Hello / Salam Alaikum from the lovely capital city of Islamabad, Pakistan!
I moved here in January for a 6-month mission as a health promoter with MSF, and, as with everywhere I travel / work / volunteer, I’ve got to somehow get my daily runs in! It’s been a bit of a learning experience for me, to find out what is okay / not okay to do as a foreign woman in this context, but after 6 months of running here, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned / experienced so you can have some idea of what to expect.
As such, I’d like to share some tips and guidance for running in Islamabad, Pakistan. Before reading this, please note:
- This guide is only for Islamabad – the security / cultural situation and risks outside of the capital can be (and often are) completely different, and what is acceptable in Islamabad is often not acceptable outside of the city.
- I’m a woman, writing this from that perspective; as gender plays a central role in deciding which activities are okay / not okay to do in public, this is something to keep in mind.
First and foremost, you always want safety and security to be a top priority. Pakistan is such a complicated country, and, as a foreigner, I have accepted that I will understand about 1% of what goes on here. At the same time, Pakistan has been getting safer and safer over the past couple of years, and, if you respect some cultural basics, you will most likely have a very safe and enjoyable experience.
Running Alone vs. With Someone Else / A Running Group
Of course, it is always safer to run with someone else versus running solo. If you do not know the area, I highly recommend starting out running with a buddy so you can get comfortable with the layouts of the neighborhoods and feel safe while exploring; then, once you feel like you know your area / safe routes, for sure, venture out on your own! Some parks / neighborhoods are completely okay to run alone in (most of F sections), and some I would only run in if I was with someone else (e.g. Margalla Hills). Luckily, there’s a great local running club to start with: Islamabad – Run With Us (more info below).
What to Wear
What you wear is very important for respecting the culture and not attracting additional attention to yourself. The main thing is to have loose, full-length clothes – something baggy covering your butt/boobs as loosely as possible. I either go with a cotton shalwar kameez top and tights, or a loose long-sleeve running shirt with a skirt and tights and this has seemed to work okay for me so far. Men can wear regular running clothes to suit the hot weather: shorts and t-shirts are fine (and I’m highly jealous of this freedom).
Where And When To Go Running:
In Islamabad, it is a good idea to know what areas/sections of town are safer and to keep track of what day of the week it is. My general rules:
- Only daylight running – no running in the dark, dawn, or dusk
- Due to my security rules, I run in Section F8 alone, and in the other F and E sections / Margalla Hills with others. I cannot really speak for the safety of other sections of Islamabad, as I have been unable to go there… (this doesn’t necessarily mean they are unsafe).
- Avoid being out during the main call to prayer on Friday afternoons, usually some time between 1:00 and 3:00pm.
- Pay attention to when it is Ramadan – absolutely no eating or drinking (including water) in public during this month of fasting
General Good Running Practices:
It can be annoying, but in the name of safety, it is always a good idea to carry the basics: a phone, a copy of your passport / valid visa, and some emergency cash.
Whether you are in a new city or on a trail in your hometown that you have done dozens of times, it is always a good practice to tell someone where you are going / when you will be back.
Great! Now that we’ve got the safety / security side of things cleared up, we get to the fun part!
Some Great Places to Run / Explore in Islamabad:
Margalla Hills: is by far the best part of Islamabad for any trail running or hiking enthusiast. It is a network of trails that start at the northern edge of the city and climb up 400 – 600 meters, steeply or gradually depending on which trail you choose to take. The main routes zig and zag their way up the mountain, usually over 4-8 km; the fire routes head straight up in about 2-3 km. Each trail is a little bit different in terms of scenery, difficulty, and where you end up at the top. I highly recommend checking out as many of these trails as possible… there is always a new surprise / view / natural delight around each cornerJ My favorite is probably trail 4a and 4c loop.
Ridgeline Trail: I have not had the opportunity to do this trail, but I will definitely do it when I come back as a tourist. The Ridgeline Trail was just opened in 2018, and is a 44km / 2,401m elevation change trail running along the ridge of the Margalla Hills.
F-9 Park: Fatima Jinnah Park. This massive park takes up an entire square section of Islamabad and it is a beautiful place to explore by running. There are flower gardens, many tree varieties, the occasional wild dog or pig, cricket games (everywhere!), interesting statues and monuments, and lots of other people exercising/ taking wedding photos / going about their day. It is very safe along the main paths and basically everything you could want in a park while running.
Hill View Park (Section F8): This much smaller but equally lovely-for-running park is situated in the SE corner of the F8 section. It has a ~950m concrete loop around the perimeter, and usually lots of other runners / walkers making their way around. It is a great spot to run if you want to turn your brain off – no traffic, no ever-changing sidewalks, no dogs chasing you – just easy (almost) 1km loops on repeat.
There are so many other beautiful spots to run in Islamabad, but I’m limited in where I can travel so I can only speak for the above mentioned places. However, there is clearly a lot more out there, including, but not limited to: Rose and Jasmine Garden, Ankara Park, Lakeside Park, Pipeline Trail, and Murree Trails, to name a few…
I could not write a running blog about Islamabad without again mentioning the most lovely group of runners here: Islamabad: Run With Us. They regularly meet each weekend (mostly on Saturdays) and go for a 5-15 km run, walk, or hike together. I have found it to be an extremely welcoming group, for all ages, genders, and abilities. It is a great way to meet other runners, and get to know popular / local secret running routes around and just outside of town. (And I would like to say thank you to one of the group leaders, Qasim Naz, for taking and sharing stunning photos of all the runs)
So, those are my recommendations for running while female that I have come to learn during my short stay in Islamabad. If you have any other tips / suggestions or ever want to go on a run with me, please let me know!
Allah Hafiz and Happy Running!