From Russia with Running Shoes

11947662_1621941664736284_1536727919686260717_nWhen we noticed that one of the registrants for the inaugural Kentucky History Half Marathon was traveling all the  way from Moscow—the one in Russia, not Idaho—we wanted to learn more.  And what we learned from Lara McCoy was fascinating, from her overcoming a childhood condition that caused her knees to dislocate to her recent running in Siberia.

McCoy, a journalist who has lived in Moscow eight of the past 12 years, is a 2000 graduate of Centre College. She already was planning to travel to Kentucky this fall for the college’s Homecoming weekend because this year is her 15-year reunion. When she saw on the History Department’s Facebook page that the department was organizing a group to run the Kentucky History Half Marathon, she decided to join them.

“I’m always looking for races, so I decided to sign up,” she says.

Kentucky History Half (KHH): Where are you from originally? Where did you grow up?

McCoy: I was born in Louisville, but grew up mostly in Montgomery, Alabama. I chose to come to Centre for college in part to be closer to my extended family in Kentucky. I have a grandmother in Louisville, one just across the river in Corydon, Indiana, and family all across the state.

KHH: Have you always been a runner? When did you take up the sport? What’s the longest distance you’ve ever run?

McCoy: I have not always been a runner. I was born with a knee condition called patellofemoral syndrome and couldn’t participate in sports at all growing up because my knees dislocated every step I took. I later had extensive surgery to shift the bones and ligaments in my lower legs, but even after the surgery, I was hesitant to run too much because I have very little cartilage in my knee joints. Because I didn’t do much physical activity, I was pretty heavy.

Eventually, I decided that before I turned 30, I wanted to lose 30 pounds. I started running on the treadmill in the gym at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The first time I ran, I decided I would run as far as I possibly could. When I looked down at the treadmill, 30 seconds had passed. Eventually I worked up to longer distances. I lost 40 pounds in 5 months through watching my diet and exercising. I’ve kept it off for seven years.

I took up triathlon in 2009 and completed a half-iron distance race at the USA Triathlon Club Championships in Myrtle Beach in 2011. My orthopedic surgeon said he wouldn’t sign off on my running farther than a half-marathon, so that’s always going to be my longest distance. I do lots of 10Ks, but I try to get in one or two longer races each year. This past March, I ran the half-marathon distance of the Baikal Ice Marathon, which takes place on the frozen surface of Lake Baikal in Siberia.  (Read about that experience here.)

KHH: What did you study at Centre College?

McCoy: I was a double major in history and religion, but I focused my studies on Russia. After I graduated from Centre, I got my master’s degree in modern European history from Miami University specializing in contemporary Russia.

KHH: What do you do in Moscow? How long have you lived there?

McCoy: For the past 10 years, I have worked as a journalist covering Russia primarily for audiences based in the U.S. and other countries in the Western Hemisphere. However, I recently accepted a position editing and consulting on cross-cultural communication with Deloitte CIS. I have lived in Moscow for eight of the past 12 years—from 2003-2008 and since 2012. I lived in Washington, D.C. from 2008-2012.

KHH: Do you have a favorite running spot in Moscow?

McCoy: I live near the center of Moscow and my favorite run is from my house down to the embankment of the Moscow River. It allows me to run past some of Moscow’s most iconic sites, like the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the Kremlin. I like to run early in the morning, and there’s nothing like watching the sun rise over the Kremlin churches. Of course, there’s only a very short part of the year when you can have that experience. I spend a good seven months running in the dark.

KHH: The sport of distance running is experiencing renewed popularity here in the States. Is Russia seeing something similar?

McCoy: I’ve actually written about this several times because I find the growth of running—and exercise in general—in Russia really fascinating. When I moved back in 2012, there were maybe three races in Moscow. Now there is a running race practically every weekend from May through September and they often sell out. This summer, there were also three triathlons.

There are two major differences I see running in Moscow vs. running in the U.S. First of all, the majority of runners at races are young men. In a half-marathon I completed in 2013 here, out of just over 1,000 runners, there were about 800 men and 200 women.

(Read more about that here and here.)

The second thing is that Russians don’t want to bother with short races or fun runs. They don’t do anything halfway. If you’re running, it’s a half-marathon or a marathon. If you’re training for a triathlon, it’s probably an iron-distance race.

However, having said that, I am seeing shorter races pop up around town, often to raise money for charities. My neighborhood is sponsoring a 5K for charity at the end of September and there is an organization that organizes races with themes, like run with a balloon, or run in a Santa costume, just for fun. There are lots of large, nice parks in and around Moscow where it’s easy to organize runs. Of course the Moscow Marathon, which takes place at the end of September, winds its way through the city and requires half the roads in the city center to be closed off.

KHH: When training for a race—or just running for general exercise—what keeps you motivated?

McCoy: I am a very organized and structured person and I always like to have a training plan, whether I’m training for a race or in the off-season. I keep my current plan on my refrigerator and check off the workouts every day.

KHH: Is there anything you’d like to add?

McCoy: I’m excited about running in the Kentucky History Half Marathon with the Centre group, although I’m a little concerned about the hills. Despite being called the “city of seven hills,” Moscow is super flat, especially along the river where I usually train.

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