Running in Mexico City
Photo courtesy of Echelon Baxter, Wikimedia Commons
Mexico City is the Western Hemisphere’s megalopolis. It’s bigger in most measures than any city in the Americas. It has the most museums and the longest history. Despite these superlatives it has a hard time living down its (mostly unfair) reputation for crime and pollution. It’s host to a slew of extraneous prejudices for Americans, for whom its mention falsely conjures images of deserts, cacti and a people belonging to a single monolithic culture, entrenched in violence and poverty, all pining to escape to the greener pastures of the American Dream.
Fortunately, many in the running world are at least acquainted with the reality of Mexico. There were the 1968 Olympics, with all the political tumult of the ’60s in miniature, in which the favored Europeans and Americans foundered against the altitude while the acclimated East Africans burst onto the world scene. At 4100 meters, Mexico City’s neighboring Nevado de Toluca has garnered modest notoriety as a place to train. Additionally, the state of Chihuahua was immortalized by “Born To Run” for its ultra-distance running indigenous tribe. Inland Mexico carries an allure—something like a Kenya of the West—that remains largely unknown to the majority of American tourists that never leave the coastal resorts.
Mexico City has also been one of my favorite cities since my first visit in 2012 and so it was my great pleasure to escape the snow this month to investigate the running culture of the city.
The day after I arrived with my girlfriend, Anna, we made a light-headed climb up the stairs out of the subway and onto Avenida Reforma near the stunning, gigantic Chapultepec Park. Every Sunday until around mid-day, Reforma, a major thoroughfare, is closed to traffic. Every week, thousands of runners populate their choice of surface—the wide, paved lanes or the soft dirt that runs up the median. I combined running on Reforma with some of the innumerable single-tracks and paved trails that wind through an urban forest that’s twice the size of Central Park and home to one of the best museums on earth. On most Sundays the there is a Meet-Up of the Mexico City Running Group in the park, but not on this particular day because of a huge Carnival 10k that was going on.
On the way to the park there were street vendors selling shoes; there were lots of Nike Air Pegasus and Adidas. I saw a good amount of people wearing Brooks and even some Hoka. In Chapultepec, you can catch a race just about every weekend. This past Sunday I ran in the 17th annual Manuel Gomez Morin 10k and had a great time. The race was chip-timed, offered a tech shirt and had a drone filming it! There were about 1,800 entrants.
Coyoacan, a southern neighborhood that is famous for Frida Kahlo and its quaint cobblestone streets. Viveros is a sizeable park in this neighborhood. This park features a big, flat 2.5km circuit with side routes that well kept and scenic. If you come here, watch out for the weird black squirrels that plague the park—It seems that they’ve gotten a little too comfortable with people and they might pursue you for food.
Located just southeast of Mexico City, in the neighborhood of Magdalena Contreras, is Parque Ecologico de Los Dinamos (named for now defunct hydroelectric plants). This national park is huge, extending back into the valley of the Magdalena River toward Mexico State. In addition to running, this is one of the best place in Mexico City for rock climbing and mountain biking. It’s easy to go for 20+kms on the exclusively dirt trails and open forest floor of this park.
There is a park called Bosque de Tlalpan on the extreme south side of the city that is ostensibly a big center of running culture. We didn’t have time to make it there but Viveros and Chapultepec were vibrant enough that we didn’t need convincing that the culture was buzzing.
Nevado de Toluca
Tlalpan may be the hub for urban runners, but Nevado de Toluca, about half an hour west of the city, is the centerpiece that really sets this place apart from anything else in this hemisphere. Topping out at over 15,000′, Toluca is the 4th highest peak in Mexico. From a runner’s perspective, what gives it a leg up over the neighboring volcanic peaks that rim the Valley of Mexico is the fact that it’s top is a relatively flat and barren lunar landscape that makes for a great 10 miles of intense, unimpeded training. Better yet, the summit is fully accessible by public transit or car.
From the center of the city, we took the metro to the chaotic neighborhood called Observatorio and caught the bus to the city of Toluca. The ride through the pine forests that rim the valley is very enjoyable—it’s easy to imagine that you are in the Carolinas when you spy lakes and fields of horses at the base of the spruce-covered peaks.
From Toluca, it was another 30-45 minutes of bus and taxi up to the parking lot next to the caldera. I found my heart beating rather fast during the otherwise easy hike due to the altitude. We turned to see parents with young kids making the ascent with relative ease, really putting into perspective the importance of acclimatization. There are plenty of incredible vistas that really put into perspective how high up you are (if the thin air and the glaring sun didn’t make that apparent enough). When we made it to the rim and could see down into the crater, I was ecstatic; Not only was the view drop-dead gorgeous but the entire surface was perfect for running. There is little concern of falling or footing and there is nothing compelling you to stick to a specific route. I had really high expectations for this place and it exceeded them—it’s accessible and beautiful and I found myself really aching with regret when we had to leave.
With an abundance of parks, nearby wilderness and high altitude, Mexico City is in many ways an unexpected haven for runners. The traffic and the notorious (and overstated) air pollution proved much less of an impedance than most would expect. If you want more info on planning a running vacation in this fascinating, must-visit megacity, feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com