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?)