Couch to Marathon Plan!

One-Year of Running Plan

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One of the most irritating discoveries is to know that you were fully capable of doing something, but now physically unable to do it. That’s me and running. 2011 was my most accomplished year in running, with 2 half marathons (13.1 miles) and a full (26.2 miles).  I anticipated my return to the States, by irrationally signing up for untrained races. You never forget how to ride a bike, they say. Well I’m here to tell you that the same logic doesn’t apply to running. I have forgotten how to breathe, how to push through pain, how to adjust for hills. Today, I get winded after ½ a mile and feel utter exhaustion after 3. My year abroad has temporarily sabotaged my endurance. So, I have to start from scratch to be able to run next year’s Raleigh Rock n’ Roll Marathon (April 13, 2014). http://runrocknroll.competitor.com/Raleigh

I have spent hours looking for the perfect running schedule to get me into marathon shape. And since I couldn’t find a couch to marathon program with more focus on the “couch”, I’ve combined 5 of my favorite workout plans. I’ve adjusted some according to my preferences. Back to back, they add up to a one-year training plan, in hopes to get me to the finish line in 4 hours 30 min. Wish me luck!!

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Running With Refugees

Here’s a link to my 3rd published piece!.. and for my favorite non-profit, CWS.  For more information on CWS around the globe, please visit www.cwsglobal.org  🙂

http://cwsrdu.org/2013/04/09/running-with-refugees-a-volunteers-perspective/

RUNNING WITH REFUGEES

The anticipated cheer from the front-runners marked the start of The Great Human Race, in Durham, N.C. In the middle of the pack were our refugees from Chad and Sudan with some Church World Service volunteers. With broad smiles and a runners’ high, they were excited to take part in their first organized 5k race. Holding up the rear, representing with a CWS placard, were our walkers. Our red and yellow shirts showed the urgency of reuniting families escaping turmoil in their native countries.

Out of courtesy, all of the CWS runners started out at the same pace. But it didn’t take long before our two Sudanese men were no longer in eyesight! What’s my excuse not placing in the race? Someone needed to stay behind with our 10-year old from Chad 😉 His name was Job, as in the book in the Bible. With the heaviness of basketball shoes, he asks the question that’s been repeated by kids for decades, “We almost there yet???” Apparently, this spans past culture. With no mile markers to give us hope, I repeated the lie “Yeah, just around the corner… Ok, I think it’s after that building… Soon…” To take our mind off of the finish, we race to the tree, and then to the stop sign, and then the second parked car. Faintly, we hear the band playing in the distance, signaling that the end is near. Just ahead we see Job’s older brother, Janvier, coming back for us. With a few words from his big brother, Job picks up the pace and we challenge each other to a final sprint to the finish line, crossing at 39:40.

Patiently waiting at the end of the race, were our two speed racers, unfazed by the 3 miles they just polished. What they were more interested in knowing was the winner’s prize. As untimed runners (without a chip), we will never know what place they came in. But I am sure that we may be brewing some future racers!

The race finishes with a block party, and the dancing began as soon as the walkers made their way in. The refugees stood on the side studying the foreign movements the “Cha-Cha slide”, “The Electric slide” and the “Macarena”.  As predicted, dozens of runners jump in for these eternal tunes. As our foreigners nod along to the music, Berthe, Job’s mom, was the life of the party.  All smiles, she made her own dance that was better than the pattern the rest of the world has been following. This race has been such an enjoyable event for us as a group!

So after months of fundraising, I’m sure you’re wondering whether it has paid off.. Thanks to all of the donors and racers, Church World Service has raised $3,990! This means that you all have made it possible to reunite EIGHT more families like Job, Janvier, and Berthe.

If there are any last minute gifts to CWS, please make a check out to CWS-RDU with “Immigration” in the memo line. Checks can be sent to the office at 112 S. Duke Street, Suite 4B, Durham NC 27701.

The Saudi Marathon

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“I ran my first overseas marathon!” is item #4 on my Saudi to-do list, that I drafted exactly a year ago from today.

