt a rush of excitement as we made eye contact. In ordinary circumstances, I’m no proponent of the running wave - but this was a momentous occasion! So I grinned and shot my hand into the air and even turned down my music in case you wanted to say hi, and then… you ran past me without so much as a nod

I understand you were probably lost within yourself. God knows you have to be, running where we were at that time of day. Our neighborhood hugs a stretch of Sheikh Zayed Road crammed with towers under construction (Ed. Note: this is akin to a New Yorker noting they live in a part of Brooklyn where there are many hipsters, or a Kiwi saying they’re from an area of New Zealand with lots of sheep), and 6-7 PM is the witching hour when labor crews do their shift change, shuffling from their construction sites to dozens of buses waiting along the road.

It’s not easy to block out hundreds of staring construction-worker eyes, and when you add in rush hour and sand-thick air, I get why you were in your own place.

Heck, I was so focused on ignoring the outside world that I had unconsciously shifted from rapping along earnestly with the motivational part of Eminem’s 'Till I Collapse -

Sometimes you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up / But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength / and just pull that shit out of you and get that motivation / to not give up and not be a quitter / no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face

… to fervently singing along as he lists the pantheon of rap greats he should be compared to later in the song -

It goes, Reggie, Jay-Z, Tupac and Biggie, Andre from Outcast, Jada, Kurupt, Nas and then me / But in this industry I’m the cause of a lot of envy, so when I’m not put on this list the shit does not offend me

… which you know means my mind is elsewhere, as I usually skip that part and repeat back to the epic beginning. (Obviously.)

But still, American-Looking Runner Girl! How were you not touched by the momentousness of our encounter? Did you just move here, meaning you’re still in the “I only want exotic international friends, not blonde runner friends” phase? (I’ve been there… it’ll pass.) Are you perhaps actually British, and hence lack the tail-wagging friendliness I would expect from a compatriot? Are you blind, American-Looking Runner Girl?! 

Stunned by your snub, but nevertheless happy to have seen you, I shrugged and turned my music back up. Dubai’s a small town though, and if we cross paths again, I may quote the Usher that was playing in my earbuds as I ran on -

Think I’ve seen you before / I think I remember those eyes eyes eyes, ey-ey-ey-eyes…

… and LACK OF A WAVE.

Love,

Gubbi