A Return to Running

Well, that was interesting.

As has happened before, I slipped off to Iraq for a year, spending most all of 2011 in Baghdad.  Perhaps in another time, I would have been able to spend a year there writing about great adventures and runs, through the old parts of the city, along the banks of the Tigris or Euphrates Rivers, crossing vast open sands on foot under the cool comfort of a moonless night.

But these days?  Yeah, not so much.  I snuck in some runs, though not as many as I would have liked.  I had stretches of no running, and weeks with 20 or more miles.  I ran before the sun rose, I ran long after it had retired, and I even ran under the mid day sun when it was, yes, well past 130 degrees.  Running was a precious break that did not happen often enough, and yes, running with it is about 130 degrees is as crazy as it sounds.

I ran short runs, like a single lap around Z Lake.  I ran longer runs, like a 4.5 mile loop that took me around the lake as well as Signal Hill.  Once in a blue moon, I managed things like Lost Lake to Al Faw to Z Lake, often with others and often with one eye on the road and one eye on the perimeter.

Without a doubt, the most memorable run was Xmas Eve 2010, when three of us were doing a 1/2 marathon on our own.  On our way back from the Perfume Palace, our base came under a series of attacks — rockets and mortars, three times, in relatively close intervals.  The first attack sounded so far away, and the second didn’t.  The third was close — we were adjacent to a CRAM that fired off, and one of the rocketslanded on the street where we were running, close enough that, yeah, a little bit of pee came out (it was a bit like this.)  That run, that night, was what closed out my running in 2010 — and included my 2010th mile for the year.

Since returning to the island, I’ve returned to the trails.  I need to get back to running, and I need to get back to writing.  I’ve only got a few more months here on the island so, well, I’ll do what I can.  I run on post 5 days a week, but generally head out for some trail adventure on Sunday morning with some of the crew.  Interested?  Drop me a note and come join us for a run.

At Lost Lake, on Victory Base Complex

Running Baghdad

Summary: It’s time for another deviation from the regular writing, to talk about running in Iraq.  As an Army guy, well, I’ve run there a bit.  And it looks like I’ll be running there some more.  I am just back from a short visit to Baghdad, where I was able to sneak in 5 runs and about 66 miles of running.  Almost all of it was before the sun came up, in part to beat the heat but also in part due to jet lag (it’s 13 time zones from Hawai’i, after all).

The Good:  It’s flat.  How flat?  Think 80 to about 120 feet in elevation.  It’s flat.  And it’s secure.  I know, I know — it’s Iraq, and “secure” is a relative term.  But if you’re going to run in Iraq, this is a pretty good place to do it.  Also, there are gyms sprinkled all over the place, with plenty of cold water (and more pallets out in the open, all over the place).   And if you can adjust to running there, you can often find yourself running alone.  And with as many exterior lights as there are in the area, it’s pretty easy to run on moonless nights without a flashlight.

The Bad:  The scenery is pretty set.  Not a lot of variety when you’re confined to an American base.  And there’s not a lot to do to change that.  And being an Army base, there’s no running with an iPod or earphones.  Blah.  It’d also be easy to poo-poo the roads, but they’re actually in fair shape.  There’s one stretch that has some especially ugly speed bumps — not low, round ones, but rather some high, triangular ones that I think were built to trip runners.

The Ugly:  OMFG, it gets hot.  I ran one evening, at around 8pm and just after the sun had gone down, and the residual heat coming from the road and land was enough to kill a man.  That run — just 9 miles — used the full 3 liters in my Camelbak, after having tanked up on a liter plus before the run, and I still was dehydrated when it was over.  Somewhere over Iowa is a huge rain cloud, fed by the water sucked out of me when I was running in Iraq.

Type of route: Paved road that were likely made by the lowest bidder.
Good to run in the rain? Rain?  In Iraq?  Sure — if it rains, go ahead and keep running.

Length: 18 miles.  I did two laps of this 9 mile route.

Options for the route:  Not really.  9 miles is about as far as one can run around the lakes.  However, there are other options, for running around the airport.

Elevation change on the run:Maybe 40 feet, tops.  It’s Iraq — flat .
Water used:  All that I could carry.  If I could have figured out a way to run with a 10 gallon jug, I would have.  For the 18 miles, I drank 5+ liters, and still came up short.

Where to start: Base of Signal Hill
Where to park:  Right — like anyone has a car.
Point your car’s GPS towards: Um….

My Google Earth file: here
My Garmin file: here

Water? Yes, at the gym
Toilets? Porta-potties all over the place.
Medical care? Best in the world, all just a MEDEVAC flight away.
Ranger / park folks? No, but a lot of armed people are in the area.
Picnic areas? Actually, yes — along Z Lake there are some.
A place to change afterwards? Nothing special, no.

Rewards in the area:  Cookies & Cream at the DFAC, any time of the day or night.

You’d run this route when….you’re deployed there for the year.

My rating:  4

Music:  None.  Yeah, that sucks.

Weather / Trail warnings (no) / Permits (not required)

More reading: here and here. Flickr: here and here. More photos: hereState Park Info: Just kidding