Run 64: Tour of Oman, 21-28 February 2020

Well, doesn’t time fly? A naturally diligent pupil who always did his homework on time (ha), I typed up all my notes from our trip to Oman before we’d even left the country so I could do my write-up straight away … almost 6 weeks ago. Whoops, I guess I’ve just been so busy with my wild social life during the last month of lockdown as the apocalypse unveils itself outside.

Anyway, don’t a few weeks change your perspective on things eh? I was going to include a few sentences about how some of the running along main roads in Oman was pretty unexciting and dull but, now that we are limited by law to jogs within a one kilometre radius of our house, I’m tempted to give everything a five-star review. “Most beautiful landscape ever.” “Beautiful landscape”. “LANDSCAPE”.

This landscape was alright.

We landed in Muscat, Oman on Friday 21 February, about 12 hours after our RAK half marathon race. Had I known, we might have caught an earlier flight as – and I’m still very unsure HOW I didn’t know this ahead of time, there was a Marathon, a 10k, a 5k, a half Ironman and a cycling race happening that day in Muscat. Seriously. Not that we could run much anyway.

I say “much” because we could run: for example (and it’s better to read the following sentence without taking a breath) if, having told yourself to never ever mess about with flight check-in times having arrived in Paris Charles de Gaulle 4 minutes before check-in closed, you then end up arriving at the Dubai check-in 10 minutes AFTER check-in closed because you got sent 3 times in a row to the wrong terminal but you still try your luck and sprint through the airport and then the most amazing lady ever still checks you in and then you make your flight but probably kill other passengers from the smell of dry sweat all over you, then you indeed find out that you can still run. But that was enough for one day.

For the record, we arrived at Muscat airport 3.5 hours early on the way home…

Nizwa, the previous Capital city

Muscat – and Oman more generally – is very different to the UAE. Various travellers describe it as the “real Arabia” and, while I’m not too sure what constitutes “real” or “not real”, it’s fair to say that it felt more like being in some scenes straight out of Aladdin than it ever did in Dubai! The buildings are – for starters – much smaller (i.e. they look like buildings, not 600-floor skyscrapers) and have beautiful flowing Islamic designs.

In the background, every few hours, the mosques come to life with the call to prayers. In the streets, men and women stick to pretty strict social customs and religiously wear their formal Ibadi Islamic dress every day.

Of course, there were some utter dumps too, which I avoided.

They have good coffee in Oman apparently….

Overall however, it’s a very developed country (finding tons of oil fields in the 1960s helped). The roads are as smooth as silk and, clearly flush for cash, they lovingly stuck speed radars every 2 kilometres along the motorways in the ENTIRE country. GGgnnn.

Muscat

Right, so, the running? Well, Oman is hot: there are only a few sensible options for running:

  • Very early morning long before dawn: cooler, but you need to know what you’re up to in the dark
  • At dawn (around 6-6.30am): still cool until the sun hits, but light so fewer dangers
  • In the evening: it’s still far too hot and you need to know what you’re up to once it gets dark

We, of course, mostly opted for the second option, with an extra lie-in. Which, of course, totally defeated the point because, by the time we were out and about at 7am, we were already running in an oven. You’d think we’d learn, but we repeated the routine every day, apart from the days when we opted to melt away in the evening instead.

Sultan Qaboos Mosque

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Muscat, to be perfectly honest, isn’t the best place to run. It’s (very) sprawling and definitely designed for cars. Whilst this does mean that there are some long stretches of tarmacked roads, there are also a lot of bridges with no pavements which made running any distance around where we were staying a bit limited.

We did scrape ourselves out of bed one morning to head down to the sea front: though we missed the sunrise (obviously), we still got the sea breeze and quietness (and easy roads).

Because online reviews say that the culture is Conservative with a capital C regarding womenswear (e.g. shorts are seemingly no-nos), Pippa and I set off together. Every time my watched beeped to signal a kilometre, I looped around to run back to where she was, shook some sweat off on her, and set off again for another kilometre etc. In the end, we never faced any issues during the whole trip, but better safe than sorry, I guess!

Other trots in town mostly involved running along quiet main roads, or busy main roads with pavements: useful to get some mileage in, but not a huge amount to talk about!

Rating: 2/5

Wahiba Sands Desert

Now we’re talking!

As its name suggests, this is a…desert. The proper Arabian desert type that you drew as a kid: sand, more sand, and a dusting more sand to top it off. You get there by driving (at exactly the speed limit…) along good roads cross country until you hit a village, take a left turn, deflate your tyres, get to the end of the tarmacked road, get to the end of the dirt road, drive up into the sand, swallow a big gulp and follow the short instructions to “drive straight for 10 kilometres until you reach the camp”. Okkaaaaayyy…

Driving through desert…

Blind faith is sometimes useful – especially when you have lived to tell the tale – so off we set. And, surprise surprise, after 10 kilometres of driving across the sand trying to follow previously laid tyre tracks, there we were at the campsite in the middle of, well, nowhere.

If Muscat was hot during the day, then the Wahiba Desert was HOT. Holy shit. And we were there during the temperate season. Staying in a campsite. With shade. The Bedouins who used to live here changing home every day or so were either desperate, lunatics or the toughest humans ever (or a mixture of all three).

Most people – lunatics aside – don’t come here for the running, somewhat unsurprisingly. However, with a little bit of planning, it’s actually slightly more feasible to run than at first sight. The depressions between the dunes were reasonably compacted and, if you had the right shoes and got used to the extra 5 kilos of sand in each of these shoes you ended up with, it was “runnable” terrain. And bloody amazing cardio.

As you might guess from the photos, some may have been slightly posed. However, to avoid being a total fraud, I did go for a run before sun rise: out one way, and then back the other way following my footprints.

Look: footprints!

With the temperature climbing rapidly as soon as the sun peaked over the horizon, I started being followed by a very persistent swarm of flies, presumably confusing my smell with that of a rotting camel. But hey, beggars can’t be chooser. An alternative would have been to run with a headtorch in the evening, but the knowledge that rattle snakes and other lethal creepy crawlies lurked in the sand quickly put an end to that idea!

Short and sweet, but a lot of fun!

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Rating: 4/5

 

And the rest

For people with time on their hands, and courage in their pockets, I think Oman could offer a lot, especially in terms of trail running. However, you’d really need to know your stuff to set off into the mountain: the scenery is out-of-this-world (think Mars), but it’s as desolate as it gets, and you’d really be by yourself if you hit trouble.

One of these is Earth. One of these is Mars. Which one is which..?

For us, the rest mostly involved Sur, a small coastal city which is a bit of a stop-off point for people visiting the desert canyons, water holes and other geological quirks.

Panorama of Sur

On the plus side in terms of running, Sur has a lovely promenade for a few kilometres along the beach. And, erm, that’s it. It had a camel racing track I was tempted to train on if I’d been more organised, but I wasn’t. Thrilling eh.

Otherwise, it’s mostly a fairly unremarkable coastal Arabian town: pretty, and with streets wide enough to run, but not interesting enough to spur the imagination or waffle on about right now.

Promenade in Sur

Clearly, if I’d known that the zombie apocalypse would be starting shortly after we returned, then I would have made the most of our time and dragged Pippa out of bed even earlier for a daily half marathon. However, sometimes, even I know how to enjoy a holiday and treat her to a lie-in until 6.45am. Who’s a lucky girl?!

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And a few other photos which didn’t fit in: Nizwa walls made of muds; View from Nizwa fort; “Food Stuff” for sale in Nizwa; Wadi Shab; Daymaniyat Islands.

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