Jogging is an Extreme Sport

Gotta watch out for those big dogs and drunk drivers around here!

Moscow Times, July 15, 1998

Searching in Vain for Jogger’s Paradise in Moscow

By Ivan Watson

Russian women have a reputation for mothering. To young Americans who move
here, this is a double-edged sword. With every helping of fried meat and
cucumbers swamped with heavy cream, we are fed gruesome details of shocking
crimes in the suffering cities of New Russia. Fortunately, a stint on a
high-school cross-country team taught me how best to cope with “light” breakfasts
of smoked fish rolled in fried bilini and garnished with
egg-ham-cucumber-mayonnaise salads: running.

In addition to keeping the foreign food off my love handles, I long ago learned
that running — along with apartment-hunting — is also a fantastic way to
learn about a foreign city. Herein lies the problem.

When I first stepped out onto the streets of Moscow in Asics running shoes,
green soccer shorts, and a T-shirt, I immediately saw myself as the obvious
prey of every gangster, desperate drunk, and bored, delinquent teenager in
the Russian Federation.

Suffice to say, during my first several athletic outings, I felt the need
to adopt an intense don’t-mess-with-me glare while grunting and sweating
past children and old ladies relaxing on sunny park benches. But so far,
only dogs — whether they are the enormous rottweilers walking unleashed
beside their masters or the packs of starving strays limping around the city
— have merited this intimidating posture.

Dad, going in StyleOnce I conquered my fear of everything that moved,
however, I began discovering Moscow’s life and culture through the sweaty
eyes of a gasping runner. Since the former Soviet Union’s vaunted culture
of athleticism provided a perennial rival to the Americans in the Olympic
Games, and since athletic complexes and stadiums dominate portions of every
Russian city, one would think runners might be common on city streets. Only
once did I pass another runner, a Scandinavian-looking woman who looked
positively spooked at my sudden appearance. The rest of the time, my exertions
consistently turn surprised and curious heads and occasionally inspire the
comment “sportsman.” Sometimes, when not pointing at me, children playing
in parks venture to “race” me for a few meters.

Dad, exploring Red Square on the fly

In spring and summer, the abundant, often-untended greenery in this Russian
capital rivals cities such as New York, Boston, and Paris. Behind banks of
aging, concrete apartment buildings lie countless pockets of lush parks and
trees. A pedestrian, tree-lined boulevard also makes up one of the three
concentric rings that divide the city, and runs conveniently close to Orthodox
onion-domed churches and the cream of Moscow’s architecture. Perfect for
walking dogs, pushing the kids in a stroller, or sipping a Baltika beer in
the early evening, the Boulevard Ring is unfortunately not made for runners:
Busy traffic intersections interrupt the leafy parks every 400 yards.

Intersections: I was initially impressed at how respectful Russian pedestrians
were of traffic signals. The reason? Russian drivers have no respect for
anything at all. Drivers accelerate when a pedestrian dares to cross the
street. This is true no matter how quiet or traffic-free the street may be.
My impatient decision to jaywalk and run across busy intersections thus becomes
an adrenaline-rushed turkey shoot with me as the target.

Anyone who chooses to do more than run around the same half-acre park for
45 minutes will inevitably have to cross a street. The distance across many
of Moscow’s streets, however, is easily the length of a Manhattan block.
To preserve the lives of their pedestrian citizenry from vehicles and the
rigors of winter, Moscow’s 20th-century rulers built long underpasses. Today,
many of these caverns are lined with shops. If runners are an unexpected
sight above ground, they less welcome sprinting through these dark tunnels,
past shoppers browsing in front of compact disk and flower stands.

There is so much to be said about contemporary Moscow, a city that has completely
transformed at least twice in the past decade. My first and most selfish
priority, though, is to find that hidden Shangri-La where runners are welcomed,
where they can stretch, run their timed miles, and maintain a maximum heart
rate without risk. Until the day I find that jogging ghetto (or until I find
that pretty Scandinavian jogger) I will continue exploring Moscow and Russia
the best way I know how — on sneakered foot.

Johnson’s Russia List, July 15, 1998

Jogging In Moscow, An Historical Perspective

By Yale Richmond

Jogging in Moscow was first introduced in 1962 and, like many things Russian,
it was an import from the West. The first Moscow jogger was Peter Bridges,
a young Foreign Service Officer at the American Embassy who wrote about pounding
the Russian pavements in an article in the Foreign Service Journal some time
ago. And I was the second jogger, in 1967 when I was posted to Moscow as
Counselor for Cultural Affairs but I did not pound the pavements at first.
Just behind the embassy in those years, on the site now occupied by embassy
staff housing, there was a small stadium used by a Moscow sports club, and
with a quarter-mile cinder track. And that’s where I jogged every day, weather
permitting, much to the amusement of the Russian young men who were practicing
rugby or football there.

During the winter months, when the track was snowed in, I took to the streets
and made several circuits around the embassy, even in the coldest weather
with my eyeglasses frosted over, much to the amazement of street goers who
would shout “c uma soshli?” (Are you out of your mind?)

Children did not run after me but drunks sometimes did. Once, coming up
Devyatinskii Bolshoi pereulok, a rather inebriated Russian detached himself
from a group of serious drinkers congregated around the open air vodka stand
there, and began to jog alongside me. As we rounded the corner onto ulitsa
Chaikovskogo we approached the two Russian militsia men standing guard in
front of the embassy. They recognized me but not the surprised Russian at
my side whom they promptly apprehended. I wonder what the charge was.

The strangest jogging episode, however, involved the embassy marines. To
keep in shape, they would work out in the “community room” in the basement
of the embassy north wing. One morning, with the temperature well below freezing
and with snow on the ground, the marines decided to emerge from their improvised
gymnasium and take a few laps out the embassy gateway, along the sidewalk
and back in the other gateway, clad only in shorts, tee shirts, and barefoot!
The militsia men were aghast, and I always wondered what their KGB chiefs
made of that episode and those “crazy Americans.”

Johnson’s Russia List, July 1998

Running in Moscow

By Anthony Sager

David: Glad to learn you’re a fellow runner. Having regularly run in various
neighborhoods in Moscow, I think that Ian Watson has over dramatized the
risks of running in Moscow. He’s right about the potential problem of dogs,
although I’ve never been chased or bitten, probably because I give large
off-leash dogs a wide berth or slow to a walk. [The RF Law on Weapons allows
unlicensed possession of mace-type hand-held gas canisters, including by
foreigners, if one is seriously worried about dogs.]

The greater hazard is ice – slipping on it in the winter and breaking something
(and then having to get it treated). In Moscow, as elsewhere, the best place
to run is along the Moscow River, if you’re fortunate to be living or staying
near it. The bridges carry traffic over your head, so street crossings are
far apart. And the sidewalks are pretty well maintained, even in winter.
If you get out early in the morning, the air isn’t bad, either.

It’s not Rock Creek Park, but running past the Kremlin and the like isn’t
bad! Someone has published a runner’s guide to Moscow, in a series covering
most world cities, but I haven’t seen it, and prefer to pick my own route
anyway.