MEMBER: Ivan Ruchkin
Name: Ivan Ruchkin
Hometown: Moscow, Russia
College: Moscow State University
Occupation: Postdoctoral Researcher
Favorite Place to Run in Philly: Neighborhoods where I could have saved on rent, but didn't (because I don't like walking, biking, or public transit)
Half Marathon 1:17:19
Survived and recovered from substantial bodily harm inflicted by running, including but not limited to heatstroke, pneumonia, lung bleeding, a laceration, a hamstring tear, and a severe ankle sprain.
By: Kevin Brandon (03/09/19)
Ivan, thanks for taking time to speak with us. Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you end up in Philadelphia and running with PRTC?
Thanks for talking to me! I was born in the Soviet Union, and grew up in Moscow. I was a chubby and nerdy teenager, so you wouldn't normally expect to see me around a track 15 years down the road. Before Philly, I lost some of that chubbiness and nerdiness while going through many circles of hell in Pittsburgh (aka grad school). Reluctant to stay in Western PA or get a permanent job, I ended up here. PRTC was an obvious choice as the fastest club in the city: I think hanging out with faster people leads to training zeal and fitness gains --- or injury, which is a noble mode of existence as well.
When did you first become a runner? Did a specific event compel you to take on the sport?
When I got to college, they didn't let me play badminton, which I enjoyed and was much better at than any other athletic activity. That was a disappointment, but I figured I'd at least pick a sport without certain annoyances: teams of players, direct adversaries, hits to the head, relative scores, complex mechanical devices (looking at you, bikers), forgiveness of laziness, or bodies of water. So I signed up for the track team.
Once you began running, how did your career develop? Take us through day one to today.
I ran middle distances for 5 years, where I got to suffer more than I conceivably can in road running for the rest of my life. When I moved to the US/Pittsburgh, I readily joined a large long-distance running community. My excuse to myself was that if done right (aka wrong), a marathon has the potential to be almost as agonizing as an 800m race.
What is a favorite running accomplishment or moment?
Back at the time of my 3rd marathon (around 2013), I was quite focused on breaking 3 hours. In fact, it was absolutely infuriating that I managed to run two marathons and not break 3. That situation was untenable and had to be corrected ASAP. When it came to the race day, even though the heat was not cooperating, I refused to slow down despite any symptoms, and had a heatstroke, fainted, and was somehow revived with the help of water, ice, and IV fluid. Memory and personal identity took over an hour to come back to me. Eventually, it was a big relief to learn that I had fainted right after crossing the finish line in 2:58, not a half-mile before. Although it was scary and traumatic at that moment, I look back at my irrational dedication with some fondness and pride.
How about a not-so-great moment?
Let's say it's the moment that led to my longest time off (1 month) ever since I started running. I was having a great time jogging with my friends after 9 shots of tequila (a shout-out to the semi-secret Tequila 10K crew). A pesky curb sneaked up on me, rolled my ankle on itself, tore some ligaments, and messed up the joint. Not that it would prevent me from finishing that 10K, but the next time I could put any weight on that foot was only a week later.
Regarding your running future, what are your near and long-term goals?
In the near term, I'd like to keep getting micro-PRs to maintain the illusion that my running is going well. In the long term, I'd like to run a 2:37 marathon, which (in the Russian system of running appraisal) is equivalent to a 2-minute 800m. That would convince me that my body is capable of comparable performance at vastly different distances (I forget why this is meaningful), and then I can look for another method of cardiovascular suffering.
Preferred pre and post-race meals?
Soylent cacao yay (one of the driving forces of my chubbiness loss).
Joining us from Moscow, can you share anything about the running scene in Russia?
Most colleges do not offer any reasonable cash or benefits to runners (and most athletes in general). Let's say that millions of American presidents aren't revolving in Russian college sports. As a result, typical college runners weren't necessarily those with the most talent for running, but those who liked and wanted to run. I'm a prime example.
Back in my time, road running wasn't nearly as popular as in the States: Russia hasn't had its running boom yet (like the US had in the 70s), and it was common to believe that if you're not athletically built and cannot run a "reasonably-looking-to-observers" pace (suppose 8-minute miles), you shouldn't be part of running. Therefore, the scene was predictably small and pretty hardcore. In the last few years running has been booming though, with large numbers of people getting involved across all pace ranges. Curiously enough, obesity is also on the rise (:
Can you share with us what you're currently up to professionally? What inspired you to pursue this field?
I'm a researcher in computer science, with a major perk of working 100 meters from Franklin Field.
I spend my days thinking about how to make other people think better about building complex software systems. Of particular interest to me is not even how to build a system, but how to articulate how good it has to be, and check if it really is. When I was a kid, I thought I could be a mathematician or a physicist, but it turned even I had minimal standards of living and socially perceived relevance. Later on, I found out that I somewhat liked making software, but didn't feel special enough while doing so. So far I have been dodging these dilemmas, dead ends, and hard choices by staying in academic research.
Any non-running related hobbies, hidden skills or talents we may enjoy hearing about?
I am generally in favor of suffering (it's an important theme in my life), but I'm choosy about the type of suffering. I don't like suffering that is imposed by a practical need (like grocery shopping or sitting in a traffic jam) or that is imposed involuntarily (like terrorism or winter). Aside from running, other types of suffering that I endorse include meditation and romantic relationships.
I have a sheet of paper of 90 years in weeks, and every Monday I cross one week off. I have kept this up for several years now; not that I expect to live that long, but I'm curious which week will be my last one. I also own a large moose head, but it's made out of cardboard. Go figure.