Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some thoughts about running in Spain

After a week and a half in Spain, including seven running days, I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, it's a beautiful country, and it's been fantastic to have the opportunity to visit and enjoy the sights in a place that is completely new and different to me.

That said, the Spanish attitude to running -- at least from what I've seen, in the places I've been -- is distinctly different from the US. In the big cities (Barcelona, Madrid), people don't seem to expect to see runners on the regular streets and sidewalks. In fact, they don't seem to expect it in the smaller cities, either (Córdoba, Granada). If you're going to run, you're expected to use "official" parks and greenways to do it.

When you do run, even in those places, typically you are expected to be well equipped, which in Spain means matching running gear. While in the US it's almost considered effete to be running in matching jacket, leggings, and shoes, in Spain it's the height of fashion. I definitely got some confused stares from Spanish runners as I trotted by in my yellow DART shirt with red calf sleeves and an orange hat.

Spain definitely has more cyclists than the US. I'd say the ratio of cyclists to runners (and here I'm talking about fitness cyclists, not commuters) is pretty close to 1:1, where in the US it is perhaps more like 1:3. Most of the cyclists seem to use mountain bikes (at least in the cities where I've been running), which makes a lot of sense given their options of riding on cobblestone streets or unpaved paths in parks.

Runners do seem to acknowledge each other, much as they do in the US, with a "Hola," often muttered under the breath. I'd say the greetings are typically a bit more enthusiastic in the US, but that might just be because on my usual running routes I see the same people almost every day.

Cars, on the other hand, seem to be more respectful of runners (and all pedestrians). They stop for you when you are at a crosswalk, and they seem to spot you more readily.

That's good, because for the most part I'd say the sidewalks in Spain aren't nearly as good as those in the US. This is probably mostly because the streets are so narrow -- which leaves less room for everyone. Fortunately, everyone is aware of the narrow streets and so they all seem to get along okay. In Spain they don't seem to have any problem with planting a tree pretty much in the middle of the sidewalk. Pedestrians and runners are just expected to get out of the way. That might be a good priority, especially during the hot summer months, but it can be a little jarring for a foreign runner accustomed to consistent sidewalks.

Also, the sidewalks are typically constructed of slick pavers, which can be difficult to deal with, especially in wet weather. Fortunately I haven't had too much of that, but this morning's run was rather a bit of a challenge.

I think if I lived in Spain permanently I could get along quite well as a runner. There seem to be plenty of places to run, and there are even running groups that would probably be fun to join. That said, it will be a relief when I get back to the US in two days and don't have to worry about navigating unfamiliar territory. Particularly in Madrid, where the streets don't follow a consistent grid-like pattern, just figuring out where to go without getting lost can take a lot of effort!

In Granada, Spain, running through an olive grove

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