How and why a journalist is training for a 56-mile ultra marathon across Qatar

Leah Harding, Al Jazeera journalist on #AJNewsGrid, is currently training for a 90k Ultra Marathon across Qatar. That’s 56 miles through hot desert plains and salt flats.

This endeavor is insane, incredible, and wildly impressive all at once. Why does one decide it’s a good idea to run that far? And, once the decision has been made, how does one prepare?

Being the talented journalist she is, Leah anticipated these questions and conducted a Q&A with herself. She originally posted the Q&A on her blog, and is now partnering with Func Bod to share her story. Read her post below. Then, follow @funcbod’s Instagram story for her training updates.

First, a note from Leah:

I grew up in Jordan and knew from an early age that I wanted to move back to the Middle East and be a reporter. In 2014 I interned with Al Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar and was offered a job that summer. After I graduated from the University of Florida, I move to Doha to start working as a producer. I am now a senior producer and present for our social media driven show NewsGrid. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually get to do what I do. My favorite days are when I interview people from all over the world; from Cameroon to Indonesia. When I am not at work I am dreaming up a vacation (because Doha is actually in the middle of the world and it’s easy to get most places) or training for this ultra that has now consumed my life.

Leah 4

Q&A with myself: training for an ultra.

Training for a 90k is rough, y’all. Like, where do I begin? Sometimes I feel like I think about it more than I actually workout for it. It is starting to consume me, fears and all, and sometimes I want to just throw out my monthly running schedules and eat a burger and live on a couch and watch shadows on a wall. But I keep running. And I keep pushing myself and learning what I think about when I am just running along a sidewalk with only my thoughts and odd pains to keep me company. If you are a runner, or want to be, here is a Q&A with myself that will hopefully inspire you to keep pushing, or start somewhere.

Q: Wait, what? You’re running an ultramarathon?  

A: Yes. On January 25, 2019 I, along with a group of expat women in Qatar, am running a 90k (56 mile) run across Qatar. Some are doing it as a relay, but I am not (whyyyyyyy). We are running for a charity Free to Run who encourage women and girls in conflict zones to pursue adventure sports as a way to enable sustainable development and peace. Because who runs the world? Girls.

Q: What’s the farthest you have run? Are you biting off more than you can chew? 

A: I did two half marathons in a week. That’s the most I’ve run. Am I in over my head? Probably, but I want something to tell my kids about one day. This is insane and that’s 99% of the reason I signed up.

Q: At this stage in your training, what has helped you the most?

A:  Sleep (like 10 hours a night–I have no kids), lots of food (more than I am normally hungry for) and a camelbak backpack (link). Y’all, this backpack is a lifesaver and (about a month ago) became my new best friend. Think: Tom Hanks and Wilson. When I first started running with it I hated it, but now I don’t run without it. I am realizing that creating habits can be healthy. When training distances change often, keeping as many things the same can keep me calm and focused. Now, running with the backpack feels like running with a friend. When it feels heavy I tell myself it’s a hug. When I’m hot, it gives me water. It’s a comfort that I didn’t expect and it has calmed me down and helped my brain register that what I am training for will require some extra support, and that I can have it right there on my back.

Q: Running is such a mental game. How do you handle the negative thoughts? 

A: I have been a student of meditation for a few years now and I am trying to incorporate it into my runs. It’s hard but helpful. When my thoughts run away, a friend encouraged me to pretend I am sitting on the floor of my childhood room. He said I should try to remember every detail of the space: every stuffed animal, the smell, the crooked dresser, your feelings in it. It’s been a good practice. There’s also the podcast route. I tend to listen to sermons or news to distract me. And then if all else fails, I start counting cracks in the sidewalk in multiples of four.

Q: What is your favorite running accessory? 

A: Aside from the strange relationship I have with my camelbak I also love my lillypad towel (link). So this thing cools down when it gets wet (so it is always cold because I am always sweating). It’s reusable and is a great rag to carry in my hand when I need to wipe my face, or roll up and hang around my neck to cool me down. It’s a lifesaver. Get one.

Q: Isn’t Qatar, like, super hot?

