Archives mensuelles : janvier 2014

Dubai marathon

The Dubai marathon is possibly the most boring marathon in the world. The course can’t even be described as a loop – you simply run along Jumeriah Beach Road for a couple of hours and then come back. And despite the name, you don’t see the beach from the Beach Road. In a city with quite a few impressive urban settings, the only landmark you get close to is the Burj Al-Arab hotel.

Still, a marathon is a marathon, and with guaranteed perfect weather, this is probably one of the easiest (and fastest) to do. I completed in a time of 4:12:41, and my splits throughout the whole course didn’t budge much from 6 min/km. I’m still trying to work out if that meant that I went too slow, but I don’t recall having much left in the tank when I finished, and mentally it was great not to fade, even if the last hour was tough. I didn’t knowingly hit a wall, so that seems like a good sign.

I’m not built like a long-distance runner and cross-country was my pet-hate at school. Still, for a while, I’ve wanted to challenge myself with a marathon. I applied for a place in the London marathon in 2003 as well as the following three years without success. I had been aiming to do a marathon come what may in 2004 but picked up a knee injury which stopped me running seriously for many years. I’m not sure I’ll run another marathon, unless running remains a big part of my life over the next few years. Maybe if I do well enough in half marathons and 10kms I’ll want a second shot. 4:12 is a decent time, even if it’d be great to run a sub-four hours.

I thought I’d share a few things that helped me achieve my goal:

– I’m sure there are lots of great books out there, but I used Owen Barder’s ‘Running for Fitness‘ as my guide book, which is available free here. I ended up buying it for Kindle, reading it several times, and then constantly referring back to it. It has specific advice, training programmes, and it also lays the groundwork in terms of nutrition, injuries and running theory. It helped me avoid beginners’ mistakes and be as prepared as possible for the race itself and what I was about to go through.

– A couple of months back a friend gave me a GPS running watch for my birthday, and it’s been an amazing tool. I don’t yet get the most out of the heart-rate monitor or really detailed analysis, but it’s great to see how far you have gone and at what pace. For training, instead of mapping out runs beforehand to get the required distance needed for that day, I could just head out with the watch, and follow my curiosity, knowing that my watch would let me know when I’d done the required distance.

Within the marathon itself, it made all the difference. I wanted to run a steady 6 min/km, so when I was at 5:50 I would ease off a bit, and at 6:10 put on a bit more power. It gives you a huge mental boost when you ease off a bit. Sometimes out of the blue you can be running at 5:40 without really realising it, and that could easily tire you out unless you have a way to track your speed. After the first 5km I was able to settle into a constant running rhythm, which I could keep going till the end.

– Finally, I think for marathons, the key thing is sticking to the training schedule come rain or shine, and just putting in the miles. In Dubai that’s easier than most places because the weather is usually encouraging. Training schedules are always set-up around building weekly mileage, with a constantly extending long weekend run, which only tails off three weeks from the end. What I liked about the Barder plan, was that three times I did the maximum training distance (32km) – running the distance, and then doing an easier recovery week and then coming back to 32km again a few weeks later. It made me feel that doing 32km was something I’d achieved regularly prior to the marathon.

On a night out in Dubai

In certain social settings, admitting to having never visited a nightclub or bar in Dubai in 13 months here is more shameful than the lesser confession of not owning a car. At certain times in my life I’ve been clubbing quite a lot, but in Ivory Coast there was a definite shift away from clubbing around the time I got married, which coincided with me disconnecting slightly from the expat scene. It is also true that night clubs tend to be viewed in Ivorian moral society as dens of iniquity, and attendance is highly frowned on. My experience in the Western church is that providing your behaviour in such places is godly, I’ve never heard outright condemnation of them as physical places.

For me, I don’t think I’ve quite resolved the question of whether, if you’re not wanting to get drunk or pick up members of the opposite sex, nightclubs are places worth going to. I think I’d still tentatively answer yes, and my justification would be that it’s good to be spending time with friends, and music and dance are often creative and good activities, which are hard to experience in the same way elsewhere. My wife would say that I should instead be dancing in church, though a) that doesn’t really take place in churches I go to outside of Africa, and b) I find it hard to dance to church because I worry that the ‘feel good factor’ comes from the simple act of dancing, and not necessarily some sort of response to God.

