Spring is starting to show its pretty face here in Georgia, and along with the budding leaves and bebias being put outside to air, comes a host of new issues — namely, the fact that spring means it’s almost summer and summer means trips to the river with your students and trips to Batumi with your friends. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the winter nestled under the fire eating warm khachapuri, drinking chai, and losing at backgammon to your 9 year old host brother. Believe me, it was great but not exactly strenuous. So, In January I decided to do something about the few pounds I seemed to have gained during my winter hibernation. There isn’t any sort of gym facility in the small town I live in, so I decided to take my exercise routine outside. What better way to explore every street of Baghdati than by running down all them? Now, after 2 months of sticking with it not only do I feel great, but I have become a bit of a local legend. I’ve also decided to give some advice to my other TLGers or anyone else considering starting to run while in Georgia.
The first challenge you’re going to face is overcoming the large amount of animals, potholes, mud holes and stares that you will receive. Georgians aren’t used to seeing others exercise. Those who are in shape probably lift a lot of corn stalks and walk great distances with their herds of cows. This means running outside is a great opportunity to teach some local people about the benefits of staying in shape as well as a great opportunity to get out in the community and make yourself known. The stares might be a little uncomfortable, but I usually give a friendly wave and those people who were staring at me like I was Stalin usually respond in an extremely friendly fashion. For me the cows are the worst, as I find bulls a little scary. I mean, I’ve been to rodeos, but Georgian women have always helped me chase off any especially fierce cows or barking dogs. As far as all the potholes go, prepare to get your shoes muddy, very muddy. One of my neighbors now strictly calls me her “dirty girl” as I always end up coming home from a run covered in mud up to my ankles.
The second challenge is going to be choosing where to run. I live in a hilly region so the constant ups and downs killed me at first, but at the same time, I’ve been able to see so much of Georgia’s beautiful nature while on a run. My current route takes me down by a river, where I pass the house of famous poet Mayakovsky, then past fields, through overgrown cemeteries, under the shadows of mountains and across a couple of swinging bridges, which are by far the best part! I feel like I’ve seen just about every part of the local area, and now my kids at school will ask what time I plan on running just so they can be outside to wave to me or give me popcorn and sunflower seeds as I pass by, which brings me to my last point.
The absolute biggest challenge while running in Georgia has been the amount of times locals stop me to talk or invite me in. I love meeting people new people and becoming closer to my community, but there is nothing quite as uncomfortable as dripping sweat, being pulled into a sweltering house and sitting down to drink hot coffee or wine. Believe me; Georgian opinion is that exercise is no excuse not to drink. Call me crazy, but I just can’t run with the same intensity when my stomach is full of sloshy coffee and gooey khachapuri, I just can’t. I need both hands to count the number of times my 30 minute run has turned into a 2 hour supra. The best defense is just to give in. It’s great fun to meet new neighbors or the families of my students and I usually just tell myself that the experience was worth having to run twice as hard the next day.
So there you have it, Leah Quinn’s guide to running in Georgia. Now there is no excuse not to get off the couch, turn off the telanovela, lace up those shoes and hit the streets. Adventure is sure to await if you do!