Friday, February 13, 2015

Friends From All Over

One of the great things about the running community is that social media is able to connect us in a way that we have the opportunities to meet and create close friendships with people from all over the place.

Part of that is because we are all in this together, and the other part is that if you really want to get to know someone, the best thing you can do is go out for a run with them. One of the reasons I love running with people is the conversation, it always just seems to flow so well within the rhythm of a run.

Over the last few months I've gotten to "know" a lot of people in the virtual running community, and I can say for sure that it's part of why my training has gone so well. It's just great to be able to share my running with others, not to mention our successes.

A few weeks before I headed to Dubai, I contacted both of the local running clubs to ask for tips on some places to run. Days later I received an e-mail from a guy named Marek, who is the chairman for the Dubai Creek Runners club. Here was his reply:

Hi Mike

You are most welcome to join any or all of our 4 weekly runs -- all info on the website. We do an easy jog on Sunday evening along the beach, a speed workout on a track on Monday evening, longer intervals in a park on Wednesday evening and our long run on Friday morning.

Also there is a reasonably nice park nearby to your hotel (Barsha Park) with a 1.5 km running track -- that is also where we do our Wednesday session.

Cheers, Marek 


Pretty sweet, right? I really appreciated Marek getting back with me, and when I started looking more at their website they seem to have an awesome club. (To the left is a group photo from their Facebook page) Their weekly runs include the input of coaches, they have a presence at local races, hold a half marathon that draws over 2,000 runners, run a water stop during the Dubai Marathon and have several excellent runners, including one who recently finished a 24-hour race and completed 190 kilometers!

The group holds a low-key run on Sunday evenings and I had hoped to make it to that one, even though I had run five miles in the morning. But since that was the first non-jetlag day of the trip, I started exploring and finished the day with over 35,000 steps on my Fitbit! When I got back to the hotel around 5 p.m. I ended up dozing off and missing the run. Darn.

So fast forward to Wednesday, where the group was meeting at Al Barsha Park (scroll down on the blog to read more about that) for interval workouts. Given I had done some 400 meter repeats the night before, I didn't know if I would be into more intervals, but I figured I could meet people and cheer them on as I ran a few laps around the 1,500-meter loop.

I was looking forward to running with the group in the park, too. While much of the downtown area has trees and flowers, the outlying areas (Al Barsha, in the best way of explaining it, is a "neighborhood" in the city...like Wrigleyville in Chicago) are buildings, roads...and desert. If something wasn't built on a plot of land, it was just a scrubbed area of sand. Now, some of these scrubbed areas of land are worth millions of dollars, but they are desolate nonetheless.

The park was a true oasis in the neighborhood, with a large pond in the middle, lots of green grass, trees and flowers. A very beautiful place and one I had really enjoyed using while I was there. The park is very, very busy in the evenings, and is a real representation of the international flavor of the neighborhood it serves.

I was a little concerned Wednesday afternoon as no info had been put up on the club's website or Facebook page, but at a little after 6 p.m. I caught a cab out to the park for the 6:30 show time. When I got there I saw a couple of runner-looking people, but kind of stayed by myself for a minute.

Eventually I gathered the courage to go up a strike up a conversation with the two people, one was a guy from the UK whose name I didn't get, and the other was a woman named Ruba, who was very nice and full of information.

But 6:30 came and went and no one else showed up! Ruba explained that many in the club (including her) were running a half marathon on Friday morning -- Friday and Saturday is the weekend in Dubai -- so maybe they cancelled it but didn't let anyone know.

I was very disappointed, and the UK guy decided to go off and do his own thing. That left Ruba and I and she suggested we make it worth the trip over and run a few laps. I was definitely OK with that, so we headed off down the path.

