Life of an Expat – Cindy Haddad

Grüezi Stella Stars!

The waaaaay I miss you guys…

For the love of running I agreed to write something in the hope that my story will inspire some of you who might be struggling physically or mentally and also just to give a glimpse of what it´s like running in different conditions.

Now an Expat living in Switzerland, I maintain my Proudly South African status with pride.  I must say, as much as it is a privilege to experience different countries and cultures, and it being a crucial factor to opening ones eyes and seeing the world from a different perspective, “you will never really truly have a sense of home until you leave home” – Unknown.  I have no greater pride than when I tell the Swiss about my country and our people. Having said that, the process of leaving my country was gut wrenching and although it gets a little easier every day, there are still days filled with emptiness and no sense of belonging and this is where my running gets me through every time!

Zechariah 4:10

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.

I wanted to put this verse in because I think about it every time I feel that my insignificant 2k walk or seriously slow 10k run just to keep going is not going to amount to anything, I remind myself that it all ads up and as long as I keep going, then I am doing better than nothing.

So far my greatest achievement is that I have kept going.

Honestly, I have not done a lot of running since I arrived in Switzerland but enough to be able to share with you about some of my challenges, adjustments, and experiences.

Since I arrived in Switzerland in Summer, the temperatures were not a problem, but the change in altitude humbled me in the beginning to say the least. I knew there would be challenges adjusting to the higher altitude, but I did not know what to expect physically.

Interlaken is located some 566m above sea level compared to Durban´s 8m. That is a significant difference in altitude to adjust to. My first couple of runs was uncomfortable. I experienced altitude sickness for the first time, with symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and headaches.  Needless-to-say, I had to ease into it. It didn´t take long, but I just started with brisk walking and shorter, slower runs to strengthen my lungs and re-regulate my breathing. Once I adjusted to these conditions, running became a pleasure again. 

Then came my first Winter…I had been dreading it to be honest, not knowing what to expect physically and I worried about loosing fitness, thinking I would probably not run as regularly as what I am used to. And I didn´t, but again I eased into it slowly. 

I clearly did not have suitable gear for below zero temperatures. Until I could figure out what fabrics they use to combat the Winter bite, this is what I wore:

Long tights and sweatpants over that, a vest, long sleeve running shirt, a sweater, and a jacket, 3 pairs of socks (rather toit), gloves, a beanie, and a neck buff. My eyes watered from the sting of the cold air, although it is possible that I was crying, and my nose ran faster than me.  I still have no idea how I actually managed to run with all that clothing on. Also, running on snow and ice has been both scary and funny when you don´t have the correct footwear.  Finding shoes and grips suitable for icy conditions are crucial to prevent injury.  I have since adjusted quite well to the weather conditions and acquired suitable running gear which makes a big difference.  Now I love running in Winter.

I never minded running on my own but when I became part of the Stella family, I grew quite fond of training with my comrades and when I got to Switzerland I had to run alone and I still do for now. No, I can´t run with my Husband because I can´t keep up 😊 Being part of Stella made a big difference in my life and to my running. There are running clubs in the bigger towns and cities, but where we are, most people are pretty much each to their own. Perhaps I will start a little group when Aunty Rona gives us the thumbs up.

So, we keep going…because we are Stella Stars!!!


Winter running in Switzerland

by Alex Hadad

The title sounds great, the scenery is fantastic but getting out the front door remains a Durbanites biggest challenge. Running in winter is not for the faint hearted. I understand why many people prefer treadmills when temperatures fall below zero.

However, once you on the road, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences. Running alongside the rivers and lakes, between the snowcapped mountains is all worth it.

For winter running, some of the challenges include:

  1. Getting your layers right! It’s easy to pile on layers based on temperatures but what we need to consider is our bodies running temperature. Rule of thumb is normally add 10 degrees to accommodate your bodies temperature.
  2. Wearing the correct shoes, especially in icy conditions is critical. Specific winter shoes with special treads are available. We have invested in wrap around studs for icy conditions. However, get it wrong with your footing and you can potentially land on your ass!
  3. Running strides shorten due to slippery conditions. Balance is essential and looking at every step you take to ensure footing is secure.
  4. Hydration even in cold conditions. All the water fountains we use in summer are frozen or closed. We need to know where water is along the routes or have the option to run with a backpack.
  5. All the extras: beany or balaclava/buff, gloves and wind jacket. Be prepared for changing conditions.
  6. Understanding your body and performance. Bodies require more oxygen in colder conditions, but it’s also important to “read” your body and know how your lungs and muscles react to the colder conditions.

So, what makes running in winter special? Without a doubt the snow. There’s something magical about embracing a run in the cold and on snow.

Also having fresh snowflakes fall on your face is worth all the effort to get out and go for a run.

Running in winter tests your will power.  Without a doubt it takes plenty willpower to get out but once you on the road, it all systems go.

However, you cannot let the weather get to you, otherwise it can easily turn in a 3-4 month break.

What do we miss? Without the Stella and KZN runners. It’s not the same without the friendships and banter on the road. Generally, people don’t run in big groups. So its plenty solo running here.

What the 2021 plan? Hopefully races will happen this year. Plan to run Zurich marathon in April and then our local race, the Jungfrau marathon in September. For this one, it requires a lot hill training. The second half has crazy elevation changes. Total elevation gain is around 1’800m.

Last words? We live in challenging times. No matter where we are in the world, plenty uncertainty remains. Mental health is critical. So, let’s support and encourage each other. Whether your run or walk, get on the road and release those endorphins. Let’s come out of this pandemic stronger!

Life of an Expat – Darren Smith

by Darren Smith

I ran with Stella for 9 years before moving to Brisbane, Australia in 2019. My running career with Stella included 6 Comrades medals ( 2 Bill Rowans ), 2 Ultra marathons, 22 Marathons.

Starting running in a new country without a running club has been challenging. Being involved in a club gives you the support and the momentum to keep pushing your self and staying committed. This is where the challenge has come in as I struggled to keep my momentum going without anyone to keep me accountable. Needless to say I miss everyone at Stella.

I did give a running club a try here but the way the club works and the club culture was not the same. I am still open to trying other clubs here and always keep an eye open for others. However in the recent year I found a running in partner and used the time during Covid to work on our running as all gyms were closed. This was the boost and time I needed to build my motivation and my running fitness.

I’ve managed to improve my speed, fitness and found a routine that works for me. On a weekly basis I run 3-4 times a week and aim to reach 40kms a week. Thank you to my stella friends who have encouraged and supported me from a far.

Life of an Expat – Kim Bonorchis

by Kim Bonorchis

On 22 October 2019 I left South Africa to set up our new home in Hampshire, UK (south of England) with the plan of Clay following a few months later with all our belongings; which did not materialise due to Covid19, which changed all our lives around the world.

This solo journey has taught me a lot:- “Learn from yesterday, live for today and hope for tomorrow”.

You are never too old to learn new ways:-
– filling your own petrol in the car (no petrol attendants)
– putting air in your car tyres (yes, you pay for the air)
– scraping ice off the windscreen of the car
– packing your own groceries

Learning new words:-

  • Braai = barbeque
  • Cell phone = mobile phone
  • Traffic/turning circle = roundabouts (some do have robots in the roundabout)
  • Robots = traffic lights
  • Freeway = motor way
  • Jersey = jumper
  • Pants = trousers
  • Underwear = pants
  • Sick = poorly
  • Geyser = boiler
  • Prestik = blue tac
  • Takkies = trainers
  • Tracksuit top = fleece
  • Jersey = pull over
  • SMS = text
  • Bond = mortgage
  • Pickup = bakkie
  • Globe = bulb
  • Hello = Hiya
  • ICE – you need to really pronounce the “I” or else they think you are saying something else.

