As much as I would love to spend all my time riding my bike, running and writing witty prose I, like most people in the world, have to do an actual job to make money. My actual real-life job is to be an engineer. And being an engineer means publishing papers.
My most recent paper was published at a conference in Rio de Janeiro. After packing my laptop the next thing in my bag were my trainers. As a rule, when I am travelling on business, I pack my running stuff; it is a natural antidote to the endless sitting, the constant eating and the stress of networking as an introvert. It is also a great way to see a place where time is limited and generally you only get to see the interior of the hotel.
Presenting my paper. I only saw one person in the audience fall asleep and that it is probably a new record for me.
A combination of excitement but mostly jet-lag meant that I was up at the crack of dawn, trainers on legs that were willing but also heavy from travel. I could see something out of the hotel window that I was unfamiliar with; the sun.
Apparently there was a gym in the hotel but who would use it when you could walk ten steps and be standing on Copacabana beach. It was 0645 in the morning yet it seemed that every carioca was out doing some exercise before work and soaking up the sun before it went nuclear.
Running selfie. It had to be done.
As a side observation of my time in Rio I noticed that there is a somewhat binary dress code. At the conference the locals were by far the most stylishly dressed but at the beach the prevailing dress code is to wear as little as possible to show off the bronzed physiques. And that is just the men.
So I was distinctly overdressed in a t-shirt as I made my way along the Copacabana on my first run of the trip. It is not that I suffer from any sense of modesty but more that my torso was a shade of white from life in Scotland that it would be a danger to those without sunglasses.
My first run took me from one end of Copacabana to the other and back again. Even though the sun had only just begun to peek out from the horizon the running path was full of people of all ages. I don’t run well in the heat and even at that time in the morning the temperatures were tropical compared to Aberdeen but I am struggling to think of a more beautiful place I have ever run. Everywhere I looked there was something to distract me from the heavy legs. The Sugarloaf mountain was always in my view and with it the memories of having been up there ten years earlier in a different life. Every part of the beach was filled with people taking part in something communal; yoga, football, volleyball.
The far end of Copacabana beach. I could see my hotel and breakfast calling me in the distance.
Is there a more beautiful city than Rio de Janeiro? This is view of Copacabana that I woke up to. Needless to say I never set foot in the hotel gym when this was on the doorstep.
The calm Atlantic was punctuated with swimmers and rowers. To my left, the city streets were waking up also and the coconut sellers were pulling their carts to the beachfront. If there is a more beautiful city in the world then I am yet to see it. The battle between the built environment and the geology of Rio has created this stunning city and it just transmits a buzzing energy. That is not to say it is perfect and there is clearly huge social deprivation in areas.
My run along Copacabana. My times were seriously down due to the heat and the fact that I don't like to run in general first thing in the morning.
As a side note, you often hear that it is a dangerous city but in my time there, both now and before, I never witnessed anything that you wouldn’t see in other major cities. Don’t be scared of running along the beaches and certainly in the mornings it is very busy. Even in the evenings there were plenty of people out running along the beach and if it wasn’t for feeling knackered after a whole day at the conference then I would have no issue joining them.
On the second morning I tied my laces and headed in the opposite direction along Ipanema beach with the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) mountains as my target. Although only separated by a small peninsula, the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are quite different. Where Copacabana gently curves, Ipanema is straighter. The buildings that line the beachfront are nicer along Ipanema also. And Ipanema has the better song (The Girl From Ipanema).
Running along Ipanema trying to mix it up with all the fit people.
These runs were never going to be my best runs in terms of times (the heat made sure of that) but they still might be my best runs. It was almost ten years to the day since I was in Rio de Janeiro; the last stop on a round the world trip after university in an attempt to delay the onset of adulthood, so it was an obvious time of reflection.
Almost exactly ten years ago! I would love to say that I have grown up but the truth is I would still make coconut-boob jokes.
I have never had a career plan and I feel that I have fallen into opportunities rather than carving out my own path. I never thought that I would be presenting technical papers at conferences in places like Rio de Janeiro. Although a lot has changed in the last decade since I first fell in love with this city the one constant is running. I used to run along the beach even back then and it was great to follow those steps a decade later. No doubt the years have weathered me but my running is better. I put that down to a lack of drinking compared to my student days.
At the end of my run I would just sit on a wall and watch the beach ebb and flow with people and noise. I could sit for hours just watching people and imagining their stories but I was there to work and grease the wheels of industry.
Recovery after the run consisted of sitting on the wall and watching the city slowly come to life.
A couple of days after I returned home, I went for a run along Aberdeen beach. A greater contrast to my running in Rio it is hard to imagine. For a start it was raining to the point where my kit weighed an extra couple of kilograms and it was cold. There was no one on the beach. There was no tanned skin on show. There were no coconut stalls. Although there is plenty of granite in Aberdeen, none of it was punching up to the sky like in Rio. There was no music. Welcome home David, this is proper running!
An abject lesson in the inevitable and unstoppable passage of time. Same place only ten years and many life lessons apart.
If you ever find yourself in Rio de Janeiro, pack your running kit.
The beauty of Rio is best seen from standing on top of any one of the granite mountains. This was taken on top of the Sugarloaf at sunset.
A welcome recovery beer after running, presenting and greasing the wheels of industry