Running The World
Runners on their home cities
PARIS FRANCE Name Emmanuelle Blanck Age 49 Profession Digital art director
I never run inside, even if it’s raining or cold. Paris is a city of such beauty, there’s no reason to be on a treadmill in a gym. I take my sport outside.
My favourite place to run is La Coulée verte. It goes five kilometres from the hip, bohemian Bastille neighborhood where I live to the more suburban Vincennes area and the Bois de Vincennes, Paris’ largest park. It’s a converted elevated railway – I believe it inspired New York City’s High Line – and once you ascend the stairs, it’s like you’ve discovered a secret realm above the city. You’re suspended over bright, grassy lawns and at eye level with many of the old Haussmann apartment buildings, with their grand facades of cream-colored limestone, cornices and balconies.
I do my long runs on Sunday. I’ll take the bridge to Ile Saint-louis, the smaller of two neighbouring natural islands in the middle of the Seine. In the early morning, before the winding pavements fill with residents carrying bundles from farmers’ markets or the boulangerie, the narrow one-way streets are misty and quiet. It’s beautiful. The island is small, just 12 blocks, so it’s a great place to do laps. From the south end, you can see Notre-dame, just across the water on the neighboring island of Ile de la Cité.
From there, I’ll cross the Seine to the Right Bank and run to the courtyard of the Louvre Palace and around the Louvre Pyramid; at 7am or 8am in the morning, when the courtyard is empty, it feels like the palace is your own. Sometimes, when the sun hits the glass on the pyramid, I’ll stop and take a picture with my phone. After that I'll loop around the Tuileries, the public garden between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, known for its sculptures, fountains and formal gardens. I’ll cross the Seine to the Left Bank, where the road along the river is closed to cars, and continue along to the Eiffel Tower. My long run is anywhere from 12 to 30 kilometres.
Twice a week, I run at the Paul Faber stadium with a club called Les etoiles du 8eme, which means The stars of the 8th arrondissement. There are 120 of us, aged 20 to 55. We're about 40 per cent women, and a mix of students and professionals.
Though running is growing in Paris, it’s still more common to see strolling couples on the pavement than runners. Running happens mostly at places designated for sport, such as tracks or parks. Football, tennis and cycling are more popular. But clubs and social networking are making running more mainstream. I sometimes run with a club called Free Runners. It started in 2014; we’re a family of runners who meet in small groups.
There’s a road along the bank of the Seine that’s closed to cars on Sundays for the benefit of runners and cyclists. On summer nights you can see the docked boats filled with bars, music and people dancing. We Free Runners do a ‘Happy Friday Run’. We run eight to 10 kilometres at an easy pace, then stop at a bar, enjoy a drink and talk about running. Where else but Paris can one so easily pair wine with a run?
BANGKOK THAILAND Name Sarun Limsawaddiwong Age 42 Profession Hotel proprietor
It’s not common to see runners in Bangkok during the day. It’s hot and the uneven pavements are crowded with street vendors, food stalls and stray dogs. The dogs don’t usually bite, but they get in your way. Many people smoke here, so you have to run through a lot of cigarette smoke, too.
There are plenty of footpaths and designated lanes for runners and cyclists on the streets but the traffic is very heavy and there’s no real understanding of pedestrian laws. Motorbikes and tuk tuks [motorised rickshaws] are usually careful, but cars do what they want, so runners have to choose their routes very carefully.
I’ve started doing night ‘city runs’ with a group of friends. We run 10 to 15 kilometres and stop for snacks – bananas and energy drinks – along the way. We’ll run through Chinatown or by Wat Saket, a Buddhist temple, to the royal Grand Palace, and avoid nightlife areas like Khao San Road, where there are more drunk drivers. There have to be at least four or five of us because we have to look around – 360 degrees – all the time; it’s not safe otherwise. It’s impossible to run by myself at night. It’s really nice with a group, though, and not as hot then, either – usually about 30C. We like to end at a cafe called Mont Nom Sod, which serves special milk and sweet bread.
When I’m not running with my group, I run early in the morning in Lumpini Park. Built on former royal grounds, it is to Bangkok what Central Park is to New York or Hyde Park to London. There’s shade from the big trees, no dogs or smoking allowed and no cars. Sometimes there are protests or rallies, so I have to find another park to run in. There aren’t a lot of parks in Bangkok, but there are enough. The others don’t have big trees, though. Lumpini is the best.
I started running two years ago after six months of chemotherapy (I had lymphoma). It helped me get back in better health. At that time, you didn’t see too many Thai people running. But recently there’s been a running boom here. I think it’s because being healthy and fit has become trendy in the media and among movie stars. It’s a ‘cool’ lifestyle and social media has spread the message. Young people see celebrities running and being fit, and it makes them want to run, too. There’s some kind of race every Sunday in the city, and some weekends there are three or four to choose from. This is the time for runners in Thailand.
I’ve run three half marathons and two marathons so far. Staying healthy for my family motivates me. Every six months, I get check-ups, and my doctor says I’m almost as healthy as I was before the cancer. Running changed everything in my life – how I look, what I eat and how I think.
On Sundays, I try to run with my children. My eight-year-old triplets run in a club at school, and we can do about five kilometres together. But that’s enough for them! My youngest is four and he has just started running one or two kilometres with us, too. I want them to absorb the running culture so they come to my races and cheer at the finish line. Sometimes my daughter will say to me, ‘This time you were very slow; I’ve been waiting here a long time!’
DJIBOUTI CITY DJIBOUTI
Name Fathia Ali Bouraleh Age 28 Profession Student, coach of Girls Run 2, Olympian
When I was small, I ran because I was a thief. I stole shoes from outside the mosque and bread from the market. My gym teacher knew I was getting into trouble. He gave me running shoes and said if I ran, he would help me study. That’s when I started to love running.
My mother didn’t want me to run because Djiboutian culture says women should be in the house. But my father said, ‘You can do it.’ He gave me bus money to train at the stadium.
At that time, Djibouti, which borders Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, hosted track events and road races, and girls like me could participate. There was funding and hope. But that opportunity doesn’t exist now for girls. Events longer than three kilometres are now only for men. When I ask why, officials say girls aren’t at a high enough level to race long, but nobody checks their times. If they had hope, good food and good equipment, they could be the best.
My team, Girls Run 2, started in 2008. We focus on developing strong character and use club membership as motivation to stay in school. We have 25 athletes, aged 12 to 18 years old. We train in the hill region called Tora Bora, on the edge of Djibouti City. We are outside in the dust, sun and heat – it can reach 46C. There are goats, rocks, big hills, boys and men who smoke and take drugs, and no security. The boys throw stones and insult us. Sometimes I get angry and yell, but that makes things worse. We try to ignore them.
When people see us running, some will say, ‘Why is she not in her house?’ Or, ‘She is walaan [crazy].’ But some others say, ‘Bon courage!’ Ayanleh Souleiman [the Djiboutian middle distance runner who set the indoor 1000m WR in February 2016] has helped people see that running can bring honour to our country, so the sport is alive again, but there is a long way to go, especially with those older or less-educated people who say women belong in the house.
As an athlete I accomplished my dreams – I was the second female runner from Djibouti to go to the Olympics [Fathia ran the 100m in Beijing, 2008]. Now my dream is for one of my girls to someday race in the Olympics.
Djiboutian people are Muslims, although they aren’t strict. At the Olympics, I wore long pants, a longsleeved shirt and my scarf. Not as an obligation, but because I’m not comfortable outside without long clothes. My girls and I don’t care if someone covers their head or not.
Running has taught me that being a woman is a beautiful thing. We can do more than sit at home. In a family the girl gives the boy water, brings his food, washes his clothes. The boy gets new clothes, new shoes. Not the girl. Once we were going to a race and a coach said, ‘Why are you bringing these girls and taking so many seats on the bus? You should all go home and work in your house.’ That was humiliating, but I’ve learned from running that I am strong and can reach my goals. I’m taking night classes. I tell team members that women can have more. They can provide, they can get a good education. I never used to think girls could dream. But now I know. Girls can study. Girls can drive. Girls can run. Girls can do anything.
RIO DE JANEIRO BRAZIL
Name Fabio Iskandarian Age 33 Profession Personal trainer
People here have always been into outdoor sports and staying fit. But running has boomed since Rio was chosen to host the Olympics. We were the first South American city to host them and there’s a lot of pride here about that fact.
Rio de Janeiro is crowded; we have more than six million people and lots of traffic. But there are plenty of places to run. You can go to the beach and run along the promenade. Ipanema and Copacabana beaches are full of runners, walkers, cyclists and people of every age working out or playing footvolley [a blend of football and volleyball]. The beach is like an outdoor gym. It starts to get hot around 7:30am, so most people prefer to run early.
You can also drive from the beach to the Tijuca Forest in the hills west of town. It takes about 10 minutes, and it’s about 10 degrees cooler up there. The trails pass waterfalls and are full of monkeys and other wildlife. On the forest’s east side, you get really nice views of the city and the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado. You can run from the trails here to the base of the statue, but the route becomes very crowded with tourists. The forest is a really challenging, hilly place to run – run here for a while and when you go back to flat ground, you rock!
As a boy I was more interested in swimming. At the beginning of the swim season, we did running workouts and I was always first to finish. Now I do triathlons. Staying in shape is a very big thing here. We have a beach lifestyle and people like to show off their bodies. Everyone wants to wear swimming trunks and tiny bikinis. It’s part of the culture. You see very fit people running. Every weekend we have 5K and 10K runs. Rio also has one of the only marathons in the world [the Rio de Janeiro Marathon, in June] where you can run mostly along the beach.
Rio is a big city and it does have problems with crime. It’s a combination of beauty and the beast. It’s crucial to keep your eyes open and run in places where there are lots of people, and not on dark streets.
I own a business helping clients keep fit, and I’m always working. So running is a chance to relax. I run around the Lagoa [a lagoon inland from Ipanema and Leblon], or in Flamengo Park, our biggest park, which is all grass.
What I like about running in Rio is the connection between the mountains and the water, which are very close together. You can see the birds, the nature. The weather is perfect. It’s a really vibrant place. I hope that the Olympics have inspired even more Brazilians to take up running. Then we’ll have traffic jams with runners and not just with cars.
1/ Running along the Seine
2/ Passing the Louvre
3/ Early morning is the best time to run the narrow streets of Ile Saint-louis
4/ Getting in a light stretch, with the Eiffel Tower n the distance
1/ Limsawaddiwong running through Lumpini Park
3/ Stretching out before an evening run in the city
4/ An unusually quiet time in the city’s old quarter
2/ Leading a group run in Rattanakosin, the historic centre of Bangkok
1/ Coach Fathia leading her team near the Tora Bora neighborhood
2/ Drawing attention from some of the local children
3/ Going for postrun bread 4/ Donning abayas after training
5/ Runner Amir Moussa walks to her home in Balbala
6/ In Balbala, the neighbourhood where Fathia grew up. ‘Running has taught me that being a woman is a beautiful thing’ 3 1 2
1/ Pedra da Gávea rises behind Iskandarian. At more than 800m, it’s one of the highest mountains in the world that ends directly at the ocean 2/ A waterfall in Tijuca Forest 3/ Leblon Beach 4/ Rio’s iconic Sugarloaf