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.
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!