It didn't take long for the conversation to really start flowing. Ruba, who is Palestinian, has lived in Dubai since 2001, and said when she moved there she had planned to stay only a couple of years before moving back to the UK. What also came out later in the conversation is that she and Marek got married on Dec. 20! They have been together for four years and had met in the club. Ruba said to her knowledge they are the fourth couple to meet in the club and get married. I wished I had been able to meet Marek, but he was in Germany on business.

We talked a lot about running and our goals. She has run a marathon before and was hoping to run the Rome Marathon this year. I told her about running the Indy Mini and that I had run the Chicago Marathon in the past, and we swapped stories of some of the international events we have run or know of people who have run them.

I also mentioned my goal of trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon and she said Marek has run it three times and it was his favorite marathon. All along we started finding a rhythm with our running and the last two laps were run at a really quick pace. In the end Ruba said we ran 4.6 K in about 28 minutes, that converts to about 2.85 miles, so we were running under a 10-minute pace. The funny thing was, the pace felt really, really easy, further proof that you almost always run better with a person to run with.

After the run I gave her one of my club (Chicago Area Runners Association) shirts and she said she would try to have Marek send me a DCR kit, which would be really cool! I wasn't sure if it was proper custom to ask Ruba for a photo together -- although I'm sure she wouldn't have minded -- so here's my final runfie from Dubai.

Overall, it was an incredible experience to run here. While I only got to run at the park, it was a beautiful place to log some miles, and is a place that if I lived there I would have no problem running lots and lots of laps around!

It was also great to have the opportunity to meet with other runner(s) and share our love for the sport so far from home. The running community is so amazing, that I could go 7,000 miles from home and be welcomed warmly to their little world. It's really more proof that running is such an amazing, inspiring sport that brings so many people together. I hope as the year goes on I get the chance to meet even more great people in some of my travels!

38 comments:

  1. Wow what a wonderful adventure! It seems no matter where you are in the world, runners are a big family!

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    1. That is the wonderful part of our sport, and one I've really begun appreciating lately. We are all in this together!

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  2. Holly cow, what an amazing adventure you had Mike. So cool, seriously just a journey to never forget :) From Grow Your Blog

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    1. Thanks, Lynda! It was an unforgettable trip for sure. Never in my life did I believe I'd get a chance to do something like that!

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  3. How exciting! Running with friends ALWAYS makes running more fun!

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    1. It was great! I run by myself a lot so it's always fun to hit the road with someone.

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  4. What a great post! I love this about running and social media too. I was in MN last year to visit family and I wanted to run in a new place. So I took a leap of faith and connected with a fellow social media runner and best decision I ever made! Dubai Running looks great!

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    1. I'm definitely going to do it more often when I travel now! It was great to meet a couple of new people and have some company on a run.

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  5. Okay I am pretty naive. Not being a runner, I had no idea these type of clubs existed. What a perfect way to meet new people and experience the local scene while traveling!

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    1. I'm a little bit shy when I first meet people, so I was a bit tentative about going to one of their runs, but I'm so glad I took the leap. It would've been nice to have met a few more people but in the end just having someone to run with was perfect!

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  6. That is such a great story, meeting running friends is such a great part of this community! I love that social media can connect so many people who are passionate about the same things!

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    1. That's the greatest benefit of social media. When I first started running I trained alone and while I participated in running boards and stuff like that still felt pretty isolated. But with Twitter, FB, etc. it just makes the running community that much closer.

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  7. Such a cool story from your trip! Further proof that runners are some of the nicest people around :)

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    1. Totally agree with that, Sarah. That's what I tell non-runners is the greatest thing about the sport.

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  8. Wow, what a great story! This just shows how universal running can be - and especially that group running experience. How wonderful that you got to meet such a great friend. I hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip!

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    1. The entire trip was so memorable. The trip there and back (15 hours flight time each way) was a grind but it was so worth it. I think from now on I'm going to make a point of contacting local clubs whenever I travel.

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  9. Mike, this is a wonderful story! I'm sorry that more people from the group didn't show up for the run but it sounds like you got some wonderful miles in with Ruba. Running is simply the best for bringing people together and for making new friends!

