Back home I can run outside (whenever I want), go for cycles, go to the gym. Do anything really. I can satisfy my training needs without too much difficulty. So being hotel bound for 6 months in a hot, dry desert would seem a little restricting. Reality, however, is often different from what one imagined. There is a wealth of sporting opportunities in Doha and Qatar in general.
To help others reap the benefits of my hours of scrolling through webpages, Facebook posts and harassing my work colleagues through our WhatsApp Group. I have composed a list of sporting activities available to those active types who may find themselves in my corner of the Middle East.
Doha Bay Running Club (DBRC)
A free to join Facebook based running club, comprising of 500 or so runners (mostly expats) living in and around Doha. The core of the group have been here for years and are not only friendly and welcoming (if you are prepared to, at least, attempt to run out here then you must be a good egg) but also full of friendly tips, advice and pointers to local races. Getting full access to the group can take a while, but they have a regular run on Friday morning at the Qatar Sports Club (on the edge of Westbay) in which new runners are welcomed and encouraged to keep running and keep coming back.
The website you want is LifeinAspire.qa. This facility was originally built for the 2006 Asia games. Even 9 years down the road, this Sports Complex is still world class. Keep an eye on this part of Doha; there are frequent events and offers being run which give you premium access to the facilities at a budget rate. Some of these events include:
Held in July and August. It gives you access to a 200 meter Indoor Running Track and a 50 meter swimming pool, for an hour, for 10QAR – less than the price of 4 pints of milk. This is the second year (of two) that they have run it.
There are multiple running races and events all year round in Doha. Websites like lifeinaspire, eventsdoha, timeoutdoha, and trawling Facebook are a good way to keep an eye out. What I have discovered is there is a lot of information online about up and coming runs and sports events, you just need to look for it – and I mean REALLY REALLY look for it – like your life depends on it.
Places To Run
+away from road +regular water stops (vending machines that give you a bottle of water for 1QAR) +distance markers on the floor +24hr toilet and cafe at one end
-surface is uneven and can cause shin splints -can get a bit boring -the curve of the bay causes a force perspective effect that can feel a little demoralising if you are hot and tired.
+green +dedicated & bouncy running route around the park
-unless you are close to it the traffic to and from is terrible -can turn into an expensive cab journey
+Outside of Doha so a little cooler (temp) and a little different +some easy off road running
-40K’s outside of Doha -no public toilet or water fountain -probably best done with a car and a buddy
The Pearl (map)
+lots of easy runs +lots of restaurants and cafes +pretty and clean +home to watersports, if you want to combine activities
-not very central -would have to scope out the public toilets in the small malls to know where you can go
The Hamad Aquatic Center at the Aspire Zone has a few pools inside and you can go there to register to use it. The swimming is gender separated and time specific though. If you do not live close it will require a lot of planning and accounting for traffic.
At Al Khor are the mangrove swamps. A company called Entalek run eco-tourism and kayaking tours up there. It is not too expensive and if you are stuck for private transport, the X102 public bus goes there – it takes about 2 hours though. Definitely a day tripping activity. The Entalek Facebook page is your best place for contact and booking
It is also possible to do it off the beach at Katara beach, in the heart of Doha – this is probably easiest. If you tie it in with a day trip to Katara, it is worth it.
There are lots of good places to eat here, plus a cultural museum, and a beach (although you have to pay to get on it). I will amend this post with further details once I have checked out the precise details.
There are a number of watersports available off of Katara beach, for not a lot of money. The scenery may not be the mangroves of Al Khor but it gets you out on the water!!
Stand Up Paddle boarding:
QSUP – Qatar Stand Up Paddle boarding run out of the Pearl, the classes are frequent and cheap. Time on the water is a minimum of 90 mins and the instructors are really friendly and speak really good English. Be careful, you may become hooked though.
(update 23/7/15)Please note: You book the sessions online, but you pay in cash, at the start of the lesson. This is due to the weather dependent nature of this activity and cash in hand seems to be the Qatar way.
A number of hotels run drop in (pay on the door) classes in Spin, Cross, Yoga, and many many more. Fitness Classes Doha FB group is a good place to start. Also search for spin classes, cross training classes – whatever you want. One of the hotels will have a session that you can join. The Sheraton Hotel West Bay and B/attitude in Beverley Hills Tower, West Bay are a couple of good examples – classes will cost between 50 and 80 Riyals.
A number of military style bootcamp companies run fitness classes on the Pearl and at Sheraton Park – these classes are geared towards Westerners. Bootcamp Military Fitness is a good example.
(Update: 23/7/2015) The Military Fitness Bootcamp Experience
Like in other parts of the world, Bootcamp organisers are a little bit like heroine dealer, the first taste is always free. So I took my free hit on a humid Wednesday evening. It had been hot all day, but the humidity had been non-existent. However, the setting of the sun marked the rising of the waters and by the time I had completed my brisk walk from the hotel to the park, I looked like I had already completed a workout.
There were a decent crowd of about 20 – 30 people, which means if one finds themselves going on ones own, it is not as daunting an experience as one would think.
The well exercised British military types were extremely welcoming and authoritative. A nice mix of friendly encouragement with the underlying tone that said:
“Fuck with me and everyone gets punished”
The 1 hour class itself is challenging. Lots of team based games and simple, cross-training style, circuits involving ones own body weight, kettle-bells, this stick thing which is mean’t to be like a rifle, medicine balls and (at this time of year in Doha) the oppressive heat and humidity. Oh there was also lots and lots of running.
I don’t want to ruin too much of the surprise but by the end of the session I was
tired, I mean exhausted, I mean – I WANTED TO DIE! It took about 30 minutes of staring at the bay, hugging my bottle of water and trying not to throw up, before I was confident enough in my ability to make it all the way back to the hotel.
As you will know from my blog, I am quite fit. This recovery cycle is more to do with the humidity and my unfamiliarity with the session formats. I am in the process of booking more.
If you decide to try this out, register your profile on their website, if you are staying a hotel then the hotel address will suffice – they only contact via email. If you decide to do more than the the first session then you pay the instructors, in cash, for the amount of sessions. After-all, it’s the Qatar way 🙂
Note: It is possible to bring a bag with your phone, money, towel, etc. Everybody stores their stuff near a park bench and it is always in site.
Ice Skating, Bowling, Pool?? Want something a little fun? Most of the malls have Ice Rinks – I have tried the one in City Center Mall. It is not too expensive, the Ice is good and you can skate in your shorts – if you fancy a thrill. City Center mall also has a Bowling Alley and Pool Hall (untested but looks fun).
3 thoughts on “A Qatar Pick & Mix”
I have never been to Doha but I am surprised by the number of sports activities you have found. Running in the Middle East and Asia can be difficult. When I was in India in Mumbai there were very limited options. Finally found a small park near where I was staying that you paid to enter where I could run. But the locals were always in a state of shock I think when they saw me running. Definitely got the feeling I was an unusual sight for them. I wonder if you get the same mystified looks I did while running…
Yes. Our Friday morning (holy day here) club runs always draw some bemused looks and comments. There is not a culture of running here so I think they are curious about what we are doing and why.