There’s no denying it – Qatar is a small country geographically. Around the size of Cheshire in the UK, there are only ever going to be a finite number of races and runners.
To get a variety in race, distance, terrain and competitor, the Qatar resident has to become skilled at packing up their old kit bag and hopping on a plane to race.
Study after study seems to prove the benefits of the home-advantage, but being able to perform straight off the plane is definitely a skill which can be honed.
A big element is the ability to plan and work strategically as a team. The Doha Bay Running Club regular troops on mass to the UAE to compete. A loose planning system of who-is-flying-when-and-where helps to ensure no one is left behind at the airport. Of course, you have to be adaptable since flights can be delayed and passport control can be hectic. I guess it’s all about allowing enough time. We also do hotel-takeovers pretty efficiently too!
Postal services don’t quite work in the Middle East, and so races usually offer number pick-up in the days before the event. We try to make sure organizers are aware we’ll be arriving en masse, and probably requesting race packs for those runners arriving on late flights.
Meals can be more difficult to plan; and I personally carry a variety of suitable energy sources to make sure I can eat pre-race when I need to. Even in winter, races usually start at first light in the Middle East and breakfast will rarely be served when the runner needs it – at 3am in the morning! We’re quite skilled at packing dehydrated porridge and bananas. Always remember a spoon though as many hotels provide mugs, kettles and coffee stirrers which aren’t much use in shoveling breakfast down.
Cheap flights usually equals limited in-cabin baggage allowance. You soon learn to become a thrifty packer, only taking what you really need to run. Fortunately, running gear usually packs small and you can wear your running shoes on the plane. A change of clothes, a couple of plastic bags for dirty kits, your passport and exit visa and you’re good to go.
And does flying then running inhibit performance? I’m not so sure, there are plenty of fast runners based in Qatar and they seem to do a pretty good job of sweeping the prize board when flying to races. Perhaps, because flying involves larger cost implications than simply driving to a race, they are more determined and better-trained to perform at their best. Perhaps, they are just determined to get their money’s worth. Regardless, it seems to be a skill that can be learned.
Just pity the other passengers on the return flight- they are no doubt wondering what the sweaty smell is and little do they know it’s 50 used running kits on their way back to Qatar.