Running Without Shame
Jogging in Prague, New Yorker Jarra Gruen encounters mockery, cobblestones, and unleashed dogs
This article first appeared in The Prague Wanderer, a web magazine produced by students at New York University in Prague.
I was clad in a plain white T-shirt and black leggings, with an iPod securely fastened to my arm-band -- the traditional garb for any true New York jogger.
Little did I know that this costume and its purpose would doom me to humiliation in one of Europe's most majestic capitals.
My first attempt to blend in as a Prague local had failed. Miserably.
My initial jubilation over going for my first jog in my mysterious new home was gone. Before I looked away, allowing my humiliation to fully set in, I watched as one of my more enthusiastic cheerleaders -- a construction worker -- waved his arms and legs wildly in an awkward sort of mock jog, much to the amusement of his colleagues.
Unlike in New York, where I could practically go through my jogging routine blindfolded, Prague jogging etiquette and its jogging paths were as unknown to me as the sauces put on the local dumpling delicacies.
I rapidly sped up my pace to get away from the jeers and calls of the construction workers and I noted never to jog around the Náměstí Míru church again.
As I continued to dodge quizzical stares and yapping, leash-less dogs I realized it was time to figure out the ins and outs of jogging in Prague.
While I was ready to start fresh in a new city, with its alternate language and lifestyle -- even the ambulance and police sirens sounded different -- I was not about to give up one of the few pastimes that always brought me home again.
"They're just so darn well behaved!" Jade, an NYU study abroad student and fellow jogger panted as we climb up the spiraling dorm stairs after a particularly invigorating jog.
A few weeks had passed since my first unfortunate jogging excursion, and with some of Jade's practical advice, I have gleaned a bit more about how to adapt to my new jogging environment.
"But don't let that fool you," she continued. "Since a lot of the dogs go leash-less around here, especially in the parks, you never know how they're going to react when they see you running by them."
Before we parted ways at the top of the stairs she added, "I learned the hard way when I was chased by a German Shepard the first week I was here... If you see a big dog ahead of you, just slow your pace down to a walk until you pass it."
One reason dogs, along with most people, reacted so strangely to joggers here, I've concluded, was mostly due to the fact that really were no joggers here.
"Who jogs in the street? The street is for walking and cars only!" Jitka, a Prague native and a regular at Aerobic Fitness, a gym around the corner from the Flora metro stop, told me a few days later.
As evidenced by Jitka's slim, athletic physique, she was a regular at the gym. After telling me the treadmill is her exercise machine of choice, I asked why she doesn't take advantage of the city's many winding, hilly streets as a more enticing alternative.
"I guess I never thought about it before," Jitka said, wiping her face with her towel after what was apparently a pretty intense workout. "We just don't do it here. I don't know why. I grew up going to gym -- the street is not for a workout.”
"It is funny to see people running on the streets, because I know they don't [live] here," she added with a laugh.
Jitka was able to articulate and comprehend what I could not; street and sidewalk jogging is simply not part of Prague's culture.
Jitka chose the monotony of running on a stationary treadmill in a hot gym rather than jogging on the streets -- not because she was against it, but because jogging outside had simply never crossed her mind.
Because my love for jogging surpassed the humiliation of having people of all shapes, ages, and sizes stop dead in their tracks to stare as I uncomfortably run by, I once again went to Jade, Slezská's local jogging guru, for some more practical advice.
"Well, if you're not jogging in a park, Google map it," Jade said, as she showed me the latest jogging route she mapped out.
"All you have to do is go to Google Maps on the Google.com homepage, click on "My Maps", go to "Create new map", and then browse around until you find where in Prague you want to go. I have explored a lot of new areas I never would've found otherwise."
I did a bit of research on my own to personalize my ideal route, and sure enough, all I had to do was type in my address and a tentative destination, and then a few simple clicks and bingo, I created a clearly mapped-out route.
With street names, numbers and a dotted line pointing out my every turn, I had my very own jogging GPS.
No longer would I leave Slezská with only my iPod and a prayer -- I tended to end up in dimly lit alleys on the outskirts of Prague when left to my own devices.
For those who want to jog somewhere with fewer honking horns and googly-eyed pedestrians, no need to worry.
Czechs do jog, and they sensibly choose parks to do this in rather than in winding streets or narrow sidewalks where a collision is likely with a car or pedestrian.
After my first, very public jogging experience at Náměstí Míru -- a busy subway stop near Sleszká -- I decided to investigate ideal parks for joggers like myself.
As long as you can watch out for the occasional leash-less dog, and the numerous baby carriages that grace the sidewalks of most parks I've frequented, there are a number of easily accessible parks ideal for a more private jog.
Home Sweet Home
Early morning is always the best time for a jog.
No matter where I am in the world, that crisp, refreshing air felt only in the first hours after daybreak acts like a double shot of espresso for me.
As the weeks go by, I am no longer that lost, lonely jogger trying to find my way back home from Náměstí Míru; while I may not entirely blend in -- I'm fairly certain my neon green iPod case gives me away -- I realize now it is not necessary to entirely assimilate.
Now, when I step outside and inhale that early morning shot of espresso, also known as my morning jog, I lean over and stretch -- one… two… three… four… -- and always try to wave at the first person I pass -- my attempt to make Prague more jogger-friendly, one wave at a time.
WHERE TO JOG IN THE CITY
My Favorite City Route: If you want to take full advantage of Prague's main attractions, traffic-restricted pedestrian zones are the best bet.
For a 1.5-mile circuit run, start at Můstek at the end of Wenceslas Square, run down Na Příkopě through the famous Powder Tower, all the way to Old Town Square, around the Hus monument, back to Železná street, on to Rytířská street until you get back to Můstek. While this route is virtually free of cars, go early in the morning or late in the evening to beat the crowds
WHERE TO JOG IN CITY PARKS
• Vyšehrad: Ideal for those clear summer days and accessible by tram number 3 or 16 from Karlovo náměstí
• The path crisscrossing Petřín hill offers a more challenging uphill route
• Stromovka: Ideal for no-traffic, long-distance runs -- flat, scenic and mostly tree-lined
• Kampa: Small paths, fewer pedestrians and dogs
• Letná: Overlooking Old Town, with a footpath that follows the river to Prague castle
Jarra Gruen is currently a junior at New York University, studying journalism and English. She is from New York City.
March 19th, 2008
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