‘Hills and sunshine make Madrid a year-round paradise for runners’

In this week's instalment of My Spanish Career, The Local talks to Robert Shultz, an American English teacher and now head of the quirky Lactic Acid Junkies running group in Madrid.

'Hills and sunshine make Madrid a year-round paradise for runners'
Photo: Robert Shultz.

What brought you to Spain originally?

I was a high school English teacher in the US and came to Spain for a change of scene, but somewhere I could continue teaching English. I've been here for nearly 12 years.
When did you start Lactic Acid Junkies and why?
I started the run crew in February of this year. I created the Crew because there are a lot of runners who need motivation to get out and exercise and push themselves.
Tell us a bit about your runs and are they open to anyone, even beginners?
Some runs are more difficult than others, but we try to be as inclusive as possible. One way is to have a set route so that everyone knows where they're going, and if you're slower you don't feel compelled to keep up and can run your own run without pressure.
Now we also have days for more experienced runners, such as Hill Repeat Thursday or Savage Sunday. We run at the moment three days a week. Soon to expand to four days once runners get a bit more confidence and strength. Also non-run days like Movie Night and Beerfest Night help build bonds between crew members.
Photo: Robert Shultz.
Is it all just for fun or do you train for any specific events?
It's both fun and serious. I try not to scare runners by taking it too seriously, but as playful as our name is, we're a serious group of runners. We will begin training as a crew for April's full and half Madrid marathon. And perhaps destination race before or after the marathon. But that depends on scheduling and the strength of the runners.
Tell us about your Kickstarter campaign.
The Kickstarter campaign is raise money for the creation of shirts that will raise the profile of our running crew. I've run races where big groups of runners from specific crews run together in shared shirts. I would like us to be one of those crews. Also we don't charge fees for being in the group, which is the major difference between a crew and a club. The money would allow us to do more things. For example, the Copenhagen crew NBRO travelled to last year's Paris marathon and competed in significant numbers. I would like us to do that someday.
People might not automatically think of Madrid as a good place for running. Why is the city a great place to pound the pavement?
In a word: hills. There are few better ways to become a good runner than constant running of hills. So much so you can replace leg workouts in the gym with hill repeats. We routinely run hills, both small and large, every week. And with easy access to Casa de Campo for trail running, and the river esplanade for flat workouts, Madrid is a great home for runners. Furthermore, you throw in the weather, it becomes a perfect year-round paradise for runners.
Brunching and running. Photo: Robert Shultz.
Where are your top five places for running in Madrid?
We run Parque Oeste, Casa de Campo, the river esplanade. I would place Retiro and the “canal area” track at a distant fourth and fifth. I say this because they don't offer runners enough space to truly cut lose and push themselves.
Any advice or warnings for first-time runners in Madrid?
Madrileños still seem surprised to see someone running and don't tend to move out of the way. Car drivers also race through red lights, so I counsel my runners to wait for a solid green before running. Also, some tiled pavement is very slippery in winter rains. And hydrate constantly from April to October even, if you come from a warm country. 
For information about Lactic Acid Junkies, visit their website.

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How Spain could stamp out smoking

A fifth of Spain's population smokes on a daily basis. With such high numbers, here's how the country's pulmonologists propose to get smokers to quit.

Spain plans to get people to quit smoking
How Spain plans to get people to stop smoking. Photo: Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP

For many outsiders, Spain is a nation of smokers. 

The stats from Spain’s Ministry of Health show that 23.3 percent of men smoke every day in Spain, compared with 16.4 percent of women.

For both males and females, the highest number of smokers are aged between 25 and 34, meaning that it’s the younger population who are smoking slightly more than the older generations. 

Spain’s pulmonologists are now pushing for the country’s tobacco laws to be tightened, claiming that reform is needed after the last legislation was approved a decade ago.

READ ALSO: Spain warns against smoking and vaping in public to avoid Covid infections

Why is smoking such a problem in Spain and what is being done about it?

The latest stats from the Spanish Ministry of Health show that lung cancer, often caused by smoking, is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in Spain, with 29,549 cases diagnosed so far in 2021.

Given these high figures Spain’s Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR) has proposed five measures to help get people to stop smoking.

SEPAR points out that every time anti-smoking legislation is reformed and things for smokers made more difficult, the prevalence of smoking decreases.  

Smoking on terraces was banned in some regions during the pandemic. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP
  • Price of tobacco to rise in 2022

The first point on their list is to raise the price of tobacco, which must cover all forms, from cigarettes to cigars, through to rolling tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.  

This first measure may soon become a reality as the Spanish government has already predicted that the price of tobacco will rise in 2022, after several years of stagnation.  

It is expected that tobacco will be responsible for almost a third of all special taxes received in 2022, equating to €21.8 billion.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “cheap tobacco” in Spain guarantees “a percentage of smokers above 30 percent”.

In Spain, the price of a pack of tobacco is around €5, which is much cheaper than in other countries. In Australia for example, a pack of tobacco costs around €22, and in the United Kingdom and France, each pack of tobacco costs around €12.4 and €10.5, respectively.

According to Dr. Carlos A. Jiménez Ruiz, pulmonologist and president of the society, the current anti-smoking law has “some deficiencies” that need to be addressed in order to develop legislation that is more effective and efficient, especially with regard to the prevention of tobacco consumption in young people, but also in helping smokers to stop smoking and in protecting the health of non-smokers. 

READ ALSO – Maps: Which beaches in Spain have banned smoking?

Besides increasing the cost of tobacco SEPAR proposes four other measures to get Spain to quit smoking. These include:

  • Banning the consumption of tobacco in public spaces, even outdoors
    During the pandemic, several regions approved a regulation to prohibit smoking on terraces. SEPAR proposes that smoking be prohibited not only in spaces such as terraces but also in sports stadiums, beaches, parks and bullrings, and that fines should be imposed for those who do not comply.

  • Establish generic packaging
    SEPAR also wants Spain to introduce generic packaging, which means no logos and images of the tobacco companies. This measure has also proven to lower the sales of tobacco in countries where it has been implemented, such as Australia and New Zealand. According to the latest statistics from the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey around 11.6 percent of adults in Australia smoke daily. 

  • The regulation of other smoking devices
    Despite the fact that all products that burn tobacco such as cigarettes are already regulated, SEPAR believes that it is also necessary to regulate the sale, consumption and advertising of electronic cigarettes. This is because e-cigarettes have become particularly popular among young people. 

  • Promote help for those seeking to quit smoking
    The last proposal is the creation and development of special units in public health departments to help people to stop smoking and to put more funds towards these programmes. 

How does Spain compare with other European countries when it comes to smoking?

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while Spain does have a high number of smokers there are still several European countries that have more. The European countries with the highest number of smokers are Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary.

The latest European survey from 2020 shows that 42 percent of Greeks claim to be smokers, which is only slightly above Spain. 

On the other side, the European countries with the lowest number of smokers are mainly Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway.