Jogging Through the World's Hot Spots

Jogging Through the Worlds Hot SpotsHandout
Karen Hughes

"Are you kidding me?" I think to myself as I slowly realize that the only thing protecting me from potential snipers is a cyclone fence and the watch-tower guards who are whistling at me as I jog past.

It's early morning, still dark outside and I'm trying not to twist my ankle as I navigate a rocky path. But what I'm really wondering is how the soldiers I'm embedded with run this course each day on their small base in eastern Afghanistan.

I've been running for more than 20 years on routes all over the world, but I've never had to worry before about being shot.

The base is located at about 5,500 feet so my breathing is heavy and my pace slow. Despite the obvious drawbacks, as I look across the brown desert to the mountains beyond, it's easy to recognize this is one of the most beautiful spots I've ever been.

When I was younger, I was a sprinter and hurdler. One freezing winter night – wearing my sister's old Nike waffles and an oversized, hooded sweatshirt - I started running alongside my father to build a base for spring track.

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Injuries have sidelined me on occasion, but since that first run with my dad, I've pretty much never stopped. Now, I try to run several miles each day whenever and wherever I can. Lately, that means small forward operating bases in Afghanistan.

Last summer as the thermometer reached 120 degrees in Kandahar province, my feet were burning as my running shoes hit the tarmac. Afghan National Army soldiers – surprised by the sight of a female wearing exercise shorts – drove alongside me to catch a glance. They may have carried machine guns, but they were no match for a Smith College graduate with a limited tolerance for sexual harassment. After a few key words were exchanged, they quickly drove away.

Over the years, I've crossed the world on my feet. I've run a marathon in Alaska, jogged through Jerusalem and through vineyards in Friuli in northern Italy. One of the best runs of my life was a five-miler on a treadmill in the Maldives which I attribute to the clean air and mesmerizing turquoise water.

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While exercising at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India, I saw a man out of the corner of my eye who I thought he looked a bit like Keith Richards. When I fully turned my head I realized it was not Keith Richards, but it was Mick Jagger.

I've run alongside other celebrities like Julieann Moore on Manhattan's West Side highway and famous athletes like Boston Celtics' great Robert Parish on a track in Massachusetts.

Running is one of the few times during the day when I try to ignore my emails, although I often write scripts in my head while jogging or think of story angles I may have missed. It's rare for me to have a bad day at work when I've had a good morning run.

I no longer run competitively, but I am still competitive. When I step on a treadmill alongside others, I immediately check their pace and try to keep up – or run faster. The highest compliment I've received lately was when a U.S. Special Forces soldier remarked that I was "hauling a.." on a sprint.

After a good run, I still try to call my dad with my mileage and times. It's a small moment we share despite the thousands of miles between us. Work may take me around the globe, but running keeps my thoughts close to home.