Parkrun Tourists!

by Michael

I like to run.

Back in San Francisco, I regularly ran a Saturday morning 5k called Parkrun. Launched in the UK, Parkrun events are held all over the world,* usually on Saturday at 9:00 a.m. Each runner brings a barcode and volunteers record the runners’ times. Due to the high popularity of Parkrun in the UK and the popularity of San Francisco as a tourist destination, about half of the runners any given week in SF are tourists. I’ve met plenty of travers, some who I still follow on Strava (an app used to track running routes/statistics).

*While there are Parkruns all over the world, there were none close to anywhere we visited so far, until Russia. There is now a Parkrun in Stockholm, Sweden, but it was not operating until after our visit.

I was never able to convince Elizabeth to run the San Francisco Parkrun, but she agreed to join me on runs in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

St. Petersburg hosts two runs, so we picked based on location: the beautiful Elagin Island. We showed up a little early to find the group, then took part in an organized group stretch routine (very follow-the-leader) and fortunately found a young Russian to translate the race instructions.

The Elagin Island run is a great escape from the city, with ponds, trees, and red squirrels. At one point, there is a view of a new bridge and football stadium under construction, but those feel far from this green oasis in the city.

(Sorry no pictures of the red squirrels — they run away too fast. You’ll just have to trust me that they really do look like ginger squirrels.)

I finished in good time and Elizabeth finished with her fastest recorded 5k ever!

During the pre-run translation session, we met two runners from the UK traveling through Russia on a bicycle tour (their home Parkrun is “South End” — if you are reading this please say hi!). It was fun to chat after the run.

Our second Parkrun of the trip was the following Saturday in Moscow’s Gorky Park, along the river. A mostly flat out and back run, it was an ideal course for a fast time.

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The run is actually on the road up above, not the path immediately against the river.

Shortly after the turn-around at the half-way point, I saw Elizabeth, who promptly gave me the finger. Sorry no photo.

I felt like I had a good pace, and late in the run I passed a pair of 20-somethings. As we approached the finish, they picked up their pace and we all sprinted to a photo finish (except no one took a picture) with one runner to each side of me. I’ll credit Mikhail and Vladislava (plus a favorable course) with pushing me to a new lifetime personal best.

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After the run I had a chance to chat with Mikhail, who had finished just after me. He invited me to run the Moscow Marathon (or associated 10k) the next weekend. I explained that I would be at Lake Baikal, but thanked him for the welcoming invitation.

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Elizabeth approaches the finish line! She also finished with yet another personal best!

Elizabeth initially started with and then finished ahead of Andrey, a 74-year-old man wearing a Philadelphia Marathon shirt. As we learned talking to him later, Andrey didn’t start running until he was 52 but has more than made up for lost time.  He’s run a number of marathons around the world, including the North Pole Marathon!  We later found an article about him.  He used to work in the US, and his English (compared to our four words in Russian) made for more good conversation.

And, like Parkrun SF, there was cake after the Gorky Park run.

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Running while traveling has been a lot of fun. It allows me to be active, see a place from a different perspective, and it helps me to meet new people (locals and tourists alike). And those people have something in common that you can discuss without the discomfort of talking (again) about Donald Trump. Instead we all talk about running, which feels to me like a universal language.

We’ll be keeping our eyes out for additional Parkruns as we continue traveling, although it doesn’t look like there will be many additional opportunities as we head through Asia.

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