WHAT A beautiful fall day. I was going to run today in the forest near my home, but a change of plans (happens frequently when one moves to and tries to settle in to a different country) meant a walk through the woods with my dogs instead. The change of plans happened for a reason, I now know, and I’ll explain that later.
I used to be jealous of all of you who get to run in beautiful places and forest trails that go on for miles. For various reasons, I was often limited to the trails in the city parks that dot the landscape in and around my old town in Michigan, USA. I appreciated them, but not enough! I realized that by connecting them with short road sections, I could easily put in 20 miles of terrific running, with short, steep hills, wildlife, and natural beauty.
I live now in Russia, just outside the beltway around Moscow. It is flat – flatter than Michigan! – and, well, populated. Here, very, very few people run, especially women. The only place I have seen women running is at one sports park I sometimes run to and in the little international enclave in which I live. Light joggers, mostly. A fellow, newly-arrived American and I are trying to create a group to run/walk in the morning once a week, but so far, there isn’t any interest.
It has been tough, a little. I don’t have a car. A sweaty female in running shorts on the Metro or the bus attracts a lot of stares. Heck, a female on the road running at all attracts a lot of stares. I’m used to the road stares – I have experienced that before in other places I’ve lived – but the Metro and the bus leave me a bit uncomfortable. For that reason, most of my runs take place in parks that I can, well, run to. They are nice, but they are small, often paved, or the trails are in no way technical. SIGH – I miss my old town!
There is one big potential though: in my backyard, there exists a huge national forest. To enter it, I have to knock on the guard’s door to pass through the gate. I have to have a pass if I want to return the same way. The terrain isn’t hilly or too technical yet, but I have only explored perhaps a 10 mile area so far. I need to move further in.
At first, I was nervous to even try because it is easy to get lost (very!) and there have been incidents of wild dog attacks. I was warned about groups of wanderers making camp there, and certainly, I have come across abandoned encampments during a couple runs. For a time, these warnings had me thinking that my one salvation, this forest called Krasnogorsky, was going to be off limits. Without language skills, without a map (haven’t found one yet), and on my own, the idea of running far in that forest seemed pretty daunting. I was, honestly, quite depressed.
I don’t know when it was exactly – perhaps one evening as I faced the forest from across the lake, soaking in the seemingly endless horizon of beautiful shades of pine and oak green, birch white, and deep shadows – but I just determined to not let the warnings and fears control my need to be free and run. The warnings were from people who are not trail runners, or even runners at all. They don’t know what I have learned so far. It seems to me that many people limit themselves with expressions of fear and danger in order to avoid putting forth energy to move outside their normal lives. I don’t want to be like that. That person, for me, was put to rest a long time ago.
As I’ve been exploring, I find it interesting that my real nervousness does not come from the forest, but from running in the city. I have to run along a few industrial roads to get to some parks. I face a good number of men while I am alone on a trail or pathway, aware that for some cultures, a woman acting outside the normal constructs of femininity is fair game for abuse, as she must obviously be a bit brazen to begin with. These places make me more nervous than being alone in the forest, though I have to admit, I have met some real gentlemen as well, including the man who insisted on fixing my bike pedal when I lost the nut and the pedal fell off. He did not speak a word of English and I could understand only a minute amount of his Russian. His help enabled me to get back home, though, safely.
So, once again, I am learning that my fears are not necessarily justified. Each day, in fact, sees an expansion of the sphere in which I exist. The forest is beautiful and, I hope, one day I’ll be able to run 20 miles there. Meeting people on the street really helps one to get to know the area, even though it also a bit scary at times. Often, it is simply my old self wanting to find ways to hold me back. I won’t let it.
The rewards to my determination are perhaps small to some people, but significant to me. I now believe I can train well enough, so I have signed up for the The Wall Ultramarathon in England next June, a 69 mile race along Hadrian’s Wall. I think the terrain here around Moscow will be perfect for that. I won’t do the marathon, but I will run the 10k portion of the Moscow Peace Marathon on September 21 (road race).
And, even better, though I haven’t found much interest in a running group, I just got a call from a woman who responded to a note I put up on a bulletin board, asking if anyone would be interested in running trails with me. She is a runner from Sweden, I believe. Because my plans had gotten changed, she and I are able to start tomorrow.
My first ever running partner. Yes, I’d say I’m beginning to find my way.