Heels over Head: Running for no reason in Nigeria

2013-11-30 10:44

Just a week ago, my running shoes went on holiday with me to Nigeria. It wasn’t the easiest of places to train, but here is how you can make it work:

» Be prepared to sweat, and sweat a lot. Nigeria is near the equator and even at night the temperature seems to hover around a humid 30°C. But don’t be tempted to run at night, though, because the unreliable electricity supply and security concerns mean that you might run into trouble.

» If you wake up in a place like, say, Abeokuta (an ancient city about 100km north of Lagos), having arrived the night before, you might find you have no idea where you are and you might feel like a bit of a stranger.

Ask the bloke at the hotel gate where a good running space is, but don’t be tempted to run around and around your hotel as the retired army general told me he was doing.

It seemed too boring. Go out and memorise the landmarks you run past. If you run out of memory, turn around, try to find the hotel again, and then run past it in the opposite direction. Repeat the landmark-memorising exercise.

» Be prepared to breathe a lot of diesel fumes, and don’t assume the hooting is for your sexy ass. Nigerians are audible drivers and use their hooters to overtake, to go around corners, and generally tell everyone they’re on the road.

Also don’t assume that all vehicles are moving in the direction they should be moving – Nigerian drivers change direction as it suits them. At 97 naira a litre (just more than R6), fuel is relatively cheap, but clean engines apparently less so.

Add this to the electricity generators all over the place (see “night running” and “light” under the first point), which means you’ll always find yourself in a cloud of fumes of some sort. Breathe deeply and smile. Memories are manufactured like this.

» Go train at the local stadium if traffic isn’t your thing. Athletes, fitness freaks and fatties were all gathered at the local stadium in Abeokuta when I went there on Monday.

There was also a basic gym and a very proud stadium manager, who greeted me warmly and who had already gone for his run when I came steaming in around 8am (holidays are for sleeping in, after all).

The tartan track was screaming for a new surface, in contrast to the football pitch it circled, which was in a condition closely resembling world class, but I lapped it and beat some youngsters at it for 40 minutes long.

Afterwards, the manager invited me for an abs session in the un-air-conditioned gym. The gentle sadist of a coach made sure I didn’t miss one crunch, and I was genuinely sad that my travel schedule didn’t allow me to return the next day.

» Greet everyone and be gracious in accepting praise. Running for no reason isn’t as widespread in Nigeria as, say, in New York’s Central Park or along Sea Point promenade, but many of the friendlier people along the road will encourage you by shouting “well done”.

Smile and greet everyone as if you are a Super Eagle. The heat, fumes and general feeling of being lost at times will melt into insignificance.

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