We are all aware of the various conflicts (wars) around the globe. I was present in post-war Kosovo for several years, as well as Afghanistan for a little over a year and a half. I am a long time intermittent runner—as opposed to a long distance runner. In each of these environments, I found down time to sneak in a few runs. However, there are some challenges unique to each location most people wouldn’t know about unless experienced firsthand. Here is what it is like to run in a war zone.
In 2002, Kosovo was making a comeback from the third war fought in the region in a decade. The roads were rough, the electricity intermittent and quality running routes were scarce. A few weeks after arriving, I decided that my physical fitness needed some work. The option of running in Mitrovica, touted as the most dangerous city in the world, was not embraced enthusiastically. A local showed me the football stadium near the Ibar River with a track surrounding the field. This became my haven for the next few months.
I was armed and had to be constantly armed. Originally I tried a fanny pack to carry a pistol but found it slapped against my body while running and constantly wiggled down my waistline. I later acquired a chest harness to carry my weapon, cellphone and a can of pepper spray. I only ever used a cell phone. Thankfully the rest stayed in the pouch, but I never ran without it. Ever.
To make it worse, I found it necessary to carry a hydration system because the climate in Kosovo is mountainous and dry. Three liters in a backpack was enough to stay hydrated during typical 3-mile run. On the upside, it did help to offset the weights of the chest pack for the previously mentioned weapon.
Later, I was assigned to the capitol city of Pristina, where I was forced to run on a treadmill due to a dense population, high vehicle traffic, and the absence of a track. While the treadmill kept me off of the rugged terrain and away from the hostiles, entirely safe it was not. A power outage occurred while I was running at an 8-minute mile. I slammed my groin into the control panel which was very painful at that speed. This happened more than once a week. I am a slow learner.
After I run, I like to shower for obvious hygienic purposes. This too proved challenging. The water shut off at night and did not return until the morning. When repairs were made on the plumbing, the water would be off during the entire day, and sometimes for a week or more. Bathing with baby wipes and bottled water was necessary, but not very pleasing.
Afghanistan also proved challenging. Running off base was impossible, as there was an active shooting war going on. Treadmills and helipads were my only running options. Running on the grocery belt (treadmill) compromised 95 percent of my Afghanistan endurance activity. There was a big screen TV in front of the bank of treadmills for viewing eastern and middle-eastern programming. Some of it was even in English. I preferred to listen to MP3s. Helipads got me outside but were prone to helicopters landing (as designed). This usually means inhaling a pound or two of dust in a given run.
All in all, running abroad has been challenging, enlightening and rewarding. I am a runner, and I am going to find a way to get in my miles, no matter what. I found with a little planning, and a lot of persistence, I can run just about anywhere. In fact, I have.