Preparation

Before becoming a runner, I threw around my plans of doing a marathon, as if it was picking out what’s for dinner. Little do some know that cutting a few practice runs short, skipping a few routine stretches, and eating at the wrong time; could not only effect the “big day’s” run, but can leave you handicapped post-race. Preparation means everything to a marathoner. Those 5 months are spent researching Barnes and Nobles, seizing every issue of Runner’s World, contacting strangers for marathon tidbits of success, and staying enthusiastic about this craziness even when you have 16 miles to put in before sun-up. You now obsess over every new gadget, cream, and shoe that could get you across that finish line.

Saudi is a marathon. It wasn’t a quick decision for me to come here. It took the inability to survive off of 3 part-time jobs, declined credit cards, and the approaching end of school loan forbearances, for me to settle on this location. I picked up every Saudi-related book that I could find, from genres of culture, to novels, to Sharia law. I joined every FaceBook group that contained variations of the word “Saudi”, “Expat”, and “ESL”. I made a lot of my friends before even stepping onto a plane. I stashed extra peanut butter crackers; which came in handy when provided with a faulty stove, a lukewarm fridge, a kind loan of 50 SAR ($15ish) from the cleaner, and a 2-day weekend of no direction. I was determined to not let anything throw me off. The lack of preparation is obvious in many of my co-workers, who quit in their 1st month or complain about the things that they could’ve simply found in a book. This was not going to be me!

 Mile 1 to Mile 13.1 / Months 1 to Month 3 of Saudi

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The race begins! 13.1 miles has been touted as the happy medium for many long-distance runners. The band and cheerleaders send us off in high spirits. For the first 3 miles you’re hyped up with a nervous jitter. Yet, you feel pretty confident in your consistent preparation over the past 5 months. Random spectators give you personalized shout-outs thanks to the last-minute decision to masking tape your name on your shirt. Tranquil coffee drinkers look on from the Starbuck’s patio, as runners pass by in decaffeinated insanity. Fellow runners are smiling. Some are in crazy costumes. Some are exerting extra energy by creatively ducking through and around slower clusters. After the 1st three miles of excitement of passing herds, your breathing has come to a comfortable rhythm. You check your watch to see that you’re still on pace. And once you find a calm runner that matches your speed, anxiety lessens. “Just stay with him and I’ll make it!” The scenery is always great the first 13 miles. You get front row seats in people-watching. Traffic is halted at every intersection, making you the star of the hour.  Mile 13 is just around the bend and you know that you’ll get a nice treat at the mid-point water station. You got this!!

The first three months in Saudi are filled with stories of shopping in gold souks, searching for frankincense and myrrh, and hiking Arabian deserts. Your friends and family excitingly wait for your updates, and then passes it to anyone willing to listen. “Yes, my granddaughter’s over there wearing abayas and she has to sit in womens only sections!!”. “Oh wow, really??!” You feel unique. Every new country presents a bit of anxiety, as I look like a confused foreigner not knowing my way home. With practice, I soon have control over my personal drivers and surroundings with yesar (left), yameen (right), and sida (straight).  I find amazement in the stark contrasts of climate. Aerial views show seas hitting deserts, and a clump of trees lost in the center of endless sand. A sandstorm that turns a clear day, bright orange, and then pitch black, welcomes me on my second day. The first rain of the season immediately follows minutes after, that brings out old men smiling like children. Soaking up all the cultural and religious views of those around me, has become a joy to write about. I settle into a job with half the hours and double the pay of Stateside teaching. I hold tight to friends who are on the same pace and mindset as myself.  This is the honeymoon phase.

Miles 13.1 to Mile 20 / Month 3 to Month 8 of Saudi

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The crowds are starting to thin out. The skinny dude in the skimpy runner shorts hasn’t been seen in the past hour, as you start to wonder where you place in the pack. You lose track of your running partner due to shoe-lacing and a porta potty break. You are now entering the desolate backroads and well-manicured residential areas. The race planners must have forgotten about this stretch of the course, as the only entertainment is a juggler and a clown. I hate clowns. By mile 18, smiles start to lessen, everything is starting to ache, and you try not to let the boredom and loneliness get to you. The banana man costume that was a cool idea on Mile 3, now lays on the side of the road at the Mile 20 marker. The countdown begins.

