January 24, 2013

Running in Moscow, Russia

Derek Gagne
After living in Squamish and Whistler for the past decade, two-time Ironman finisher Derek Gagne accepted a job working on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

The Senior Project Manager for Contemporary International arrived in Moscow in October 2012, just days before Ironman Canada said it had found a new home in his former backyard.

Alas, Derek consoles himself with a running regime as he believes it a perfect time to work on improving his marathon personal best time of 3:55:15. Moscow offers two marathons in the time he'll live there, and he plans to do both.

Derek spent his first two months getting used to his new environment, before heading back to Canada for the holidays. He'll return to Russia next month, this time with his wife Kirsten and their three young children; the family will be based in Moscow until October 2013, before moving to Sochi where they'll be until April 2014. They haven't yet made plans beyond that…

I was curious about his thoughts and experiences on running in Moscow, and here's what he said:

I assume you brought running gear with you. What did you bring? Anything you're missing? 
I brought two brandnew pairs of shoes, clothes for indoor running at the gym and all my outdoor fall/winter running wear. My thermal Under Armour tights are a life saver and it is key to wear several base layers when outdoors here. It's windy. I also brought 24 Double Latte Power Gels, a few tubes of Nuun, my Garmin watch, Petzl headlamp, mini foam roller and all my favourite running toques. I brought all I needed to make it from October 11 to December 19.

During a break in Canada over the December 2012/January 2013 holidays, Derek decided to upgrade his Russian running wardrobe only with "an old-school track suit." 
Even in Whistler, I just wear my normal running gear and add either the track pants or jacket or both depending on the weather. Just needed another layer but, quite frankly, I was too cheap to buy the 'proper' winter technical running gear as the window to use it is a small one. So far, what I bought is working out well for me with a toque and gloves.

Are there any running stores or some place that allows you to buy clothing, shoes, socks, nutrition for running? 
I have not really looked yet as I have not needed to but I am sure they are here. The locals have an expression here: "In Moscow you can find anything you want...as long as you are willing to pay the price." 

Funny story—I did come across one running store by luck just walking around, great shop, I was admiring the Salomon shoes with the metal spikes on the bottom. The owner of the shop did not speak great English but enough to tell me he competes in ultra races in the Alps. He said, "Ah you are from Vancouver, you have Arc'teryx...very good, I like."

Why did you decide to run there, rather than any other sport? 
As a triathlete, of course I considered the three sports to try and stay in tri shape. Cycling here is a death wish. You only see bikes in the parks. I will swim to cross train but with no races on the horizon (tri races), not much point being in the pool too much. I decided to run because for me it is a great way to stay in all-around shape, I can do it anywhere. 

I figure, if I can keep my weekly long-run fitness at two hours, I could do a half iron at any time; my swim and bike would not be as good as usual but if I keep the running, I know I will maintain the base I want and can plan to increase from two-hour long runs for a few marathons in 2013. 

How long after you arrived in Moscow did you go for your first run?
About three days, I was jet-lagged and wide awake at 6am so I decide to go out on the sidewalks of the busy streets where I was living at the time.

How had you prepared?
I did not prepare at all—that was not smart.  I went running down a busy street trying to get to a park and went the wrong way in the dark. I had my Petzl light on my head which was flashing: let me tell you, that got a lot of weird looks and some people stopped in their tracks to observe what this crazy person was doing.

What has surprised you?
The overall lack of outdoor recreation, although I knew this based on the research I had done prior to coming here. Overall, it is not a very fitness/wellness oriented culture—unlike Vancouver. For example, most people smoke, in restaurants, bars, cafes. I took my body about two weeks to adjust to the (poor) air quality. You go out on a run, even in the park, and it smells like cigarettes. 

The other thing that surprised me is how aware you have to be of the road surface you are running on. Out of nowhere there are holes in the road, pieces of rebar sticking out, overall very uneven surfaces.

