On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Monday, January 31, 2011


On behalf of Tracy:

Tracy wanted both of her readers to know that she is in Cairo, she is safe, and that hopefully she will be evacuated tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I'm okay!

Nothing about running; just a short note to say that I'm safe and sound.  If you've been following the international news, you've probably heard about the riots in Cairo.

The first time I lived in Cairo and most of the times since, I've stayed in the neighborhood of Zamalek. Zamalek is a lovely, tree-lined island in the middle of the Nile populated almost exclusively by rich Egyptians, embassies/ambassadors, and expats. Or, in the words of the Egyptastic mug:

The word on the street is that the protests have stopped - for now - but are expected to continue, although Al Jazeera is saying that an "uneasy calm prevails in Egypt," although more protests are planned. Things are shut down today - schools, my former funding agency downtown, loads of businesses. But in Zamalek? It's quiet. Also, going to Luxor this weekend will further isolate me from the protests.

Expect updates on the race soon! I forgot to pack my Garmin and I can't find my shotblocks in my suitcase, so it's for the best that I'm not doing the full.

I bought a very pretty, very colorful, very cheap scarf in the Khan el-Khalili. Does anyone want a souvenir from China via Egypt?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How far is that marathon, anyway?

After careful consideration (read: a long run of 15k done over a month ago, followed by only about 4 runs in the past month), I have decided that I will not be participating in the Egyptian Marathon.

However, with an overnight train ticket and two nights in a hotel booked, both non-refundable, I will be doing the so-called “Luxor-Run” this Friday, an almost half marathon distance race of 22.289km. Yes: 22.289km.

I feel kind of lame that I’m in Egypt and yet couldn’t get myself together enough to run the marathon that I’m already registered for. On the other hand, I expected to have more free time than I did. I had none. I’ve been lucky to sleep 5 hours a night for the past three weeks and my whole time here has been full of junk food and stress.

To give you an example, I arrived in Cairo with 16 students. Yet 14 students showed up for the bus to the airport. The other two had gone missing, somewhere in Cairo, and were nowhere to be found and without cell phones.

So, it’s an easy half-marathon instead for me, once I hear back from the race director to confirm my registration change. I don't think it will be a problem. Each of the races, whether 10k, 22k, or 42k, is considered a "marathon" in their parlance.

I can’t complain: it’s supposed to be in the low 80s this weekend in Luxor and my hotel, which is on a secluded island, has an infinity pool that looks out over a gorgeous part of the Nile River. And also, a guaranteed PR at the 22.289km distance!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Step #1 to keeping a blog about running:

#1: Run.

Um, yeah.

There's been a lot more stress and a lot more fun and a lot less sleep than I anticipated this trip. Turns out that being single-handedly responsible for 16 students' education, well-being, and overall experiences can be kind of all-consuming. I'm not getting enough sleep. Combine all that with a fitness center that's only open for a few hours every evening, and that's leading me to not be able to run as often as I'd like. (Luckily they're all great students, so at least it's rewarding.)

More in a few days when I have my act together better.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Run, don't walk

Crossing the streets in Cairo can be harrowing.  It's often likened to playing live action Frogger.  The streets are crowded and chaotic, and pedestrians just kind of dart in between the cars and hope for the best. The cars stop for you, usually.  I've never gotten hit (well, not anything more than a bump) but I have been in cabs on two separate instances that have hit men - as in knocked them down.  One guy flew over the hood and fell off the back of the car.  The driver stopped for long enough to yell at him before continuing to drive on.

Once you're practiced at the art of street crossing, the key is to do it with nonchalance.  If you act scared, dodging the cars with fear in your eyes, the drivers can sense it and they'll get more aggressive.  I'm not naming names, but someone who reads this blog regularly, who has been to Egypt, who is my blood relative and who is female may have been reduced to tears trying to cross the street in Cairo.  (She definitely was crying.)

Recently stoplights have been installed downtown.  This is kind of a joke - no one pays any attention to them.  But, intriguingly, they have a walk sign on them:

Let's see that a little more closely, shall we?

That guy is adamantly not walking, he's running!  You can't tell from the photo, but the little man is animated on the stoplight so he actually does a convincing running man.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Emerald Nuts 4m race report

Slightly belated, but better late than never.

I'll keep it short and sweet.

On New Year's Eve, I ran the NYRR's annual 4m fun run.  I did this race last year and, if you remember, I didn't much like it.  It was too fun.  Not that I wanted a competitive race, per se, but I wasn't feeling well and there were too many people all up in my way, basically.

This year I was more relaxed.  After dinner, including a drink even, our group of four changed into running clothes and headed for the start.  It was cold but not too cold.  It was crowded, but it could have been worse.  The fireworks were long, but why was I in such a rush?

And we were off!  I stayed with my friend JB for most of the race, which surprised me.  I know he was going slowly, but his marathon time is right around 4 hours, so I was shocked he was willing to let me tail him.

