Working out in Juarez

So yeah, just a two days ago I finished a four hour spin-a-thon here in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  FOUR HOURS on a bike in 90+ degree heat.  And I did it!  I rode every single second of that four hours and lived to tell the tale.  I could even walk just fine the next day. How about that?

Yet when I arrived in Ciudad Juarez nearly 2 years ago, I had no idea how exercising was going to go here.  I was a single mom with a 6 month old baby moving to a post with 15% danger pay.  Trying to find an exerise routine while overseas in the Foreign Service or otherwise can always be a challenge.  For example, when you are in a country where exercise may not be the norm because it is a leisure activity that the vast number of people do not have time for.  Gym facilities, if existent, are quite different from home.  Running outside may not be advisable due to security or other reasons.

My previous assignment, when I was with the Department of Defense, was in Jakarta, Indonesia.  In my apartment complex we had a treadmill, a bicycle, and an elliptical in a glassed-in gazebo in our parking lot.  You can imagine in a tropical country that a glassed-in gazebo surrounded by black top might get a bit warm.  It did.  Also, perplexingly, there was also a grill in the gazebo, though I never saw anyone use it.  I also belonged to the gym at the hotel located three buildings down from my complex.  I even had a trainer there.  The gym had some pretty good equipment, though the air conditioning never seemed to be working, so it was like exercising in a sauna.  And though there was a television in front of each of the machines they were not connected to the machines, so if others were excercising and watching television you had dueling volume issues.  Running outside was difficult.  Jakarta is hot and humid, the sidewalks, if there, are uneven and full of open holes, and are often used as an additional lane by motorcyclists.  On Sundays though it was “car free Sunday” when the main drag was closed to traffic for a few hours.  So if you wanted to battle the crowds it was possible to run.  I did once, but imagine my surprise when without warning the lanes re-opened to traffic and I found myself in the middle lane of a 4 lane highway with cars suddenly driving around me!

But that was in Indonesia and now I was in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico with an infant.

Ciudad Juarez is located in the Chihuahua desert.  It is a high desert climate.  It is dry and very hot in the summer.  In the winter it is generally in the 30s (farenheit) in the morning but there might be as much as a 30 degree increase by afternoon. The altitude is close to 4,000 feet above sea level.  In the Spring, starting around February, strong winds blow through the city kicking up sand and dust and all manner of things I am apparently allergic to.

So I had exercised abroad before.  I had even exercised thus far as a mom – but in the nice apartment gym in Falls Church, VA while my mother watched my daughter or running with the jogging stroller on lovely Northern Virginia running trails.  But here I was in a new city as a new mom.  I wanted to get back into running, wanted to lose the rest of the baby weight, and wanted to be a role model to my daughter.  How was I going to do that?

I started off going to the Consulate gym where I had access as a member of the Employee Recreation Association.  With a six month old, I would go when it was her nap time and she would snooze happily while I ran on the treadmill.  I also set up my bike on a trainer and rode for an hour or two on Sundays while my daughter napped. I ran my first 5K in September 2013 in Marfa, Texas as part of the Marfa Lights Festival over the Labor Day weekend.  It was hot, I was slow, and I finished the run with a flat tire, deflated completely by a giant desert thorn.  But I did it.  And I kept going.

I have had to make adjustments, of course.  When my daughter stopped taking a second nap or even a very long nap, I had the nanny or a friend watch her after work or on weekends.  And when an off-duty police officer was shot in his truck along my running route (he survived and drove himself to the hospital) or when there was a quadruple homicide at a garage I sometimes ran by, I changed where I ran.  When the dust storms of Spring made it very difficult for me to run, I joined a gym with childcare, though still had someone watch C on Sundays (gyms in Juarez are only open until noon or 1 on Saturdays and closed on Sundays).

And here I am at the end of my tour and I am so psyched to say that I finished:

Three 5Ks (1 in Marfa and 2 in El Paso)

Two 10Ks (two years running of the “World’s Fastest 10K” in El Paso)

One dualthon (Mission Valley Duathlon in El Paso – my first duathlon ever!)

Two spin-a-thons (in Ciudad Juarez, one was 3 hours, the other 4)

Eight half marathons!  (El Paso, TX; Indianapolis, IN; Santa Fe, NM; Boston, MA; Ciudad Juarez, MX; Las Vegas, NV; Salt Lake City, UT; and Cincinnati, OH)

Changes are ahead for us with home leave, training in DC and then on to Shanghai.  I’m not sure how I will work out, but I know I will find a way.



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