Running with the Goats

I have tried to explain what it means to run in the heat. Living on the equator and near the ocean means there is no time day or night that I could run without high heat and humidity. Several of us in my school community have commented on the glorious cool running weather we had been having. It was 28C/82F and about 80% humidity. The “feels like” temperature was much higher.

It isn’t only the heat that can be a challenge, but the sweat. I don’t generally think of myself as someone who sweats a lot. Still, when I am finished running, I will stand on a towel to avoid an actual sweat puddle in my kitchen. (Yes, it is as gross as it sounds.)

Forget a headband while running? Sweat pours into my eyes. If I try to wipe my eyes to get the burning salty sweat out of them I realize there is no inch of me or my clothing that is not covered in the same sweaty salty perspiration. Solution: keep blinking while running half blinded and hope I don’t trip over a goat.

Because running outdoors in West Africa comes with a second set of obstacles in the form of small animals, potholes, and children. There are open sewers on either side of the road. Often I am forced to jump over them because a fruit stand, water truck, or a man selling fabric are blocking my path.

Recently a herd of baby goats jumped the gutter right in front of me. I got to do my own version of hurdles. I was debating mid-air which would be worse – land on someone’s goat or fall in sewer water? Thankfully I didn’t have to find out.

My white skin will always stand out here, but something about running – red-faced and sweaty- just magnifies this reality. There are days it frustrates me and I just want to blend in. Other days I recognize I get to experience something that for many is limited to actual race days. I have people lining the streets cheering me on. Men and women working along the side of the road will shout encouragement after me. I get told “keep going” and “you are strong” throughout each run. I often have children who will run alongside me for short distances.

When I run here in the heat and with all the extra obstacles, I have to be conscious of not comparing my ability to what I could do in much more ideal running conditions. When the temperature is cool and the paths are smooth, I can go faster and longer. I don’t get as tired. I don’t end up as sore.

In the tropics, I am much more likely to have to stop a run in the middle because of too much sweat in my eyes, pain in my ankles or hips or knees that comes from running on long stretches of loose gravel, or because suddenly I feel dizzy and nauseous. On those days I turn around early or finish with a walk. Perseverance looks different in the heat than it does when I am in cooler climates. Sometimes perseverance means simply that I will try again tomorrow.

Somedays, I don’t run as well as I would like, because of the choices that I made. If I haven’t been properly hydrating, I won’t make it. If I haven’t been eating well, I won’t have the stamina. If I haven’t been stretching enough, I am risking pain and injury in my ankles and knees and hips because of how uneven the ground can be. Other times, it is completely out of my control.

I recognize how often my running parallels my life overseas. I have the same tendency to compare my ability and my productivity with what I could have done in my home country. I want to ignore the fact that there are more obstacles and just try to push ahead at the same pace. In life, as well as running, I have to remind myself that sometimes perseverance looks different overseas than it did before.

Sometimes, I realize I am not doing well because of the choices I am making. When I stop resting, spending time in the Word, eating well, exercising, and finding time for fun, I begin to see some of my beginning warning signs of burnout, a place I do not want to return.

When I see the warning sign, whether it be from the choices I made or through things outside of my control, I am learning how to slow down. I change what I am able to change. I also have to accept my current reality, that sometimes life overseas has a few more hurdles to jump over and some of them look very much like baby goats.

How has your exercise routine changed for you as you have moved abroad? How have you had to adapt your expectations when it comes to exercise? (Also, help. Do you have any tips for exercise in extreme climates? Cold as well as hot?)


  1. Beverly Basey-Jones July 17, 2018

    I generally end up getting memberships at gyms in the cities I have lived in overseas. The physical dangers (exactly as you mentioned, but no goats) as well as the fear of being attacked or disappeared while out by myself have made this a necessity for me. It means I have to carve out the money from the budget-but it’s worth it! Since the memberships are generally a lot cheaper over seas, it just means a little more time in the driving/walking to and from.

    1. Emily Smith July 18, 2018

      I have been so thankful that I live in a place that is safe enough to run. (I do recognize that is a relative term considering I talked about goat hurdles. But I have no fear of being attacked or kidnapped)
      Gym memberships are one of those things that are so worth it. You are right. Since I don’t always want to run, I’ll use a hotel pool near my house for exercise as well. It is an added expense, but I gladly pay.
      I’m glad you could find what works for you.

