Friday, February 19, 2010

Pyramid Training

Sounds like a fancy new training technique, no? In this case it’s literal. I knew up front that this would not be a great vacation for my running, but I did manage to get out a couple times. Here are some experiences of running by pyramids and temples, as well as dodging land mines.

It’s six am on a Sunday, and I step out of the hotel figuring that crowded, polluted, traffic-jammed Cairo can’t be quite so bad at this hour. My first couple steps tell me I’m wrong. Besides the surprising traffic, I see crowds of folks out on the streets, many of them yelling greetings to me. I’d prefer to run in quiet(er) solitude, thank you. I go on, anyway.

The Pyramids are barely visible in the early morning gloom. I found it amazing that when I stepped out of the hotel, they were right there! Cairo has sprawled out to their once remote Giza location. Within a mile or so that seemed like forever, I’m even with them. Of course they’re closed at this hour, so I don’t turn in, but keep on going. I sort of want to circumnavigate them, but can’t find the right roads. For safety, I mostly stay on the crumbling, uneven sidewalk, but occasionally am forced down off the one-foot high curbs and onto the busy 14-lane streets. I try hard not to startle the policemen sitting on the street corners with assault rifles.

The Pyramids are more spectacular on the way back as the darkness gives way to light. Just before turning into the hotel I actually find a couple quiet streets that are half-way decent to run on, so I add on another mile or two.

My run in Alexandria would be a simple one: just go along the Corniche, the famous promenade that runs along the Mediterranean Sea for several miles. It’s adjacent to a busy street that has hotels and other buildings on the opposite side. Stepping out of the hotel at 5:18am, I immediately hear an extremely loud call-to-prayer blasting from one of the buildings, and I’m reminded that I’m not in Kansas anymore.

It’s cool and breezy, and the air here is much cleaner than it was in Cairo. I run by dozens of cats, various resorts of all kinds, various people of all kinds, and even a few other runners. After a couple miles I encounter the end of the Corniche. This is due to a construction area, although I thought it continued further on. I turn back anyway. Running back by the hotel and heading east, I encounter another end to the Corniche, this time because of a walled-in park. So unsuccessfully trying to get around the park (and onto busy streets), I go back west once more. This time I do manage to get past the construction, even though this entailed crossing the busy highway. The Corniche does continue on, and on and on. Alexandria, with five-million inhabitants, is smaller than Cairo, but much larger than I’d expected.

Eventually I run out of time and have to head back. It’s getting light, and more people, even more runners, are about. I even have to work hard to catch, and pass, one of them. Many of the kids yell hello to me. This would turn out to be my only decent run for two entire weeks.

This wasn’t for lack of trying. I thought I’d get in a decent run whilst in Marsa Matruh. Also along the Mediterranean, Marsa Matruh is much more remote than Alexandria, although there are some new beach resorts here. We’re staying at a brand-new one. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a good place to go for a run. The highway is not so busy as Cairo or Alexandria, but the cars go really fast on it. And there are no other roads here, where the desert meets the sea.

What to do? Run barefoot on the beach, of course. The resort area consists of our huge hotel and a couple others, all completely new and unoccupied except for our small group of 37 westerners. I run on the sand, and as usual with beach running, I encounter some soft spots, and other firmer areas.

After five minutes or so, I reach a fence at the end of the resort area. It’s easy to go around it by running closer to the shore, so I do so and keep going. I bypass a small peninsula of sand that I’d explored on a walk yesterday. The beach is rockier and hillier here. I’m able to step around the rocks. I encounter a large dune and wonder what would be on the other side of this one. That’s when, for some reason, it hits me: land mines could be anywhere around here! Yes, land mines. Whoa.

We’d learned yesterday that millions of land mines had been planted in the area during World War II, and that some are still being found. It just hadn’t occurred to me that I would possibly run into one, so to speak. Encountering one would certainly make this vacation a bummer. I do look over the dune (only to see more rocky beach) and then very carefully retrace my steps back to safety. I find out later on that that was indeed the reason for the fence, and that no one was supposed to go beyond it. There was even a (probably sleeping) guard a bit away from the beach to watch for idiots like me.

After a couple more non-running days, I’m going almost completely crazy. I step off the river-cruise ship in Luxor, and head north along the Corniche here. This one is along the Nile River. I don’t have much time, but within I mile I spot the signs for the great temple of Karnak. I can’t actually get a look because it’s set back a bit, but would explore this fantastic place later on. The worst news is that I’m still not getting much running in. This means I’ll be going even more crazy. Poor Debbie – I’m making her nuts as well. At least I can say I ran by Karnak.

There would be only one other run on this trip. Now back in Cairo, I step out of our airport hotel and find… no place to go! It’s all construction, traffic and air pollution. I do stumble around a bit, but eventually give up and head back.

And that sort of sums it up. We had a great vacation, but as far as running is concerned, for this trip there was no place to go.

For more about our Egypt trip, including some photos, check out our travel blog.

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