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.