Corriendo en Viveros

Exploring Viveros de Coyoacán; a public park and tree nursery that’s nurtured a vibrant running community in Mexico City.

My adventures in Mexico have always been fascinating and memorable. Once, in Mérida, I spent a week photographing a 400-pound rapper named “Chino” along with his entourage of eccentric fellow artists. In 2018, I was invited to shoot a youth MMA tournament in a dark, sketchy neighborhood of Guadalajara. I remember being stunned at how these teens were beating the crap out of each other, then hugging and high-fiving once they’d finished. Although these trips are intended to be spent at the beach, unwinding after a long, frigid winter in Montréal, I always end up gravitating to the city to hang out with the locals and finding a story to tell. 

Last month I went to Mexico City for the first time. A few weeks before leaving, I sat at my computer staring at the behemoth of a city on Google Maps. It was overwhelming. I knew I wanted to film or photograph something special but I was stumped on where to begin looking for it.

My friend Eric, who’d visited CDMX a year earlier, told me about Viveros de Coyoacán, a park in the south of the city with a “unique jogging culture”. His description couldn’t have been more vague but it piqued my interest. He reflected on the characters he remembered seeing there; high-school racing teams, 80-year-old marathoners in snazzy vintage tracksuits, someone running with a sword, someone running in a kilt, and someone running with her cat in a Chanel handbag.

In the ten years that I’ve been both a runner and a photographer, it had never dawned on me to do a project that brought these two passions together. But with the discovery of Viveros de Coyoacán, and the colourful community that existed there, I knew this was about to change.

I arrived in Mexico City a few days before Christmas. I’d booked an Airbnb across the street from the park; a grandiose art-deco home decorated in marble and gold, which for only 16 bucks a night seemed like a great deal. I dropped my bags and went straight to Viveros. To my delight, it was exactly what I’d imagined. Runners from all walks of life trudging and zipping through a grove of towering eucalyptus trees along a perfectly manicured, 2-kilometer clay track. Locals chatted and warmed up at purpose-built stretching stations and vendors sold hats, shoes, socks and nearly every running accessory that exists at the park’s entrance.

I spent the next four days basking in the park’s charm and beauty, exploring its network of trails and wandering amongst ancient native plants and twelve-foot cacti. I filmed and mingled with the locals who were welcoming and tolerated my appalling Spanish. What became clear was that everyone here was a die-hard runner, there were very few weekend warriors or people “trying to get into shape.” Nearly everyone I met ran at Viveros every single day and had been doing so for years, if not decades. 

One morning I was invited to run with Andres Ornelas from “Amigos de los Viveros”, the group in charge of maintaining the park. I was curious to learn about its history and how it had become a hub for running in the city.  “First, we must go back to 1901,” he said as we started down the freshly watered track. He explained that this was the year Miguel Angel de Quevedo, a renowned engineer and environmentalist, founded the park as a tree nursery. He’d seen how big Mexico City was becoming and knew trees needed to be planted to compensate for the tremendous growth. In 1938, the government opened the park to the public and immediately became an attraction for nature lovers and athletes. “Now, the park sees about 3000 people a day during the week and up to 8000 a day on weekends. ‘Coyoacán’ in English means ‘place of coyotes,'” he concluded as we finished the fourth lap.

On my last day, I spent the morning filming at Viveros just before dawn. Slowly, the sun began to filter through the trees as birds sang and runners silently dashed along the track. I hid my camera under a log and ran a couple of laps, passing, and getting passed by the new friends I’d made that week. Roberto, a young lawyer I’d interviewed the day before, sped past in an outfit styled to match the Ciele cap I’d given him. He didn’t slow down to talk. Then, after coffee with Veronica and Rosario from Team Viveros, I packed my bags and caught an Uber to the airport. I was off to Puerto Vallarta to meet my mom, sister and niece for our annual family get-together. I was a bit sad that my latest Mexican adventure was over but excited that another favorite pastime was about to begin; drinking beer and getting sunburned at the beach.