Explorative runs can be fun. A venture into Qurum Wadi in Muscat puts this theory to the test.
In the heart of Muscat, surrounded by roads and office blocks, lies a wadi that is driven over but rarely glanced at. As dawn breaks, I now eye it carefully as I pick a route across its cracked earth terrain. I venture in and embark along my unfamiliar running track, passing under highways and by half-finished construction projects. Three wild dogs scare the life out of me but resist biting and keep me moving. A lady and her son are tending to their goats and sheep, who are foraging the last morsels of quickly drying acacia bush - a flash back to the real Oman before the Starbucks and McDonald’s invasion that is slowly concealing it. We wave at each other, both of us odd and out of place in our own ways.
The landscape is hardly one of unspoiled nature. Wadis are dried river beds. For 360 days a year, that is. For the other few days, heavy rains in the mountains produce flash floods that the wadi, and the surrounding area, cannot cope with. Rather than a gentle, meandering river that gradually erodes the banks, this form of river does nothing and then plays catch-up by moving vast amounts of earth, rocks and boulders the size of cars (as well as any cars, trucks and people in its way) down through Muscat and out to sea in a matter of hours. The persevering people at Muscat Municipality have made various attempts to control this, but the inevitable wave of destruction that follows each attempt is clearly visible: concrete barricades the size of mountain huts are upturned to reveal their foundations, while water pipes ripped from their casings protrude erratically from the ground.
Muscat currently hovers around 40 degrees centigrade in the shade. At 6am, it is a more like a refreshing 37. The sweat pours quickly and oxygen seems oddly hard to come by, as if I were training at altitude when in reality I am one, perhaps two metres above sea level.
But this is not an arduous run, by any means. It is perhaps better described as an explorative run, a term used frequently in Wildfitness. Not only am I running, but I am needing to think: about where to place my feet next on the uneven, rocky ground; about where I am actually going; perhaps most importantly, about how far I can go before I need to head back home to rehydrate.
At the opposite end of the running spectrum is the sterile treadmill in a gym. There is no thinking required; the terrain is consistently compliant; the destination is clear and you can just stop if you get a little tired.
There is, of course, challenge in any form of running. But, wherever you find yourself, you may discover that the challenge of an exploratory run - in a wadi, on a disused railway or off the beaten track in a local city park - can be infinitely more rewarding.