Running in Jeddah || Saudi Running

Have you ever been to Jeddah? If not, should you ever get the chance, you should go, and I want to give you some reasons as to why.

Hi my name is Heiko, welcome to Advanced Endurance Coaching, the show where I share with you a passion for running and hands on mental training that is practical and usable. 

I am all about spreading the word on how to actually train your brain to help you become a stronger, better runner. It is no secret that as a runner over 40 you need to rethink your approach towards your run training, and events.

No reason to think because you have crossed that imaginary line you are now doomed to be an old slow middle of the pack runner. I have trained many runners over 40 who still achieved his dream distance, or her personal best. You see, it is a matter of attitude. Depending on the attitude you will find ways to dedicate time to not only train your body but also your brain. Of course, the basis is always that as a runner you need to go out and actually run.

During my career in international sales, I was fortunate to travel to many different countries and cities all over the world. Places I would never have been to as a tourist.

And always I would take my running kit with me. I forgot it once and what an enjoyable experience it was. You know why first I wanted to get mad. Blame someone which wasn’t a good option because I was the one who forgot to pack the running gear. Anyway, as luck would have it there was a NIKE outlet just 5 minutes from my hotel. Well guess who had a valid excuse to go and buy some fancy running gear. Ha, talk about stroke of luck.

Whether I went on a short overnight trip or a longer assignment. It is a part of my routine to get up very early and go for a run. Exploring a new city, a suburb. Of course, running in an unknown city means sometimes you head off towards a completely wrong direction. I have ended up in an industrial area, commercial district, sometimes I even had a stray dog join me for a few blocks. Sometimes stray dogs looked at me hungrily.

Sometimes I would be running along a main road, full of traffic, congested, pollution, not nice, only to discover the next day a huge park a few miles down a side road.

Especially on longer assignments, it gave me a great thrill to explore the city in the pre-rush hour stages of the early morning. Heading down main roads, with hardly any traffic, running past office towers, and every day exploring the sights and sounds.

And this I especially enjoyed in Jeddah. What an original city, yes it has a modern business district, but it has remained loyal to its roots, and even if you just go there for a short business trip make time to explore the older parts of the city it will be worth your while. And of course, it’s so easy to plan a route, or find a suitable one. 

But before I tell you about the best running routes, and how to plan your run, let me tell you that I needed to change my mindset in order to be able to train running in the heat. Jeddah is Hot and Humid, and traveling from Europe where the day before it might have been 8 or 10 degrees, requires a different mindset. Otherwise you will end up doing pity party runs’, which are not really effective training sessions. What I did was use a simple hypnotic script, a routine to stay mentally strong. Because so much fake news is out there regarding running in the heat, or living in Saudi so what I enjoy doing is building confidence. As a matter of habit. I mean confidence like anything if you don’t train it, you will lose it. I and most athletes I train agree that I need that feeling that no matter what happens, I can learn and adapt to a specific situation. But I will tell you more about that later, let me get to the running part.

Compared to Riyadh, and according to heatmaps there are more options running in this city. And the navigation in Jeddah is quite simple. North South layout, most city blocks are divided in 0.5,K 1K and 2,5 Kilometer distances, and there are proper pavements. Which are kept clean by a bunch of dedicated garbage collectors. Look without being a hypocrite These guys, it really makes you appreciate the cards you were dealt, imagine a long stretch of road, and over 40-degree heat, wearing the municipality the  whole day in the sun. These guys got to know me quite well, and they became my second biggest supporters. They would see me coming from afar, spade in their hand, watch me approach, and give me a huge smile and a nod. What more do you need at 5:00 am? I actually found that if I hadn’t seen the garbage collector I would wonder did I miss him, or where is he today?

Where to run in Jeddah.. this is simple.  

The obvious places to go for a run are the newly built waterfront. It is definitely right up there with other big cities in the middle east, be it Bahrain, or Abu Dhabi waterfront. No, not like the Dubai Marina which is more glitz and glamor. The Jeddah skyline has something unique. Perhaps it’s the half-finished skyscrapers, that stand next to modern housing blocks, or the Villas with the bougainvillea’s growing over the boundary wall with their intense red flowers against the beige background. 

In 2003 I was in Jeddah the first time, with my running gear so time had passed and a lot had changed till 2017, and I remember that I stayed in a hotel down near the Jeddah Port. And just behind the Port there is a so-called lake, in google it’s called 40th Lake. But I doubt that anyone knows it as such. Well you could run around that stretch of water. And head on through the old part of town, which was a real busy district, shops, dealers, lots of activity.

