Last Thursday, I left my apartment and within 68 hours and 55 minutes returned having traveled 5536 miles by plane, another few dozen by car, and 40 or so on foot (26.2 of which were at a decent clip. I spent less than 47 hours on the ground in Washington D.C., but managed to visit friends, see family, get a pre-race massage, win a marathon, and hit up the best kabob restaurant in the Universe (Kabob Palace in Crystal City, Virginia – don’t miss it!).
One of the perks of running (whether you’re a weekend warrior, college athlete, or pro) is the impetus to travel all over the world. In these last 10+ years of running and traveling, I’ve learned a few things that I hope might help you make the most of your travel, your running, and even might help inspire you to combine the two.
Before you Leave
Do your Homework – Before I board the plane, I always try to do a bit of research on where I’m going. If I’m staying in a hotel in a new city, I’ll try to look up where I can run. This is sometimes as simple as typing “Singapore running routes” into google and reading a few articles. If I’m running a race, I’ll try to put myself up near the course, so I’m familiar with at least part of it before the gun goes off.
Reach Out – Google sometimes fails me, though, and requires delving into a forum like Reddit or Let’sRun.com. LR is notorious for being full of trolls, but it truly is a well-spring of information like this. I’ve both given out this exact advice (e.g. where to run in La Paz, Bolivia) and received it before my trip to Japan last year.
If you can find a human contact online, a running club for example, that’s a great way to not only hear about some of the best places to run but to already have some running partners lined up when you land.
Lastly, if you get lucky, some cities now have “running tours”. This can be a great way to see the city, meet some friends, and get in a great run.
Get creative – Once you’ve got your plans mapped out, it’s time to head to the airport. A short flight or travel day usually isn’t so bad, but if you’ve got a very long day (flying to Qatar, for example), and if you’re anything like me, you might want to try to break it up with a little exercise.
Yes, it’s true, I have been known to jog around airport terminals on long layovers. As long as you have a friend to watch your bags, this can be a great way to make a 4 hour layover less interminable and get the blood flowing after sitting in that tiny seat for hours on end. As long as you’re careful and don’t crash into anyone (try to find an emptier part of the terminal) you generally won’t be bothered. If you have a really long layover and know the surrounding area, you can even leave your stuff with your travel buddy and head outside security and run outside – a great way to get some fresh air. If you don’t have a friend to watch your stuff, you can also find a quiet corner and do some strength and/or stretching exercises (bringing resistance bands and small rollers / lacrosse balls can be helpful here). Maybe incorporate some yoga into your layover as well!
Extra tip – When you get back, make sure you give yourself a little bird-bath in the airport bathroom so you don’t stinkify your poor seat-mates on the next flights (baby-wipes can help if you remember to bring them)
Exercising on airplanes is even harder, but not impossible. My coach (and fellow blogger) Jon Waldron, just wrote a great post on this exact subject after his 17 hour trip from Zambia back to Boston. Sparknotes: get up and move around as often as you can. If the cabin isn’t super busy with, say, food carts, you can walk (or even jog?!) up and down the aisle for a few minutes. Also, take advantage of the larger space in the galleys to stretch or jog in place.
Set the Bar Low – Lastly, if you do arrive in time to run after you land, I always expect to feel terrible. Even a relatively short flight leaves my legs swollen, my brain frazzled, and my stomach feeling off. I know I’ll feel better after “shaking out” – an easy jog to get the blood flowing – but it doesn’t always feel great at the time.
Away From Home
Explore on foot – In my opinion, there’s no greater way to get to know a new place than lacing up the running shoes and trodding through the streets (almost certainly getting lost for at least a few minutes). Some of my greatest memories from traveling abroad aren’t just visiting Machu Picchu or eating in the fanciest restaurants, but rather running through a political demonstration in Bolivia (and inhaling a small amount of tear-gas) or finding a quiet dirt road that rolled through a jungle paradise full of monkeys and toucans in Ecuador.
Learn the Lay of the Land – Even if you scour google-maps, investigate the local bus system, or create an hour-by-hour schedule for your visit, you won’t have a really great sense of a new place until you’re there on foot. You might not realize your hotel is actually on a giant hill top or that what looked to be a few short blocks is actually several miles of industrial park.
Going for a run in a new place is by far the best place for me to get really get my bearings. Sure, you might have different landmarks than the guide books (“my hotel is one block uphill of the lady that sells avocado and tomato sandwiches in the morning”), but learning to navigate a new place can give you an unbiased look at what the city really looks like.
Accept and embrace the fact that you’ll run into the unexpected as you explore a new trail, town, or city. This can be detrimental to your run (e.g., the beautiful trail you were excited to check out is in fact a muddy river because you didn’t consider that it’s the rainy season) or a pleasant surprise (e.g., you stumbled upon a delicious bakery at the end of your long run in a new city and can now gorge on the best blueberry muffins you’ve ever had). In any case, having a flexible mindset and the expectation that you won’t be able to understand and control everything about this new place prior to getting there will prepare you to handle obstacles and enjoy the overall experience.
Meet People – Just like reaching out to locals about running trails, I think the best way to get to know a place is to meet those who live there. Sure, tour-guides and forums can clue you in on places to check out and things to do, but if you really want to get to know a place (a great restaurant, how to navigate public transportation, etc), talking to people is the way to go. Chat up another runner you see on the street or enter a road race and introduce yourself to the people who finishing close to you. They’ll be the best resources you can ask for!
Memory Lane – Whether you keep a running log, blog, or journal, it’s great to jot down some notes. You never know when you’ll be back in Duluth or Doha, and you can even make a recommendation for a friend next time they’re traveling somewhere you’ve been.
Keep in Touch – Finally, keep in touch with those you do meet during your travels. You never know when you’ll be able to reciprocate the role of tour guide and it’s always fun to have a network of friends all over the world.
One of the greatests gifts that running has given to me is the incredible network of friends I have all over the world. I’m so grateful not just for the opportunity to travel, try new foods, and visit local sites, but even moreso for the friends of made. I don’t know if I’ll ever see some of these people again in person, but I’ll always pass along their info to anyone I know going to the area and vice versa.
The running community truly is a global network and running while traveling is a great way to connect yourself even more.