Saturday, October 4, 2008

Have I got a long way to run...

"Who the hell was that? Looked just like Natalie..."

So Graham claims to have said as I pounded past the finish line at the Predictor last night.

Yes folks, another blog entry about running in Dubai. Love isn't sensible sometimes.

The 4 day weekend is over and we're dragging ourselves back to reality with coffee and a few whimpers. Eid, the end of Ramadan is full of fireworks and celebrations, but we kept it pretty quiet and stayed out of the way.

Friday at 6 am I headed out with the Dubai Creek Striders, the marathoners, for a training run. 17 km. The "short" route. There's a longer one for the truly devoted, of which I am not. At the beginning we all gather at a carpark, pay up 10 dirhams ($2.72) and set out along the roads in a small-ish group. I always wear my unflattering traffic-cone orange shirt in the hopes that it will make me more visible and less vehicularly squishable. So far so good. The runners in this group, like the Road Runners, (and in fact many of them are the same folks) are an agreeable bunch, united in something akin to either love or stupidity.

As we all know, those two facets of life are not as different as we might like to pretend.

We ran, over paving stones and sand and pavement, and ran, and ran...starting to feel like Forrest Gump here...

The sights and smells of early morning Dubai are much more vivid when you're running. One block smells like exotic cooking, the next strongly of garbage, welcome breezes from the sea and desert, and folks from all walks of life out waiting for the bus, sweeping the streets, the peculiarly small, long and slim cats of Dubai occasionally making an appearance then streaking away. Flowers blooming with reckless abandon, and always the beauty of mosques and the soaring of skyscrapers. Often we are the focus of much attention and bemusement, dark-skinned men calling out to us. One old man in flowing white robe, with a deeply lined walnut brown face and white white beard made a point to intone"good morning, good morning!" to us, grinning his few teeth proudly.

Out and over the Dubai Creek, and along the water towards the Souks. Past the fishermen with their fragrant catch, nets and boats. Past a yoga class of all Indians in their bright garb. We stopped again and this time not just the usual but also Coca-cola was handed out.

Generally speaking. I don't drink colas, but boy, did that taste good. Ahhh....sugar...caffeine...

All the runners were soaked, sweat running in rivulets down our legs, many squelch-squirching in saturated shoes. The sun had risen and the day was heating up. My feet had officially gone on strike. Too bad for them they were attached to the rest of me.

Watching the sunlight on the water, the people swirling around the docks and the colorful Abras, the water taxi boats that ferry passengers back and forth across the creek, I heard Graham asking if we were taking the Abras. I assumed he was making a joke, and asked if it'd get us all the way back to the starting point. A few chuckles, and then runners started to que up at the edge of the water.

Wait a minute, they were serious!

I've long wanted to ride in an Abra, having heard from Mike about the bumpercar ride he'd enjoyed on one. Riding an Abra is one of those things you do if you come visit Dubai, but Mike is reticent to let Thomas do so, with good reason. They are wooden boats, open, with a chuggy engine and pilot down in the cockpit. There is a canopy overhead that gives welcome respite from the sun, and you huddle on benches, about 20 to a boat. How I wished I'd brought my camera, but here is a photo I borrowed from a fellow expat's website (with her permission)

The ride was fabulous, and, as it was early, no crashes with fellow Abras. I sat with the young daughter of one of the runners to help her hold her bicycle and grinned like an idiot the entire time. The other, better established resident runners of Dubai thought I was hillarious to get such a kick out of it. The fuel fumes, loud puttering of the engine, and he smell of the water made for a ride for the senses as well. We almost lost one runner who slipped on the deck was we were disbarking. Fortunately she was saved by her athleticism and made it over the gap to the dock rather than pitching into the water.

Now we ran away from the creek, back towards the city. I was happy to see the iconic Emirates Towers reappear on our horizon. Since that's essentially where we started from. in case you'd like a peek at them, though a Google image search is even better in this case.

Still running, Graham tells me we're coming up to Murphy's Bench. This is probably not going to be found on any tourist's brochure. There is a plaque dedicating the spot to Malcolm Murphy, the lead for the Dubai Creek Striders. (and genius at finding shortcuts to stay up with the elite runners in his group, several of whom had just returned from running the Berlin Marathon.) At this hallowed spot, all must pause for a moment, then walk, to remind even the fastest to remain humble and that we all started from somewhere.

I wanted to remain humble for some time, but unfortunately the pack started off again.

Two and a half hours later, back in the car, the parking break painful to push down, the towel I'd put down to protect the seat from getting drenched proving insufficient, done again.

The next day, Saturday. Time to run the Predictor again. I'd bribed, blackmailed, and bludgened our friend Dalia (she of the incredibly long legs, dazzling smile, and charming Mexican accent) into running a lap the week before, and now she was hooked too; there was no begging off.

Last night, just before we headed out, one of the runners found out (and was cheered by all of us) that he is in the Guiness Book of World Records for the fastest reaching of the "three poles"; Everest, the North and the South Poles. This guy, Adrian Hayes, trains by running through the sand, dragging a large tire behind him. Local children often hop onto the tire for a free ride. It's amazing to be keeping such company, little me from Issaquah, WA.

This run, being sore and tired, I would just "have fun" I decided.

Near the end of the run, however, I was thinking seriously about curling into a little ball by the side of the track and making incoherant but comforting sounds, when another runner came up next to me out of the dark. "Why?" he gasped "why did I decide to run two laps tonight?" I gave him the sideways once-over. His name is Saddik Trimech. Your guess is as good as mine at to what nationality he is but I can assure you that he, like most, has plenty of vertical advantage over me and a runner's build to boot. "C'mon" I told him. "You don't want to be last, that's my spot" (the last two Predictors I have come in last of the two-lappers, though with good times, better than most of the one lappers, and I'm fine with it). We started to run together, encouraging each other between pants, noting the landmarks out loud that meant almost there, almost there...

Instead of the decline I was expecting, I was going faster and faster, and made a great show of it at the end. It felt awful and great.

That's when Graham reportedly made his comment as he wrote down my time on his clipboard.

Every evening, after the Predictor, Graham and his wife Katrina hurry home to get all of the results posted on the Dubai Road Runners website and to send out an email detailing the event. Along with the comments about Adrian's Guinness triumph further down in the email, here is what was written:

"Again another great turnout, 130 runners. With the conditions improving times are getting faster. Amongst those who will be walking tall tomorrow are Natalie VanCleave who broke 36 minutes for the first time over 2 laps and Brenda Secker who took nearly 40 seconds off her pb for one lap. Both ran 17 km with the Creek Striders yesterday proving yet again that the slow long run for marathon training helps build up stamina for fast times round the park."

I'm not exactly walking tall today, more like gimping gamely. And hey, I wasn't last either! Can life get any better?


Actually, bonus here, our sofas are due to arrive today, to go with this very important piece of furniture:

Mike gave himself permission to go get a real man-television set rather than a hand-me-down boxy thing. 47 inches of flatscreeen happiness, right there.

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