For the first time since summer ’08, I ran yesterday. Back in the late college, early work years I ran. If I wasn’t running, I was doing yoga, playing racquetball or tennis. I moved around back then. I think these days I just creak.
I told myself after leaving West Texas, that I’d run in Panama. The island wouldn’t let me, demanded instead that I simply lay on the beach and then move to the hammock. I told myself I’d run in Kolkata. The anti-American rhetoric blasted from the neighborhood temple wouldn’t let me. I told myself I’d run in my Peace Corps training village. My laziness wouldn’t let me.
So finally yesterday, I ran in Armenia. I have concluded already that running in Armenia is much different from running in America.
Mind you, running from a pursuant such as a fire-breathing bloodhound or a mace-wielding court reporter would likely be the same here as in the good ol’ USA. Running for recreation your health, that non-descript sort, really is quite different in my VERY LIMITED experience. I’ll give you what I observed on Day One.
Ways running in North Armenian is different from running in West Texas
1. Terrain. Back in Texas I lived across the street from a well lit, smooth and even, clearly-marked-by-the-mile running track. Here in Armenia, I live on a street that is mostly mud. The parts that aren’t mud are made of puddle.
2. Community Involvement. Back in Texas I got very little recognition for my running. At most, I would hear the occasional, “Saw you running,” from a friend, possibly a car-horn honk. Here in Armenia, The American Running is a community event. Apparently I can contribute to the flexibility of necks here; I’ve never seen necks stretched so far to see something so insignificant as a guy putting one foot in front of the other. Granted, I’ve never seen an Armenian run. Not once. So one morning when the American comes by at seemingly break-neck speed (what? 5mph?), with a beet red face, huffing like a steam engine, perhaps that’s something to brighten up a calendar with.
I hear reports of village running in which villagers literaly bring the family out to see the runner huff by. This was expressed by another PCV in the form of a complaint. I’m hoping that if I generate this kind of community involvement, that perhaps I can get them to cheer for me, maybe even throw flowers!
3. Lack of social elevation. Running in West Texas brings prestige. I, for one, know that I never ran just to be healthy, and I certainly didn’t run because it was Such A Blast. I don’t enjoy pushing myself. I’m not a Mountain Climber kind of guy, more of a Lay In A Field Watching the Clouds Float type, I’d say. While, “I want to be 80 and able to get around on my own if I can help it,” was my general (and really true) public explanation of my running, I know that I enjoyed the prestige. I ran because I was then recognized in a new group, an unspoken class: People Who Take Care of Themselves. I was someone who had Learned From History, someone who’d paid attention to “Supersize Me”, etc., and had taken the noble resolve to make sure I was going to live down America’s larger-than-life stereotype. I was Taking Care of Myself.
Running in Armenia does not bring prestige. As an American here, I already stand apart. Also, no one runs here, as I said, so I’m not joining any kind of zeitgeist by taking to the road in my Nikes. Yes, I can get recognition for running, but I’ll get the same kind of looks if I stand on the corner juggling hedgehogs. Neither is really done, and neither really elevates me socially.
4. Cleaning up. Exercise in America comes with a shower. That cultural tidbit is rather awkwardly delivered to us starting in Junior High. However, as you grow older and you can afford your own personal shower, being clean is almost the reward. Many times I’d get through a hard run thinking, “It’s alright. Very soon I’ll be fresh and clean, eating a burrito and watching an episode of The Office.”
You may recall my water situation here in Armenia. My lack of running water means that I either get up before the Lord (you know Jesus be sleepin’ in), or I run in the evening and sleep sticky and smelly. Yes, I know, I know. Don’t be lazy. Plan around it. But why don’t you consider your commitment to running if YOU could only take a shower during the first chunk of YOUR workday (10am-1pm)? Imagine that sometimes the water for no reason just doesn’t run out of the spout. Imagine that not only are you running and showering, but then you are mopping, doing dishes and handwashing all of your laundry. Yes, I know, people in the world have survived much, much harder routines. I will be the first to admit that I have eaten from the bourgeois silver platter. But I know for sure that trying to figure out when I’m going to run based on when I’ll be able to shower next does not make the enterprise more enticing.
Whine, whine, whine, complain, complain complain. Really, running yesterday was really nice. I’m going to go ahead and do it again. And maybe even some more after that. Til death do us part, if Running will still have me.