Posted by Beckie
I’m the lifestyle editor of a newspaper here, which means I can say with authority that the culture of outdoor sports in this city is meager at best. Beirut has one annual marathon – which happens to be in 10 days – so it’s about this time of year that there’s a massive push for outdoor physical activity, something that quickly peters out by the end of November and near-daily downpours begin.
Throughout the rest of the year, people run in public in only one place. It’s along the stretch of city that abuts the Mediterranean Sea. Oh, why would anyone ever complain about that, you ask? Because the highest concentration of spandex attracts the highest concentration of oglers. I’d prefer to stay fat on my couch than get hissed at like a timid cat.
But I’m convinced that outdoor, independent exercise around this city is possible.
So I’m dedicating these posts to my search for ways to use this very hilly city to get fit, even if it means raising the eyebrows of my neighbors and having gatherings of hookah smokers and neighborhood vigilantes giggling and cat-calling as I run by.
To prepare for my first post I went out Sunday night for my first-ever public run on the streets of Beirut. It revealed just exactly what I’m up against.
The first issue was choosing a route. Lebanon is built on two mountain ranges. My neighborhood is perched atop the first hill in the dramatic slope up to the Mt. Lubnan. In other words, I have two directions: steep hill up or steep hill down. I went down.
Then there was avoiding gatherings of young guys. They’re harmless but annoying. So I found myself zigzagging back and forth across the street to avoid them, until I veered off the mainroad and found peace running along the empty side streets. Most of these, however, were unlit so I had to slow my pace to be careful not to twist my ankle in a hidden pothole.
At a neighborhood hospital I made the mistake of taking very steep road downhill rather than pass by its bustling entrance. And when I got to the bottom I was literally in the middle of one of Beirut’s biggest bar crawls – oops.
When I turned around to jog back up the hill, it was like I had inhaled a lead anvil. My lungs were going to fall out of my butt. I’m sure it was a mixture of Beirut’s pollution and my general lack of physical fitness, but I decided to speed walk my way home.
Not giving a crap what people think and discovering appropriate running paths are easily solved. One will work out on its own; the other just takes better pre-run planning. But from my first experience, the biggest issue I face in my attempt at outdoor exercise in Beirut is breathing. I was told before that most runners have a little trouble switching from the air-controlled gym to conditions outdoors. For now, I’m hoping my lungs will adjust, and if anyone has any tips for easing into a new climate, please post a comment.