The honeymoon phase of Saudi is over. Some of the friends I entered Saudi with, have called it quits. The exotic souqs are now seen as the American equivalent of a flea market. You are now, “Ashley, you know …______’s daughter… She’s somewhere, I think Iraq? Iran?” The summer months bring along 115 degree, asphyxiating heat that literally scorches your eyes. To avoid the discomfort, I settle for indoor activities, like walking around the countless malls in one square block, that all hold the same thing. Random breezes result in a faulty internet connection, and I lose touch with family for a few days. Due to America’s negative news broadcasts, I hear their worry and frustration on the other end of Skype calls. You are suddenly homesick.

Mile 20 – 25 / Month 8 – Month 11 and 3wks of Saudi

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After the 19th mile, your mind is on each painful step. Even worse is the mental exhaustion. You’ve depleted most of your interesting thoughts.   It slowly tugs at your confidence, making you think back on whether you’ve trained to the best of your ability. Somewhere in between the 20th and 22nd mile, runners pass through a prop of a broken wall. If you’re lucky, you will not hit the utterly exhausting, zombie-like mental state that makes even walking to the finish line an unbearable notion. At this point, you may randomly start crying. Or you may just stand there, shaking your head, as if this would summon your short-circuited brain to send the message, “Pick up your right foot. Good, now your left.” This is called “Hitting the Wall”.

The last three months in Saudi are simply tiresome.  I feel like no one officially completed their contract during my earlier months. And now suddenly, everyone’s leaving me behind.. mapping out their upcoming travels, first meal and alcoholic beverage. This starts the desperate yearning phase, when you begin putting yourself in their shoes. I spent my Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, in the classroom, as Saudi doesn’t celebrate these holidays. Listening to “Baby its Cold Outside” on a warm Arabian night, while my small potted plant twinkled with smuggled Christmas lights, was the highlight of my winter holiday.  So, January 1st, the countdown calendars start to go up. To keep from standing soullessly in front of the classroom, a few mental health days are in order. You will know when this day comes, as you will have to physically pick up your legs out of the bed. If you sit on the edge longer than 10 minutes, you’ve “hit the wall”.

The last 1.2 miles / The last week in Saudi

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You can’t call the move your making even a proper shuffle. You would make a perfect extra on “The Walking Dead”.  You are drenched in sweat, with chapped lips, sunburned, and chafing in areas that you didn’t know chafed. Suddenly, the crowds that were absent half of the race, are standing on the sides cheering you on and strangely your mental fog clears. They are smiling so much, that you assume that you actually won’t look half bad in your finishing-line photo. This thinking is completely wrong. You look like hell… But, you switch thoughts to all of the months of training, the sacrifices put in, and all of the miles covered. You have made it through! Crossing the finish line was an accomplishment in itself, no matter the timing. Congratulations! For the rest of your life, you hold the title of “marathoner”, even if it’s your last!

The last week in Saudi actually turns out bittersweet. I’ve realize that I’m a much more productive person than before. Those months of boredom, has led me to find a new talent in blogging. It has allowed me to sit and read books that I’ve never had time for. Time and diligence has allowed me to save enough money to return home with zero credit-card debt and start on student loan payments. The homesickness has not only reminded me how much I love my family and friends, but shows how I’ll miss the friends I’ve made in here. My students have given me enough material to keep me laughing for decades. I am thankful to not just know about Saudi’s culture and religion, but also have some understanding behind their practices. This year has taught me how much I do need others, and has brought out some untimely extremes of emotion that I never knew existed. I have officially made it through the year!! Through all of the ups and downs, I will say that it was all worth it. I deserve a freakin’ medal!

I need your help..

