Run 146 : Turkmenistan – Ashgabat

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If you’d like to help fight cancer then I and, far more importantly, cancer sufferers around the world, would be immensely grateful for any donations to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dan-Thompson11

Date : 12th  May, 2018

Time :  1h 15’ 10”

Number of runners : 20

Total distance run to date : 1460 km

Run map and details :  https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2696705161

Media : https://www.facebook.com/UnitedNationsinTurkmenistan/

When I first drafted this blog, it opened with a long and, although I say it myself, quite amusing rant about how difficult it is to get to, and into, Turkmenistan. But then I figured that readers in Turkmenistan would already be aware of the issue and might find a it all a little boring. So I’ll just say that it was a long day. An unnecessarily and mind-bendingly frustrating long day. And get on with the story.

Once I finally made it out of the airport, things began to improve. The airport itself is one of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen, modelled, I believe, on a Turkmen bird of prey.

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And the airport car park was full of gleaming cars. All of which, I half noticed in my befuddled state, were white.

Finally, 21 hours after I left my hotel in Bishkek, I made it to my hotel in Ashgabat. Not, I have to say, in my usual sunny mood. However, the reception staff were charming (for which they deserve credit given that it was 4 am for them as well) and they helped me download an app that allowed me to get round the local ban on Facebook and WhatsApp. (I can survive without Facebook but WhatsApp is my primary mode of communication on these trips and I’d struggle without it.)

A little sleep and then it was time for lunch with David, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy. Where I learnt that the President has recently opined that all cars should be white – which explained the airport car parks.

After lunch we did a bit of sightseeing and strolled to the Russian market (regular readers will know that I like markets) where there was a fine selection of herbs, tea and caviar. But not that many customers…

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David had done an excellent job of organising the run and 20 of us participated (at least to some degree!) Including Ambassador Thorda Abbott-Watt who’d been good enough to come along to set us on our way.

David had devised the route

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to take in a number of sights including Philosopher’s Park with its many statues of wise Turkmen

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and the Monument With 40 Legs – not its real name – which commemorates the Turkmen love of all things equestrian.

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All in all, the centre of Ashgabat is pretty impressive and a good place to run. I particularly liked the local circus.

Circus Ashgabat

My fellow runners were a great mix of nationalities with some attached to the British Embassy, some from the local UN Development Program

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and some from other walks of life. After the run a few of us went for a swift half and a bite to eat.

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and then it was time to prepare myself for the next flight. Which left at 2.55am (well, 3.45 am after you take the delay into account.)

But that’s a rant / story for another time. For now I just want to say a huge thank you to David, Ambassador Abbott-Watt and all my fellow runners for their company and support. Really enjoyed the run!

And, David, good luck setting up the Ashgabat hash. Or Hashgabat as it will no doubt be called!

 Please like Run the World on Facebook to receive notification of future blogs and news about runs, races and running clubs across the world. And also just to show your support because, however silly it may sound, it makes all the travel and running that little bit easier if you think people care!

 

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Run 145 : Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek

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If you’d like to help fight cancer then I and, far more importantly, cancer sufferers around the world, would be immensely grateful for any donations to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dan-Thompson11

Date : 10th  May, 2018

Time :  1h 10’ 42”

Number of runners : 35

Total distance run to date : 1450 km

Run map and details :  https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2696705259

Media : https://www.facebook.com/iloverunningkgz/ ; David’s film https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ubg6QJYidDDdUJJ1rHcYtwIyWRp2ooDR/view?usp=sharing

One of the perks of what I’m doing is that I get to meet lots of people who’ve done, or are doing, crazy challenges. However, in terms of scope, distance, danger, terrain and temperature, Joe’s challenge is the most extreme I’ve ever come across.

He’s planning to run north to south through every country in Africa. Yes, including the ones with deserts, jungles and ongoing civil wars.

And the man’s got previous. He’s already run through Egypt and Sudan. And would have completed Ethiopia as well except that he had to stop for medical reasons. Including a dodgy heart.

As a general rule, I wouldn’t want to dissuade anyone from taking on a challenge but – please be careful mate!

