Friday, October 28, 2011

Russia from a Distance Runner's Perspective

I found a place to go running!

Be careful of forest fires.

 The pond.

I decided to start this post with these nice pictures. But don't be fooled... running in Chelyabinsk (and Russia in general) is not a simple and beautiful as this might suggest.
First, I chose a sunny day to take these pictures. The sun maybe comes out once a week here.
Second, its only realistic to run here on the weekends, for my long run. It is a short bus ride or a long walk away... so not really practical for the mornings before class.
Third, this park seemed big enough...the first two days I ran here, when I didn't know my way. Now, the reality has set in that these nice, windy paths that look like they are far from the urban bustle...just end up right back onto the city roads if you follow them for more than ten minutes. Any decent long run requires retracing your routes at least twice.

This is where I run most mornings.

:) I love my Soviet track!

Really, I am so lucky to have this right next to my apartment. Otherwise, I don't think I would keep up my running much at all, or it might be extremely inconvenient.

This week during orientation in Moscow (I guess I am supposed to dedicate a blog post to Moscow eventually... it's not my favorite city in the world, but obviously this weekend was worth mentioning) we had to listen to yet another lecture about culture shock, how it happens to everyone, how it is unavoidable... etc...
I do not want to try and say I am some kind of exception to the rule..of course not... I just never noticed the four-stage pattern that everyone talks about. There does not appear to be a "honeymoon phase" or a "depression phase"... in Chelyabinsk at least, I have been pretty much even keel all the way through... some days are better than others, but nothing looks skewed out of proportion. Moscow, two years ago, was a lot harder to adjust, but this year, I am settled in and everything just feels like life as normal, just in another place.
That is kind of how I operate, I guess. I live in different places, and make the adjustments accordingly... but life is still just life, I am still myself..

That said. The NUMBER ONE, MAJOR thing I miss, or that is difficult for me living here: Running.
Russian women don't run. Sometimes when I mention to someone that I am going running, they answer "from what?" Even on the Soviet track nearby, which seems to have a gym class take place there every morning... there are guys that jog around it and then go play soccer, but the girls, they usually either jog for 50 meters and then go back to walking and talking with their friends, or they don't bother trying to run at all. They are even sometimes dressed in boots and stockings and fur coats.
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a distance runner. I never claim to be the fastest on any team... my times were "respectable" when I was competing (5K time was 19:56) but really, I run now not out of competition but out of pure addiction. I have been doing this for nine years. My weekly mileage has been between 30 and 55 miles, this summer I tried to reach as high as 60 although my legs pretty much rejected that idea. I figure my summer training is around 80 kilometers per week.
My favorite...or maybe top 5... things to do in all of life is to go on a 15 mile run during a cool, dry August evening, during a beautiful a moderate, 7:40 per mile pace, listening to the best of Caucasian mountain music, increasing the pace up my own hills.
In Russia, it's not that much of a letdown to make do with a Soviet track and a medium-sized park. In fact, one of the things I liked about running on long, hilly roads back home was that I could mentally "escape" from my hometown and picture myself in some faraway land... and now, here I am in a faraway land.
In the park, by the way, running is not so weird... it does feel weird on the way to and from the park, dressed in running clothes, but it's worth the 20 minutes of bracing myself on the bus and ignoring the well-dressed people who surround me to start the run in the small forest, which does look distinctly Russian. There are others running, especially on nice days, and I even encountered one person who was actually faster than me!
On the track however, I am certainly puzzling to people. I kind of enjoy this. For one, I sometimes take off my pullover and am in just the short-sleeve athletic shirt... something unheard of to everyone else. Here, if it is not summer, because it is Russia, everyone is dressed in winter clothes from head to toe. It is as if the concept of warming up from athletic activity does not exist.
Second, I am a girl and I run fast and for a long time... also unheard of.
Track "etiquette' does not exist here. What is supposed to happen is when someone runs faster than you, you let them pass you, or if you are walking you use the outer lanes to let the people doing a workout have the inner lanes. Here, this is not the case. It would not be a problem if the walkers just kept walking, and I would pass them just as I would pass a standing obstacle.. .but instead, they turn around with a bewildered look on their faces, and actually end up getting more in the way than they were before.
This doesn't really bother me, it's kind of amusing.

I haven't really gotten to the non-awkwardness level of being able to run the opposite direction around the track. I normally do that in order to make sure my skeleton remains aligned. 20 circles every morning in the same direction can make my hips uneven, but if I were to try to even this out, it would certainly be a revolution. Russia's not a place that makes it easy to go against the grain, literally.

Now I seem to face yet another obstacle: Snow. Of course, having gone to school in Oberlin, I certainly know what running in the snow is like.. but that's a place where it is okay to run on roads that are occasionally plowed. I am assuming here that nobody is going to plow the track, so my running season will end as soon as the snow gets too high to trudge through. Right now, there is about two centimeters of snow covering the ground.... but it's only October.
It's also worth mentioning that my first time running around the track in the snow, yesterday morning... went not without a few major wipeouts from the slipperiness... fortunately, it was not embarrassing, because only one other person was crazy enough to also be there at the track.
I also enjoy the irony of seeing people smoking on the side of the athletic stadium.

On Sundays, I take a short bus ride to Park Gagarin, where I do my long run (about 80 minutes... 20 songs) which is the pretty place pictured above. I have yet to try it in the snow, but hopefully it will хватит... 

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