Today, that part of town is very quiet, almost dead as the city has a new business district further north. New wide roads, bypasses, better parking.

And that is where you need to go for your run. Best is if you have a car or ask an Uber to drop you close to the Sparky’s amusement park. Tighten your shoe laces, pull up your socks, and off you go.

You just head down south, red sea on your left, if you are lucky a fresh breeze comes in. 

The view is fantastic. Just a clear sea view, and of course the HEAT.

You can run any distance you like really. The route gives a lot of options without it becoming a loop. You can even run your own half marathon  just don’t run on Friday’s when many people use the Corniche for a picnic. Go for a run on another day, and you will find and meet other runners. No crowds guaranteed.

As you run south, you will pass the Al-Rahma mosque which appears to be built into the water, continue down the Corniche, passing the Radisson Blu Hotel on your left. 

One of the few hotels with an Ocean view. Running past the Bellagio Resort, yes it really is called Balajio. And then you reach the new Jeddah waterfront. 

Be prepared, because it is really impressive. I didn’t expect this, and was pleasantly surprised.

Broad walkways, Palm trees planted left and right, huge overpasses broad enough for cyclists and pedestrians alike. You head past the Starbucks, the Sheraton, and the Radisson Hotel. The Waldorf Astoria on your left, stunning ocean view on your right. And then the Island Mosque which appears to be built into the water as well. It won’t be your fastest run, because you will want to take a photograph. And then the highlight: You pass the New Jeddah Corniche, here you will find numerous restaurants, which if you run at night are full of diners till the late hours. 

Then you reach the hallway mark of your ½ marathon. It’s a wall you need to head back. It is the wall surrounding the Border guard barracks your GPS will show you ran 10.5 or 11K. Flat as an ironing board. No excuses, broad tracks especially made for pedestrians, a real pleasure.

I spent many a morning doing my long slow run on this stretch of road. Except during public holidays or Fridays as I said, it would be quite crowded as everyone heads down to the Corniche. If you decide to run here regularly you will meet all types of runners, and there are quite a few Facebook groups that meet up and do their run meets, similar to Park runs. 

Best thing I found is that runners’ actually greet each other. Especially those that come here regularly, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, Philippines, German, Saudi, you come here to run.

There is also a group of ladies that run, and they have a range of running clothes designed for running in Saudi. All designed by a team in Jeddah, and they meet up and run on the Croniche. You will also find a group of Filipino expats that run regularly, and must be the friendliest runners’ I have ever met.

But this, the Corniche, was the mainstream run. As I said, I used it for my half-marathon distance, or my long slow run. 

If you have adventures, and want to explore a bit of the city, (which I recommend) head over to the East of Jeddah, close to the Al Haram Centre, you will reach the Al-Rehab walkway. This is a great alternative, especially if you are having some issue perhaps with tight calves, knee pain, as it has a spongy walkway. Feels like you are walking on springs, and this will be a great relief, and it is less crowded.

The next tip I want to share with you is a dangerous one. How dangerous it is that it is located close to a Cheesecake factory. And that place is highly recommendable, the run track I mean, well the Cheesecake too. It is easy to find Located not far from Jeddah mall and the mighty IKEA, here you will find a run track and gym equipment. Again you need to be there very early, the gyp equipment will be boiling hot as soon as the sun comes out.

If you are going to stay longer in Jeddah, I recommend a local Furnished apartment. It’s more personal, you have more space to wash your running gear, your shoes, and it is more personal, as the staff gets to know you and the other guests also stay there for longer periods, so you get to know each other.

I found a great place right in the heart of the city. I know some people recommend a compound, but hey honestly, I am not a big fan of the diplomatic compounds, you are a bit isolated from the city. And where I stayed, I really made good friends. Sure the communication wasn’t always easy, as I don’t speak Arabic, but everyone could tell, this guy is going for a run, let’s give him some advice. And this led me to find some excellent running routes. One of them was a small park, just 200 meters from where I stayed. One lap around the park was exactly 400 meters. So, this became my speed workout session, or I would do 20 laps to get a longer run done. I enjoyed that because there were no roads to cross, no thinking required to navigate, or concentrate on the pavement. Just easy running, and I would be home in less than a minute.

Compared to driving to the Corniche, parking, it was a good alternative if time was limited.

Just east of the King Abdulaziz International Airport, there is a place called the Eastern Forest, or Jeddah National Park. I am not sure as to what it is meant to become, because it’s obviously not finished, and hardly attracts visitors. It is just a bunch of trees, and roads that lead through the area. 

