Last Friday I completed my 6th half marathon. The event was put on by Cairo Runners and took place in New Cairo City, which is actually the same suburb as my wife’s school. The weather was pretty much perfect (about 16C when we started) and the setting was interesting as we mostly meandered through residential streets in a desert setting.
This was easily the least training I’ve done for any race I’ve ever completed. My race time reflected that, although not as much as I feared it would. I probably got about one month of “training” in. That’s one month of running 3 times/week, one of which was a long run. No tempo runs. No hill training. No resistance training. I may be a little fortunate I didn’t injure myself, but aside from some bruised toes and sore legs for a couple of days afterwards, I made it through unscathed.
Running in Cairo is tough. There are definitely barriers that don’t exist in Canada. The biggest is probably the lack of places to run. I was very spoiled living in Edmonton where there are literally hundreds of miles of pathways that are easily accessible from virtually anywhere in the city. To my knowledge nothing like that exists here. Sidewalks are even a bit of a rarity, so essentially if you want to go out for a run, that means you run on the street. If you’ve had the pleasure of spending any time on Cairo’s streets, you can appreciate that this is far from ideal. I’ve certainly gotten used to the traffic volumes and local driving habits in recent months but the traffic can still make running a stressful activity. To avoid some of the stress of having to dodge traffic, you have to head out for your run early. Very early. I’ve found that 5:30 am works well for weekdays. You can push it a little later on weekends.
The other drawback doesn’t really affect me, but it is an issue for my wife – harassment from local men. Egypt is generally a much more conservative country than Canada and there is a real concern that exists for female runners, particularly if they’re out by themselves and/or wearing what Westerners would consider typical running attire. We have a teacher friend who’s told us stories of young men driving up behind her, getting out of their car and running up behind her. Just last week a guy (with a couple of girls in the car no less) pulled up beside my wife and I, cranked the music up and started dancing (as much as one can do while driving a car), pointing and yelling at my wife. All the while holding up traffic behind him*. We’ve been told that due to Western TV/movies there is a perception that white girls are promiscuous and like the attention. Either way it’s still unnerving. So, to minimize any unwanted attention she has to wear baggy clothing. So far that hasn’t been too big a deal, but it will become more of an issue as the weather warms up.
(*Note that by no means is this type of behaviour representative of most Egyptian men. All the Egyptians who we’ve related our experiences to have been appalled by these situations.)
So if running on the streets is such a hassle, why don’t I just join a gym? The simple answer is cost. There are a few small gyms nearby, but they’re really expensive (like $100/month). Considering the facilities they have their fees are ridiculous and even if I could afford it I’d probably refuse to pay it. I’m really looking forward to when I finally start working at the CSA and have free access to their gym.
I recognize this all sounds like a lot of excuses. I guess that’s true. Could I run more? Probably. But when there are the barriers that exist here, sometimes it’s a challenge to get motivated. I feel like exercise needs to be enjoyable, not something you simply tolerate because you know it’s good for you. That can work in the short term, but it’s probably not sustainable over time.
On the plus side there are a few running groups that get together on a regular basis. Leading up to the half marathon Cairo Runners organized weekly Friday morning runs throughout the city. We were able to attend the one they held in Maadi. It was pretty awesome. With little more than a Facebook page and a Twitter account Cairo Runners regularly got thousands of people out to their runs. I really think it speaks to the pent up demand there is for running in this city. The benefit of heading out with a group this size is what little traffic there is at that time in the morning is easily overwhelmed by the huge crowds of runners. No worrying about getting hit by a car with them! I’m hopeful that Cairo Runners continues to expand and hold more events in the future. It will definitely make it easier for my motivation.
The other group we’ve run with is Maadi Runners. This is a much smaller group (usually around 20 runners or so) that get together for a Friday morning long run. We’ve been out with them a handful of times, but a problem is that the Maadi Runners is training for a marathon in May, so the distances they’re running are quite long (20+ kms). Also, we’ve recently been heading out with an Ultimate Frisbee club on Friday afternoons, so there’s a bit of a conflict there too. Perhaps we’ll get back to running with them on a regular basis after their marathon? Who knows, we may even join them for their event next year?