Ultrarunning in Afghanistan

This isn’t going to be a normal blog post.  I thought I was going to break my blogcation by writing a post about Running Technique, How to Pack for a Multi-day Race, or maybe Trail Running Tips for (kick ass) Women.  But alas, I’ve made some big changes in my non-running life that warrant a different kind of blog post today…

I’ve moved to Afghanistan.

My new outfits... Luckily, no head scarf required while running! My bandana will suffice 🙂

Yes, UltraRunnerGirl now lives in Kabul, Afghanistan inside a UN compound.  As some of you may or may not know, when I’m not running, I am avidly pursuing my career in international human rights. I have been seeking a hardship posting for some time (I was getting soft in New York City) and so for the next year I will be working for UNAMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

When I told my friends and family of my plans, the first words out of their mouths were, “but, what about your running??”  The security situation is continuing to deteriorate in the country and with many countries pulling out their troops, there is no sign that things will improve.  As such, my freedom of movement is severely restricted.  I live, work and play inside a guarded compound.  I have a view of a concrete reinforced barrier wall topped with barbed wire from my bedroom.  If there are no major problems expected, then I am allowed to travel from one UN compound to another inside an armored vehicle.  There are only a few places in town that I am approved to visit for short periods of time. Walking around outside the compound is completely prohibited.

Frequently, however, I am not allowed outside the compound at all.  Like this past weekend.  It is kind of like being in jail except you haven’t done anything wrong, and the guards treat you really nicely.  I am allowed to fly out of the country every six weeks or so for a one week break, but getting to that six week mark might be tough.

I do have access to a gym here, but right now only two out of the five treadmills  are broken and they require a 15 minute break every half hour in order not to overheat.

Before I left, most people told me I would have to quit running.  They said it would be impossible to keep up my training while living on lockdown… but I arrived here determined to prove them wrong.  As long as I have a tiny bit of space – just a little bit – anything is possible.

So, on Wednesday, I mapped out a 1 mile (1.6 km) route using the roads between buildings in the compound and got through a 10 km run. The next day I added on a few loops and back-and-forths and made a decent 2.5 km route.  This will do just fine for me. Over the past four days, I have managed to clock 70 km on this little path.  Yes, it might be boring, but I will take a boring run outside any day over no run at all.

I’ve found ways to make it a little bit more interesting, running parts of the route in reverse at times to mix things up, waving at the various guard stations I pass along the way, and simply letting my mind wander.  Out of respect for national staff working within the compound, I have to be just about fully covered (no gym shorts allowed).  The temperature is pretty good right now, but this will become much more of an issue in a month or so when it starts to get really hot.  I figure I will have to run during the night in order to escape the heat, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it!

I will try to keep you all up to date with my running adventures.  I have an entry to the formidable Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc this year (100 mile non-stop race through the Swiss, French and Italian Alps) and I’m still planning on doing it!! I don’t know how I will get hill training in from here (there aren’t even any building above two floors so stairs are impossible)… but I’ll find a way to get ready.

And on my next post, I’ll get back to our regularly scheduled program and give you some tips on how to pack for a multi-day race!

Thanks for following – I’d love to hear your own challenges in getting your training in, wherever you are in the world!

xx

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Categories: Musings about life, Training

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15 Comments »

  1. Hi congrats on the new posting. Nathan Byrd from Int Rescue Committee is in Kabul and traini ng for Ironman – without a pool! So if you need a run buddy look him up.

  2. Brave move, I salute you for your courage in undertaking such a challenging posting. In the past I too have needed to train in very restricted areas and actually managed to improve my running and fitness level, although it can become a real mental marathon. I am training for the Swiss Irontrail -201kms (July) and find myself moaning about the countryside around my home in the North Western Balkans – Bulgaria…… thanks, your blog has reminded me that I have everything I could possibly need, mountains and forests, just a lack of trails and no real maps. It does make every ‘new’ route and adventure and, compared with your new home, what are a few cuts,scratches and insect bites! I will follow your future posts with great interest.

  3. That sounds hard but it is also a very big challenge.
    Looking forward to read a lot of new posts during the next weeks with some interesting impressions.
    Good luck for the UTMB training.

    Greetings from Germany

    Steve

  4. Much respect!! Afghan can be a pretty restrictive place for women at the best of times, let alone in these recent days… I find we often spend too much time saying why we can’t do things, and yet you (who really does have a pretty tight bona fide reason to reassess your pans) has decided to embrace te restrictions and crack on regardless. You’re AWESOME!! I hope your time over there is both safe and fruitful professionally (lord knows a god healthy dose of human rights wouldn’t go astray…) and that you a) make it to the mont blanc and b) you smash it!!

    • Thanks so much!! I’ll keep trying my best 🙂 Sometimes I do better when the challenges are greater (it is the stubborn streak in me!). Thanks for reading!

  5. Take in the life experience and stay safe. One year will fly by and you will be back to the humdrum life of the big city thinking that it feels too pedestrian and wishing for another big adventure. Life is the adventure you make of it, and you are living a great adventure.

    Sounds like you may need to spend some time running stairwells in prep for UTMB. Good luck and enjoy the “hardship”!

  6. Wow, good luck with the new venture and keeping up the running. I’m looking at UTMB 2013, running mountain man in Switzerland this August to get some points. I was thinking training in Dubai was going to be tough in prep for mountain running, but now I see I have nothing to complain about, plenty of tall buildings here and the mountains are only an hour or so out of town. The heat will mean night running, but with a full moon it can be fantastic in the wadis.

    Good luck and all the best for your time in Afghanistan. Inshallah all will be good.

    • Thanks, Darryl!! There is a good running community in Dubai, from what I hear – take advantage!! You can do it for sure. Keep us posted on your progress and if you have any tips, I’d love to hear them!

  7. Hi Steph,
    You always surprise me. You are so ingenious that I am sure you will find a way to keep your running routine exciting while you are there.
    Big hug,
    Aurora xx

  8. I’m in awe! Very brave move and yay on living your dreams and saying ‘yes’ to the way you want to live your life. Best of luck in Afghanistan and – if everything goes as planned – I hope to see you in Chamonix. 🙂 Love from the Netherlands, Christel

  9. Enjoyed your post! I am training for an ultra, but I am scheduled to travel to Kabul next month. Just like you, I will be there for a year. I’ve been wondering about how I am going to continue training while there. Just like you did, I will have to find a boring short loop and grind it while meditating on the Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race held between 164th Place to Abigail Adams (84th) Avenue to 168th Street to Grand Central Parkway – a distance of 0.5488 mile – in Queens, NYC.
    I’m also worried about the food. I’m vegetarian. Do you find the diet adequate?
    It’s all about transcendence I guess.

    • Wow, good luck with the move! Let me know if I can help. Is the Self-Transcendence race the one you are training for? If so, Kabul is the perfect place to prepare you! 🙂 The diet here is a problem, but it depends on which compound you will be living in (or guesthouse if you are lucky enough). Some have good restaurants and cooks… In my UN compound, I am quite limited and spend most of my time eating canned food. Others cook wonderful meals in their apartments though – I just struggle to find the time to go out for fresh veggies and stuff.

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