Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Running Abroad

A quick mid-week post after a sucky day at work, a mediocre run and delightful dinner.

Let’s compare running in the US versus running in Spain.

Shoes: USA wins. Running shoes in Spain are much more expensive than in the US and Road Runners Sports has, woe is me, stopped shipping internationally. So I’ll just be ordering shoes to my parents’ house and picking them up in August. I’m 32; this kind of thing makes me feel like I’m still in college.

Watering holes: Spain, well Barcelona, wins. There are public water fountains throughout the entire city. I’ve carried that handheld throughout New York, Maryland and Mississippi and that just tires me out and makes me feel all crooked.

Spot-a-pots: Spain, well Barcelona, wins again. During the summer months the beach is lined with public restrooms and you can go in any bar or ice-cream shop all sweaty and just head straight back to the can. Why no one says, “Senora, can I help you?” I have no idea, let’s just chalk that up to cultural difference and be glad!

The peer group: USA wins because running is more popular there and thus there are more slow people like moi. Here runners are a committed, serious breed and while that does make for a lot of attractive men doing intervals in the park, it makes a chubby pale girl feel a little lonely at times.

Decathlon: Spain wins because they got it and the USA just don’t! Decathlon is paradise, a cheap sports store with anything you could possibly need for camping, swimming, biking, running. And they have generic Bodyglide for about a third of what you would pay in the US. (And generic gels for people who can eat them without puking.)

Races: A tie here. In Spain the entry fees are much cheaper and there are some amazing courses, but the organization is not always great, which means sometimes there is a lack of water or post-race snacks. The few times I’ve run even small races in the States I’ve just been blown away by the organization and all those delicious treats (bagels! chili! beer! hot apple cider!!! cookies! donuts!?!)

Weather: Please take into account I’m basically comparing Barcelona and Baltimore here and I’m going to give the point to Barcie. I can take the heat, sure, it slows you down, but poco a poco you get acclimated. I find dressing for the cold East coast winters a real challenge. It’s freezing for the first mile and then I just start sweating in all those layers.

Catcalls: Obviously, Spain takes the cake in sheer quantity on this one. If a man calls out to you in the States it’s usually kind of threatening or weird, whereas along the streets of Barcelona it’s pretty common and somehow more lighthearted. For years I would just tell myself that the piropo is part of Spanish culture, don’t get all worked about it, but the truth of the matter is sometimes when I’m running alone late at night I really don’t want to hear people’s drunken hisses. (Obviously the whole Euro – American debate about what constitutes sexual harassment has taken on a whole new life with the DSK arrest, but that’s for another post.)

Have you run in different countries or different regions of the US? When you consider where you would like to live in the future do you take possible running routes into consideration?


  1. Good post today. Ingeneral terms, when talking about running for joy and women assistance to races, USA is like 20 years ahead of Spain. Achieving PBs is like a religion among spanish runners, I miss the american spirit of running for party, for health, for joy.
    Also, over 50% of runners in any race in the States are women. In Spain it is like 10%.
    Have a look at, fantastic online store in the uk, excelent prices and free shipping, I do not buy anything in any normal shop since I discovered it.

  2. Great post! I ran in Bcn a couple of times when I was there using the archives in 2006 and found it to be a more runner-friendly city than Madrid, although I did feel like the lone pale chubby girl out there plodding along. I was less of a serious runner when I lived in Spain. I would run in Retiro Park a couple times a week and occasionally in my hood of an early morning, but I would always get weird looks from the people who were just heading home from their night out. Now that I'm back in the states, I definitely appreciate the more inclusive running culture here.

    These days I try to run whenever I travel as it's a fun way to see and experience a new place. Sometimes I'm more successful than others. I was too afraid of traffic to run in Rome, but I loved running in Florence. I'm hoping to get at least one run in in Montreal here in a couple of weeks.

  3. Gonzalo, so true about the gender percentages. Funny, because Spanish women are definitely in great shape but just tend towards other sports I think. Thanks for the tip about, I'm going to check it out straight away.

    Raquelita, Barcelona is definitely better for running than Madrid, epsecially if you live near the beach. I've nearly been killed by cars in the capital on a few business trips.

  4. interesting comparisons. i've only run a handful of times outside the US (in tropical places) but i've run in a few different places in the US. i would LOVE to have bathrooms available on a run. that would make life so much easier! (i seem to have the worst timing) when i'm traveling i try to map out safe looking routes or take recommendations from someone local.

    before buying the house i am in now i actually made sure there was at least a decent 3-mile route i could run :)