Taking the Road Less Traveled: 5 Suggestions for Jogging in the Third World
Being an avid runner from the great state of Colorado, I had always found a world of opportunity at my doorstep. The city of Denver alone had more than 850 miles of paved recreational paths, and that wasn’t even counting the seemingly endless number of unpaved, well maintained trail options that were accessible at all times of the year. When I moved to what is known as the “global south”, I remember having similar expectations. Of course I knew that governments of the third world typically had greater concerns than the quality and availability of local parks and recreational options. It’s just that the best thing about running is its utter simplicity. What I had learned from years of travelling and life experience was that all anyone really needed to get in a great daily workout was a decent pair of shoes and an hour or so to spare. I couldn’t imagine anywhere that I’d be without such things.
What I found upon relocating to the developing world, however, was that although it is certainly possible to achieve that famous “runners high” in most any location, some destinations prove to be a bit more challenging than others. Below are a few tips I’ve found to be helpful over the years. By starting with realistic expectations and taking a few basic precautions, things always seem to go a bit more smoothly.
1. Expect the Attention
Since my current home of Managua, Nicaragua is known primarily for such less than favorable aspects as crime, poverty and mile after mile of broken concrete, it is typically not a popular tourist destination for those making their way through the Latin American Region. As a foreigner is such a land, I can often draw a fair amount of attention while participating in even the most mundane of daily activities. That being said, if you put me in a pair of shorts and send me running through the city streets, you often times have the equivalent of the circus coming to town.
Sometimes members of the local population decide to join me on my run. Typically they are smiling children or inebriated men (with bottle in hand, of course), and they rarely hold out for more than half a block. Other times, they simply shout out any English word or phrase that comes to mind.
“Tank yu very mush!”
“O mai Gad!”
Recently, one man even whistled the theme from Rocky as I made my way past the front of his residence. Sadly, if you are a woman, you can also be subjected to a constant barrage of inappropriate, verbal harassment. It’s uncomfortable at best, and an unfortunate commonality in many parts of the developing world.
Whichever form of attention you happen to draw, however, any jogging foreigner in such environments will, at very least, find him or herself the object of persistent, curious fixation (i.e. staring). My advice is to simply dress modestly, focus on your pace and take in the local atmosphere. If, like me, you find yourself on occasion with the desire to cry out in frustration as did John Hurt’s character in the 1980 film “The Elephant Man”, resist the urge. Of course, “you are not an animal”. You just happen to be the most peculiar and unusual site at that moment.
2. Enjoy the Heat
Having spent a number of years in the southeastern United States, I thought I was accustomed to a fair amount of heat and humidity. When I took my first jog in Central America, however, I realized that the weather in the more “tropical” locales of the world was a whole new ballgame. In addition to the intensified UV rays seemingly burning through my thin cotton layers, the especially high level of humidity made it feel as though it was surely raining at all times, even on the sunniest and “driest” of days. If, while enjoying a nice jog in the global south, you feel as though you are struggling MUCH more than you should, know that you are not alone. Not unlike the acclimatization process in my home state of Colorado, there is, without a doubt, a process of “accustomization” for many of the world’s more extreme climates. Try to time your outings in the early mornings or late afternoons, keep a healthy level of hydration, and pay close attention to maintaining those electrolyte levels. Above all, keep the expectations low. As one can see by the chart above, with a little extra moisture in the air, the mercury can rise more quickly than expected.
3. Watch Out for the Dogs
Although many of us from North America are accustomed to such societal developments as fences, leash laws, dog parks, etc., many places in the world cannot imagine such things. If you find yourself in a place known as the "global south", you are in just such a place. You really can’t blame the dogs. After all, they’re just following their natural instinct to chase any object moving away from them at a rapid pace. Besides, if you spent your life being abused and malnourished, you'd most likely be a little cranky too. Yet despite such inter-specie understanding, being the object of such a chase, along with the whole growling, barking, and snarling bit, can be a little disconcerting, to say the least.
