Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Running Away

Normally, I love running in new places.  I've run in almost every city I've visited.  I love it as a way of taking in the scenery, getting to know my surroundings, soaking in the local life.  In some places, locals stare at me like I'm a lunatic (in rural Italy, certain parts of Cyprus or even when I asked the valet at a hotel in Marina Del Mar which way to head to run to Santa Monica... She kept trying to convince me to drive there!)

However, for whatever reason, ever since I moved to Tunisia four months ago, I've been terrified of running here.  Well, I can list a few reasons.  For one thing, there aren't any courses nearby that I can get to without driving and given that I'm still nursing a little baby, my windows for running don't really include enough time to drive somewhere and then run.  Normally, that wouldn't stop me though, since I love just heading out the door and running in whatever neighborhood I'm staying.  Here however, there aren't really any sidewalks and people drive like maniacs.  Even the sidewalks that do exist are fraught with danger:  just a week or so ago, my mother-in-law who was visiting went out for a walk and tripped on some rebar sticking up out of the sidewalk and fell into the street, breaking her arm in three places.  Not optimal pedestrian conditions.

In addition to the running conditions, there were the social conditions: People here, mainly men, stare and catcall (that wouldn't have stopped me normally, but given my lack of sleep and general exhaustion, it's more daunting than usual) and also, I've been bit injured and out of shape due to the aforementioned baby (Again, weak excuse, I'd already been running back in SF before moving here.)

So plenty of excuses to avoid outdoor running and I turned to the treadmill in our fancy new gym, Arena.  In order to get over the boredom of treadmill running, I've been listening to podcasts (RadioLab and Serial) and occasionally doing treadmill interval workouts (I have a great 10k training one by Jay Blahnik that I got when I signed up for the Nike+ virtual human race 10k years ago.  Hey Nike+, why aren't you doing those any more?? That was awesome!)

But as I've just signed up for an upcoming 10k, my mileage is pushing beyond the 3ish miles I've been doing on the treadmill and this morning, a lovely sunny (abnormally warm) Sunday, I decided to take my 4 mile run outside.  Gasp!  I had seen a little path a few blocks away and figured I could deal with the traffic and street running until I got there.

So I head out of the house, fully prepared for a somewhat frustrating run.  My first surprise was hearing what sounded like a loudspeaker on this very quiet Sunday morning.  I decided on a whim to follow the noise and found, to my utmost surprise, a bike race getting started!  I've never seen one here and certainly not in this part of town.

The bikes were all lining up at the start, the man on the loud speaker was telling them about the course and telling them to get ready and to me, it felt just like the start of a Sunday run in Golden Gate Park.  Just like that, my apprehension about heading out for a run was gone and I felt amazing!

I continued down the road, hugging the side of the street (since the sidewalks were treacherous or non-existent) and decided this wasn't so bad really, on a quiet Sunday when there wasn't much traffic.  I wasn't sure about other times of the week though.

And then lo!  What is this?  A pretty little trail broke off to the side of the road!  It didn't go for all
that long, it was about three blocks worth, but they were very enjoyable blocks.   The trees on either side dimmed the noise of the cars on the freeway and the trail was soft underfoot.

When the path ended, I wasn't sure if I should continue trekking on the side or cut back to the streets I knew, so I opted for the second, since I knew for sure that they'd get me to where I was headed and these streets were in a very quiet residential neighborhood.  Next time, however, I might try to see if the trail continues.

A few blocks of running through this quiet neighborhood, with nothing but a few stray cats on my path, I then cut through a little shopping center and head to the running path I know exists.  I have one busy intersection to deal with (a four way stop-light with anxious aggressive drivers revving their engines and ready to launch into the intersection)  so I very carefully sprint across each segment of the crossing (no crosswalk really.)

And I've made it to the runner's path.  Here, I encounter a runner or two and quite a few walkers and
it's marvelous!  I feel 100% in my element and totally mock myself for not having done this sooner.

The path is fairly long, and has little tiled benches on either side.  A row of trees separate it from the road.  There is freshly mown grass on either side and the air smells green and wonderful. There are a couple of areas where the path disappears and the pedestrians are left fending for themselves at another crazy intersection but otherwise, it is a quite lovely promenade.

Eventually however, the inevitable happens.  The path ends, abruptly, in what can only be described as a trash heap.  The tiles disappear under overgrown grass and weeds and piles of trash.  This was what I had expected initially.  The pleasant surprise was that it didn't happen until after I'd already run 1.75 miles, so I only had a quarter mile to go before I had to turn around.

So I picked my way through the bushes to the street and then hugged the road till I made it past onto a sidewalk and run just a little bit further.   On the whole, the run was great! All day after that, I felt better than I had in months and I have made a promise to myself to get outside, at the very least, once a week on those quieter Sundays.