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The Great Human Race (5K)

FINALLY.. I’ve patiently waited an entire year to get outdoors and race, and I have chosen  The Great Human Race, as my first. This is a 5k-run/walk event that has been taking place in Durham, N.C. for 18 years. Each year, around 100 different nonprofits from the area get together to raise money. Each organization has their own “team” for the race and team members raise money for the organization. I’m participating to raise funds for team “Church World Service”. Over the past 65yrs, CWS has done great work with reunification, resettlement, and integration of refugees of all cultures and religions. By race day (April 6th, 2013), my goal, with your help, is to cover the expenses of 2 families ($500 each), by safely reuniting spouses and children in the United States.

A little more about the reunification program: CWS-RDU assists refugees and asylees who have seen their families torn apart by conflict. Some families are separated when a parent flees to a neighboring country, not wanting to risk bringing a spouse or children into a potentially dangerous future. In any case, the organization receives refugees here who are missing key parts of their families. Currently, CWS is working with one mother of 5 from Burma who is seeking to bring her husband to join her here in the US. Having the husband here will mean an additional earner in the home, more safety for the family, and a second parent for the children.

Video on CWS refugees:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUORjDoFm24&list=SPCBEF4FC5F8AFCBA5&index=3  

This event represents my passions as a runner, an international educator and a student of Diplomacy: International Conflict Management. With a friends’ list of family, fitness fanatics, teachers abroad, and fellow alumni, we can all relate to this cause. I ask that if each of you could simply donate $10, we could reach or surpass this goal. Reuniting families is a crucial part of what CWS does–it provides refugees with safety, stability, and a sense of home in the United States. This is a well-researched group that I have chosen to volunteer with this year, and I hope you would like to be a part of this process.

To Donate: https://thevolunteercenter.givebig.org/c/TBR/a/cwsrdu/p/Ashley

To learn more about CWS:  www.cwsglobal.org. and www.cwsrdu.org

Thanks again for your support.

Footprints in the Sand

So apparently I will have a chance to mark off a huge goal on my Bucket List: Run an international marathon! Of all places, Saudi was the last place I thought to get this done. By living outside of a compound, it’s an extreme rarity to see a woman 1) running, 2) in an abaya, and 3) in the heat. My whole blog was meant to sum up my struggles adjusting to these restrictions.

In the States, I ran daily with an outstanding group of ladies from “Black Girls Run”, a nationwide movement of long distance runners that has added quite a bit of color to a sport that was predominantly white. When I first joined, 2 years ago, I could barely run 3 minutes without getting totally winded. In elementary, I absolutely dreaded that timed, 1 mile test we were required to do in P.E., and almost always came in last. However, today, it’s an addiction to beat my PR, run extreme distances, and rack up on medals! With one marathon under my belt, I hope to one day qualify for Boston, complete an ultra, and team up in a Ragnar Relay.

 

Before arriving in Saudi I asked my recruiter about the ease of running in this country. “Oh… it’s no problem! Many people run. They have plenty of parks. It’s just like any other modern city!” .. So I packed my running shoes, hydration belt, energy chews, and every runner’s favorite: Body Glide.

For the 1st few weeks, I just observed my surroundings. Not only did women not run, but I barely saw them rush for anything! Nothing  (literally) moved fast in this country, except for impatient drivers. No one even walked around outside for fresh air. People caught cabs to cross the street. There were gyms every two blocks, but none that catered to women. I later found out that the few womens’ “gyms” (more like spas), cost $150-200 per month. Very cruel joke this recruiter played on me..

 

So on Month 2, I made my first big purchase, a commercial treadmill. Although, I was happy to have some sort of real movement, it did kill the excitement and stamina I had for running. So much to the extent that, when I vacationed in the US this summer, I went from being a marathoner to barely making it 10 minutes. It’s as depressing as having an injury that hinders you from doing the sport you love.

Therefore, my goal for the next 5 months is to get back into the shape that I was pre-Saudi. This past Saturday started my marathon training…mostly by treadmill! I know you’re wondering “How in the world will you practice 20 milers on the ‘dread’mill?”. Well, I may have found one outlet. This past weekend, I …ran… outside! Although pricey in terms of transport, and quite inconvenient, the Diplomatic Quarters is heaven-sent. The DQ is a city of embassies, international schools, parks, and are ‘free-zones’ where most of the cultural Saudi laws do not apply. Therefore, I wasted little time shedding my abaya and hijab; finally being able to be out in my run-gear!

