Running around the World in 2014
A common currency of the world is running and physical activity. A simple pair of shoes can set you free and take you on great adventures, meet new people, and share in the joy of simple movement and health. Over the last 2 weeks I have had the privilege of traveling 25,000 miles to 3 continents to teach and learn from the local cultures. What we have been teaching here with natural movement and healthy footwear is a global medical message. Myself and colleagues Jay Dicharry and Ian Adamson are teaching Continuing Medical Education courses titled “Healthy Running” around the country and at a few international sites this year.
The first stop was Frankfurt Germany and Spangdahlem Air Force Base. I spent 3 days there and got to run the countryside a bit. What one notices immediately when going to any Germany village is the abundance of trails. There are forests with Nordic Walking and Volksmarch paths in almost every village. Nordic Walking is a popular Scandinavian pursuit where you walk with ski poles for power and balance. It works the whole body and the poles come in handy on rough terrain.
Volksmarches are non-competitive community walks and runs. Groups meet at the trailheads and walk a traditional distance of 10 kilometers. All ages are present on the trails as well as many dogs. I noticed immediately how well behaved the dogs were in Germany. None were on leashes and all stayed near their masters. Even in the cold and darkness (latitude of Northern Maine) families were out walking the trails. It was hard to find an obese person in the village. Their food is fresh and no fast food exists in the villages except on the US Military Base. Children in Germany keep more active too at home and school. Public school begins at age 3 and they have 2 to 3 recess periods a day.
The next stop was Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. As good fortune would have it the 5 Star Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel on the “Palm” of Dubai was our sponsor and provided all the lodging and amazing food and facilities. The owner of the hotel is a runner! The city and sea views from the Palm, which is a man made island devoted to tourism and relaxation, are amazing. In this land of excess, surprisingly I saw hundreds of runners and even more walkers of the well kept paths along the Arabian Sea. This time of year is best for running as the temperature is pleasantly warm. In summer the only time one can run here is at night or dawn due to the intense heat. At our course we met runners, physical therapists, and coaches from throughout the Gulf region all eager to open their minds to some new ideas.
Unlike Germany which has stayed true to traditions, Dubai is facing an obesity crisis as the invasion of the Western Lifestyle has hit. There is every American fast food restaurant here and the locals eat it up. Cinnabon, McDonalds, KFC, Cheesecake Factory in abundance and at cheap Western fast food prices. Combined with a brutally hot summer climate where one rarely leave the inside comforts presents a ticket for health disaster. This is made even more sad as I enjoyed some of the best Lebanese and Middle Eastern foods I’ve ever had. These foods are made from very simple and inexpensive ingredients with wonderful mixes of legumes, spices, meats, and real whole grains. The children do have some unique opportunities for activity if they have the means- there is the world’s largest water park, an indoor ski hill, and an indoor amusement park equipped with lots of things for climbing and jumping around in addition to the indoor roller coaster.
After 2 days of canceled flights at International Airports and a brief stop home to watch the kids in the “Endless Winter” of continued snow break, the last stop on the tour was 12 time zones from Dubai in Los Angeles, California. As we seem quite comfortable in the recent moisture and the wet summer this year, I was not aware the LA was in the middle of one of the worst if not the worst drought in history, and this is extending up into the Northwest. We ran on some local trails in the Laguna Hills which our guests say were usually lush green this time of year. Sadly the plants were brown and the dust was heavy. There is a real fear for what the summer will bring as the aqueduct sources are drying up. So for us West Virginians, embrace and love the rain and snow.
Our hosts at Rausch Physical Therapy are on the cutting edge of sports rehab. Their clinic is equipped with all the expertise to restore health. The staff understand how the body works from the inside out. On staff are massage therapists, sport chiropracters, the one of the world’s top fascia specialists, and a friendly space and staff that give you a feel of community. 100’s of race numbers and pictures with short “thank you’s” adorn the walls. The in house espresso machine is also a nice touch.
I learn as much as I share on these journeys. Culture and the experiences of athletes and health practitioners from around the world help me to keep connecting the dots to optimal health . Steve Jobs said this is his life cut short: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” The more I teach and learn the more I appreciate the simplicity of running, and in simplicity we find true happiness.