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Having said all that, he’s one of the nicest blokes you could hope to meet and, together with the lovely Cholpon and Deniya, had arranged an excellent run for us in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

We started at the train station and, including the two runners we picked up en route, there were about 35 of us. Because of my flight schedule we didn’t meet till 20.30. So, by the time we’d taken a group photo or two, and said a welcoming word or two,

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it was almost 21.00. Which meant that it was dark by the time we started running.

Which is a surprisingly good time to run in Bishkek. Partly because it was beautifully cool. But mostly because of the atmospheric lighting in the city centre which included various I heart Bishkek signs.

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And the crowning glory – the lights in Ala-Too Square. Essentially these are thousands of neon tubes suspended in the air about 20 metres above the square. Which all change colour in a synchronised fashion. Remarkable.

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Once through Ala-Too we headed back towards the station to finish our run and take a few post run photos – in our green ‘I Love Running Kyrgyzstan’ tops.

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Fortunately, those of us who ran can experience it all again thanks to David’s beautifully shot video of the whole thing:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ubg6QJYidDDdUJJ1rHcYtwIyWRp2ooDR/view?usp=sharing

After the run, Simon and I went with Cholpon to meet some of her friends in a bar

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where I was introduced to the shisha pipe. For anyone unfamiliar with this you are essentially smoking flavoured tobacco bubbled through water. It’s not for me – when all’s said and done its still tobacco – but I can see why the whole experience might be enjoyable…

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It just remains for me to say a huge thank you to Cholpon, Joe, David, Daniyar, I Love Running Kyrgyzstan and all my fellow runners for their company. I hope to see you all in London one of these days!

Please like Run the World on Facebook to receive notification of future blogs and news about runs, races and running clubs across the world. And also just to show your support because, however silly it may sound, it makes all the travel and running that little bit easier if you think people care!

 

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Run 144 : Kazakhstan – Almaty

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If you’d like to help fight cancer then I and, far more importantly, cancer sufferers around the world, would be immensely grateful for any donations to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dan-Thompson11

Date : 9th  May, 2018

Time :  54’ 54”

Number of runners : 34

Total distance run to date : 1440 km

Run map and details :  https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2696704908

Media : https://www.facebook.com/ILoveRunningKZ/ ; https://www.facebook.com/haileyburyalmaty.kz/

The conversations on these runs can be fascinating. The previous week a professor of physics had been explaining string theory to me in Paris. This week the run was in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and we were discussing the number of Soviet Union citizens who died during WWII. (Estimates vary but the total number of Soviet military deaths is often put at between 8 – 14 million – with a further 20 million+ civilian deaths. Unthinkable numbers.)

The reason for the subject matter was that it was V Day – which is a holiday in many of the ex-Soviet republics and commemorates victory over Germany in WWII. In Kazakhstan there are big parades and people carry pictures of relatives who lost their lives.

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At the time we were doing the 1.5km climb up the west side of President’s Park in Almaty. Which is a well-known climb – apparently it’s a thing on Strava – and, while it’s not too bad the first time round, I could certainly feel it on the 2nd lap of the Park.

By then I was running with diferent people and we were discussing Kazakh food and what you can find at the Green Bazaar (Zelionyj Bazar) in Almaty. The cheese and yoghurts were highly recommended – as was the horsemeat. I must have made a face because my fellow runners looked at me in amazement, “Don’t you eat horsemeat? It’s delicious.”

Truthfully, I’ve no idea why we Brits don’t eat horsemeat. Its eaten all over the world but for some reason – perhaps because horses can be pets here or perhaps because, historically, they played such a large part in our transport and military efforts – its virtually taboo in the UK. Be that as it may, its conversations like this that get you through the tougher bits of the runs.

The rest of the run was a delight. The Park itself is very pretty and is set against a backdrop of snow covered mountains. The company was excellent and the weather perfect.

Presidents Park in Almaty.

A post shared by Daniel Thompson (@danruntheworld) on

The run had been organised by Marina and Dimitri from I Love Supersort

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which is a fascinating company. Founded in Moscow by some non-runners who wanted professional training to help them complete their first marathon, it now operates in a number of countries in eastern Europe as well as Dubai. It provides running, skiing, swimming, triathlon and cycling coaching and is targeted at the average person rather than the sporting elite. My kind of company!

