Running in a Metropolis

As we slave away on our research projects and struggle to master the Russian language, occasionally we are granted a few minutes to reflect and think about our time here in this strange land. Sometimes it feels like time is standing still; our lives back in America being kept on hold as we experience something new and entirely different. But time is not standing still, and that calendar is already ticking down, day by day, towards the NCAA cross country championships in late November (Nov 22nd, to be exact) which gives me roughly 129 days to turn into someone heroic. To some of you reading this blog, that might seem like a considerable amount of time. I’ll admit once I added the days together, it seems longer than I originally thought. But I will assure you that that is not a lot of time, and while I would like to spend my free evenings here in Russia drinking “Baltica 7” by the river, there is work to be done.

Before I left William and Mary after the spring semester, my coach gave me a summer running plan. I looked at it, and thought, “This seems pretty light, only 40 miles week one, 50 week 2, 60 week 3, piece of cake!” And while that too, may seem like a lot, I had been doing 70 miles a week pretty consistently during the school year. That being said, it turns out if you think that that is a lot of miles to be running while on a study abroad trip, you are 100% correct.

Between the classes, interviews, excursions, social events, and negotiating meal times with my host mom, running here in the St. Petersburg metropolis has become a psychological trap. Having not grown up in a city, I was unprepared for the amount of time I have to spend on my feet, walking and standing, all the while thinking about when I was going to get that 10 mile run in. And while my feet have no problem running for absurd durations of time, there is just no comparison to a 4 hour walking tour of the hermitage when it comes to making your feet sore and your hamstrings tight. Knowing that I have a run to do picks at my brain all day. And when we return home and everyone talks about the nap they are going to take and the fun they are going to have going out that night, I respond by asking them if they want to go on a 10 mile jog beforehand. You can guess the response.

But there are perks to running here. My runs are my time to display my masculine prowess to the hordes of high heeled, short skirted “девушки,” but at the same time I must submit myself to the dreadful concentrated stares of loathing from the equally massive hordes of disapproving “gentlemen.” And while Russians, unlike Americans, do not heckle runners (unless they are severely inebriated) they may point you out to their friends and start laughing among themselves. However, more often than not they just stare. Judging by body language signals received while I was roaming the streets in my shorts and a singlet, this approval ranges from complete disgust, to disapproval, to confusion, to intrigue, to modest approval, to discrete examination of the terrain, to the rare completely obvious up-down.

On a slightly more serious note, Russians seem to appreciate green space in their cities, and as luck would have it, the area in which we live has many trails and soft surfaces on which to run, despite being only two metro stations from downtown on “Nevsky Prospect.” I spend much of my running time doing laps of the nearby “Smolensky Cemetery.” And while at first I was a little nervous that this might not be acceptable, after seeing people walk their dogs, ride their bikes, and nonchalantly sitting near the graves drinking bear, and having not received any direct “Get the Heck out of here” signals, I have decided that it is ok.

And on a final note, anyone who enjoys a good night run would be in a paradise here in Saint Petersburg in July. From a runner’s perspective, the best way to enjoy the famed “White Nights” is to be speeding around the city on your own two feet. The city is beautiful at night, the air is cool, you feel fast and strong, and it’s an odd sensation to be running in twilight at 12:30am; there’s so much light that you can even run on the paths and in the parks. Fun Fact: At this hour you will see more Russians on rollerblades than walking. Fun Fact #2: You may also stumble upon a drag race at this hour. However, the events of the White nights deserve their own blog post later on.

And now it is time to once more answer the call of duty and explore the city from the soles of my running shoes. And while I am sure that my fellow students do not envy me, I know that I get a perspective of this city that is unique, and sometimes that is enough to get me to lace up my shoes and take that crucial first step out the door.

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