Anya Kosova is always on the move: running is a means of efficient transport from A to B, whether that be running for a coffee or a trip to the grocery store. Although competitive, Anya approaches running with an open curiosity for what her body can do and how our footprints can be a way of finding stability and belonging, no matter where we tread.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Why do you run?

I grew up in Moscow and running was really a way to be healthy. I love being in the mountains for skiing and hiking and climbing but, being in a city, there wasn’t so much opportunity for that. Running was the easiest thing to do to be in shape; you don’t need any equipment for it. Inside, I’m actually pretty competitive and want to run a sub-3-hour marathon (Anna set a PB of 3 hours 40s three-weeks prior to the interview), but it’s also about staying mentally healthy. I don’t really push myself with speed workouts because I had some trauma from when I was living in Russia and was being worked really hard by coaches; there was also pressure from the messaging of the running community that running fast was ‘cool’. I’m starting to build back in a bit of faster running now but it’s just not who I am; I prefer running in a comfortable zone.

Does running relate to finding your identity as an immigrant in the United States after leaving Russia?

The community here is much healthier, at least where I live. People are trying to achieve their goals but there’s no one judging you and saying, “You’re not fast enough” or just even not ‘enough’ of anything. Now it feels like I can achieve more because of that. I’ve always been a part of running communities wherever I’ve been in the world, so it felt natural to join people when I moved to the US. It’s a way of finding stability and safety: you’re always welcome and that develops trust.

You worked previously as a journalist in Russia for magazines such as Cosmopolitan. Running now seems to be a central focus in your work, as much as using it as a physical practice. When did the shift happen?

In Russia, I was writing more about beauty and then I became a producer and worked on a lot of shoots, including covers. I then started doing projects with Nike and that was more fashion and lifestyle orientated; I was shooting a lot of normal people, and it was easy to then transition to shooting runners for other brands like Puma. I continued with some of the beauty content when I moved to the US but it’s all sort of connected in terms of leading an active lifestyle. I think one of my skills is understanding the aesthetics of running; I know how it should look and can then work out what brands want.

When do you run?

I like to run in the middle of the day. It's so weird because everyone likes running in the morning or in the evenings. I used to do that more when I was living in Russia, and I would commute to and from work because otherwise there was no time for it. Yoga Journal was in our publishing house, and they had a nice room where you could take a shower! Now I have more flexibility, and I find it's too cold in the morning, so I like to run when it's the hottest part of the day, when the sun is out; it's not as busy and you can take time to slow down.

Do you prefer to run solo or with others?

It’s usually easier to run by myself because, when life is so hectic, you can just run on your own terms rather than having a commitment to running at say 6pm with a club. For some people it’s the opposite and it’s good for them to have that accountability, but my schedule is always different. Also, I was running alone for ten years back in Russia because no one else was really running; you’d go for a run, and it would be empty – I didn't know any other runners.

Here, there’s lots of running clubs and I do like to run with other people, especially at the weekends. When I’m running lots, I can do a mix and run five or ten kilometers in the morning to get a coffee and then join the club in the evening for another 5 or 10km. 

Where do you run?

We live in Santa Monica and there are lots of opportunities to run along the beach, but I don’t like to because it’s so busy, so I tend to run around the neighbourhoods. Every morning, I run to the Blue Bottle coffee shop and then I run back home; I don’t walk, I just run. I don’t like walking at all; it’s so slow!
I’ve only been driving for two years, and I find that it’s actually just easier for me to run to the swimming pool or grocery store. In America, everyone drives everywhere, especially in Los Angeles, because it’s pretty far between places. You asked about running with other people and sometimes it’s just not possible because a running club might be an hour’s drive away through crazy traffic; it doesn't make sense.
I also run around the golf course because there’s no crossings; then there’s also the fire roads in the mountains. Mainly though, I’m running because it’s useful!

What stops you from running?

Nothing really! I think the longest period in twenty-one years of not running was four days. That was after a long 100km race, and I needed to recover more. Saying that, running is actually the best recovery from running. Of course, I listen to my body all the time and if something feels weird, I’ll check in with my doctor and ask if I can run but, as long as there’s nothing broken, then it’s usually fine!

Are there barriers to trail running both from both a female and immigrant perspective?

I think trail running in America is more practically accessible. In Russia, there are mountains, but you have to travel to get to them and that can be expensive, especially not being able to drive, and there's only so far you can go on your legs! There were other barriers here too when I first moved. As a woman, it can be really scary to be alone on the trails and, as an immigrant, you don’t have lots of friends at first to go running with. In Russia, if I saw people when I was out for a run, it might be individuals or groups drinking beer in the park and they were sort of harmless. Here, if anyone is on the trails, it can be super sketchy and lots of women carry pepper spray. That's also why I like running in the middle of the day on the trails because there’s a few more people around. I recently met a girl who lives in our area, who said she hoped I’m not running early in the morning because it can be dangerous. The community here is inclusive and diverse though. Lots of people speak English but there’s also a mix of other languages too and everyone just runs together; running is the common language. I find that barriers tend to be inside your own head. When I first moved here, I told myself that, because I didn’t speak English, people wouldn’t want me in their community; actually, they don’t care at all!

Your relationship with racing and training appears to be characterised by joy, how do you maintain that intuitive approach when training for big events?

When I was in Russia, I definitely lost the joy because there was so much pressure. I find I am in the best place with running when I am enjoying it; I hate the messaging around marathon training of ‘you have to do X number of miles and X amount of speed work’. I ran a five-minute personal best in the marathon I did a few weeks ago off of just trying to do what I feel. I can do high mileage, but I don’t do any really long runs because they make me anxious; instead, I run twice a day and that adds up to around a daily half-marathon. After being so traumatised by fast running, I finally realised that some faster training is ok. I still don’t do long fast efforts, but I can do 7km and, when I do that, it’s so joyful because it gives me the confidence that I can; it’s not that hard and actually even fun!

Sometimes if you lose your joy for running it means you need to change things up so I’ll ask my husband if we can go to the mountains for a break from routine. Having a routine can help to achieve your goals but you also need to listen to what you need as an individual rather than following a standard programme; we are all different and enjoy different things. That’s why I also like running for coffee; I like coffee, so it gives me a goal!

You’ve completed the Speed Project five times before as part of a team but are taking on the full distance solo this year. What inspired you to tackle the challenge and how are you feeling about the prospect of 340 miles on foot across the desert?

Those team experiences were so much fun, but I’ve often had the thought whilst running: “If we’re born to run, what if I could run all day without stopping? Could I do it?” So, I guess I’m trying to push my limits. I know that I can run for twenty-four hours without rest or sleep because, when I did the TDS race (a 145km mountain race), I finished, had a shower and breakfast and then waited for my husband to finish his race. Everyone keeps saying how women can go for longer without sleep and I’m interested to see if it’s true. How is it going to feel? Am I going to go crazy?!

Can you share your most memorable run?

I think it was when I lived in Bali and there was a 50km race in which people from all different countries and different parts of Bali were taking part. All the men took off at the start and I didn’t see them for the rest of the race but then, when I finished, I realised that I had come second! I couldn’t work it out until I discovered that they had all got lost! They were asking local people to help and had to get driven round on the back of scooters, but they still couldn’t find the course and ended up back where they started; it was so funny!

ANYA KOSOVA @annjoyrun
PHOTO BY @vspicturescom