Ten things in La Paz… you notice when out running

I am a runner. My Oxford life is neatly divided up into sessions, circuit training, long runs and team coffee/ gossip meetings. In Paris, I lugged a change of clothes and trainers on a 20km round cycle trip three times a week. Until today, I had not yet run in La Paz. There were many reasons: the fact that I have to stop for a breather after climbing up onto my bed, the fact that it is impossible to walk for five minutes without encountering an enormous hill, the way everybody stares at you for being non-Bolivian and nobody (repeat, nobody) ever wears less than trousers or a floor-length skirt.

And then I found out about the half-marathon on my last day here. Since the last one (Fleetwood 2012: three miles of sea wind in the face and a PB) I said that I’d take a break, and do one that was more of a challenge than time-chasing. And with this altitude, a challenge is exactly what it would be. The only problem? I actually need to do some running. So today, I started! And it was a bit of an experience…

10. The pavements here are not flat. Not as in sloping, as in full of potholes, loose rocks, unsurfaced bits, access slopes, steps, holes for planted trees… You name it, it’s there. And I nearly fell in it. (I didn’t actually end up flat on my face at any point, which was a minor miracle given my general clumsiness!)

9. Taxis have so little faith in the ability and/or sticking power of any runner that they see (well, me at least) that they think it is acceptable to hover alongside offering excellent prices to a variety of destinations. I’m not running to somewhere, I’m just running!

8. Those little street vending stands are really annoying for pavement clogging, especially when they have customers and/or associated small children blocking the way.

7. Stepping into the road is not a good idea. A car will appear from nowhere, without indicating, on the wrong side of the road, travelling ludicrously quickly. And I’m not really up for their kind of game of chicken…

6. Even in the blistering (OK, not quite blistering, but it is pretty warm) midday heat, everyone wears multiple jumpers, layers of skirt, suits, scarves, coats… The effect? Going out in shorts and t-shirt is roughly equivalent to being naked, and it feels like it.

5. La Paz has the world’s laziest stray dogs. Runners hate dogs off leads, since they have the rather irritating habit of assuming that you’re running because you want to play, and start chasing after you and yapping and jumping and trying to trip you up. Except here, where they vaguely glance up from where they’re sunning themselves, look bored, establish you have no food and go back to sleep.

4. Nobody will move out of the way on the pavement for anyone, even if you’re going much faster, the pavement is quite wide and their entire family/ collection of skirts is clogging it. Perhaps this is a deliberate plot and groups of strangers gang up just to be annoying. Perhaps I’m just paranoid.

3. You will, at this time when you’ve gone out with just your keys, see a myriad of things worth photographing, ranging from the amazing moon-landscapey thing at the end of the road to the group of a good dozen cholita women in traditional skirts, hats, shawls and brightly coloured bundles.

2. Going out at lunchtime is a bad idea. Not necessarily because the smell of the roadside food stalls is particularly appetising (or otherwise), but because they create queues down the really steep hill you’re struggling up (a nice audience to stare at your pain, uncomprehendingly) and are so busy trying not to spill the enormous dollop of chilli sauce they’ve just loaded onto their salteña that they are liable to crash straight into you.

1. Did I mention the hills? Yes, them. They’re pretty brutal. And you really shouldn’t set off downhill first. Or go ‘exploring’ down a hill and then realise it’s a dead end and that to go home you’ll have to turn around and go all the way back up again. I know I should know that by now but… well, I think you can guess…


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