It's nice running in Central Park after dark, even with as many people as there were.  Being slightly faster this year than last meant that many of the complete novice runners - the ones who had bothered me last year, walking four abreast, smoking (yes!), or wearing jeans - were behind us.  We didn't stop for "champagne" at the half but soldiered on. JB left me behind just after 3 miles.  I was slowing down on the hills but he was speeding up.

Toward the end, as soon as I knew the finish was ahead, I put on speed for the finish.  Two women ahead of me were swerving around, and I said, "excuse me!" as I passed them.  One of them apologized quietly, but the other one said, "GOD! Why are you in such a hurry?" in a very annoyed, rude voice as I passed.  That kind of made me laugh.  Um, because it's a race?

I liked the race.  I mean, the fun run.  The appeal is obvious: start your ear off with something healthy.  But it's cold, cold, cold.  JB and I stood at the finish, shivering, waiting for our slowpoke companions to crawl across the finish nearly 20 minutes later.  And then, because it was new year's and we were wearing sweaty running clothes, we went out for pizza and beer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Go ahead and laugh at me, I can take it

So, what did I decide to do about the gym, you're wondering?

Over the weekend (which is Friday/Saturday here because I'm in a Muslim country), I went to try out the "fitness center" at the student dorms.  I'm going to take away the quotation marks from now on, because it's certainly adequate.  It's bigger than it originally looked - maybe only slightly smaller than my New York City living room, but bigger than my New York City office - and is surprisingly well equipped.  No ellipticals, which I'm okay with, but a couple of treadmills and the intimidating looking weight machines.  Best of all, when I went there Friday afternoon, it was completely empty.

I got on the treadmill, intending to run for somewhere around an hour.  I did my usual treadmill ritual, which is to turn the treadmill on at a nice walking pace (usually around 3.2mph for me) while setting up my ipod, my water bottle, my towel, etc.  The treadmill had a nice ledge where I could set my ipad, so I loaded up Hamlet 2 and got ready to run.  A few minutes later, once I was all set, I turned the treadmill up to a running pace of about 6mph and started to jog.

But at 6mph, I wasn't jogging.  The freaking treadmill wasn't calibrated right.  I cursed out the treadmill for a minute and tried cranking it up more.

Most of you have probably already seen where this is going by now.

Text to my sister.

Oh, yeah, right, the US is one of the only countries that still clings to our stupid system of imperial units.  I'm not proud of my own stupidity.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The heb sed festival

I swear this is running related.  Bear with me.

This is where I spent my day yesterday:
The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara.  The world's first pyramid.  Not built by aliens and most certainly not built by slaves - but that's a history lesson for another day.

Most of the later pyramids (like those at Giza) have a very predictable layout.  There's a pyramid, with a burial chamber for the king inside; there's a mortuary temple near the base of the pyramid, where the rites and rituals for the dead king could be performed; and there's a valley temple down near the river, connected to mortuary temple via a long causeway.

The Step Pyramid, being the first one built, is slightly different.  Instead of the temples like the later pyramids have, Djoser has a heb-sed court.  For those of you too lazy to click the link or too disturbed by my linking to wikipedia, let me summarize: after the king had been in office for 30 years, he was expected to participate in the heb-sed festival to show his ritual rejuvenation, proving that he was fit to continue to rule.

Part of the festival involved a run between two boundary markers.  So, here you have it.

That's me.  I chose not to wear a bull's tail, as the king was thought to.  However, as proof of my fitness, five photos were taken of me running.  My feet aren't touching the ground in any of the photos.  WEIRD.  Sadly the pyramid wasn't visible in any of the photos, but I'm running toward it in this image.

It wasn't all sunshine and running in the sand at the pyramids, though.  I hate going to see them.  They're absolutely exhausting.  Yes, they're also cool to climb inside.

But sometimes, just sometimes, if you're a big enough idiot, you bang the crap out of your head climbing out of a pyramid - the sort of smack where people are stopping you to ask if you're okay, you break your sunglasses, your students are uncomfortably asking you if they should keep you awake overnight to watch for signs of a concussion, and your neck hurts for hours (and counting) from the impact.  I also messed up my knee - not sure how I did that one, but it hurts fairly badly.

Probably worth it.  I got to spend the day at the pyramids, after all.

Friday, January 7, 2011

How did I not know this already?!?

Khalid Khannouchi and his wife are splitsville.

I know what you're thinking - the same thing I thought when I read this.  But let me tell you:  back off, ladies, he's all mine.

I've had a soft spot for that guy ever since I first ran the Chicago Marathon in '02.  As most of you know, the course starts in downtown Chicago, heads north for a few miles before heading back downtown and then swinging west/south.  You're back downtown, near the start, just about 10m into the race.  In '02, this meant that I could hear the announcers declaring that the race had been won... as I was not even halfway through.

