Tragic. Beautiful. From the first sight of her onion domes soaring into the sky, Moscow will capture your imagination and enrapture your heart. When you run through this capital at a 6-8 mile-per-hour clip, something happens: you become a member of the city’s scene, yet you separate yourself from it. You move into it, but beyond it. You become liberated from it.
Now BTG admits: at first glance, Moscow doesn't appear to be the best running city. From morning to night the place is packed, teeming with pedestrians, kiosks, and tables overflowing with everything from books and newspapers, to hats and gloves, to scarves and lingerie, to homemade pickles and hot pirozhki. Expect to see people selling and doing absolutely anything on the streets - anything, that is, except running. Your ordinary Oleg smoking on the street corner with his parins, his “homies”, will be more surprised by the apparition of a shorts-clad, red-faced jogger than by the unveiling of a corpse.
But remember – where there’s a runner, there’s a way. And despite this city’s challenges, running Moscow is a powerful way to be part of it.
- The Police: The police are not your friends in this country. Many are officially-sanctioned quasi-corrupt agents who will stop people on the street to ensure their documents are in order. This is not done in the name of the people’s protection; it’s more to extract a “vzyatka” (bribe). You won't get your ID - in this case your international passport - back unless you pay this "fine". Yet don't forget: despite this unfair situation, you must always carry your passport with you in Moscow, and take a photocopy of it when you run. The alternative is worse.
- Stray Dogs: Like any big city, there’s a significant population of strays here. Unfortunately, the dogs can be a bit more numerous and aggressive than most. Those looking to improve their time in a 5K will certainly do so with a pack of these hounds at their heels.
- Drunks: You’ll run into them more often than dogs, and it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Russia is home to over 2.3 million alcoholics, so don’t be surprised by the workaday man popping open a cold one at seven in the morning or the band of comrades passed out one on top of the other at the entrance to the metro. Instead, jump over them. Give your glutes some extra work.
A Word of Advice to Gym Rats
Russia is in the process of building a workout culture, but there are gaps in their understanding of it. For example, it is nel’zya (forbidden) to wear shoes in the workout room that have had prior contact with the outside street. Runners who follow their workouts with abdominal or weight training should plan on changing shoes before hitting the gym.
Running in Moscow – A Strategy
There are two kinds of runs to be had in Moscow. One is the “city run”, and all the lung-choking, joint-wrecking, puddle-jumping, stoplight-delayed implications of running in the middle of a crowded megalopolis. The Moscow River route is one of the few places where you can avoid this kind of experience. The other kind of run requires abandoning Red Square, the Kremlin, and Tverskaya streets, and heading for the large parks – Izmailovsky, Tsaritsino, and others – that ring the city center. Do this and you’re in for a treat – Russia is a big country, and her infatuation with the grandiose goes for parks as well.
To take these kinds of runs, take a different approach to running. Don’t just “go” for a run in a park in Moscow. Commit to this run, and be willing to invest some extra time and energy to make it happen. First, get to this run. This requires forethought, planning, and some careful studying of the map. Getting to the run means accepting you have go to the metro, go down into the metro, ride the metro for at least thirty minutes, and then push through the people pouring out of the underground and make your way to the surface. Then you have to go through the same process to get back.
Don’t let this stop you! Moscow’s exquisite green expanses, with their brilliant flowers and storied history, make a run well worth your while. The relief of escaping the fast-paced city life for an hour or so will be rejuvenating.