 

I really didn’t have a plan, not even a place to put my stuff. But after scoping out the area and making sure I wasn’t in a restricted zone, I walked a few dead end paths through boulders and sand, until I found a distinct path. For once in my lifetime of running, I could care less about my run/walk ratio, mileage, or pace. It was so unearthly silent out that I didn’t even want to ruin it with music. Perhaps the silence would have alarmed some, but it was such a peaceful escape that it almost felt Godly. The only sounds I welcomed were the rare songs of birds and the occasional “Hello” of another runner escaping his treadmill. Two hours later, I climbed up as high as I could on a boulder, while eating my energy chews and watching the sunset. I got to use my hydration belt and my Body Glide. Not because any of this stuff was needed, but because it’s as good a time as any. Right in the middle of a dry rocky ravine, was a random cluster palm dates. The contrast was oddly beautiful and kept me for another 30 minutes. As my ride called out from a distance and echoed my name, I made my final 10-minute jog to the car. This time it was effortless ..

Land of the Free.. :)

My first step outside of Saudi soil, on my way to the U.S., was pure bliss! As you can guess, it didn’t take any time at all to take off my abaya; 1 minute after take-off. The airport is supposed to be a safe zone for clothing, but I was so close to freedom that I wanted to be absolutely sure that I’d have no problem being so “naked” in public. My 1st public outfit in the sight of men, was a conservative top with tights.  It was a slight show of my liberation to reveal some curves, instead of being a shapeless figure behind a black robe. I realized that I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of this moment, as some covered Arab women entered the plane restroom and transformed to high heels and flowing-free hair.. Already, I have received a nice little tan; something that you’d assume was easily achievable in a desert. When I return to Saudi, hopefully, the temperatures will drop out of the 130’s so that I can somewhat enjoy the outdoors of Riyadh again.

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My 1st ride home was an admiration of all of the greenery, one of the benefits of living in the country. I’ve never missed so much, the trees and grass that I’m so allergic too. The sky seemed bluer.. and maybe I’m mistaken, but the stark white clouds of the U.S. seemed like another feature absent of Saudi. In a country where the only animals roaming are cats and camels, I was quite happy to see those ‘pests’ that we call squirrels!

My 1st drive, took a little getting used to. I have a ‘heavy foot’ and maybe a few flashbacks of the speed demons who live inside of Saudi taxi drivers. After a little bumper accident, I got the hang of things. I took a few destination-less trips around town, searching for any little changes of my city during my short time away. Nothing changed..

I ate … and I ate. Delicious pork ribs, real Mexican food, Americanized Chinese food, BBQ’d and fried chicken wings. I had a shot of alcohol the1st night without the fear of getting arrested and/or deported.  All of those food rules you grew up with.. eat balanced meals, don’t eat desert before dinner, eat all your veggies… all of that went out the window. After 2 weeks and 7 lbs. later, my stomach was real mad with me! But thankfully, I now have ‘close-to-nothing’ priced gyms, outdoor running, and the largest, most easily available choice of health foods and protein powders to get me back on track.

For my 1st form of public entertainment, I hit up the movie theatre 2 days in a row. And for a week straight, I listened to music, while sipping on my drink of choice at an outdoor bar.

These 2 weeks in the U.S. is going by way too fast. And although I didn’t spend my vacation island and country hopping, and going to big events, these little reminders of why I love U.S. and the people in it, was much appreciated. All the time spent on my momma’s couch was a much needed break. I think I have officially gotten all of these wants out of my system, before serving my last 6 months in Saudi.

10 Ways to Survive the year in The Kingdom

After announcing my move to Saudi Arabia, I received disapproving shaking of heads, uneasy looks, and plenty of “are you sure??”s. With 15 of the 19 hijackers of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, being Saudi .. I can’t say that I wasn’t a little nervous as well. Movies, like “The Kingdom”, which reenacts the compound bombing of 2003, didn’t help ease anyone’s nerves. So, kidnappings and bombings were what I was looking out for. Little did I know, that these worries are the furthest down on the list. My list is in order, of least often –> often, of what I see foreigners getting deported, arrested, or hassled for.