Have you seen any other runners at all so far? Are there running clubs? Races? Magazines (whether Russian or any other languages—a Runner's World available anywhere)?
I am now settled into a routine where I do short runs indoors at the gym during the week cause it's dark and I do my long runs on Sat and Sun in Gorky Park. Here there are many runners, roller bladers, cyclists—and NO cars. I have not yet found any clubs but there a few websites 42km.ru which is a good resource. 

How many runs have you done by now?
I have been here just under two months and I have done at least 10 long runs in the park...not many, I know...still getting settled. I took me about  two weeks to get over the jet lag, worst I have ever had as it is exactly 12 hours ahead.

What kind of routes have you found?
Gorky Park is great. You can do pavement (road), "seawall" along the river or go into the woods and do trails with some great hill climbs. I am very happy to be living next to this park. It is a great place along the Moscow river and can be compared to the Seawall in Stanley park. Without the trees, without the even road surface, and without the ocean but, regardless, you get my point – it's nice for Moscow. 

There are great hills, trail running and the "seawall" along the river. You can easily do an out-and-back 20K run. And, there are other runners! You can tell the expats who are running because they recognize your gear (Ironman visor, Subaru shirt, Vancouver Marathon gloves) and they say hi. So, I have made it my mission to wave hello to every runner I see. Occasionally a few wave back and others just go along their way.

Do you feel comfortable running there?
Yes, absolutely, but it took a few weeks to get over the initial fear of traffic and stories of police stopping people to ask to see your passport (which I have not ever seen actually happen). I would say that other then the traffic, it just as safe as any other big international city. 

What time of the day do you usually run? 
For my long runs outside, usually around noon when it warms up and it is bright. 

What do your colleagues think about your running? Any of them running with you?
Some have said, "That is crazy—it's too cold, that's too far, that's to dangerous..." Others are gym rats so they do not get it. Many of the gyms are more of a fashion show than a gym. None of them are running with me. 

What are your running goals in Moscow, Sochi? Have those goals changed since you arrived?
For Moscow there are two marathons, one in May and one in September 2013. I would like to do both. I am still after my 3:45 (or better) PB. At this point I have no idea what Sochi will bring although I am told the traffic there is worse than Moscow because it does not have the public transit (metro) like Moscow. 

Any cool local races you're drooling over? Any you've committed to?
Not committed to anything yet. Was looking at some winter ice marathons but logistically too complicated. I would like to get in two or three good marathons in 2013. I might also plan some vacation in Europe and tie in a race...I am starting my research. 

Derek also decided to join a gym in Moscow and experienced his first spinning class. 
This week was the first one where I really started to get into the return on the price of my gym membership (organ donation required). I joined a chain called World Class after visiting four other local gyms. This is the first gym membership I have purchased: as a triathlete, I run outside, bike outside and just go to the local rec centre pool. There are no rec centres in Moscow, not that I have found. So, as long as there is no ice on the ground, I will run outside but I have gotten into the pool (25m, two lanes), weights, core exercises and yes... a spin class. 

I figured I should stay in triathlete shape for when they announce Ironman Moscow in 2013...

The gym is entertaining. The people range from your normal gym goer, to men who look like those strong men who pull a bus or jet with a rope (with the biggest beards I have ever seen), to the fashion queen in designer gym wear and D&G sun glasses (yes, sunglasses indoors).

Spin class...always wanted to try one, now is my chance to see if a keen cyclist can survive on spin classes alone. First, yes, the class is in Russian. The gym uses a program called LesMills; from what I gather they have a series of programs that gyms get certified to offer. 

Even if in Russian I thought, how hard can it be, pedal fast, pedal hard, out of sadle....just watch and copy the instructor. It turns out to be really fun and it is one hell of a workout as the class lasts 55 minutes, and it is high intensity. And, they use some key English words thrown in with the Russian like: easy, race, aero, plus (more tension). All this to say it is fun.

My last class, the instructor asked me a question to which I replied "No Russian, English" (with my broken Russian). He then said something in Russian and the entire class laughed so not sure what that was about... 

Follow Derek's life in Moscow on http://gofasterdada.blogspot.ca/
Check out his professional page at http://derekgagne.com/

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