Normally these blogs are just about the runs but, for once, I was in a country for more than 24 hours so I had some time the following day. Matt B from Tashkent had put me in touch with Neil from the Haileybury School in Almaty and Neil invited me to talk to their Y 7s, 8s and 9s. After the talk we went outside for a group photo

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and then I joined the Y7 for their PE class and we all ran 1km together. This was Neil’s idea but I’ve been wanting to add a running element to the school talks for some time so thank you Neil.

From the school I went to the Green Bazaar, subject of the previous day’s running conversation. As promised there were mountains of veg, cheese and yoghurt. And acres of meat – not all of it instantly identifiable to the British eye. I’ve included a couple of photos below – vegetarians and vegans should look away.

But before we get to the meat pictures, I just want to say a huge thanks to Marina, Dimitri, I Love Supersport, my fellow runners, Neil and the students and teachers at Haileybury for the run(s), the talk and a memorable time in Almaty!

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Run 143 : Tajikistan – Dushanbe

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If you’d like to help fight cancer then I and, far more importantly, cancer sufferers around the world, would be immensely grateful for any donations to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dan-Thompson11

Date : 8th  May, 2018

Time :  55’ 16”

Number of runners : 20

Total distance run to date : 1430 km

Run map and details :   https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2696704984

Media: National television : https://www.facebook.com/dilbar.kholova/videos/pcb.1648470151888568/1648469518555298/?type=3&theater ; https://www.facebook.com/dilbar.kholova/videos/pcb.1648470151888568/1648469521888631/?type=3&theater ; Bobby’s video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp-1Hr5DQMc&feature=youtu.be

The interviewer asked me to say something positive about Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. It had been an excellent run and I was happy to oblige. I launched into an answer, stumbled over my words and asked them to stop filming.

I had a second go at it. This time I nailed it. I felt confident that they’d be delighted with my off-the-cuff effort about the run and how much I’d enjoyed being in Dushanbe.

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The next morning the piece was shown on television and one of my fellow runners (Dilbar – thank you!) posted it on Facebook. When I watched it, I realised that the bit of the interview they’d used was me messing up my original answer and asking them to cut.  Not my most professional bit of media work but, hey ho, I’m very grateful for the coverage of Run the World (Bobby – thank you!)

Here’s a link to some of the coverage (don’t worry – there’s footage of all of us running and not just my interview)  :

https://www.facebook.com/dilbar.kholova/videos/pcb.1648470151888568/1648469518555298/?type=3&theater

As already mentioned, it was a great run. There were about 20 of us at the start.  A mixture of running club members and hashers, locals and expats. Jace, who is both Religious Adviser to the local Hash and a leading light in the running club, led the way. More than ably assisted by Bobby on a bike with his sound system blaring out ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

We ran by the river for a while, with the TV crew filming us at regular intervals, before circumnavigating the man made Komsomolsee (aka Lake Hyatt). From there we ran to Rudaki Park which contains a remarkable rose garden, various museums and the world’s 2nd tallest flagpole. (The tallest is in Jeddah and third tallest, which I remember running round during an epic rainstorm, is in Baku.)

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As luck would have it, the British Embassy (who’d also been a great help with the run) were hosting a function that evening and we were all invited. Which was very good of them. (And very brave since inviting a group of hashers to a post run party is pretty much a guarantee that the beer will run out…)

Anyway, having finished our run, we variously jogged and walked up to Bundes Restobar where the aforementioned interview also took place. I think it’s fair to say that everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves – as you can probably tell by comparing the post run photo below with the pre-run shot at the top of the blog. (I also had the pleasure of catching up with Raul whom I’d last seen in a bar in Baku.)

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It just remains for me to thank Bobby (not just for the everything in Tajikistan but also for the help in Almaty and Bishkek), Shuhrat, Jonathan, Jace, Raul and all my fellow runners for the company, the hospitality and the donations. I had a great time in Dushanbe and hope to see you all in London one of these days – perhaps for the UK leg of Run the World on July 4th 2020!

