As you can tell from my recent silence, I successfully restrained myself from using any electronic devices, except for my camera, while I was on holiday in Zanzibar. That might not sound like a big deal, but it’s been years since I’ve gone so long without at least making one phone call, sending a quick email, listening to my ipod or reading the news online. This is in part because I rarely go on beach vacations, except for the occasional trip to Hawaii with my family; I opt instead for a more adventurous and less relaxing type of travel that usually requires some form of communication to make the trip run smoothly. But last week, I only needed a few good books, quality time with E, tons of sleep and enough heat and humidity to drive me back to craving winter (this actually happened, to my surprise, but sadly the enjoyment of the cold only lasted a few moments). My eight days offline left me feeling so liberated and refreshed that I hope to unplug on a more regular basis – a few evenings per week at the very least will surely do me some good!

I’ll cover my Zanzibari travel adventures in a separate post later this week once I recover some of my brain power. For now, I’ll simply say that my time on Bwejuu beach was, for the most part, absolutely wonderful. If only that wonderful feeling would last longer!

My flight landed in London at 7am this morning, after a long, delayed and sleepless journey from Tanzania via Kenya – the type of journey that leaves you craving another vacation by the time you finally get home. Although these days, between the various snow storms/airline strikes/political riots/etc., that probably describes most journeys home.

Needless to say, I was tired and grumpy this morning, and most definitely not looking forward to doing a long run today. E pointed out that I’d probably be better off resting – true, but having missed last week’s long run in Zanzibar and knowing that I wouldn’t do one this weekend with the race, I felt a particular need to push through and get it done – or at least to attempt a run of some kind.

I finally headed out around 2pm – it was sunny and crisp, perfect running weather! I’m shocked to say that I actually MISSED running in the cold, after my hot and humid beach runs this past week; I missed wearing real running clothes, rather than my tanline-friendly outfit of a tube top, bikini bottoms and visor (even that was too much to wear in the heat). I guess that’s a sign of a successful winter escape! I managed to do 11.5M along the river, and once again to my surprise, it was in fact a very enjoyable run.

Although I can’t say that I enjoyed ALL of my Zanzibar beach runs as I imagined I would, they were all certainly interesting experiences. Want some motivation? How about going for your first mid-day beach run wearing as little as possible and hearing all the locals shout what sounds like “jumbo” at you for 45 minutes? (Thankfully they were actually saying “jambo” which means “hello” in Swahili). Or trying to get around a massive pack of cows and donkeys roaming the beach? Or being forced to sprint in order to escape the random dogs that came out of nowhere and are now trying to bite your calves? And don’t get me started on my two attempts at evening runs – after 15 minutes I had to turn around and head home because I felt so ill. Let’s just say running after two very large meals in a tropical climate doesn’t work so well for me. On the flip side, I loved my two morning runs towards the end of my trip – still hot as hell, but so serene and beautiful, not to mention much more comfortable on an empty stomach.

So, the good news is that I somehow logged nearly 32 miles this past week, including my run today in London – or just counting my time in Zanzibar, I ran about 25 miles in six out of my eight days (I only took two rest days, but I ran fewer miles per day than planned). Either way, I’m pretty impressed with myself, and pleased that I still had tons of time to enjoy my vacation (i.e., read, sleep, relax, swim and eat).

The bad news is that it was nearly impossible to follow my original running plan, given the tide (which for the first five days was only low during the hottest hours of the day) and weather (extremely hot and humid during all daylight hours, and unusually windy in at least one direction all the time) – in other words, my long and tempo runs didn’t happen. However, I suppose that is insignificant given that I still ran a respectable number of miles while overcoming (well, kind of) several new challenges in my training – namely, extreme heat, humidity, crazy wind, sandy (but thankfully, firm) terrain and a somewhat indulgent (or at least different) diet that didn’t always work well with running!

For more details on my beach runs, check out weeks 7-8 in my training log: Fleet Half Marathon 2011 Training

I’ve also included a few photos below so you can see one of my fabulous beach running outfits (after a run – hence why my arms look like slip ‘n slides), the beach at low tide from my starting point and the beach facing the opposite direction at slightly higher tide further along my running route.

So the takeaway for now is simply the importance of remaining flexible when running in foreign places, whether you’re hoping to do specific types of runs or just want to stay active. Listen to your body and embrace the opportunity to try something new: in my case, I finally experimented with barefoot running, which was very fun on the sand! Or just get back to basics, as I did with many easy-paced runs (which were not very easy, in those conditions). Even though my runs were shorter and less varied, my exposure to different, challenging conditions will prove useful in the overall context of my training.