How Cross-Country Prepared me for Sao Paulo

The old days of running...

The old days of running…

Piggybacking off of my last post, this new one will delve into how one of my former pastimes has helped me survive in one of the largest cities in the world.

I love running. It used to be the major focus in my life, but after an injury in college I “retired” and began to run only recreationally, or barely at all. If I run 5 miles within a week these days it’s a productive one, but rather pathetic compared to my 60-mile weeks in college. I don’t regret that I spent most of my free time between middle school and the end of college racing and training. Without a doubt, I would not be the person I am today without the sport, and I wouldn’t have the amazing friends and teammates that I’ve met along the way. I might not even possess the same drive and perseverance to push through tough situations had I not learned those attributes as a runner. It has certainly played a major part in shaping who I am, but sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d participated in other activities, like learning how to play an instrument, drawing, maybe even playing another sport? Today, while traveling and living in different countries, I meet people with so many skills and talents, many of which they developed during adolescence, and while they were doing that, I was, well…running—and speaking Spanish! Can’t leave that one out….

I’d been doubting if during my youth it was the right choice to spend most of my extra curricular time running– until moving to Sao Paulo. After moving here, I have realized that my racing knowledge and old running skills have proved essential when trying to get on a train or metro in this city. Here’s how:

1. Get out fast. In other words, you must get a good start. Anyone who has run even a road race knows that if you don’t get a fast start, you are doomed to be stuck behind a bunch of slow people and will waste valuable energy trying to pass them. Also, your time will be much slower because of the sluggish people in front of you, preventing you from running your pace. This strategy translates directly to train and metro transfers in Sao Paulo. With literally millions of people using the trains daily, there are tons of slow people blocking your way. As mentioned in my previous post, sometimes you might have to wait for 3 trains to pass by before you can manage to fit onto one. The fewer tortoise- paced people in front of you before attempting to board, the better. How do you do that? Get out ahead of them, speed walking, mind you, not running.  I’m not THAT big of a nerd, well, sometimes…

2. Drafting. Drafting is when you position yourself behind someone who is running your pace or a bit faster, follow that person, and let them do the work. This proves  to be vital in track and cross country to get through big crowds, as well as to block wind, making you less tired, and able to run faster. It is an exhausting task being the one setting the pace, so let someone else do it, and then pass them at the end. While wind is not usually a major concern in the Sao Paulo train system (when there isn’t a torrential downpour), crowds are.  To solve this dilemma I resort to my old running ways, search for someone nearby who seems to know what they are doing, and follow them. The only problem is, sometimes I go too fast, or maybe get behind a sketchy person and realize I should probably backtrack and hang out with the slower, perhaps safer people.

 3. You might have to push people. Cross-country and track are definitely not contact sports, but that’s not to say that you can’t be aggressive and shove a few elbows to get ahead. The more competitive the level in running, the more physical you need to be, especially at the start. I’ve found that in Sao Paulo, people are quite physical when getting on and off the train. Good luck to whoever is on the opposite side of the door in the train car when they reach their stop, because it is virtually impossible to get out. After an unpleasant situation when I was purposely pushed very forcefully by an angry man trying to enter the train when I was exiting, I realized that it is a part of life here. People seriously can be so rude, and my initial reaction was to push the guy back (city life can cause rage, I tell you), but then I thought it was better that my 5’3” self just ignore the 6’2” Brazilian man and got out of there quickly. Now, whenever I enter a train, I locate myself immediately to the left or right of the door and cling on for dear life to the railing and try my best not to let anyone move me. That way I can exit with minimal pushing and fighting. I’m sure that this is a very amusing scene for anyone watching.

4.    Running through the pain. OK, it’s a stretch, but running can be painful. In novice levels, good distance runners are not always the fastest people, but rather, the ones who can tolerate the most pain and exhaustion. Transport in Sao Paulo might not be as physically exhausting as racing (some might argue that it is), but it certainly requires endurance, an attribute that is as important for running as it is for living in this city.

So, I might not be an amazing artist. I can’t play the guitar or sing. I’ve got few culinary skills, as a matter of fact, I’m a pretty horrible cook, but you know what? My time spent running did not go to waste, because without it, I would not have the skills necessary to be an expert Sao Paulo Metro passenger.


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