  1. Negative Talk: Put 100 female teachers together during 6 hours of idle time, and see gossip spread like wildfire. Don’t say anything, unless you don’t mind it shared 10 times over. Voicing your dislike the company can get you fired, if spread to the wrong person. Also, prepare to have your students test you with this question.. “Teacher, do you love our King?”.. The answer is and should always be “Yes”. People have been reported and/or arrested for voicing their opinion otherwise. Thankfully, the Saudi king is actually a good guy and has done quite a bit to advance the Kingdom, making this an easy question to pass.
  1. Contraband: Before you step off the plane and onto Saudi soil, you will see “Illegal drugs = death”. Kind of seems like a late warning, if you ask me.. It’s not like the smugglers can simply turn around. You can find alcohol in a few brave private residences. But getting caught can mean deportation or getting arrested, and possibly receive lashes. Watch “Locked Up Abroad: Saudi Arabia”. Other things not allowed into Saudi, are pork, vanilla extract (it has alcohol in it), and bulk religious items. My Bible was actually confiscated and I had to tuck away my cross.
  1. Gender Mixing: Unrelated men and women are not allowed to gather in this country, except for in a few secure places. I will say that many foreigners have gotten away with this rule. However, it would suck to be the exception.. as one of my friends has spent a few days in jail by doing so. Conservative Saudis are quick to report any suspicions.
  1. Walking Alone: One thing that us foreigners cherish, is the freedom to go wherever you want and however you want. You do not have that freedom here. Walking the streets, in general, is just not done in Riyadh. So a foreign woman walking can bring trouble. Before knowing this, I decided to get a nice workout w/ an hour-long walk home. Fully cloaked from head to toe, I counted 73 honks and 3 men pulling over to offer money. From then on out, I had to put away the “do what I want” “Strong black women”.. I bought a treadmill and took taxis.

  1. Drifters: The latest problem with walking (even in groups), is dealing with Drifters. These young teenage drivers make a game out of getting as close to the pedestrians as possible, without hitting them. A few suck at this game, leaving a few of my fellow teachers injured and/or shaken up.
  1. The Muttawa: Also known as the “religious police”. You will often see these guys parading around the mall advising or harrassing (depending on point of view) females. They don’t have the power to arrest or enforce any laws, but being big men yelling in Arabic, is sometimes enough to intimidate a few. Their actual job is to remind people of the cultural and religious rules of Saudi. They usually pick out foreigners to cover their hair. But you may know the Muttawa from the incident of the womens school on fire. They were locked inside of the burning building because they were uncovered, and unpresentable to public. The latest news were Muttawa attempting to kick a women out of the mall for wearing nail polish.         
    http://www.batangastoday.com/saudi-woman-with-nail-polish-refuses-to-leave-hayat-mall-argues-with-religious-police-video/22730/

