People often ask me what I miss most about my country. The answer is easy: (Apart from my family and friends, whom I would love to have living next to me.) I miss the greenery and ease to go for a run outside.
Instead of lush forests and parks, I run here on the treadmill, and occasionally outside, which mostly looks like this:
I know, it does not seem fun at all. Though I must say, I am grateful for the runs I do here and the people I am running with. ‘Cause although there is no comparison in surroundings, I have some wonderful running buddies who are as crazy as my hubby and I to get up at 5:30 in the morning for a pre-breakfast run in the less-than-pretty outskirts of Jeddah. We motivate each other, laugh together, cheer for each other, and sometimes drag each other to the finish.
That is until this morning, when we had our first segregated run in history (ok, I’m not sure about that, but since I moved to Saudi three years ago). We had been caught once by the religious police, who were not very pleased to see naked ladies (i.e. not wearing the abaya) in an organized event with men. Did we have permission for this? Ehh, no, not really.
After this incident the organizers found a new place for our runs, and everything seemed to be back to normal. Until two weeks ago the police suddenly showed up again after a passer-by had filed a complaint at the nearest police station. Eventually, they did not take any action, but it was clear we could not continue like this.
So this morning, we ran in the compound of one of the international schools. The venue was less than perfect – the high humidity and lack of wind as well as the fact that we ran 10 laps of 800 m between buildings instead of a scenic jog in the park made it one of the toughest races ever – but again I’m thankful we could do our run.
Sure, it takes a lot of perseverance to keep running in these circumstances, and for me it’s even easier than for most (local) women here. I have a gym and swimming pool in my backyard and used to have a membership at a ladies’ gym before I moved to this house. Women who cannot afford this (membership gyms are quite expensive and do not always offer nursery facilities) have a much harder time to get in shape. I wrote about the difficulties women in Saudi Arabia face in an article in Arab News.
A great deal of motivation comes from the trophies I win at the local races:
And even in my home town in the Netherlands:
However, there are more things that keep me running and can help you keep – or start – working out too:
1. Set action-based goals: One of the best advices I once read was to set action-based goals rather than outcome-based. If your goal is to lose 5 kilograms or finish a 10-km race in under an hour, you are not completely in control of achieving that. You may strictly adhere to a healthful diet and train your butt off, but in the end that does not guarantee you will succeed. If your goal is to train three times a week or eat only one small snack a day, it’s entirely in your hands to achieve this.
2. Reward yourself: And don’t reward yourself with a big piece of chocolate brownie or apple pie with extra whipped cream, but with a pedicure (your feet will thank you!), massage, weekend trip, a gadget, or anything else you like. You can also write down what your rewards will be after finishing 10 km of training, 50 or even 100, no matter how long it takes you to reach that!
3. Picture yourself as a winner: When I’m having a particularly hard time during a training session, I imagine I’m at an important race and am about to run an incredible world record! Of course I know I am not and I will never be, but just picturing myself, with the audience cheering for me and screaming that I’m gonna be the new world champion, helps me get through the last couple of kilometers.
4. Buy good running gear: Running is one of the least-expensive sports. All you need is proper running shoes. However, you can make it a lot more fun if you wear nice clothes, buy a good watch with gps, and other gadgets. For me, buying new shirts from time to time is a great motivation, how silly it might sound.
5. Read, meet, write, and live: Being a runner (or biker, or bodybuilder, or whatever sport it is you’re doing) is not only about the hours you spend practising. For me, it’s a complete lifestyle. I read about training and fitness almost daily, I write about it regularly, I meet people who are crazy about running too, and try to eat as healthy as possible to improve my fitness even more.
All these points motivate me to keep running. Of course it’s often difficult to drag myself to the gym almost every day. Of course running on the treadmill is mind-numbing. Of course it’s a thousand times easier to work out when I’m back in my green little country, but in the end I know that every mile I run will make me faster, stronger, and healthier. Need more motivation? Check out the benefits of running. Wanna know how to stay in shape while travelling? Read this one.
In the meantime I will dream of running and biking surrounded by this scenery again…
Happy Haj-holiday for those living in this part of the world!