Interview: Running Abroad

marine corps marathon, portland marathon, chicago marathon, dc capital striders, marathon training, running abroad, running overseas, international runningI’m a runner. And while I’m not training for a marathon or any other big race this summer (as of now, anyway), I’m still trying to log miles regularly. I’ve been worrying thinking about how living overseas will affect my running and fitness. Will I be relegated to a treadmill forever? Is tennis going to be my main source of physical activity?Then I thought, Why not ask someone who’s been there? So I reached out to Stephanie of Where in the World Am I? to get her thoughts on running abroad.You can see previous interviews here: First-Post Tips for a Trailing Spouse, Parts 1 and 2; and Raising Third-Culture Children: The Other Side.Stephanie currently lives in Hyderabad, India. She ran cross country and track from eighth grade through college and has recently gotten serious about running again. She’s had some interesting experiences running abroad, including getting bitten by a dog while running one morning and seeing a naked man during another run.Natasha: First things first: Where have you lived, and where have you run?Stephanie: I grew up in Rhode Island and went to college in Connecticut, running on my high school and college cross-country and track teams. After college I moved to San Diego where I ran a handful of 5K races and the Camp Pendleton half marathon. The Foreign Service moved us to San Francisco and the D.C. metro area where I continued to run the occasional 5K race. Our first overseas assignment was Bujumbura, Burundi, and now we’re in Hyderabad, India.N: Have you run any international races or trained for a race while living abroad?S: In Bujumbura I ran and hiked to train for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I was also pregnant in Bujumbura and had gestational diabetes so had to run or walk every day. I ran a 10K in Hyderabad and I’m training for a half marathon here. I’d love to do either the Bangkok half marathon or a Himalayan half marathon within the next year, while we’re still in this region.N: What’s your favorite place to run?S: I love being on vacation in Rhode Island, being able to run to the beach and then stopping at a Dunkin’ Donuts afterwards.N: Have you always been able to run outside?S: Yes, we’ve been fortunate enough to live in places where we can go outside. It’s not always easy but I do it as often as I can. I can’t stand treadmills.N: Safety and security are obviously major concerns when it comes to running — both overseas and to a lesser extent, in the U.S. I admit that I regularly violate major runner safety tenets here in DC (not always carrying an ID, running with headphones, running alone, etc. — I won’t do those things at post, so don’t worry, all you RSOs out there!). In your experience, what are the biggest running-related safety and security issues abroad?S: You’ve got the same issues as running in the U.S., plus others that you might not realize until you’re out on the streets in a new country. Most recently, dog bites have been my biggest concern. I’m thinking of running with pepper spray. If you’re going to be outside, definitely get the rabies vaccination if post recommends it. I always felt safe in Bujumbura. The RSO made us keep our radios on us at all times. (It was a pain, but my husband’s a DS Agent, so I’ve got to follow the rules!) But there was actually a large local running community there so I stuck to the main roads with lots of other runners and walkers. In India I wasn’t expecting the harassment of women to be as bad as it is. I know a lot of women who only run in certain expat-friendly parks because less attention is paid to them than when they are running on the roads.running abroad, running overseas, international running, marathon trainingN: What are some tips for finding ways to run (outside) safely at post?S: Check out local running groups, including a Hash group if there is one. It may not always be practical to run with a group but maybe you can find a partner to run with and group members can direct you toward popular routes and parks. Talk to the RSO and CLO about safe areas and places that are popular among other expats. Ask the marines where they go running. We had MSGs in Bujumbura, and while I never ran with them, I ran at times I knew they were running and roads they were running on so I’d pass them and I’d know they were close by if I had an emergency.If the RSO tells you to carry a radio or phone, do it. As much as possible, vary your routes and the times you run. If traffic is a concern, run early in the morning. Tell someone that you are out there and give them a time they should start worrying if they haven’t heard back from you. Know who to contact in case of an emergency, whether it’s the RSO, the Health Unit, local police, etc. Be aware of your surroundings so you can direct a car to pick you up if needed. Never run with an iPod — it distracts you from your surroundings and it’s a clear signal that you’re carrying something worth stealing. If you have a dog and it’s safe to bring him on the streets, bring him along.(Note that this is all gleaned from my own experiences. None of this should be considered official policy.)N: I know we might not have the luxury of being able to run outside at every post. What advice do you have for staying fit and avoiding monotonous gym workout routines?S: I haven’t found an answer for this one yet! I run on the treadmill at the consulate gym about once a week to break up my outdoor-running routine. I’d really like to buy a treadmill to use at home if we ever end up someplace where it’s impossible to run outside.N: I already mentioned the dog bite and nude man, but is there anything else bizarre or just really interesting you’ve encountered while on a run overseas?S: I really like animals and I’ve seen quite an assortment of them, both as roadkill and alive. We have huge bats in our neighborhood in Hyderabad that swoop around me early in the morning and one of them sleeps in the telephone wires near our house. In Bujumbura we had monkeys. I’ve seen camels, peacocks, and kingfishers. Bujumbura had these beautiful blue-headed lizards and in India there are little red-headed ones all over the place. I’ve seen lots of interesting dead snakes, snakes that would be too scary to encounter if they were alive. One of my favorite animals was a dead chameleon in the road in Bujumbura. (I saw one alive in our garden, too, but I couldn’t get close enough to really study him.) I was in a pre-med program in college before I switched to English, so roadkill doesn’t bother me! If it’s not too smashed or decomposed it’s a way to get up close to some animals you wouldn’t normally see.N: Running is a pretty low-maintenance sport. All you need is a pair of shoes (and with the growing barefoot-running movement, you might not even need those!) and you can head out the door. You don’t need any expensive or hard-to-find equipment. You don’t need to coordinate team schedules or reserve a court. That being said, have you experienced any unexpected challenges running overseas?S: The dress code for women in India surprised me. In Bujumbura people stared at me because I was one of only a handful of white people; it was so matter-of-fact that I never felt harassed. I assumed the attitude in India would be similar. In India it’s such a conservative society, though, that a woman wearing shorts is the same as a woman walking through town in a bikini in the U.S., so it’s more like I’m being ogled and it makes me uncomfortable. Before you leave for a post, talk to some women about how comfortable they feel wearing their workout clothes in public. I can wear my shorts in the gym and certain parks, but I wear leggings when I’m on the road. I’ve seen Indian women running and walking wearing at a minimum knee-length leggings and a short-sleeved shirt and at most, a burka (with running shoes!).N: Finally, what’s the best thing about running abroad?S: It connects you to home because it’s one of the few things about your previous life that you can bring with you; however, when you’re out on the roads of a new city you’re seeing things you never saw at home so running becomes a new, refreshing experience.