  1. Taxi drivers: I know I said in #7 that it’s not the safest to walk, and to take a taxi.. but not any ole’ taxi. When you find one that you trust, it’s a smart idea to take his number as your personal driver. In many parts of the world, foreigners (or American women) are stereotyped to all be “easy”. Therefore, some of the younger drivers think it’s ‘cool’ to have an American in the back seat. He’ll whistle to the young drivers at the stoplight next to him, do the money sign (which is the same in every language), and then ask you to smile …. Or you’ll get some drivers who don’t like foreigners at all, and simply get frustrated with your English/broken Arabic  directions and drop you off on a strange corner in the middle of the night. This isn’t an everyday occurrence, but you can see that it’s getting closer to my #1. To avoid all of this, just have a few good drivers handy.
  1. Standing Out: Single foreign females stick out like sore thumbs. First of all, unlike many Saudi women, we don’t have male chaperones. So this kind of makes you a target for unwanted attention. Being alone, having your hair uncovered, even doing a slight jog to get into a closing store will get you stares. When walking outside, covering your hair could eliminate maybe a quarter of the attention. Wearing a niqab can play in your favor too. Basically.. when in Saudi, do as Saudis do.
  1. Words/Topics to Avoid: If you can teach in this city and country, you can teach anywhere. The limitations we have, makes getting your point across quite a challenge at times. If you’ve read one of my previous posts “Things not to say in a Riyadh University”, you’ll see a lengthy list that can easily get any teacher to slip-up. Some students lure you into these topics. And sometimes it’s totally your fault. “Like, duh, what were you thinking, talking about birthdays???”. I’ve accidentally hit these topics a few times. Thankfully, my students love me and let it slide 🙂 Some teachers aren’t so lucky and get reported. This goes on your record, and if done enough could be a reason to be let go.
  1. The unexpected: The #1 thing that I fear in this country, are accidents. Everyday on the way to school we cross a 3-lane, 4-way intersection that has no stoplights. We go over about 10 unmarked speed bumps. The lines to designate the lanes are faded to no avail. There’s a random trough of a bulldozer sitting in the middle of the road. Construction workers lifting an unprotected spin-saw 3 stories, using a rope tied around the handle. Right-laners make left turns. Metal pipes blowing hot steam onto the sidewalks. Jumping over boulders, ditches, and puddles when it hasn’t rained in weeks…All of these things have no warning signs before you reach them. The “Final Destination” series, should have been filmed here.  To sum it up.. Safety is not #1 priority, so constantly be on alert!

The real-life ‘roadrunner’. Ostrich running the streets of Riyadh, a few months ago..

Walk to the Right, Please!

Yesterday, I officially became a “walker” … No, not the infamous zombies of “The Walking Dead”… More like a mall walker, but in a school setting. Something has always irritated me about seeing these ladies circle around Walmart, nicely air-conditioned, never dripping a sweat, stopping to check out the latest sale. The newbies always tend to take up the full aisle, until they’re taught by a pro or get enough irritated glares. I felt that real walkers hit the track, a wooded path, or at least a treadmill. But these mall-walking events just looked like a social hour to me. I wanted to see someone workout so hard, that they’re too tired to talk; too annoyed with their jabber-mouth partner, because she’s throwing off her breathing rhythm; irritated with the one who’s scared to sweat because it’ll turn her pink shirt into red under the armpits. I applauded the mall-walkers who were taking their 1st steps in working out, or even the elderly who needed a controlled environment. But the rest of them, they needed to step it up!

And now, I’m one of them ..

If I could, I’d run laps around this city. I’d have my running body back.. and feel totally winded, but satisfied with the effort I put in. I’d carb-load on those Saturday 13-milers, and not feel an inch of guilt about it. Take in all of nature, as I run past muddy lakes, crowded trees, and jittery squirrels. I’d mark off each day on my workout calendar, as I work up to marathon distances. Eat, breathe, and live running!

But, I’m an ESL teacher in the restrictive country of Saudi Arabia. The high today is 120 degrees. People catch taxis to simply cross the street. I must wear a long abaya to my ankles, that would definitely trip me up and send me tumbling into a pile of rubble. To top it off, the abayas are black, soaking up every ray of sunshine. The sight of a woman, a foreign woman, running; they’d think I stole something. And with my lack of Arabic, it’ll be hell trying to explain my way out of that one… So on most days,  I’m confined to the treadmill, and now the hallways of my school.  The bland white walls that make up a total maze, does not liven the senses. I’m wearing that ridiculous combination of work skirts and tennis shoes. And getting awkward glances from students, even though the other teachers spend their free-time playing badmitton and racketball in the corridors.

However, me and my co-worker, with the same love of running, sucked up our pride and hit the halls. After 45 minutes of power walking, or “patrolling the halls”, I felt the pulse of my heartbeat in my legs. My heart rate picked up a beat and we discovered new alleyways of our guarded compound. It was time well spent, that I would have used napping in the lounge. And I no longer have to fool myself into thinking that I’d actually get up at 4:00 in the dreaded morning to hit the treadmill. I was reminded that it’s not always about who can finish first, beating your PR, or hanging another medal. Despite the absence of all that, it was a great workout. Tomorrow, we may tack on some stair climbs, and add a few teachers to our posse.