Anyway, that’s all a typically long-winded introduction to say that I went to a nightclub for the first time on Thursday night. And it happened to apparently be one of Dubai’s most exclusive. The newly opened White’s is at the racecourse grandstand complex, and being slightly away from the main city, has a great view over the Burj Khalifa and surrounding skyline. The parking lot was the most impressive I think I’ve ever seen – Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley and a half gold Bugatti Veyron (without a normal license plate but simply the three Arabic letters that spell out ‘important’, a friend told me).

Prestige nightclubs have a common tactic – try to make you feel as lucky as possible that they actually let you in. As a man you feel decidedly like a second class citizen, and as part of a group that was heavily weighted to the male end of the scale, we had long delays getting various friends in, which rather broke up in the evening. The club is on the top floor, and exposed to the elements (not sure what happens in the hot and humid summers). The place was designed as a large bowl with walls of screens around the outside. The bar area was in the centre with occasional lycra-clad trapeze dancers climbing up to large rings that hung from the ceiling. The place was packed by around 1am, with a good mix of nationalities – wealthy Arabs, Indians and Russians seemed present in large numbers.

These are not the sort of places that do much to affirm you – if you’re a man, you’re already a lesser being, and without Hollywood-looks or buckets of cash you can never be much more than a fly on the wall. A couple of men in our group gave me a melancholy talk on how materialistic they said all girls become after just a few months in Dubai, and that keeping a girlfriend requires having a large bank balance (‘you pay, they stay’). I’ve never seen a club with such a large staff, eager to stop people getting out of their zones. Given we hadn’t paid for a place at the bar or a table (incredible prices that I can’t remember), we were left in the sort of corridor area around the central bar, and people were constantly passing by and shuffling through. Make the mistake of placing your drink momentarily on the bar, and you were quickly clamped down on.

The overall feeling was one of celebrity and one-up-manship rather than decadence – there were plenty of couples, but I only saw one couple kissing (something that in other parts of the city could get you thrown in prison). But I understand other clubs in the city more closely resemble a student night at a UK university town. I usually enjoy the music at clubs, be it rnb, rap, funk, dance or pop, but this place didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Where DJs in Ivory Coast might be constantly name-calling the big cheeses in the house, here the equivalent seemed to be ordering a round of drinks that came replete with fireworks to draw everyone’s eyes to the order. In one case, champagne bottle about a metre high was held aloft and transported in a blaze of fire crackers.

To finish on a positive note, it was fun to be out with friends, and the night finished with a quick stop in a Lebanese fast food place that agreed to serve us despite closing down for the night. Within the club, there was a lot of (alcohol-fuelled) warmth between strangers than I’ve seen elsewhere in the city, and there was a certain camaraderie. One friend seemed to really enjoy the mix of cultures all enjoying themselves.

The small things

Perhaps more than most, I start each new year with a long list of things I’d like to do and accomplish. There aren’t any great reasons that we’ll be able to accomplish something this year that we couldn’t do last year, but we can prioritise, and hopefully each year has its harvest of achievements and advances. Time is the crucial currency we invest to achieve. It’s not that there’s not enough time but that it seems to be a common trait that we use it so badly.

I was intrigued in 2013 by a podcast with the author of ‘The first 20 hours‘, which talks about just how much expertise you can have after dedicating 20 solid hours to learning a skill. And yet every week we do little with so much more time. I generally come home from work at 6pm (it’s quite structured as I catch a bus that leaves work at 515pm, then catch a metro train that arrives every five minutes, and then walk 5 minutes home). I go to bed at ten or just after. So I have four free hours every evening, and generally only one evening in the week with a fixed activity (church small group on Tuesday). The only activity I need to do in that time is eat. When my wife is around, I don’t even have to cook my meal, wash-up or other household activities (though I sometimes do).

So, in my pampered life, where does my time go? Just twenty hours (even in one week) learning something like playing piano, webdesign, coding or graphic design could really add an extra string to my bow. I don’t need to do things like sport in the evenings as that has its place in the mornings, though I occasionally do a second session.

So I could be doing a considerable amount. I often lose a bit of time continuing with work-related activities, but I think most time gets lost failing to dedicate myself to achieving big things by doing rather small things, chief among them social media and reading the news. If I could just restrict these two things to small discreet parts of the day, there’s a lot God-willing I could do in 2014.