  2. Spring July 17, 2018

    This is the first time that I have ever worked out consistently, I think, as an adult. I have my husband to thank as he found this gym (outdoor on a patio) close to our house. I pay 15$ a month, and do a cross-fit type class 3-5 times a month. I can relate to your feelings about climate. My heart-rate tends to go up so much. I have to remind myself I wasn’t born into this tropical climate. I had no idea that my knees and elbows sweat! I commend you for keeping at it as you sweat as much as I do! You are right that there are times I need to take a step back, and give myself the space to let it be a journey.

    1. Amy Young July 18, 2018

      I’m so curious about your outside gym! Do you have fans? Any air moving? How big is it?

    2. Emily Smith July 18, 2018

      Knee and elbow sweat…it is a real thing. But how fun to be able to go to classes every so often. There is something about sweating with other people that helps bring you together.

      1. Spring July 20, 2018

        Amy- No fans. There is wind when it’s windy 😉 It’s a patio area, I believe about 50 feet long, all cement. We bring our own Yoga mats to help with the hardness of the ground. We basically use the mats, steppers, and weights. There are 4 elliptic type machines, 2 bikes, a rower, and a few weight fancy weight lifting benches. I was trying to find a good picture or movie. This is the best one that shows the area. She starts out with the storage area where she keeps the steppers, but you can see what the patio “gym” looks like 🙂

        Emily- I am laughing at myself because I meant to type 3-5 times a week. It doesn’t feel like every so often. I do sometimes skip on Mondays since it is our day off as a family. Anyhow, keep jumping over your goats!!

  3. Hannah July 18, 2018

    This was great, Emily! I can relate to a lot of what you’re saying! I too know my signs of early burnout and am learning to slow and connect more deeply to the Vine, and let go of control and what other people think, which are two of my core stressors. Exercise and fun also make a huge difference!

    1. Amy Young July 18, 2018

      Yup. the more I could let go too Hannah, the happier I was on the inside. when I first started to exercise overseas the only option was to walk or run outside . . . and I was so much larger than others. So much larger :). But the more I focused on how much better I felt after exercising instead of what people were saying (why did so many early morning people like to yell “one two three four” at me :)?). Glad they are making a difference for you!

    2. Emily Smith July 19, 2018

      Exercise and fun! So necessary. (I wish they could go together more often…I am always amazed at the people who call exercise fun.)
      I have found that often exercise is what helps me to let go. Getting out and running settles my mind enough that I can sit and connect to the only one who is really going to change those negative patterns.

  4. Ruth Felt July 19, 2018

    I loved this post. I could so clearly see you vaulting over goats and it brought joy to my day. 🙂 I also really like the connections you made to our lives overseas.

    1. Emily Smith July 19, 2018

      Thank you. I’m glad my adventures in running could bring joy to other people.

  5. Ashley Felder July 24, 2018

    We just came back to the US for a year home assignment, and I was able to join onto my mom’s account (small town connections) at the local Y for just $10/month. I was so excited! I’ve never joined a gym, and for good reason, because I need someone else to work out with! They have great group class options, so I’ve jumped in going 2-3 times a week. It’s been great…and so hard!! The first class, my leg muscles were literally shaking only 30 minutes into the hour long class! I was weaker than I thought…ha! I hope to continue the rest of the year, but also when we get back, really hoping there’s a gym with some group classes near our new home. It’ll take some hunting I’m sure, but it’ll be good on so many levels. If not, I’ll reluctantly go back to do my exercise videos…alone. Wamp wamp. 😉

  6. Kristin Robinson August 27, 2018

    I miss exercise! Going to the gym and exercising regularly was a part of my “before” life. In the process of prepping to move with all the meeting and fundraising and less time for normal routines including control over what I have to eat, combined with two years on the field now with limited access to foods the I would have eaten before I have gained 30 + lbs. That has been really hard for me! I can relate to the heat issue, uneven ground, and even concerns about appropriate clothing to wear while exercising outdoors. We live out from town a ways so going to a gym is not an option for me. My husband and I have tried different things- homemade workouts using bodyweight or exercise bands, DVD programs, and just plain walking. Nothing has really “stuck” for us. Something always gets in the way of keeping up what we are doing long term. Finding the time and staying committed just feel a lot harder here and I don’t know why. I want to be healthy again. I know that is part of caring for myself so I can continue in the work God has called me to do. The obstacles just feel higher and harder to get over here…

  7. Bonita October 7, 2018

    Thank you for your post, it made me laugh which I needed!

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