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

5 thoughts on “Interview: Running Abroad

  1. Check out Run El Salvador and also their Facebook page. Note that the calendar definitely has some things from a year ago on there, so it’s not all that up to date. That said, when they have a race, it’s typically like $10 and it will include at least a shirt. That group also should be pretty helpful with helping you find a running group. Just a note, the running groups typically go in early morning. There are two groups of Salvadorans that leave from near the embassy, and there are another two groups that leave from a parking lot close to Escalón. Just ask around when you get to post. The embassy also has a track, but that can get old.One thing you should love about El Salvador is the myriad of races that go on, and the price. Triathlons are like $5, and quite frequent (search for the triathlon federation on facebook). Running races are usually no more than $10. Of course, none of the races will have timing chips and whatnot, but who cares!

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    1. Thanks — this is great to hear! I saw an ad in Volcano Views for a race sponsored by Run El Salvador last month and checked out their website. There was a race calendar but I didn’t see anything about running groups (although that may have been because I couldn’t fully understand everything I was reading), so it’s good to know there are a few others!And early-morning runs are fine — I imagine it’s necessary both to avoid the worst of the heat and because of people’s work schedules. I assume you’ve done a few races in El Salvador — have you done both triathlons (I’ve never done one) and running races?

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  2. i agree-running is low maintanace-easy to pack and you get to know your new area really well. It makes me feel like a ‘local’ or at ‘home’ very quickly.

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