Friday, August 13, 2010

Why I run?

It is a question I ask myself every evening when I come back from my run, dripping from head to toe, only to grin and bear a "hot" shower -- because there's no running cold water in Dubai from May through October, if not November.

I am not a natural runner. Swimming and the sea are more my thing. My mum, Vicky, always said I swam before I walked.

In London, I was lucky to live and work at Chelsea Harbour and take advantage of the beautiful swimming pool of the hotel there. And so, gray skies, wind, rain or snow -- very rarely sun!!! -- I would dedicate one hour a day to swimming. It was a ritual and discipline I kept up for many years.

Chelsea Harbour
The pool and big windows to the left

Mind you, I did try the hotel's gym a couple of times. I found a pair of trainers and hopped onto a treadmill. The lady next to me was jogging away and I thought, "Oh, I can do that." Sure... My knees gave way and I could hardly walk for three weeks.

It was fun though when football teams were away against my club, Chelsea FC -- Stamford Bridge being a stone's throw away -- and stayed at the hotel in Chelsea Harbour. They would  train at the hotel's gym and it was great to meet them and watch their routines. Once, this very handsome guy was singing away, non-stop, while lifting weights. To earn myself a respite, I kindly asked him to guide me through a few movements. Later, when I recounted the episode to a  friend, she gulped... It turned out he was one of the Il Divo singers. Grace Jones too used to come in for a swim. She'd arrive, flamboyant as ever, in her famous fake fur coat. She was always chatty and friendly with all the other girls in the changing room. Ohhhh, and when Boyzone were in town...

But I mostly stuck to the 17-meter heated pool that had a huge bay window the length of the hall . It was great to be in the water when it was freezing cold, snowing or pouring with rain outdoors.

And the charming thing was that in the changing room, pool or gym, everyone was friendly, encouraging and eager to exchange fitness tips. 

The pool in my garden... super, but not for laps!
When I relocated to Dubai, I opted for accommodation premises featuring a pool in the garden. That did it! But it wasn't exactly the kind of pool to do laps in. I couldn't find a close-by gym -- yes, my driving phoebia -- or an affordable one! Sure, I would have loved to go to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel gym, except that.... So the best alternative was to hit the road! And hit it I did.

At first I used to walk for one hour in the early morning. A neighbor and her Labrador joined me and we would walk all around Umm Suqeim. We got to know all the gardeners, drivers and construction workers in the area. But then the flies got the better of us -- we were shutting them out from our throats and hitting  ourselves nonstop to keep them away. Also a special track was built on Al Thanya Street, which is when I decided to switch to evenings and try that out.

The Al Thanya Street track (on the left)
Exercising in the street is like walking a dog. You meet and talk to people you wouldn't otherwise connect with. And so every evening, the same people from diverse nationalities and age groups gather at the track, each doing his or her thing. We get to know each other, share our daily tit-bits, exchange health tips and exercise together. There is an elderly Indian couple; the three Emirati brothers who live opposite the track; lots of Emirati ladies in their abayas; the guys from a neighboring school (one of them, Rajiv, could earn a fortune working as a personal trainer); the English lady who walks morning and evening; the Iraqi and Lebanese gentlemen who walk en masse; and so many others.

With my running mate Mina at the end of the Dubai Marathon in January
Little by little I started hobbling around the track. One lady, Mina, was up to10 laps. We thought she was wacky. One day we got talking and I joined her. One lap became two,  three, then four... Last October Mina and I decided to try for the 10K in the Dubai Marathon. We trained daily, encouraged by all the others. We were lucky to run at the same pace and our excitement kept mounting till the morning of January 22, when we joined thousands at Dubai Media City. And we did complete the run in 1.10.14.

I have to admit that now, with temperatures in the 45 degrees Celsius in the evening, I'm only doing 4-5 kms, just for good measure.

Which takes me back to the question: Why do I run? The answer is very simple: Because I can! I am extremely fortunate to be in good health (touch wood, does a little dance, brings out the rabbit tail) and to have two arms and legs that are fully functional. I also run because it's "me" time -- time when I can think, see, smell and be part of the outdoors and of a great like-minded community. I watch the sun set behind Burj al Arab and think how fortunate I am to be able to do so.

I run to the sun

The wind caressing my back

Pushing me forward