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    1. In the end I think it worked out for the better. If the whole group had been there and we had been busting intervals I don't know if I would've had the chance to really get to know anyone. Running at a nice, easy pace was just perfect.

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  10. I couldn't agree with you more! I find conversations while running to take a much more real turn than ones over drinks or dinner. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

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    1. They truly do. Even when I run with people I know well it just seems like I learn something new about them when we run together.

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  11. That is so cool. I love the running and TRI community. They have been so great and I've met so many new friends connecting with social media. I hope you enjoy the rest of your vacation. Cheers!

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    1. I kind of kept to myself for the longest time, but over the last year or so I've really tried to get more involved with the running community, especially over social media. It's really helped me enjoy running in so many ways.

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  12. That's so cool that you were able to connect with people half a world away through running!

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    1. It's truly amazing. I have a good friend who has run all over the world -- he's even run marathons on all seven continents -- and he has running friends pretty much everywhere!

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  13. That is seriously awesome! I would have never thought to contact a local running club, and since it was in Dubai that sounds like an even more brilliant idea because then you would know your running in safe area's with (good) people, because all runners are pretty cool:)
    I bet running around there, seeing the sights was one for the memory books!
    I'm a solo runner mostly, but if I was in a place like that I could totally see how running with other runners would probably be fabulous:) Your right that is one of the awesome things about the running community, so amazing to meet new people!!!

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    1. It was something I hadn't done before when I had traveled but it was such a completely different place that I thought it would be the best thing to find good, safe places to run, and hopefully meet a few new people. It was also great because if I hadn't contacted them I don't know if I would've found out about the park. I would've squeezed some runs in for sure, but if I hadn't known about the park I don't know if I would've been as motivated to get out and run every day like I was. I looked forward to getting over there every day.

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  14. What an incredible story, thanks for sharing! Social media and blogging has definitely introduced me to people that I would have never otherwise met. I'm beyond thankful for the many connections that social media has allowed me to make.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words! I had so much fun I'm looking forward to meeting new people and making friends at all of the new places I go to.

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  15. That is awesome! My blog and social media have connected me with awesome folks, too! I have made tons of friends through running and often joke that I know more about them than their significant others. Marathon training leads to long stretches of time together and there is something about running that opens people up! (I live in Chicago too! So. freaking. cold today. Did 15 miles on the treadmill. Ouch!)

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    1. That was what I enjoyed the most training with the CARA marathon group in 2013, just the chance to get out there and run and talk with other people. Sometimes our long runs just flew by!

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  16. The running community never ceases to amaze me! What an amazing treat to connect with runners in another country.

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    1. Thanks! It helped that they have such a great group there. And I love the international flavor!

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  17. That's so awesome that you got to connect with runners in another country! :D I love that the fitness community brings so many people together, and props to you for taking the initiative to go start up a conversation with strangers! :P Social media + blogging has definitely helped me to make friends with people all over (mostly in the U.S., although there are several in other countries too! :] ). I'd love to meet up with them someday!

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    1. I mentioned in an earlier post that one of my good friends runs all over the world and it is amazing how many friends he has made, and they get together all the time with people when they are in the same area.

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  18. That is so cool! I love the running community- no matter where you go you can find new friends :) and like you said running with friends old or new makes that run so much better! Looks like you had fun- great selfie!

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    1. Absolutely! Thanks on the comment about the selfie. I'm working on it...I can't believe how some people can take such awesome ones! :--)

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  19. What a fantastic experience. It is really great that the club was so responsive and open to outsiders joining them. It was also really smart of you to think of taking t-shirts from your running club. I never remember to do stuff like that. Great post!

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    1. I thought up of the t-shirt thing a couple of weeks ago and I have a post about it. A couple of people have come back and told me they have done it before and it's a really fun thing to do. I have lots of race shirts, I will be open to doing it more often! :--)

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