One of the things I love most is combining my passions for travel and running (and let’s be real, eating!). Since “becoming a runner,” running while traveling is a given for most of my trips. It’s a way for me to explore a city in new ways and provides a good balance for all of my food explorations :).
I recently embarked on a trip to the Middle East with my husband Tim, and our friend affectionately known as Cholesterol Dave to any listeners of The BibRave Podcast. My lack of knowledge about the region resulted in a sense of uncertainty about my ability to run during our time there. Would there be runnable paths? Would the neighborhoods be safe? Is it socially acceptable for a female to run, and run solo? Would my running attire be acceptable?
So, prior to our trip I did a few things:
1) Research, research, research
This is absolutely critical when running in countries or cities where running may not be as prevalent or wide spread as it is in the states OR where the adoption and maturity of the running market is years or decades behind the US. I always try to research potential running routes so I know if I’ll have easy access to a path. I avoid running on open roads with cars as much as possible in the states, and I also like to avoid it when traveling. In many foreign countries, drivers do not follow rules as diligently as they do in the US. For this trip, I knew there would be a running path in Tel Aviv, and I read about a popular promenade in Beirut called the Corniche where “joggers” convene, but I could not find specific guidance on cultural acceptability of women running in these places.
2) Planned Clothing Options
Despite ALL of my googling, I was unable to discern if it would be acceptable for me to run in shorts and a tank top in Beirut. A friend of mine who has spent a good amount of time in the Middle East recommended that I should cover my shoulders and knees, but I also read that Beirut was extremely cosmopolitan. The temperatures were projected to be in the 50s and 60s, so I packed a few different options so I could feel out the scene before committing.
I did four different runs across our 11-day trip – Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and two in Beirut. And, thankfully, I was able to sync most of my runs with Tim and Dave. Even though I do most of my training solo at home, I have an added layer of concern or caution when I run solo, as a female, in a foreign country. It was so nice not having to worry about that on this trip.
Onto the fun stuff… the runs!
Running in Tel Aviv was a dream. We were a short jog away from the beachfront, where there was a wide and beautifully developed waterfront path. Numerous other runners and cyclists were out on the path soaking in the views of the Mediterranean. And, to mix it up a bit, every quarter mile or so there were mini workout stations where we could stop and do various chest, arm, and leg exercises. We ran to this beautiful, historical coastal town of Jaffa. From there, Tim and Dave continued further South, but I was ready to head back. With a pre-scouted route and path I felt comfortable during my relaxing jog back to our hotel.
Next up was one of my favorite runs of the trip, but also one of the most challenging – running to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem! Given the plethora of historical sites in the city, I knew I needed to get a run in at some point during our two days in Jerusalem. I was a little cautious because of the political tension that is present throughout the city – I knew there were certain religious sites with restricted access, but I didn’t know all of the rules. Additionally, the hills were extremely intimidating (hills are not my friend!) and Tim shared a story of being chased by stray dogs on his run the day prior! There was a lot to be nervous about.
Despite all of that, I knew the views would pay off, so I agreed to embark on a run with Dave and Tim towards the Mount of Olives. Hills + two speedy dudes… my nervousness was building!
We weaved through the city for the first mile, and then around the Old City for the next two. Traffic stops were my friend since they offered me a chance to catch my breath. Also, I knew the first half of our run would be downhill! Then… we started to climb at the base of the Mount of Olives. That hill was BRUTAL but the view of Gethsemane and the Old City were worth every agonizing step. It was one of the highlights of the entire trip!
Finally, Beirut. My first run in Lebanon gave me the most anxiety. There are a number of misconceptions about Lebanon and Beirut from what we see and hear in the media surrounding political conflict. After spending time talking to locals and the people of Beirut, we learned how distanced the population is from the actual politics. But, when we embarked on our first run, we weren’t aware of those misconceptions.
We landed late at night, so when we ran we hadn’t had time to feel out the city. Again, thankfully, Tim and Dave agreed to get in a few miles with me. We ran towards the water and headed south to see the Raouche Rocks. I wore a t-shirt and capris, despite the warmer temperatures to make sure I was appropriately dressed.
The view was beautiful, but the path was a little dodgy. We ran on a narrow sidewalk alongside traffic-congested roads, past a fairly deserted waterfront and dilapidated beach. It definitely did not leave me wanting to run there again. Oh, and did I mention it was all HILLS!!
As we were about to turn back into the city and return to our hotel, we noticed the esplanade extended the other way. So, we ventured out further to see if there was a different waterfront view, and I am SO glad we decided to explore.
HERE we discovered a wide boardwalk with tons of other pedestrians. We found other runners! Other female runners! And they were wearing tanks and shorts. There were also TONS of signs advertising an upcoming women’s race! There were views of water and snow capped mountains! It was such a refreshing space and left us eager and excited to run there again.
I wish I had an opportunity to participate in the women’s race to get a feel for the group running culture in Beirut. I am always grateful that decades ago amazing women like Katherine Switzer and Joan Benoit Samuelson paved the way for women’s running in America. These days it’s not only accepted, but women are a dominant force in our sport! As I explore more of the world, it’s exciting to see other countries following in our footsteps, and women finding empowerment through running the same way I did when I started running 10 years ago.