My Top 6 Runs of All Time

In honor of the upcoming Tórshavn Marathon this Sunday, I’ll share with you My Top 6 Run Routes of All Time (well, really just the last 3 years).  It’s both fun and stressful to move around a lot, but there’s nothing that makes me feel quite so comfortable than uncovering that amazing new running route.  Here are my top 6.

(6)  Magdalena Milpas Altas to San Miguel (Milpas Altas, Guatemala)

A good 20 minutes outside of Guatemala City and tucked in the farming hills a few miles off the main road to Antigua, all I had to do was step out the door of my temporary abode on the farm to hit the peaks and valleys of this epically painful run.  Starting with an ascent into the main town of Magdalena Milpas Altas and then dropping off to the river valley on the other side of town, the first mile of this run sees close to 100m change in elevation.  Climbing out of the river valley and hitting the rolling hills of San Miguel, the route would take me pass tiny family farms on the hillsides and screaming kids in and out of school for a few miles before dropping sharply back to the main road towards Antigua.  Doing this route in reverse, then, was the most painful of all, as the ascent from this road back up to San Miguel burns both legs and lungs, and reminds me once again that I’m running at an elevation of over 5,000 feet. Beautiful all the way through, and a nice challenge away from the smog of the rest of the country’s roads.

(5)  Saferoom Treadmill (Kabul, Afghanistan)

I know what you’re saying – how can a dreadmill make your top 6??  It’s crazy, yes, and there have been some truly terrible times on this machine, but it was also a beautiful escape at times from an otherwise rather stressful existence.  Some days when I would get on this thing I would hate every minute of it and wonder why I was even training for an Ironman, but other days…wow.  The long weekend runs, especially in combination with a long bike (the apparatus next to the treadmill…), would give me hours on end to space out, think about the world around me, and sometimes just stay quiet and stare at a wall of sandbags.  Although the treadmill is typically not a friend, the runs themselves were enough of an escape from the sometimes-not-so-fun world around to make the top 6.

(4)  Al Barsha Midnight Loop (Dubai, UAE)

The most peaceful run on the list, I have always done this run in the dead of night, usually starting somewhere between 11pm and 2am.  Dubai is peaceful at night, as traffic dies to only the occasional speed-racer on otherwise vast and empty 6-lane roads.  This loop, beginning across from the Mall of the Emirates and going back into the neighborhoods of Al Barsha 2 and 3, could easily be the scene of a running commercial.  Just me and my legs, the pounding of the pavement (and sometimes sand), and the distant lights of a city that seems miles away just five minutes from the start.  I’ve never felt quite so relaxed as after running this route, and seem to regularly come to a place of peace and quiet just before calling it a night.

(3)  Washington Heights to Tenafly (New York, USA)

From my old home in the north of Manhattan, it was just a 5 minute jog to the George Washington Bridge and an incredible view of downtown Manhattan and the Hudson River.  On one of my first runs over the bridge and off the island, I found that by turning left, there was a set of wooded trails on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River with no traffic or city noise – as if I were up in the hills hundreds of miles away.  These trails spit out after about 1.5-2 miles onto a feeder road, and after about another .5 miles I’d find myself in the heart of the nearby suburbs, meaning wide and quiet roads without much traffic, nice houses, and couples going on evening walks with the dog.  As a single guy in the city, and having grown up in the suburbs, there was a nice peace that came via running through the somewhat familiar and quiet territory.  And living in the concrete capital of the world, of course, any trail running feels like the running equivalent of floating on a cloud.

(2)  Lake Naivasha Southern Road (Naivasha, Kenya)

Giraffes, warthogs, and gazelles, oh my!  Easily the most wonderful recreational route I’ve ever come across, this half marathon out-and-back brings you past wild animals galore, including giraffes just a few feet off the road, the odd water buffalo lounging under a lone tree, and several troupes of baboons cheering you along from the brush just feet from the road’s shoulder.  Beginning at Camp Carnelly’s and turning around at a pond full of flamingos, the people are just as nice as the wildlife, as on at least two occasions I’ve had random company running alongside me in jeans and t-shirt for a quarter of the total distance.  At 6,500 feet of elevation and with some rather sizable hills at the start and finish, this one will take your breath away if you’re not prepared.  But train up, because this one is surely worth it.  Come visit me in Nairobi for a weekend, and this is the first place I’ll take you.

(1)  Al Barsha 2 Utility Field (Dubai, UAE)

Lest you forget amongst the air conditioned malls and 5-star resorts that Dubai is actually built in the middle of the desert, this run will quickly bring you back to reality.  A 15 minute run from the Mall of the Emirates, weaving through the neighborhoods of Al Barsha 2, brings you to a 15-foot wall of sand blocking your view from an expansive field of 30,000-watt electrical lines en route to the heart of Dubai from who-knows-where in the desert.  This open field of sand, blocked on all sides by giant sand dunes, sports 5 sets of high-voltage power lines buzzing overhead across a width of around 500 meters, and runs between two highways for a distance of about 4 km.  Hilly and rough utility truck tracks run between the monolithic power line structures, and only the tallest buildings remain visible over top the sandy sidewalls.  With only desert bush as the occasional vegetation, climbing the sandy wall to get into this sandpit instantly transports you from one of the most developed desert cities on the planet to one of the harshest environments I’ve ever seen – a reminder of the wonder that such a city ever sprouted up from an empty desert.  I have never conquered this run – only tried it on many occasions, each time leaving feeling physically shattered to varying degrees.  Typically running this route in the afternoon heat, this place acts as a very personal mental and physical testing ground for me.  At times I’ve come away broken after just 2 km, and other attempts have lasted as many as 25 km, forcing myself to prove that I could go farther and harder.  It is the challenge and the hurt of this run – and the beauty of a self-cleansing shatter-fest – that keep me coming back on each trip and brings this run to #1 on my list.

This Weekend: Tórshavn Marathon (Faroe Islands, Denmark)

With any luck, I’ll be editing this list after this wekeend’s sure-to-be sufferfest on the hills of Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands with my buddy Scott.  Projected conditions are 50 degrees, pouring rain and 22-mph winds.  Not having trained much at all for the race, this is sure to hurt quite a bit, and to finally test my theory that “given a general level of fitness, I think I could probably complete a marathon whenever the need arises.”  I never thought it would be pretty, but we’ll surely test that thinking tomorrow (if I don’t post for a few weeks, please check the hills of Tórshavn…)

Tórshavn Marathon (Faroe Islands) elevation profile.

Do you have a favorite run?  Let me know in the comments – I may have to come by and take it for a test drive myself when I’m in the neighborhood!


Bike vs. Car

Great one via Twitter from @therunningwench

Bike Versus Car - Bike Wins

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