Mexico City Meltdown: How to Maintain a Running Habit in a Megalopolis

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Mexico City Meltdown: How to Maintain a Running Habit in a Megalopolis

Photo by Alejandro, CC-BY

As one of the biggest cities on earth, with all the trappings of a modern day megalopolis—traffic, pollution, overpopulation, etc.—Mexico City may seem like a strange place to be a runner. But for those hardcore pavement pounders who can’t miss a workout, this city is surprisingly friendly for those who know their way around the chaos of this concrete jungle, with a plethora of parks and green spaces not seen in most other megacities, as well as the advantage of altitude (7,382 feet) for intense cardio training. With a little bit of foresight, creativity and the spirit of adventure, Mexico City offers almost unlimited options for people who love to run and are willing to work for it. But how can you juggle all the challenges of running in this metropolis in order to maintain your best performance and health? Luckily we have compiled a list of things you can do to see Mexico City on your feet.

1. Avoid Pollution

You might be thinking, “but isn’t Mexico City super polluted?” The answer isn’t as straightforward as yes or no. During the 1980s and early 1990s the Mexican capital was ranked the most polluted city in the world. And just last year it was ranked as the city with the worst traffic. being said, during the 21st century the city has taken drastic measures to cut pollution and has become a world leader in curving pollution levels. Still, though, pollution here is a real problem. Luckily, you can take measures to protect yourself. First, we recommend running in the morning when pollution levels are at the lowest. Second, run in the parks where trees and greenery produce clean oxygen for you too breathe. You can consult pollution levels on the city government website. If your location on the map says “buena” or “regular” you’re probably in the clear for a run, just avoid cardio when pollution levels get above “mala.” Some athletes here choose to wear pollution masks, which may be a good idea if you’re especially sensitive or have to exercise during peak pollution times.

2. Stay Out of the City Center

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Photo by Devon Van Houten Maldonado

The boundaries of Mexico City encompass an enormous urban landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see. But there are also natural areas where trail runners or hikers can enjoy steep technical terrain. The northern part of the city, where there’s heavy industry, and the Centro Historico, where there’s insane traffic, are the most polluted parts of the city. But down south toward the end of the red metro bus line, the somewhat rogue delegation of Tlalpan harnesses some of the city’s biggest and wildest natural areas, including the Bosque de Tlalpan and the Parque Nacional Cumbres del Ajusco (pictured above). The bosque is the most accessible natural area in the city, with miles of paved and unpaved trails where you can run for hours without realizing that you’re in the middle of an urban island. Ajusco, on the other hand, is a real mountain range dividing Mexico City from neighboring states; inside this park, you won’t believe you’re still within the borders of the capital—there’s even snow.

3. Enjoy Some of the Best Parks in the World

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Photo by Devon Van Houten Maldonado

Most runners in Mexico City work out in the cities plentiful and beautiful parks. The largest and most famous, the Bosque de Chapultepec (pictured above), is the largest city park in Western Hemisphere. The space has been in continuous use by multiple civilizations for the last 2,000 years. There are several running tracks and trails spread out throughout the park’s three sections, from the beautifully planned athletics park, El Sope, in the second section to the wild and undeveloped third section. The first section of the park is the most accessible and one of the most common running destinations in the city with several loops and trails that wind around the Chapultepec Castle and museums. Another favorite running destination for locals is a park called Viveros de Coyoacán, located in the southern part of the city between Tlalpan and Centro. Viveros boasts a wide 1.2-mile gravel loop within an immaculately maintained nursery where trees are bred to be planted around the city. This is a great place to train because there are clear distance markers every 300 or 400 feet and there are also public bathrooms, a luxury in this city and a must have for serious runners.

4. Embrace the Chaos

Running in the streets in Mexico City isn’t something we necessarily recommend. But if you possess a truly adventurous spirit and a desire to see the city on your feet, well, strap on those running shoes and head out the door on a sunny morning. Many of the streets and sidewalks are famously pockmarked with open manholes, potholes and posts sticking up from nonsensical places. Running through the streets in Mexico City will train you for the most technical trails, as you weave in and out of kissing couples, dodge traffic, and leap over unforeseen obstacles. Because of the unpredictable path, you have to be ultra aware of every step you take and pay close attention to your surroundings. Traffic here can be dangerous, so cars and motorcycles making a quick turn or blasting through a red light are the biggest threats to watch out for when navigating through the city. But once you accept the chaos, running around Mexico City can be a great pleasure.

Devon Van Houten Maldonado is a writer, painter and runner from Boulder, Colorado, currently living and working in Mexico City.

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