Running Culture in Reykjavik & St. Petersburg

I ran for the first time today since last Thursday. I arrived to St. Petersburg early, but between the long day driving on Friday and the couple hours of sleep on the plane, my mother and I were wiped out. We spent Saturday sleeping all day. I woke up early on Sunday morning, but I was still fatigued, so I decided to continue sleeping instead of going out to run. Monday was the first day at work, so the day was a bit hectic with trying to sort things out.

I meant to do only a short run, but it turned out to be about an hour long. I ran a bit more than 5 miles according to GMap Pedometer. Aside from a couple sections where I ran through a small park and next to a river, the scenery was rather cheerless. In the beginning my legs felt a bit heavy as if they had forgotten how to run. Then they loosened up. I didn’t push myself. I just wanted to get back into running again.

In the few days that I’ve been in St. Petersburg, I haven’t seen a single runner. Not one. I’ve seen several people going out for their walks and a couple of cyclists, but not a single runner. This is in stark contrast to Reykjavik, where I saw a large and lively running community. Every day I saw handfuls of people running on the sidewalks or out by the waterfront, smiling and enjoying the cold crisp air and beautiful scenery. Although Reykjavik is the largest city in Iceland, it’s still quite small. It takes only five minutes to drive out of the city and into the wilderness. You never feel all that far from nature.

St. Petersburg is different. It’s a large sprawling city and big chunks of city are a bit grim looking. The Soviet era buildings don’t do much to inspire feelings of awe and joy. Not to say that I’m not enjoying myself here. In its own way, St. Petersburg has its own charm. The Hermitage and the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood are breathtaking works of art. But while in Iceland I felt quite open and welcome to running because of all the runners and the beauty surrounding me, I’m not as motivated to run here. I must appear like an odd freak to the Russians. Running against a backdrop of monolithic tired, somewhat dilapidated, and drab buildings with nothing but traffic screeching and blaring at me doesn’t do much for me. The neighborhood that I’m staying in shouldn’t be that difficult to run in. There are long stretches of street and sidewalks without any interruptions. I rarely had to stop for a light. Walking seems to be the main form of exercise here.

When thinking about why don’t people exercise more or why don’t more people exercise, people tend to think more about the individual factors (e.g., laziness) and less about structural factors that also play an important role. Surrounded by nature and by a community of runners, running seems like a natural and fun thing to do. Running appears to be less of an option when you take away a welcoming environment and you’re out there all alone.

I’d like to have a good running base for when I return back to the US and start on my half marathon training. I’m studying a map to find more runner friendly places to go to.

2 thoughts on “Running Culture in Reykjavik & St. Petersburg

  1. I love running when I travel. It is so interesting to experience the “running culture” of a new place. I’ve never been to Iceland or Russia, but I’m enjoying reading about your experiences!

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