When I set off on my around the world adventure, I decided to run marathons along the way to do some fundraising. Excited about my latest and greatest idea, I immediately shared it with friends and family. The responses, sadly, were not so positive. They ranged from “Are you sure you’ll have time to keep up with running?” or “Is it safe?” to simply the question of “Why?” Shocked that not everyone would be as eager as I was, I set out on my adventure, and I ran. Whether you’re an experienced runner or the kid in high school who skipped gym class to avoid the activity altogether, running can spice up your travels. With a little planning and a bit of motivation, you can incorporate it into your next trip.
Why run and travel?
I started running five years ago for my physical health and mental sanity. But when I started running on vacations, I realized that the benefits were far greater.
First, you can see a city from a new perspective. There are constantly new sites to take in, and often, I find myself off the main tourist routes. Run through neighborhoods and down side streets to discover the local culture of a city. If you are going to run on a main tourist route, you can avoid crowds by going for an early morning run in a new city. You can visit all of the major sites and monuments without swarms of people around. I went for an early morning run in Florence, Italy and came upon the Duomo; it was quiet and hardly the same place I had seen in the afternoon the day before. In the early morning light it was absolutely stunning.
If you get the itch, you can participate in a race in your destination. Often times, entry fees will benefit a local organization, so it’s a way to give back to the community. When I participated in the Dead Sea Marathon, a portion of the entry fee went to The Society for the Care of Neurological Patients in Jordan.
Whether or not you participate in a race, you can still make new friends. Unless you’re a hermit, travelers inevitably make new friends on the road – running just provides yet another outlet to find friends with similar interests. An international teacher in Jordan who also enjoys running saw me on a run along the Red Sea and invited me to stay with her when I visited the capital city of Amman. I ended up staying with her for a week, and we still keep in touch.
Need a little more motivation for running? Consider running for a cause. Try fundraising or raising awareness for a cause that matters most to you. I run for education. Others run for cancer awareness. There is no shortage of great causes out there that will greatly appreciate your efforts.
>> Read about ways to stay fit and healthy while traveling
Planning your route
If I have convinced you to run on your next adventure, great! Now, you need to figure out where you’re going to run. If you are not much of a planner, you can step out the door in your new location and forge your own path. Just take with you a good sense of direction and a decent memory to find your way back to your hotel.
However, if you like to plan ahead, there are plenty of tools out there to help. I like to browse through websites where users can share their runs. There are loads of websites on the Internet now where runners have uploaded their own routes and offer suggestions. These include Mapymyrun.com and Run.com, where you can search for existing runs or map out your own to find a run that matches your desired distance and difficulty.
If you are interested in running a race, take a look at RunningintheUSA.com, Runnersworld.com, Active.com/running and Marathonguide.com, which all post race schedules. Don’t be afraid if you’re not quite up for a marathon – most marathons also offer 5k or 10k races as well. Local running clubs are another good resource. Many clubs have weekly organized runs and welcome guests. It’s a great way to meet locals in the area where you are traveling.
What to pack
After settling on your running locales, packing becomes the next critical factor. It’s important to check the weather and plan accordingly.
For your primary clothing (i.e. shorts, leggings, tops) look for nylon and technical fabrics, which will wick sweat away from the body rather than absorbing it. Unless you are running in cold temperatures, I suggest investing in nylon or nylon/wool blend running socks. Runners lose a lot water through sweating from their feet. Cotton socks will just hold the water and in turn, can cause blisters.
Your most critical purchase is your running shoes. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get properly fitted for shoes at a specialty running store to find the brand and series that fit your foot best. For example, I run in the Asics GT-2100 series or the Brooks equivalent. For someone with higher arches than mine, this shoe would lack the proper support. Running stores can analyze your foot shape and running style to get you best possible fit.
Good clothing and properly fitted shoes are essentials. With those on hand, you can run anywhere. However, if you are like me, you need some gadgets to help you along the way. I almost always run with an iPod, as listening to music can help distract me from feeling tired and can give that extra bit of motivation. There are exceptions, though, when it comes to listening to music. If you are in a location such as a crowded city with heavy traffic, leave the iPod at home so that you can be aware of your surroundings.
For the more serious runner, I recommend a GPS watch which will track your pace, distance, and route. You can look down at any given moment and see how far you have gone, and it can provide that extra bit of motivation to run the last quarter of a mile. Once home, connect the GPS watch to a program such as GarminConnect.com to share your runs with others or to overlay on a Google map. It can be fun to track and monitor your progress.
And lastly, depending on the distance, you may need to take a water bottle with you. It’s important to stay hydrated. It will vary person to person, but I always carry a water bottle for distances longer than five miles. I like the Nathan Sprint Hydration Carrier, which has a hand strap attached for ease of use.
With a bit of planning, running is a great addition to any holiday. It’s been a fantastic addition to my round-the-world trip, and as a result, I have made lasting friendships and seen many beautiful destinations. I actually planned some of my sightseeing around races, and if it weren’t for the Dead Sea Marathon, I would have never known how beautiful the country of Jordan is. I will leave you with a few final considerations for preparation and planning that I have learned along the way to make your running experience a good one.
- Test out your shoes and gear before heading off on your trip. It’s important to make sure that everything fits correctly and that you will not have any problems, such as blisters or chafing, while on your vacation.
- If traffic is heavy, try to run during off-peak hours (early in the morning or after morning rush hour).
- Make sure you research the culture of the place you are going ahead of time. It is important to respect the dress code for the area. For example, running in shorts may not be a viable option in a Middle Eastern country. I found it a bit uncomfortable to run in Jordan until I got to the town of Aqaba, a touristy beach destination. I later found out that there are sports centers in some cities in Jordan with outdoor tracks. A local running club could have definitely pointed this out to me if I had contacted them before I went.
- When in doubt, ask a local. Your hotel should be able to provide you with practical information regarding dress code and safe areas to run. I like to ask the reception desk about local parks or running paths. In Cape Town, my hostel told me about the greenway that follows the beach, and it ended up being one of the most beautiful runs on my trip.
- As a general rule, do not run after dark. Unless you are familiar with the area you are in and the overall safety, it is best to stick to daylight hours.
And finally, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to have fun! Running can take you to far-flung destinations, expose you to beautiful sights, and bring you into contact with some amazing locals.