As ever, I’m hugely excited to present the latest Running The World interview – this time with two wonderful ladies from Bolivia.
In case you’re about to frantically google Bolivia…it’s a land-locked country in South America, which borders Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru. It’s a country with enormous geographical variation, from the Andes mountains to tropical rainforest. Elevation is anything from 21,000 ft to 230 ft above sea-level. With that geographical variation comes dramatic climate variation as well. Its capital city is Sucre but the government sits in La Paz. It’s a developing country still, with a growing tourist industry.
I found today’s interviewees, Corina and Fabiola, via a wonderful FB page for expats in Bolivia. Some expats on the FB page knew the ladies, they were willing to be interviewed and the rest is history. Here we go.
Please introduce yourself. Tell us a little about who you are and what you do when you’re not running.
Corina – My name is Corina Rea Mendez. I’m 55 and am married. I’ve played sports since I was 12. I started with athletics and then I played volleyball for almost thirty years, even getting to represent Bolivia abroad to play volleyball. Part of my training was a long distance race and that was how I started to like running. When I’m not running, I go to the gym and I teach fitness through cycling. I also teach basic techniques for starting running, especially for people who work in offices and have a sedentary lifestyle, little by little, they acquire a bit of physical fitness.
Corina looking speedy
Fabiola – My name is Fabiola, I’m 43 years old,Brazilian by birth and Bolivian by heart. I am a strong advocate for the arts as a tool for social change, so my work is to connect people and build bridges of understanding through culture and education. I am a mother of two little girls (9 and 7). I like to dance, I practice yoga, and I have many plans for the future (sometimes I wish the days were longer!).
How did you get into running?
Corina – While I was playing volleyball , I incorporated running and racing into my training, but the maximum distance at that time was 5km. When I turned 40, I stopped playing volleyball so I decided to try an individual sport and thus I started to run more often, running longer distances.
Fabiola – I come from the lowlands in Bolivia and moved to La Paz for work 14 years ago. This wonderful city is located in the middle of the mountains at 13,000 feet above sea level! Until five years ago, I always thought that I couldn’t run or do any hard-core exercising here in La Paz because of the altitude. However, one day I asked myself “why not?” And that was the day my running journey began. A friend at work inspired me to run my first 10K race and gave me tips and cheered me along the way. This process included a lot of wonderful and unforgettable moments. Since then, a lot of things have happened in my running life and my life in general, I have learned a lot and I have grown so much as a person.
How popular is running in your country? Is it growing in popularity or has it always been popular? Or does no-one really run?
Corina – In Bolivia, 10 years or so ago, only a few people ran, because there were also very few organized races. For example, the city where I live, Santa Cruz de la Sierra is in the Bolivian Amazon and has a temperature of 37 to 38 degrees in summer. So there were only about 4 races of differing distances.But gradually people began to realize that physical activity, especially running is very good for health and also keeps you active and alert, so the number of runners increased. Now in Bolivia, there are very important races with many participants. In my city, we have about 30 different races a year, with different distances. They are for different reasons, some are for charities (which I like to do) and others run by companies.
Corina and her running friends
Fabiola – Running is now very popular in Bolivia, but it wasn’t like this in the past. In the last five years 10K and 5K races have grown in popularity in different cities, especially in the city of Santa Cruz, where nowadays there are races almost every weekend.
How popular is it amongst women? Is that a new phenomenon or have women always been keen on running? Are the genders fairly well-balanced?
Corina – In the past, very few women have participated in races, but the number of women has increased gradually. Today there’s a big increase but men still outnumber us.
Fabiola – Gender is fairly well-balanced, running is very popular among women, it is also a new trend in fitness and a great way to spend time with your female friends.
Fabiola and her friends running the 50k at Lake Titicaca this February!
How popular is racing in your country? What are the biggest or most important races? What kind of distances are popular?
Corina – Runners are able to find out about the races available – some have the luxury of choosing which race to participate in, because there can be a race every week! The most popular distance is the 5K and 10K
There are few races that are repeated every year – we have the following races that are already established on an annual calendar:
* 4 Seasons (10K and 5K)
* Mitsuba Race (21K and 8K)
* Solidarity Night Race for Street Children (4k and 8k)
* Race Journalists (13k and 5k)
* Middle East MARATHON Cotoca (21K)
* The Adidas Marathon (42k, 21k, 10k)
Corina and her friends racing
Fabiola – The most popular distance is 10K, there are several 10k races in most cities of all over the country, including a race promoted by the President of the country on the anniversary of the capital city. Here in La Paz, where I live, the most popular races are 13K El Diario (30,000 people) and 10K CAF (10,000 people).
Is trail running popular in your country? What are the trails like?
Fabiola – Bolivia is a perfect place for trail running, there are lots of paths and we keep discovering new ones. La Paz offers many trail paths for training surrounded by beautiful mountains. The most important trail race is the Skyrace Bolivia, a 28K trail uphill in the Yungas area. It takes place every year in August and this year it will be its fifth edition. In the past there have been races in the ancient archaeological site Tiwanaku, in the Uyuni Salt Flats, in the scenery of Lake Titicaca. I personally love trail running and this year I was fortunate to run my first ultra-marathon in Lake Titicaca, which it was very challenging but I enjoyed it so much.
Fabiola and friends at the Tiwanaku 42k
As a woman, how safe do you feel when you run? Are there any particular issues facing women runners?
Corina – Normally we run in the parks, which are safer and when we train longer distances, we try to go in groups. Although my country is not very unsafe, it is best to run in a group and if you go alone, it’s best to run in the parks.
Corina on the trails!
When we participate in races we don’t have any problems, but sometimes, when there are cash prizes, the men get more money. That doesn’t always happen but it does sometimes.
Fabiola – Most of the time I run in a group, so I feel safe. However, even when I am by myself, La Paz is a pretty safe city. Nonetheless I had an episode when a guy attacked me on a Sunday morning during my run! However, that is not something that happens frequently. Fortunately, it was nothing more and I’ve been safe after that. It also didn’t stop me from running. You just need to be cautious, as you would pretty much anywhere.
What do female runners wear in your country? What kind of brands are big there?
Corina – To run comfortably, we always run in leggings or shorts in dry-fit materials, which are the most comfortable to run in as they are light and absorb perspiration.The most common brands here in Bolivia are Nike and Adidas – Under Armor is up-and-coming as well.
Fabiola at the Uyuni Flat Salts Marathon
What do runners in your country use to fuel and to hydrate?
Corina – Normally, we use well-known products like Gatorade and Powerade. Other people use alcohol-free Malt (a barley drink) and of course, lots of water.
Fabiola – Water and isotonic beverages, mostly. Some people like to use chia seeds or other products, but in general, people drink the popular isotonic beverages. To fuel, most runners use energy bars, gels, and there are also cookies made locally with quinoa and other local organic products that are excellent .
Does the weather cause any challenges to runners in your country?
Corina – In the region where I live, it is tropical and for 9 months of the year, we have temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius. In those months, when the days are very hot, we usually go running at night or we run very early in the morning, like 5am, when the sun is still not very hot. The other three months are milder with cold cloudy, rainy days. When that happens, we go to the gym and use the treadmill and do some body-weight strength-training.
Fabiola – The main challenge in La Paz is the altitude. The rainy season is from December to March, but that doesn’t stop us from running. I personally love running in the rain!
Who are the best known running heroes in Bolivia?
Corina – At a national level, there are good long-distance runners. One of the most renowned is Policarpio Calizaya, and also Eduardo Aruquipa, Vianca Pereira and Franklin Aduviri. All these runners are from the west of our country, the Andean region.
Fabiola – Eduardo Aruquipa and Rosmery Quispe are well-known athletes that have represented our country in several international competitions. I personally think that all runners are heroes for ourselves, our families, our friends. If we inspire one person to change to a more active and healthy lifestyle, we become inspirational heroes!
How big is social media within the Bolivian running community? Who should we follow?
Corina – There are some running blogs and there are some FB pages. There are some running clubs like Run Fit, David Cortez and the Club de Lorena Calvo. There is a page where you can find all the information you need on races.
Fabiola – Social media is very popular, especially Facebook. Twitter has a limited audience in Bolivia. Social media is very big in the running community, especially for promotion of races and for building a sense of community among running friends.
If I landed in your country/city, where would you send me to find out about the local running routes, group runs or races there?
Corina – If you come to Bolivia, I would recommend going to run the parks at night as Cambodromo, the Parque Los Mangales and Urban park. There you will meet street-racers participating in the different competitions.
Fabiola – There is a group RunnerZ Inc that is very active on Facebook, you can definitely find their weekend training sessions and information on running in general. There is another page, Run Bolivia, and Bolivia Tambien Corre.
If I was going to do any race in your country, which would you recommend, and why?
Corina – If you come to our country there are three important races. One is organized by sports journalists of our region that takes place in October, it’s called INTERNATIONAL RUN EAST and is 13k. The other is a run that has 80 % rise and takes place in the tropical area of La Paz called Coroico. It starts in Yolosa and finishes in Chuspipata. It’s 28 km and is called the SKY RACE. The other takes place in the city of La Paz at 3,560m. It goes up from the city of La Paz to the city of El Alto and has two distances of 42K and 21K – it’s called the MARATHON FOR PEACE.
Fabiola – I would definitely recommend doing the Skyrace Bolivia. It is a 28K race all uphill, it goes up from 1200 m to 3000 m in a beautiful trail road that is also named “The Death Road” because there have been lots of car accidents there. The road is narrow and is next to a cliff, you run in the mist and the energy you feel there is just amazing.
Fabiola and friends training for the Skyrace
What are the best and worst things about running in Bolivia?
Corina – I think the best thing is that people have realized that running brings so many benefits to your life and that we have public spaces to enjoy running in.The worst thing is that the great runners of our country aren’t helped to participate in events abroad.
Fabiola – The best things about running in La Paz are the beautiful landscapes and the challenges of running in altitude, which make you feel stronger! Of course it is harder than running in the lowlands, but at the same time, being able to finish a race or a long training surrounded by mountains, gives you a greater sense of accomplishment. The worst things include pollution and careless drivers.
Thank you both so much for all your help pulling this post together. For more Running the World interviews, click here. And if you are an international runner, or you know someone who is, PLEASE drop me a line!!