Have you ever wondered if people in Africa, Europe, Asia or Australia are out doing the same track workouts as you — or wearing the same type of socks or caps? It turns out, running culture is different all around the world — from how people train to how they recover to how they dress.
Sure, every place is going to have outliers, and no two runners are exactly alike, but there are definitely some trends worth exploring and possibly even adapting to your running life. Professional marathoner Becky Wade spent years running around the world, and she shares a few key differences here and even more in her memoir, “Run the World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe.”
RUN BY FEEL
“I think one of the most interesting comparisons is Ethiopia,” Wade says. “They have a really strong running culture, but it’s one that’s based on running by feel. There’s not a lot of precision in their training, just a lot of hard work and survival — making it through the group training session. Not a lot of watches, more fartleks and running by feel. I learned a lot about being adaptable to the demands of any given workout and what was happening that day.”
Your move: Leave the watch behind (or at least hit record and then hide it for your run) so you record your mileage but can focus on running by feel.
COMPETE FOR FUN
“Parkrun in London — these local free 5Ks on grass — are super fun, and I saw a ton of elite runners at them getting a workout in. In the U.S., there’s a hesitancy to go out and race when the conditions aren’t perfect, but in London, they have more fun with it and just get out to see where they’re at.”
Your move: Jump into a local 5K day-of, no forethought … and have fun!
“I love to cook and I love trying different foods, so this was the most fun part for me!” Wade says. “In terms of culturally-different nutrition, I ate so few vegetables and very little protein in Ethiopia because it wasn’t available. I found most of the athletes I was around lived mostly on carbohydrates — pasta, white bread, fermented flatbread — and meat and vegetables were more garnishes.”
Your move: If you’ve been nervous about eating that pre-workout oatmeal, stop stressing. Eat what feels right for you, not what’s trending at the moment.
WEAR DIFFERENT GEAR
“I noticed that Americans are really focused on trends or brands, but I found in Scandinavia and Japan, what people wore to run was a bit different,” Wade says. “In Japan, I noticed that there were more running skirts than I was expecting. There was a lot more diversity than what you see here, it feels like in the U.S. there’s a pretty standard dress code for runners.”
Your move: If you love it, wear it.
TEST RECOVERY METHODS
“I did a lot of sauna in Scandinavia for relaxation and for recovery. The bathhouse in Japan is similar, too, soaking in there,” says Wade. “I also did fish therapy there — you dip your feet into a hot bath with fish and they nibble on the bottom of your feet. It was kind of hilarious. And Eastern-style medicine healing was huge in Japan. I got really helpful acupuncture, and it was my first successful experience with it.”
Your move: Don’t be afraid to go beyond the standard physical therapist or to hop in a sauna at the end of a tough gym workout. You may find a new recovery method you love.
“Americans are on one end of the spectrum to the extreme: results, data, mileage-focused and into comparison,” says Wade. “Every culture is like that to some extent, but in Ethiopia, they’re not recording all the data or making those comparisons, they’re just training. They get out and run good efforts, but in terms of day to day, they’re much less results-focused in training runs.”
Your move: The next time you’re out training with your friends, don’t race to be the first to the top of the hill, don’t compare splits and maybe don’t even talk about running while you’re out. Just enjoy the run.