So what can the average jogger do when finding him or herself at great risk of becoming some animal’s newfound chew toy? Well, a quick search of the internet reveals a variety of tried and true tactics involving anything from tossing out chunks of bacon to dousing the four legged attacker in pepper spray. I, on the other hand, use a slightly simpler pair of tactics, and I’m happy to report that they’ve served me well to date.
First, if the dog is what I consider to be small and non-threatening, I simply ignore its aggressive advances, focus on the road, and keep right on going. These little “yipper dogs” typically run along side of me for a short distance before trotting back from whence they came, most likely with the satisfaction of having defended their 8X8 castle against the passing foreign intruder.
If the canine happens to be of a much larger, more menacing variety (i.e. big and scary), the “ignore and move forward” technique can be a great way to get a couple of new ventilation holes in your favorite running kicks. In these types of cases, I find that the best defense is a good offense. Since dogs live and work a great deal through “dominance”, the main objective is to simply show no fear. After pausing the stopwatch and turning to face the barking animal(s), I typically walk toward them in the most intimidating fashion I can muster. Once we’ve established a new understanding characterized by a lack of both fear and running on my part, I simply back away slowly. After reaching a safe distance, I restart my watch and continue on my merry way.
Such tactics seem a bit “informal and unproven” in your eyes? No problem. Feel free to go with the pepper spray. What I can say, however, is that after being chased by hundreds of four legged animals over the years, I’m happy to report not one, single bite (knock on wood).
4. Watch Your Step
Whether it’s the landmines of rural Mozambique or the “gringo traps” (open storm drains in sidewalks) of Latin America, the developing world is full of reasons to keep an eye on where you are stepping. As a result of such hazards, while running in these areas, gone are the days of simply jogging along in “the zone”, lost in a world of your own thoughts while mindlessly ticking away the miles. On routine runs around my neighborhood, I regularly find myself dodging vehicles in non-vehicular areas (i.e. sidewalks), hurdling unexpected holes or sleeping men, and cutting wide swaths around dangling power lines. Sprinkle in a few informal “construction zones” along the route, and you’ve got yourself a good old fashioned obstacle course.
The good news is that with a watchful eye and a bit of common sense, such obstacles are easily overcome. As I mentioned before, the first rule of thumb here is to simply pay attention. Running along a one way street? ALWAYS check both ways before crossing. Not sure about a particular route? ALWAYS check with the locals before heading out. Tempted to head out after dark and take advantage of the coolest part of the day? Resist the urge. It’s ALWAYS best to wait for tomorrow’s light of dawn.
5. Leave the Bling at Home
In some of the more prosperous nations, such as the United States, it’s perfectly acceptable to sport that new “exercise bling” while heading out for a couple of quick laps around the neighborhood. In fact, to do any kind of serious training without such items would be downright absurd. No, I’m not talking about that large, diamond studded medallion in the form of the dollar sign. I’m referring to that $250 GPS unit you’ve got strapped to your upper bicep. I’m also referring to the $175 heart rate monitor, the $130 iPod Nano, the $350 all-in-one wrist watch, and even the $165 polarized sunglasses you’ve donned to protect your eyes from the intense tropical sun. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sounding the alarm against technology or electronic opulence. Rather, it’s a simple matter of practicality.
In many of the areas about which I am writing, the local populations live on one to two dollars per day. Aside from being culturally insensitive to cruise around with such electronic luxuries strapped to one’s body, it can be downright dangerous. If you’re overly concerned with the distance associated with your outing, you can always approximate with any of the readily available mapping programs on the internet. Wondering just how much time you spent making those laps? Start the watch before you leave and check it as soon as you return. As for the music, it’s ALWAYS best to employ your sense of hearing in matters of personal security. And the sunglasses? Well, maybe you can find a lower cost version that offers the proper UV protection.
In the end, it comes down to personal safety, and fewer items to steal lead to an obvious decrease in thefts. If you ask me, the standard gear list for a run in the global south should include nothing more than a modest outfit, a decent pair of shoes, and a generous layer of SPF 50. Others would no doubt include additional items or strike a few from the list. Regardless of what items make the cut for your personal list, however, just utilize a healthy amount of sound judgment and common sense. After all, who doesn’t want be available for another run tomorrow?