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Finally, thank you to the local Hyatt. Not only was the standard of accommodation much higher than I’m used to but I’d had to get up at 1.15 am UK time for my flight to Dushanbe and the early check-in saved my day!

Please like Run the World on Facebook to receive notification of future blogs and news about runs, races and running clubs across the world. And also just to show your support because, however silly it may sound, it makes all the travel and running that little bit easier if you think people care!

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Run 142 : Uzbekistan – Tashkent

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If you’d like to help fight cancer then I and, far more importantly, cancer sufferers around the world, would be immensely grateful for any donations to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dan-Thompson11

Date : 7th  May, 2018

Time :  1h 09’ 57”

Number of runners : 10

Total distance run to date : 1420 km

Run map and details :   https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2696705082

Media: https://www.facebook.com/britishschooltashkent/ ;

On the morning of my day in Tashkent, I had the great pleasure of talking to 150 junior school students at the local British International School.

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Unfortunately there wasn’t much time for Q & A so I was invited to come and do a follow up session with Y 5.

One of the students asked me something I don’t usually get asked – have I ever done gymnastics? As it happens, the answer is ‘yes’. Prior to running round the world, my previous challenge had been to do every different Olympic and Paralympic event. Which meant that I’d done a number of gymnastics sessions including one at Lilleshall with Louis Smith, multiple Olympic and World Championship medallist – and 2012 Strictly Come Dancing winner.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwDT-r02lZ0&t=2s

Now it also happens that I was spectacularly bad at gymnastics and that, sadly for me, some of this was filmed and included in a short video about my then challenge. If you like watching someone making a complete fool of themselves – and Y 5 certainly seemed to –  then its recommended viewing.

A number of teachers from the school were then good enough to join the run that evening. Together with a contingent from the British Embassy, there were ten of us at the start. As recently as a year ago such a group wouldn’t have been able to run together without official permission.

However, as part of Uzbekistan’s recent liberalisation, running in a group is no longer an issue and we were able to enjoy what can only be described as an extremely pleasant run along the banks of the canal. It was a beautiful evening, it was the first run on this trip so my legs weren’t aching, and my fellow runners – including Matt B who’s completed an extraordinary 46000 mile cycle round the world – were excellent company.

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After the run some of us went for a meal at a traditional Uzbek restaurant. As we tucked into the local dishes – including the Khan’s kebab which involved lots of barbecued meat – we were suddenly enveloped by a cloud of smoke.

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Taking this in our stride (hope you like the running metaphor), we continued our conversation about Tamerlane, or Amir Temur as he’s known in Uzbekistan. Did you know that he hailed from Uzbekistan? And conquered a territory bigger than Genghis Khan’s? And was, if possible, even more fearsome and bloodthirsty than Genghis and his offspring? I must admit I didn’t – but it’s a fair bet that the students I talked to in the morning know all this because he is something of a national hero in Uzbekistan.

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Suddenly a huge, wailing fire engine pulled up at the restaurant. Followed by two more. It turned out that our restaurant’s kitchen was on fire. Very possibly as the result of the Khan’s kebab.

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In a manner which Jo compared to the famous scene in ‘Carry On Up the Khyber’ – where the Brits display the true meaning of a stiff upper lip and carry on with dinner as the bullets fly around them – we continued with our meal as if nothing was happening.

A memorable end to a great day in Tashkent.

It just remains for me to thank my fellow runners for their company and their donations. And special thanks to Jo for organising the run, to Matt W for inviting me to the school, and to Matt B for his advice and contacts. I hope to see you all in London on July 4th 2020 for the UK leg of Run the World!

Please like Run the World on Facebook to receive notification of future blogs and news about runs, races and running clubs across the world. And also just to show your support because, however silly it may sound, it makes all the travel and running that little bit easier if you think people care!