No shops, no parking area, no BBQ area, all well maintained, but I haven’t got an idea what people would do there. But this is where the Jeddah running club hosts its half marathon. And it really is a great place to go running, as I just said, there is no one there, nothing to do except run. 

The next training route was a 10K consisting of 4 straights. Full exposure to the heat. Not a single section of shade. Sweating and excessive street radiating from the street guaranteed. 

It was the need for a speed session. My route started right next to King Abdul Highway, at the big MIDAS Furniture store, you can’t miss it. Heading north up 4K you pass the Ultralight airport, the International school, on your left the impressive Red Sea Mall, The Dialysis Centre. Every morning this is where I got my first out of four Garbage collector greetings. You remember at the beginning I explained, the Garbage collectors are allocated or responsible for that stretch of road. I got my salute as I passed. Humble people  

Then as you head north, when you reach the Riyadh Bank branch you take a right turn. 90 degrees, heading east, into the sunset. And now you are in a nice neighborhood on your left and a huge open lot on your right. If you time it right, the sun will just start to appear, but hurry don’t stop to take a photograph, it won’t turn out as nice as just enjoying the view. Plus, the longer you stand around, the hotter it is getting

2K flat out is not possible, because if you timed your run properly you will see the most spectacular sunrise. It is like a scene out of a movie. Don’t waste your time trying to take a photo, it won’t do it justice, just enjoy it as you run towards it. Literally speaking.

Then it is another right turn and you have a 3K straight line ahead of you. Heading south. Except for a school that is still closed early in the morning there is one guy on a bicycle, and a garbage collector. The road is yours. 

Hardly any traffic, as you head towards Al Nahdah, where you head west, and immediately feel the sun as its rays penetrate your shirt. You need to hurry as the sun is climbing at an alarming rate. You need to run for another 1KM and congratulations, you have your 10K done and dusted.

I don’t recommend running here on a holiday either, as the pavement gets crowded, people have a barbeque, or they share takeaway foods, and just enjoy their Shishas. No need to be that funny Western dude running through their picnic area.

This route became one of my main building blocks for my marathon training. Here I could really focus on my pace. No distractions, and a long straight predictable route means that I would develop a sixth sense for my time. 

As I got to know the route better I would use mental imagery techniques to train my progress on exactly this stretch of road. My aim was to get my pace from 5:00 to 4:50, 4:40 right down to 4:30. 

I knew this would not only require me to start improving by sections, but also, I needed to set myself this higher goal, and train my mind to build confidence to show that yes, I can do it. 

Remember I told you I needed to get out running before 5:00 m, otherwise the heat would be too much to bear. So, the early start meant that there was not sufficient time to warm up, not a big deal as the outside temperature was high already. 

I decided to allocate time I spend at airports or during the flight and do a compromised sort of ZIP file version of mental training. Basically, a quick and effective way to train this specific route.

Let me share this with you in detail and I would appreciate it if you try it yourself. Let me know how it helped you

Remember in the beginning I told you that I used some mental tools to adjust and train? Well basically what I did was use a tool that ensured I can manage uncertainty. It is all about using your imagination to be constructive and useful. Look, many things can go wrong running in a foreign country. And the imagination can run wild if not trained. We humans are the only species that can reflect on our past, look at our current situation and use those two memories, to project fear and uncertainty into the future.

The secret to unshakeable confidence is to train anticipation , constructiveness and optimism.

I would find myself wondering what to do as I get lost. (This has happened to me before the age of GPS watches or IPhone.) I recall running in South Korea, and I was sure this is it. I will never ever find my Hotel againLOLI was so far away, lost complete sense of direction. And the street signs forget it. Impossible for me to even remotely guess where I was. Anyway, those negative thoughts were useless, because obviously I did make it back to my hotel.

But, before you set out to run in new and somewhat hostile conditions be it Hot weather or even training in a new environment incorporating a brain training session as a regular routine, before or after your run, whichever you prefer will form a habit, that ensures you train more diligently, and achieve what you set out to do in the first place. You know this, you want to train hill repeats, and you end up going on a long slow run or worse a short slow run. Ha Ha. You wasted your time, and no one except you knows. 

Perhaps you recall Rocky Balboa, slugging it out, fueled by determination, and a powerful portion of self-belief. So many famous stories are about having faith in your strengths and believing in your potential.

Join me at where you will find tools to develop your resilience and get you hooked on a routine that ensures you become a better, smarter, and faster runner. My name is Heiko. Thanks for joining me.

Remember, take it easy.       

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