We're meant to be.  Not only did we run that race together, but I've even been to Meknes, where wikipedia tells me he was born.

Me in Meknes, but Michael Bayified.
But you know what?  At 5'5", he's maybe a little short for me.  On the other hand, I did read that Geb is 5'7."  I know he's married and all, and I'm no homewrecker, but let's just say that if something ever happens... dibs.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How much would you pay for a gym?

I'm always amazed at regional price differences for gyms.

Back home in NYC, I pay $65 a month for my membership at the NYSC.  (Don't tell them I told you that - their membership prices are all hush-hush.)

My brother in suburban Illinois pays $20 a month for his (24 hour) gym.

How much would it cost to join a gym here in Cairo?  For one month, $155.28.  Or 900LE, if you prefer.  Admittedly, it would be cheaper if I were here long enough to get a longer term contract.  The price would drop to about 700LE/month for three months.  But it's not even that nice of a gym.

So, I thought about going to the local Marriott for their gym.  A single-use day pass there, though, is nearly $30 (you do get pool access with that.... but it's in the 60s here, so not exactly outdoor pool weather).

Through the American University, I have access to a "fitness center."  I have to put that in quotes because I saw it and it's slightly smaller than my office in New York.  Two treadmills, some intimidating machines with pulleys and without instructions, and a bunch of beefy guys were all jammed in there.  None of that matters, though, as much as the fact that the hours are extremely limited to just a few hours a day, and those hours are all in the afternoon.  I intentionally scheduled my class sessions for the afternoon to give me time to workout in the morning before class.  So basically it's inconvenient, tiny, populated by students (some of whom are mine), and free.  How much am I willing to pay for convenient, large, and student-free?

For now, I'm going to try the free "fitness center" and see if I can make a go of it.  If I can't, then I can always pay the $155 later.  But that is certainly money I could better spend on souvenirs, you see.  Shoes.  Jewelry.  Presents.  Chicken Big Mac.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

See you on the flipside!

I'm out of here.  Forget NYC blizzards, forget being stranded at O'Hare for several days.  I'm in the land of the pharaohs, living the hard life from a hotel on the tree-lined isle of Zamalek in Cairo.  Where it's sunny and 70 degrees every day.  Don't you wish you had my job?

Me and my sister. Tourist chic.  Don't knock the hat.
In other words, sporadic blogging for the time being.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Running Resolutions

Hahahahahahaha, you thought this was going to be one of those New Year's resolution posts, didn't you?  The ones that are everywhere you look right now, where I promise you that this year I'm going to run at least 5 times a week every week totaling 2011 miles for the year and lose 40 pounds and run a sub-4 hour marathon.

Nope.  I don't really do resolutions.  What's the point?  If you want to change your behavior, do it now.  The arbitrary nature of starting a new program with the new year is just basically a way of procrastinating.  I mean, ultimately, no matter what Lindsay Lohan tweets, the Gregorian calendar that we use doesn't mean that you get a "fresh start" on 1 January because the year happens to change over.

Take your fresh start now.  Whenever now is.

So, no resolutions here.  But, since I can't resist some navel-gazing, how about my year in races?

I started the new year off in January with the NYRR Emerald Nuts 4m fun run, which wasn't so fun for me.  In February, I was ecstatic to do the Empire State Building Run Up.  It was... hard.  In March, I did the NYC Half Marathon for the first and last time.  I'd do it again if I could avoid the lottery or get in for free.  April saw me running through the Lincoln Tunnel, and May brought both a trail half (the North Face Endurance Challenge) and a new half PR(the Brooklyn Half Marathon) - not set at the same event, not by a long shot.  In June I realized a goal I've had for quite some time and got to the top of Mount Washington... slowly.  I DNF'd a half marathon in July, which turned out to be a harbinger of stupid shin splints that plagued me during August, causing me to DNS the Bronx Half Marathon. (I did do a 5k in August, though, over the Brooklyn Bridge.)  By September, I was back to running too many races, including a 14.2m training run, an 18m tune-up, and the Fifth Avenue Mile, where I set a (default) mile PR.  All of this racing was of course just the build up for marathon season, which I hit full force in October - sort of, or maybe marathon season hit me.  I certainly am the one who seems worse for the wear.  Either way, I did the Chicago Marathon in October and both the NYCM and the Flying Monkey Marathon in November.  I swear I didn't mean to run three marathons in two months.  It just sort of happened.  I mostly took it easy through December, running one 15k race.  Well, sort of two races.  I did the New Year's Eve race again, but you'll have to wait a day or two to hear about that.

Take home message:  too many races.  If I were, say, to be a total hypocrite and completely go back on all of the anti-resolution ranting I did at the top of this post, I might (might) suggest that a good resolution for me this year would be to do less racing.  No more safety pins and bibs and anxiety.  I mean, unless it's a really good race.