July 01, 2012

Running City

Running City
Courtesy RunCity.org

Its organizers call it a game, but for participants this is a serious adventure. It is not an endurance test, but you will exert yourself. At your disposal you have your legs, bicycles, roller skates, scooters, roller sneakers, and an entire city, strewn with riddles. It is Running City, the urban orienteering competition that has become Europe’s most popular game, and it has just taken place in Moscow for the eighth time.

Those who have not heard of Running City look around them in surprise, wondering why so many people are out and about on Saturday morning, wearing numbered badges around their necks. Why is everyone walking, running, biking, riding with such intense concentration? They are engaged in a serious business: playing.

It is early saturday morning, a time when the city sleeps. But today, April 21, it is unusually crowded in the area around Moscow’s University of Geodesy and Cartography near the city center. Stranger still, everyone is smiling. All these friendly folks are Running City participants. Conceived in the late nineties by Igor Golyshev, a computer programmer from St. Petersburg, the first games took place in that city in 2000, and they gained immediate popularity. The event combined local cultural knowledge (one, for instance, followed routes from the books of Dostoyevsky), inclusiveness (a range of categories open to people with different levels of physical or athletic ability), and a questing spirit, with the opportunity to walk through beautiful St. Petersburg. The goal was to get to know one’s city better, and to discover its secrets in the company of friends. Players visit checkpoints marked on a map, some of them hidden, and the course is timed.

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