7 Continents: Running Culture Around the World

One of the neat things about running marathons while travelling is that I got to be a part of the local culture in each country during the race. The anthropologist in me loves getting the real experience when I travel, not just the tourist highlights. Running let me do just that. I was just another runner in the crowd and I got to experience the unique running culture of that country. While I found many similarities, I also found quite a few differences.

Rome, Italy

beautiful, historic buildings and men everywhere
The marathon is culture in Italy was very male dominated. It was all about the machismo. This was evident from the moment I picked up my number at the expo. There were tables and tables for the male runners to pick up their numbers, but just one little table over in the back corner for the women. At the start, the men were walking around like they owned the place. They destroyed the inside of the porta-potties, peed all over the sidewalks, and were yanking down their shorts to apply lube right in front of me! It was pretty gross. But as soon as the race was over, they were back to being charmers. Despite looking pretty gross at the finish, I had men offer to carry me and rub my feet. Running is becoming more popular, but it still isn't that prevalent, especially among women. When I was living in Italy, the police pulled up beside me while I was running and offered to drive me home so I didn't "hurt myself."

Santiago, Chile
bright pink in a sea of yellow
The running community in Chile seemed to be very inclusive and all about having a good time. There was a huge variety of people running- all ages, shapes, and sizes. Instead of pushing to get into the corals, everyone just strolled in casually. Once in the corals, everyone was singing and laughing as they waited for the race to start. Also, they don't believe in the don't try anything new on race day philosophy. Everyone was wearing their official race shirt. I didn't get the memo and stuck out like a sore thumb!

Tokyo, Japan

The running culture in Japan is very representative of the culture as a whole. First, they are all about the technology and gear. The expo was enormous and there were huge lines at every booth where runners were stocking up on the newest running clothing, shoes, and technology. Secondly, everything is meticulously organized. This was an enormous event, but both at the expo and the race but everything was clearly labelled (in English and Japanese) and I never had any trouble with navigation. The Japanese are also extremely neat- no one tossed their throw away clothes onto the side of the road or dropped their cups at water stops. Every single person went over to the trash can every single time they needed to dispose of something. This actually caused a lot of back-ups with 40,000 runners out on the course! Finally, the Japanese are unfailingly polite. No one pushed, no one cut you off, at the start and finish everyone waited patiently.

one of the many volunteers collecting trash
New Plymouth, New Zealand

The people in New Zealand are so friendly and laid back, and the runners are no different. The expo was so easy and low key. When I realized I had the wrong size shirt, the volunteer apologized many times and went out of her way to get me the right size. When I asked the race director about starting early to beat the heat, she said yes right away. (And how often can you actually speak right to the race director at the expo). On the bus to the start, I was welcomed into the group of runners with open arms (literally. I got a few hugs). The event also showed how much the outdoors, and being active, is a part of every day life in New Zealand. Most of the runners say that they do some sort of event almost every weekend. There are so many amazing trails and paths that there can be an event every weekend, and the small size of the country makes it easy to get around. While there were some very fast runners, it was more about getting out and having fun. There were many people who expected to be out there for 5 or 6 hours and this was encouraged, rather than disparaged.

Totally normal for them to get up at 4 am and start running in the dark

Casablanca, Morocco

I was pleasantly surprised by how many people, women especially, were out exercising daily. However it seemed very segregated by gender. Men ran together and women walked together (a few ran!). There were also very different standards for dress. Most men were in shorts and tank tops, but all of the women were fully covered. Distance running didn't seem very popular- it was more a couple, easy miles before sitting in a cafe for breakfast.

Have you noticed different running cultures when you are traveled?


  1. I loved reading this! The Chile people sound awesome! Hee hee. I like that there, and in Japan, people were polite and not pushy, especially liked you mentioned with the corrals in Chile. Most runners are nice but people can be a bit rude when they are stressed out before a race! And that is just amazing about the trash in Japan! (amazingly awesome!)


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