This week I ran outside for the first time in months. I’d made vague, half-hearted attempts at this when I first moved here but these were interrupted by exploring my new neighbourhood at as slightly slower pace, entertaining friends and family who came to visit, and the winter. You don’t run outside in Prague in the winter. The combination of sub-zero temperatures, cobblestones and a surprising number of hills mean that only the truly hardy, or downright foolish, continue to exercise outside in Prague past the end of November. I am a fair-weather runner at the best of times and so quit by mid-October.
Since then I have been camping out at ‘World Class‘ gym, which is underneath the Marriott Hotel. I must admit, as a self-confessed gym bunny I am not blown away by it. World Class it is not. It is heated to about 30 degrees and located in the same bit of the building as a very smoky casino. It’s like working out in a very warm nightclub, which I wouldn’t normally do unless I was at some sort of ironic 1980s fancy dress party wearing leg warmers.
I have also been swimming here. The pool I frequent is ok – quite long – but really sterile and soulless. I imagine it’s like swimming in prison. In fact, as it’s located in the YMCA sports academy, for the male visitors I imagine it’s a lot like being in prison…
However, spring is announcing its arrival in Prague now and each morning seems brighter and warmer than the last. I can wave goodbye to the treadmill and the pool and run outside. It’s still necessary to run about in enough layers to look like a sweaty Michelin man, but this doesn’t matter when you have a spring in your step, as I did the other morning.
Keen runners and literati amongst you will know that the title of this post is a shameless rip-off of Haruki Murakami’s non-fiction book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Marakami is, as well as a brilliant author, an experienced marathon runner and triathlete. I think this book is incredibly inspiring as, like me, he started running seriously quite late in life. Actually, the similarity is not that strong as I am not an award-winning novelist and I don’t run seriously. But I didn’t run when I was younger, so I think the comparison is allowed.
I hated running all through school and most of the way through university. My love affair with the open road, overpriced trainers and Runner’s World magazine only started towards the end of university when I signed myself up for a charity run and thought I’d better practice. It would be a lie to say I have not looked back since. I am not a natural runner. I hate it some of the time, am injured for about three months of each year and in physio for another two. So, frequently when I think about running, I think that I don’t want to. However, the rest of the time I love it and have loved it enough to endure an on-off relationship with it for about seven years and completed a few half-marathons. And at the very least, I am shallow enough to love the fact that it keeps me relatively slim.
Prague is not exactly runner-friendly. As mentioned above, it’s cold for much of the year and covered in cobbles and uneven paving stones. It’s as if the Renaissance city-planners didn’t have runners needs in mind…. Nevertheless, running is a great way to see a city (or lose yourself in it) and there are some great foot and cycle paths all the way along the river and past some of the most lovely sights in Prague.
On Tuesday morning I trotted down Pariszka, stopping to ‘stretch’ outside Prada and Hermes. Nice. I followed the river west along towards Vysehrad. Once Vysehrad Castle was in sight, I heard Britney Spears Not a Girl Not Yet a Woman on my ipod and I knew it was time to head back. Several people (mainly men) have encouraged me to listen to proper runner music, but I know that only Britney, Take That and Kelly Clarkson can make me go that extra mile.
I ran back via the north side of the river, through Mala Strana (very pretty Prague) and back over the Charles Bridge. By now we were on Take That Greatest Day – hero running territory. Running over the bridge was lovely. The Charles Bridge is normally chock-a-block with tourists, but at this time of the morning it was almost empty. I decided that an unspoiled view of the ghostly statues lining the bridge, whilst listening to some pop legends, was reward enough in itself.
Plus, I’ll look good in a bikini.