So here’s my apology to all of the mall-walkers of America, for not taking you guys seriously. I’m sure you have your reasons for your chosen workout, whether it’s to escape pollen, walk on level ground, or for the entertainment of “people watching”. I may join you, one day, when I get back Stateside.



5 Best Hangout Spots in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Ever been to a country that has no movie theaters, clubs, or bars? This is Saudi Arabia!  With about 9 out of 10 workers in this country being expats, we must creatively find ways to have fun. If you happen to make it to the capital city of Riyadh, here’s some tips to make this city feel a little more like home…

1) Hike w/ the Hash

Most major cities around the world have Hash House Harriers (HHH), a group of hikers that get together and explore the local terrain. What makes Hashing in Saudi so special, is the differing landscapes of the desert.  With the permission of authorities, it gives foreigners-only the opportunity to mingle freely, sans abaya (black cloak women wear), and build valuable contacts to make life in Riyadh much easier.  The best part is stumbling across unique finds, like desert diamonds, hieroglyphics, or desert roses.  To seal the memory, end your hike next to a campfire, feet in sand, watching the sunset.

*Locations: Changes weekly.
*Price: 10 SAR/week.

2) Hamam at Direm Beauty Center

Basically, during Hamam, an old lady gives you the best bath of your life! You can find everyone from soon-to-be Saudi brides to curious expats getting this treatment done. It can be compared to the body scrubs of Turkey or the jjimjilbangs of South Korea. The entire treatment is done in a wet sauna, where the woman slathers you with mixtures of soap, oil, and mud.  After she removes a layer of your DNA, you may find that you are a shade and a pound lighter. It’s an interesting experience that has you walking away with skin so soft and clean, as if you were just born yesterday.

*Location: Take Exit 5 at China Mart/Carrefour. Make a U-Turn. Then get onto the service road (be careful not to enter the highway on the right). Direm International Instititute de Beaute is a white building on the right.
*Price: 130 SAR

3) Eat at Najd Village

If you want to experience what ancient Saudi Arabia was like, you must visit this restaurant! When you first walk in, the stone walls encase you like an old fortress. Simple rarities here, like the rich color patterns found in the painted doors, gold Arabic antiques, and plush green grass, are a joy to see.  Every group is  given a private eating room with wrap-around floor seating. The meal is started off with the traditional Saudi dates and tea. And then you are served huge dishes that meant to be shared. Here’s one of your few chances to try camel!.. Don’t forget your camera. This restaurant is a unique experience that you may want to capture.

*Directions: On the corner of King Abdullah Rd and Abo Baker Rd. Across from Prince Sultan University
*Prices: range from 10 – 135 SAR

4) “Visit another country” at the Diplomatic Quarters

Similar to compounds, but on a grander scale, the Diplomatic Quarters is an expat’s road to freedom. These mini international neighborhoods are neutral grounds, where foreigners can do various activities that may not be available on the outside. Often, different embassies will throw a festival for any given holiday, have outdoor movie showings, or BBQ’s. For runners who are confined to the “dreadmill”, the greenery of trails is a dreamland.

This picture is from the blog – Shards of China, by Nicholas Kellingley. If you enjoyed it you can find more material here at http://shardsofchina.wordpress.com and you can also follow him on Twitter – @ShardsofChina

5) Shop and Eat at Al Faisaliya Tower

If you’re looking for a fancy night out on the town, you must pay a visit to The Globe restaurant at the top of Al Faisaliya Tower.  Here you can taste a variety of European meals, High Tea, and deserts, at a table that overlooks all of Riyadh. If this doesn’t fit your tastes, step over to Il Terrazo restaurant, an all-you-can eat Brazilian barbeque. This open-air, but misted, restaurant plays music (which is absent in most public places) and is a mixed gender zone. Once the sun sets, step out onto the observation deck for a 360 degree view of the city, with the desert in the background. Then walk off the food, in the expansive mall below.

*Directions: Major landmark on King Fahd Rd and Olaya St.
*Prices: 100 – 200 SAR for The Globe
200 SAR for Il Terrazo