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Paris

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If you’d like to help fight cancer then I and, far more importantly, cancer sufferers around the world, would be immensely grateful for any donations to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dan-Thompson11

Date : 28th  April, 2018

Time :  1h 46’ 54” (16.68 km including plenty of photo and traffic stops)

Number of runners : 80

Run map and details :  https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2660998448

Media : Let’s Run Paris Facebook

What would you look for in an ideal running club? Presumably it would offer a warm, friendly welcome. And cater for all running speeds and levels. And be free to join / take part – and yet also well organised. Contain at least one runner who could explain string theory. And be based in a beautiful city. Paris, for example.

With the possible exception of the string theory point, I’m guessing most people would go along with those criteria. And, on that basis, Let’s Run Paris, is pretty much the perfect running club. Certainly its right up there with the best running clubs I’ve run with around the world. (Running clubs round the word being one of the few subjects in which I have genuine expertise.)

Even better from a selfish view point, the 80 or so runners were good enough to listen to me talk about Run the World, keep me company on the run, and make donations to Cancer Research.  

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And, finally, since I was a tourist, they’d also put together an amazing route that took in most of Paris’s major tourist sights. We started at Café Cercle by the Jardin du Luxmeborg, and ran to Notre Dame for our first photo opportunity.

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You may have spotted that there are less than 80 of us in the photo above. That’s because the club splits runners into different groups based on their expected pace. I’d had a nasty chest infection over the previous ten days so I plumped for the 5.30” group and hoped that I’d be able to keep up.

The fact that both my nostrils had decided to run along with us wasn’t helping. On the other hand, the conversations with my fellow runners – cancer researchers, bankers, advertising account directors – were helping. As was Paris in the spring sunshine. Glorious.

We moved on from Notre Dame to the banks of the Seine, the Louvre, Tuileries,

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Place de la Concorde and up Champs Elysee. It was great. J’avais envie de dire bonjour à n’importe qui.*

We ran past the Arc de Triomphe

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and down Ave Foch. At about this stage I started talking to Nick who’s a physics professor. I admitted that I’d never really understood gravity. What exactly is it that pulls us towards earth / other objects? And is it really true that, if I jump in the air, I exert a gravitational pull on the earth which will cause it to move – infinitesimally – towards me? From there we moved onto string theory which is a sort of theory of everything. Some string theory proponents even postulate that there are actually eleven dimensions. Which sounds a lot to run through.

By now we were at Trocadero and it was time for another photo stop with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

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We weren’t the only group who thought of stopping at this point.

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One group even decided this it would be good place to test the gravitational effect of jumping in sync.

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And then the last leg of the run through the Champ de Mars

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past Invalides before finishing in Le Jardin du Lexembourg. It was such a great route that I told everyone who would listen that we should make it an annual event.

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It just remains for me to thank my fellow runners for the company, the donations and a great run. And huge thanks to Hamza for all his help!

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I hope to see you all in Paris next year for the second edition of La Grande Course Touristique !

Please like Run the World on Facebook to receive notification of future blogs and news about runs, races and running clubs across the world. And also just to show your support because, however silly it may sound, it makes all the travel and running that little bit easier if you think people care!

*For readers who are new these blogs, they often include obscure musical references. The usual prize for the first to message me the correct artist and song.

Finally, since I’m not sure I can accurately recall everything Nick told me about string theory, here are a few words from Wikipedia on the subject.

In physicsstring theory is a theoretical framework in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings. It describes how these strings propagate through space and interact with each other. On distance scales larger than the string scale, a string looks just like an ordinary particle, with its masscharge, and other properties determined by the vibrational state of the string. In string theory, one of the many vibrational states of the string corresponds to the graviton, a quantum mechanical particle that carries gravitational force. Thus string theory is a theory of quantum gravity.

String theory is a broad and varied subject that attempts to address a number of deep questions of fundamental physics. String theory has been applied to a variety of problems in black hole physics, early universe cosmologynuclear physics, and condensed matter physics, and it has stimulated a number of major developments in pure mathematics. Because string theory potentially provides a unified description of gravity and particle physics, it is a candidate for a theory of everything, a self-contained mathematical model that describes all fundamental forces and forms of matter. Despite much work on these problems, it is not known to what extent string theory describes the real world or how much freedom the theory allows in the choice of its details.

