Running in Kiev

10 10 2007

Below is a fun piece sent in by friend, speedy runner, and F4 web designer Jennifer Fawcett.

Here’s a story about a runner, who travels to Kiev for work. The runner is me, and I am an agile product manager for a software company that does development in the Ukraine. About every 6 weeks, we put out a new release, and I travel to Kiev work side by side with the developers to “harden” the release.

I first traveled to Kiev in early September. The weather was perfect, 70’s to 80’s, with the last heat of summer upon us, and the hint of fall on its tail. The horse chestnut trees were in their full beauty, with big leaves and full fragrance. Of course, as a runner, you notice all these things.

I stayed in an apartment, just a block away from Independence Square. After the long day it takes to get here (um, it takes a MINIMUM of 18 hours, if you’re lucky), I wondered out on a Sunday morning to find some food. Kiev is Eastern Europe, it’s not part of the EU, and it would usually be easy to find food. Except for the fact that Ukrainian/Russian alphabet is so different than ours, so, well, you may understand how hard it was to understand any of the signage and storefronts.

After I cleared my sleepy fog, I realized that I’d better exchange money, and then to find food. I found a bakery (by peaking into windows), and after pointing to a few things, found some joy in what I think was apple strudel, procured some eggs that I could boil in the apartment, and managed to get some water, not caring if it was “bubble water” or not. (I was advised to only drink bottled water, because of hepatitis A worries).

 Kiev

After fueling the runners belly, I ventured out for a run. It was Sunday, and Khreschatyk,street was closed to cars. So, people could walk (or run) in the street! It’s only about .08 miles one way, so not knowing the turf, I just ran up and down a few times. No one gave me a second look, but I stared in awe at all the young people drinking their beer at 11am on a Sunday morning, in public.

That was day 1 of running. Day 2, 3, 4, and 5 lead me on more diverse paths, going up and down the stairs to the underground tunnels (which can also include shopping malls!), as you don’t dare to cross the streets, as drivers are a cross between mad and insane. This is really a good workout for anyone.

Now, I’m back in the Ukraine in mid October for another release, and my story this time isn’t as adventurous. I have yet to venture out for a run because two of my colleagues (on separate occasions within the past two weeks), got stopped by police, who quickly started interrogating them about their passports, found something wrong (which probably wasn’t really wrong), and wouldn’t let them go until they paid them some cash. Now, I’m sure I could do the same by paying my way out of a situation, but I just don’t feel like it! There’s something about a runner in the Ukraine. You DEFINITELY look out of place. No one runs here. Runners look like, well, probably clowns. I realized this after I went clowning around for a week in September.

So, this time, I’m doing my morning callestics in the apartment (much to the despair of those below me), yoga, and walking a lot so at least I feel like I look like I fit in. Maybe I’ll get the nerve up to go out one morning before I leave this Saturday.

That’s all from Kiev. If you ever go, go with someone you can run with. At least there’s safety in numbers! I’m not knocking Kiev in any way. It’s a beautiful and important independent nation that is newly finding their way with their independence, culture and society. It’s just that when you travel, it’s probably wise not to draw attention to yourself as a naive visitor.

Jennifer Fawcett

(not running in Kiev!)

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