Although trail running is very popular in Portugal, I’ve not been able to run trails since I’m in the city without a car. But I’ve made the most of running in the city, trying to learn different neighborhoods through running the sidewalks. Some of the neighborhoods that I’ve run are my neighborhood of the University of Porto in the north of the city, the ocean neighborhood of Foz, the neighborhood of Boavista (beautiful view), the “subway” route into centro Porto and my favorite route of all, along the Douro river to the Atlantic through the city of Vila Nova de Gaia. While running I’ve watched the everyday life of this city: old men reading their paper and students drinking coffee and talking in cafes, older women washing lobbies and front steps, parents taking their children to school and shopkeepers opening for the day. Probably the best running discovery was the washing tanks in Afurada, Gaia along with the crazy gypsy flea market on Saturdays. https://portoalities.com/en/afurada-the-magic-fishermen-village-just-across-porto/ I could run this route every day and never tire of the views and the activity along the river and the ocean. Seeing older women dressed head to toe in black (including black crew socks) washing their front steps or grilling sardines makes me feel as though run into an entirely different world.
While I’ve never connected with a running group, I have been able to observe the running life in Porto. There are community-based running clubs, usually tied to a neighborhood e.g. Gaia, Porto and Salgueiros have running clubs. These clubs are evident during road races. I’ve run two races here: the Porto marathon 15 K and the Paranhos 10K.
My observations are only based on these two races, so I don’t want to make any generalizations but I have identified some differences. American runners like gear—water vests/bladders, belts, headlamps for night running and reflective gear, water proof gear…we like stuff. Portuguese runners are minimalists for road races. They generally are not carrying water but wait until the water stops where you get full bottles of water. Americans look like they are preparing to scale Mt Everest relative to their Portuguese colleagues. PortaJohns are at the start of the race and bring Kleenex. If you feel the need, there are plenty of good bushes along the route. There are no pacers and the corrals are chaotic with everyone jostling each other. I’ve watched several runners drink espresso right before a race and finish the coffee with a cigarette. But despite the minimalist caffeinated approach, these are some of the most efficient and fast runners that I’ve ever witnessed.
I look forward to running with the Steel City Road Runners in January, but it has been fun to observe this specific community in my adopted city.