How differently things work here:-

  • Council tax (SA rates/refuse) – apply online, receive a discount if you live on your own no matter how old you are and you do not pay a deposit to secure the account.
  • Electricity – choose your own supplier, submit your meter readings and receive the bill electronically that day or the following day (you do not pay a deposit to secure the account and can change supplier as often as you like).
  • Doctor – you register with the doctor where you live and are requested to come for a check up even though you are not sick, for FREE, to build a medical record.  All records and results are available online which you as the patient have access too.  Doctor sends you reminders for check- ups.
  • National Insurance is deducted from you payslip monthly which covers all medical expenses except reading glasses and if you opt for private dentist instead of the NHS dentist.  I have been to a Government Hospital (NHS) which for me was the same experience as a private hospital in SA.
  • This contributes also towards your government pension.
  • No bank charges on cheque account (able to have joint accounts)
  • Self checkout tills at the supermarkets.
  • You pack your own groceries and the cashiers are always friendly and enjoy having a chat with you.
  • Transport: buses and trains are frequent and on time.
  • APPs – use lots of APPS for various things and people love to shop online.
  • Parcels/deliveries are left on your doorstep at home or at the office (no fence around the property or driveway gate).
  • Daily delivery of post including receiving pamphlets from the Government about Covid19 or if there is going to be a disruption of electricity or water you will get a letter in the post with advanced warning.
  • Pay Road Tax online (like the license disk on SA cars), we do not display a disk on the windscreen as police log your registration into their tablets/cellphones to get details on the vehicle.
  • MOT: cars are checked annually for road worthiness (you can look up a car registration online to see the history of the car).
  • Drivers license, filled in a form at the Post Office and received my UK Drivers License in the post a week later.
  • Motorway, nobody driving in the emergency lanes, driving at the speed limit and give you gaps including the trucks.
  • Nobody hoots and there is no road rage.
  • Have not seen 1 tow truck only AA or RAC.
  • Pedestrians have right of way including cyclists in the numerous cycle lanes.
  • Abundance of parks and forests to walk in safely which are well kept and litter free.
  • Salaries are aligned to affordable cost of living (such a variety of affordable food at a variety of supermarkets and/or markets).
  • Customer service is absolutely amazing and all Government/council services work here.
  • Libraries are well stocked and you can read online via e-books for free together with magazines or newspapers instead of going into the libraries.

I live in Hampshire which has the New Forest and South Downs National Park, full of
villages and endless walks and cycle routes amongst the wild horses and ponies; together with a short drive to the beaches of sand or pebbles.  Hampshire has an abundance of history and
friendly folk you chat to along the walks.  London is a 1 hour train journey.

Besides having the freedom to walk safely and catch public transport I live in a country where you are not judged for what you look like, what you wear, what car you drive, who you socialise with, where you live, what job you do or company you work for; people here are very respectful of one another and trust each other. To be able to walk in the dark home after work from the train
Station and not look over my shoulder is an understatement.  To drive with my windows open and my handbag on my seat has given me hope of feeling safe and free to do so.  It took me a while to get used to no security gates, burglar bars, alarm, electric fences and parking my car where there is not driveway gate or high wall.  No matter where you live in the world there is always going to be crime but I for one, feel safe, relaxed, positive and content in our new home.

SA will always be home, full of scenic beauty with wonderful childhood memories.
I miss my family and friends but with todays technology I seem to talk more to them now than I did when I was in SA. UK does not have bad weather, it is about wearing the right clothes to accommodate the weather during the 4 distinctive seasons.  Autumn is my personal favourite with the amazing colours.  Summer days are very long, sunsets between 9.30pm and 10pm and experienced temperatures of 33 degrees in 2020.

My solo journey so far has changed my ways of spending weekends in SA of road cycling and seconding Clay on his runs to walking in the forests/beaches and even started doing Park Runs in the UK prior to Covid19.  Once Clay has arrived we will start mountain biking on weekends through the forests and he can do the trail runs.

Daily routine changes as work only starts at 9am and finishes at 5pm; you get told you have to take a lunch break; had to get used to that as in SA never took one.  I learnt to work a lot slower as that is how it is done here and everyone is so respectful to one another in the work environment. I still get asked if I am from Australia, New Zealand or Canada, besides South Africa (the land of the Safari as it is referred too by some; they are very oblivious to what is happening in SA).

This has been my solo journey so far and I am so very thankful, incredibly grateful and unbelievably blessed; may my STELLA STAR RUNNER, Clay (aka PAPA SMURF) start his marathon journey to me in 2021 to start our new beginnings.

Take care and stay safe,