A: YES! Training in the summer is a no-go, really, so treadmills become your best friend. We are banking on good weather in January (low of 60 high of 80) so the run day (hopefully) won’t be a sauna. For now though the day runs feel very long and tedious. I walk quite a bit if I run in the day, but part of training is building up heat endurance as well (even if I am walking). If you see me with a red face, you know it’s been a day run. Otherwise, I run at night and try to bear the humidity. I am praying for fall dry air to come quickly.

Q: Who has been inspiring you to run lately?

A: Politics aside, I like to watch this latest Nike ad to get me off my butt and out the door. My favorite line is, “If people think your dreams are crazy… good. Calling a dream crazy is not an insult. It’s a compliment.’ I also love this Nike ad, because, well, Simone Biles is in it. There’s also an awesome dude by the name of Richard Donovan who has run a bazillion ultras. I talked to him on Twitter and he had great advice (and shared some must-have products for the run). Follow him here.

Q: What are your go-to products for your runs?  

1. ENERGY- SUCCEED S Caps,100 capsules

2. FOOD- Clif Shot Bloks Sampler Variety Pack

3. HAT-  Under Armor Women’s Fly-By Visor

4. SUNGLASSES- JOJEN Polarized Sports Sunglasses for men women Baseball Running Cycling Fishing Golf Tr90 ultralight Frame JE001

5. SO I DON’T CRAP MY PANTS- Imodium Multi-Symptom Relief Caplets 42 ea

6. SOCKS- Balega Silver Antimicrobial No-Show Compression-Fit Running Socks for Men and Women  

7. FOOD- GU Energy Original Sports Nutrition Energy Gel, Assorted Flavors, 24-Count

8. VITAMINS- NatureWise Vitamin D3 5,000 IU for Healthy Muscle Function, Bone Health and Immune Support, Non-GMO in Cold-Pressed Organic Olive Oil,Gluten-Free

9. STAYING COOL- Alfamo Cooling Towel for Sports, Workout, Fitness, Gym, Yoga, Pilates, Travel, Camping & More

Q: What the biggest mistake you have made so far? 

A: Missing runs is a killer. It adds up. I have a strange work schedule and sometime don’t get home until 11pm and it takes serious mental power to get home and go run, no matter how I feel. When I skip runs because I am tired, my next run is that much harder. I am also experimenting with eating during runs and have really been thankful I was inside (near a loo) when I ate a Cliff bar. I cannot eat Cliff bars. Nope.

Q: You have to eat while running?

A: Yes! It’s actually the exciting part. You can literally eat anything you want (as long as it doesn’t destroy your insides). Some people swear by Swedish Fish candy, sausage, or Mountain Dew. I am particularly looking forward to eating pasta out of a bag like a cave man. Maybe I will growl too. We are supposed to finish the run in about 12 hours but we have six-15 minute stops along the way (for refueling and bathrooms). But if nature calls between those stops, well, I can let you know how that goes.

Q: What’s your next training hurdle?

A: This week I am going to try to run while eating beef jerky (hopefully I will not need Imodium). I am also breaking in my new visor and socks (we cannot have anything new for the race, it all needs to be broken in). If you could see my feet right now, you would not want to be my friend.

Q: Speaking of, do you still have friends? 

A: God bless the few that I do. They are angels and amazing. My boyfriend is a particular gem in that he has had to give up hang outs with me to let me run. When he is away with work he will even call me to encourage me to run. He often sounds like my future self and tells me how much better I will feel if I get in a few more hours of training every day. My girlfriends have been so supportive too (though we tend to hang out mostly on WhatsApp these days).

Q: Pretend it’s January 26th. What do you want to be true on that day? 

A: I want to say I did it. I want to have run the 90k and have finished and given my all (it may actually take my all). I want to have bloody feet but the biggest smile ever. I want to be an ultra marathon runner and I want to do it well. I also want to put it on my resume. I will have earned that line if it’s there, by golly! Lord help me!

Was this helpful? Let me know! In the meantime you can follow our journey with our hashtag #Q90K. 

Stay tuned to @funcbod’s Insta story to follow Leah’s training journey.