My Moscow Marathon - Women's Running magazine

My Moscow Marathon

Author: Women's Running Magazine

Read Time:   |  October 28, 2016

 

If you watched the official promotional video released ahead of the Moscow Marathon you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a male-only event. The only women I could spot seemed to be standing on the side-lines as spectators, cheering as a sea of men cascaded past them. Of course, it’s true that Russia is some way behind other European countries when it comes to gender equality, but how far does this extend into sports, especially in a relatively gender-neutral activity like running? I traveled to Russia to take part in this year’s Moscow Marathon, curious to explore a new city and see how much of a minority I was going to be.

 

Pitching up at the start line on Sunday morning, I wasn’t surprised to find myself surrounded primarily by men, although there were more women present than the promo video had led me to believe. The gender split seemed in line with recent research by a student at Copenhagen Business School and runrepeat.com. They investigated the percentage of male versus female runners, across all running events from 2009-2014, and found that only 22% of runners in Russia are female. This compares to 34% in the UK (interestingly, also quite low) and 45% in the US.

Landing in Russia, one of the first things I noticed was that women are overtly feminine, even compared to their European counterparts. While exploring the city, I found that buying flat shoes without a heel is a real challenge. Yet, if you want to get your nails done at 9pm on a Sunday evening – no problem! The Russian girls next to me on the start line did not show up in vests, leggings and ugly, bulky running shoes like I did, my hair crammed unceremoniously into a garish Gortex cap. No, no! Many where dressed in cute little running skirts with matching knee socks, ribbons in their hair and colourful armbands. To an outsider we could have all been jogging our way to an 80’s nightclub. I actually loved the look. I’d never really considered trying to look more feminine when I run and, who knows, maybe investing in a tennis skirt to run in might just relieve some of the god awful thigh chaffing.

Perhaps even more obvious than the male/female split was the ages of the runners. I noted that very few of the people running alongside me were over 30 – instead, the majority of the runners, especially the women, were in their late teens or early twenties. It seems that while running is taking off in Russia (it’s seeing a 30% increase in popularity since 2009), it’s definitely more common among younger Russians, who are likely to be more aware of and influenced by European-wide trends. The scale of the Moscow Marathon was also interesting to note. With around 20,000 runners, Moscow felt like a much more intimate event in comparison to London or Paris, which easily draw double the number of participants from all age groups.

 

Seeing myself as a beacon of oestrogen amid a sea of testosterone was not the only reason I was keen to run the Moscow Marathon. The course is a flat and scenic route around the city, taking in many of the major sights, with hardly any part of the course not featuring something stunning to look at. The water stations were placed at every 2K and the crowd was hugely supportive. Although they were restricted to certain portions of the course, they were there when we needed them – mostly in the final stretches! Another benefit of Moscow is that it’s one of the less expensive European Marathons. Although you will need a visa if you’re coming from the UK, if you book in advance, the four-hour flight can be very reasonable. 


All in all it was a fabulous experience and it’s encouraging that so many young women in Russia are getting into running and doing it their own way. This was the Moscow Marathon’s third year and in the coming years it’s sure to grow to the size of other major-city marathons in Europe.

Katherine Sparshatt is a keen runner, Travel Writer for Trivago, and blogger. You can follow her adventures on www.thesocialnotes.com.

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