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Running on Empty: A Jordanian Experience 

By Oscar Stapleton, BA Arabic and International Relations, and Sophie Kirkby, BA Arabic and International Relations

The SOAS Running Society has organised a running camp in Aqaba, the South of Jordan, that will take place during Ramadan. For 10 days this March, athletes from Jordan and SOAS will train and live together.

Activities will include cooking together, especially the infamous Maqloobeh, whilst also cooking dishes that the Jordanian athletes might not have encountered before, such as cottage pie. Food is a key part of refuelling in training, and a central way of sharing cultures, especially within the context of Ramadan. 

Fasting isn’t something that is correlated with high-level performance. However, Hicham El Guerrouj, the Moroccan 1500m and mile world record holder for the last 20 years, fasted every year whilst carrying out the most strenuous training and praised its benefits. The science, according to Razan Al-Najjar, a Jordanian athlete and student of counselling and mental health, specialising in the 400m, backs up El Guerrouj’s success. Al-Najjar states, ‘practising sport is really useful because the process of burning fat becomes faster whilst you fast, and it improves the attraction of insulin to the body and growth hormones. Bashar Al Selawi, the Jordanian 200m and 400m champion and student of sport science, seconds his compatriot’s analysis and poetically compares the rest given to the liver, stomach and pancreas whilst fasting to the breaks needed by students from their studies.

Running is often associated with being an individualistic sport. Despite this, Eliud Kipchoge, the marathon world record holder and the first man to run under two hours for the marathon—that’s 66 seconds per 400m; try doing that once at your local track—is the biggest advocate of group training. Kipchoge humbly proclaims, ‘100% of me is nothing compared to 1% of the team.’ Whilst sounding slightly like a quote from a self-help guide, coming from Kipchoge’s mouth gives it credence. Teammates before, during, and after training are key to Kipchoge. The camp adopts this philosophy too, and believes that living together will benefit athletes throughout the training. 

‘In essence, the idea of the camp in Aqaba is to support and bolster the running community in Jordan. We know the passion is there. What needs to happen now is funding, encouragement, and recognition…’  

Aqaba, in the eyes of Jordanian athletes, is a hidden gem for runners. Mohammed Al-Mimi, the regional 3000m youth steeplechase champion, trained and raced in Aqaba alongside teammate Rakan Al-Jabarat. They both claim that Aqaba is perfect for a training camp, citing the small population that leads to quiet, open paths for running. The paths of Aqaba, according to Al-Mimi, contain the perfect variety for middle-distance training, with long flat sections and short sharp sections excellent for hill training, all in close proximity. 

The forms of training throughout the camp will be inspired by various methods. The infamous Kenyan Fartlek (Swedish for ‘speed play’) will be used, as well as Moroccan interval training. The athletes will take part in long runs, intervals, and hill training, whilst recovery will also be aided through swimming and cycling. The training will not only be physical; talks will be given by Jordanian students on physiotherapy, nutrition, preventative work in the gym, and types of stretching. 

Running is an up-and-coming sport in Jordan. Whilst the community is small, it’s also strong, and runners encourage each other, perhaps because they realise the rarity of it. The running community in Jordan mostly consists of men. Female runners are extremely strong and determined, yet it’s not as widespread amongst women, possibly due to cultural and religious reasons. That being said, more women are beginning to take up running personally and professionally. 

In essence, the idea of the camp in Aqaba is to support and bolster the running community in Jordan. We know the passion is there. What needs to happen now is funding, encouragement, and recognition, which is exactly what the camp will show to the running community and Jordanians. 

Photo caption: Jordanian middle distance runners celebrating after success in recent national competition. (credit: Mohamed Al Matary – Head Coach of Qadasiya Running Club)


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