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Run 140 : Dominica – somewhere in the interior..

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If you’d like to help fight cancer then I and, far more importantly, cancer sufferers around the world, would be immensely grateful for any donations to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dan-Thompson11

Date : 26th  March, 2018

Time :  51’25”

Number of runners : 1

Total distance run to date : 1400 km

Run map and details :  https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2609070837

Everyone said the same thing. Dominica – pronounced Domi-nee-ca – is very beautiful but I’m not sure what you’re going to find there. It got hit very hard by the hurricane (Maria).

And if that sounds like we weren’t talking to people who lived locally, that’s because we weren’t. It proved very difficult to get hold of people in Dominica. In fact, for the first time since Denise ‘Da Bees Knees’ joined the Run the World team, I was running on my own.

Which was perhaps no bad thing as the way my schedule worked out I had very little time on the island. It was late afternoon as I came out through customs and I needed to hurry if I was to finish my run while it was still light.

Now, you may well live in a part of the world where this wouldn’t be a huge issue. Yes, it’s nice to run in the daylight but, if you don’t, then you can still go outside and run by street light. Except not in Dominica – at least not in the part where I was staying. Which was the rather charming, if somewhat isolated, Hibiscus Valley Inn on the side of the main road across the island’s interior.

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There aren’t any street lights there. In fact there isn’t any electricity.

In other words, when there’s no more daylight, it’s proper dark.*

Luckily my taxi driver bought into the need for speed but once I got to the hotel it was one of those times when you want to hurry but everything conspires against you. Having finally found and changed into my running gear, I set off. In the direction away from the airport, and towards the interior, because my taxi driver told me it was less hilly in that direction. Which was true – but only because it was very hilly in the other direction.

As I ran along the road it was immediately apparent that the island was far from having fully recovered from the hurricane. I was surrounded by damaged trees and vegetation and flanked by a series of telegraph poles at crazy angles.

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I soon realised that my original plan of running 5km in one direction – and then returning back to the hotel to complete my 10km – wasn’t going to work. There just wasn’t enough light. So I turned round after about 4km and told myself that I would do the final 2km near the Hibiscus Valley Inn. At least it had a generator and some light to run by – even if it meant running round in circles near the hotel.

By now, the number of insects dive bombing me seemed to have increased. As did the noises from ‘I don’t know what that is’ in the surrounding bush. And, most disturbingly, there were suddenly a number of people walking down the middle of the road in grey shirts that were very hard to see in the dying light. People who, for some reason, didn’t think a smile or a hello were needed in response to my greetings. I’m not saying they were the walking dead. But they weren’t very lively.

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If you look at the time splits on my run you will see that I sped up considerably at this juncture…

Eventually I made it back to the hotel with about 2 km to go. Which I covered by doing 500 metre loops along the road near the hotel.

Although I could see the light from the hotel it was otherwise pitch black by this stage. And a very strange thing happened. Although I was running back and forth along the same stretch of road, I was always running uphill.

Rationally, I know this was just an illusion but I can promise you it felt like I was caught running in an Escher-esque world where the only way was up.**

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With my nerves a little wracked I finally made it to the 10km mark and gratefully scurried to the safety of my room.

Later that evening, I got talking to Marina from Slovenia and Sebastian from Germany. They’ve travelled almost as much as I have and used to think the Seychelles was the most beautiful place on the planet. But they’ve now decided that title belongs to Dominica. In fact, they liked Dominica so much that they got engaged on the island.

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Marina, Sebastian, it was a pleasure to meet you and good luck with the wedding. And don’t forget my advice – you need to hold the wedding somewhere your parents can attend. And, yes I do know best. I’m a parent.

Dominica – I shall have to come back some day. I know you’re beautiful – I just haven’t been able to fully appreciate you yet!

Please like Run the World on Facebook to receive notification of future blogs and news about runs, races and running clubs across the world. And also just to show your support because, however silly it may sound, it makes all the travel and running that little bit easier if you think people care!

* All the photos were taken the next morning when it was light. Well, not the zombie one which was obviously taken during the run.

** Usual Run the World gold stars for the first person to correctly identify the musical references.

 

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