New to Qatar (all you need to know about running in Qatar)
Running is a great way to see any country and just like when visiting any new place there are a few differences to be found in Qatar.
There’s no denying Qatar’s summers are hot - you sure won’t forget that you’re in the desert. Summer heat kicks off around mid-May to the end of October. During this period it is also very humid, and it’s the humidity which will most affect your running capacity. Unlike tropical areas there is no rain in Qatar’s summer and so there’s no respite. The most humid times to run are just before dawn and just after nightfall, although it’s still very humid at other times. And while the middle of the day is the least humid, the sun will make it too hot to run then.
Expect a quickly elevating heart rate and be content to go steadily (add a good two minutes per kilometer onto your standard long, slow, distance pace) and cut your distance. Ten km will feel like a marathon.
It’s advisable to wear a heart rate monitor, getting to know your heart rate zones and be happy to walk before your heart rate gets too high. Carrying water and electrolytes becomes a must. Bottled water is cheap to buy from shops and garage forecourts. There is also usually a communal water tap outside of mosques, although due respect should be shown as regards to your clothing when approaching. Taps may also be covered during Ramadan.
You may well find that treadmill running is more a pleasurable experience during the summer. Try to get used to equating the summer heat to a European winter – you wouldn’t run outside in thick ice and snow and so the time spent indoors during the heat is an equivalent period. The upside is that on returning to more temperate climes you’ll find running a whole lot easier.
Like many desert countries, Qatar can be dusty. Winds whip up sand and construction dust making running less than pleasurable. Strong winds, or shamals, can indicate a change in season from winter to summer and vice versa. Shamals can last for several days, bringing dust from deserts further north. It is advisable to cover both your mouth and eyes if you choose to run outside during these times, as it is, the winds may be too strong for you to do so.
Qatar is a strict Muslim country. While sport is encouraged and supported, runners should show sensitivity while participating in running. It is generally acceptable for men to wear normal running shorts and vests. Women need to be more respectful as it is still culturally less common for women to run. Muslim women do not bare their arms, hair or legs. This rule is not applied to non-Muslim women, but you are advised to be sensible. Choose to wear either knee-length shorts or a run vest – don’t go for both. As it is you may choose to wear a technical t-shirt due to the risk of sun burn. Cropped tops are a definite no go.
The Holy Month of Ramadan currently falls during the hottest summer months. During this time Muslims do not eat or drink during sunlight hours. This is strictly adhered to and it is against the law for anyone of any faith to eat or drink in a public place. It is acceptable for you to carry a water bottle while running, however, you should not drink from it while in a public place. Most runners prefer to wear a bladder system so that they can be more discreet in their actions.
4.On the road
Qatar is currently undergoing massive construction and growth and so there are several hazards runners should be aware of. Pavements/ sidewalks can end suddenly, throwing you into the path of oncoming traffic and many pavements/ sidewalks are still under construction.
Runners are advised to be aware of holes, raised ironwork, and unfinished surfaces. It is not uncommon to find yourself running on ‘desert’ surfaces while within the confines of the city. Just look at this as adding variety to your running. You certainly should not just zone out while running.
Doha itself is a rapidly developing city. Its roads are busy, congested, and drivers come from many nationalities and so care should be taken as to what you view as traffic norms. These can be interpreted differently depending on what part of the world you’re from. Always face the traffic when running on the road and make yourself seen. Like anywhere, most drivers are considerate, although there are a minority who won’t give you room and won’t slow down. Vehicles are generally large and move quickly. Running in a group can be safer.
Expect to get beeped while running on the road. You will start to understand a language to these. Some are from drivers letting you know that they’ve seen you and they won’t run you over, others are from drivers requesting you get out of their way, and others are from drivers (young guys to women usually) letting them know that they’d like you to admire their wheels!
While Qatar is generally a safe place for women, many find it more comfortable running in a group. It is still not that common for women to run and females are very much in the population’s minority and so women may feel that they are the center of attention while running alone. The best advice is to just to pull your cap down and get on with it. Don’t even make eye contact.
There are also several running tracks being developed within the city. Currently, Aspire Park has a finished route on a rubber surface of around 5 to 7km. Be aware that this is a multi-use park and can get busy so do not ‘hog’ tracks by running two abreast. Women should also respect the park’s rules which request that knees and shoulders are covered.
Qatar is flat. There are no hills and so while training for Ultra Trail Mont Blanc isn’t easy, you can enjoy running fast over the winter months. Working around the ‘no hills’ scenario - there’s always the treadmill and plenty of skyscrapers with staircases. Qatar’s northern deserts are flat but makes for pleasant trail running in the winter. The surface is hard and ofsharp shale. The southern Inland Sea is sandy with steep dunes. This does not make for the easiest running.
The opportunity to race within the country is increasing. Most are short to middle distance (5 to 10km) but Qatar did host its first marathon in January 2014. The race season runs from November to mid-April.