My Thoughts: On Running while Travelling

I hate doing it. Mostly. But I love having done it. Always. And then, sometimes I have moments when I'm doing it and my legs don't hate me and my heart wants to beat faster on its own accord. It's moments like that make me glad that I've started running again.

Running is something I can do, but will never be good at. A 2 hour 15 minute half marathon time is about as fast and as far as I'm ever going to run. It took me three, maybe four years of pushing myself through injuries and bad training plans to realise that I shouldn't run distances longer than five or six miles. Thanks to a recurring knee injury and a bad habit of pouring pressure on myself, running in "races" just isn't good for me, which is ironic because I started running for the health benefits; the mental health benefits. After being a bit of a gym bunny throughout University, shortly after I graduated, I got dumped. From a high height and with no warning. With very little dignity I fell apart a bit and struggled to pull the pieces of me together. I'm not sure where in this journey I started to go for runs - just half a mile to begin with, one mile, then two - but running helped me get my mind straight and my head happy.For the decade that has followed since then, I have been running regularly, slowly and unspectacularly with very few breaks. At my peak I was running maybe twelve to fifteen miles a week. Most often I was squeezing in a three mile run on two or three evenings a week while working full time and attending to a busy social life.

Then I went travelling.

For the last eighteen months, running - or any form of regular exercise - has been low on my list of priorities, somewhere below "eat more greasy street food" and somewhere above "stop drinking on week nights". My body has changed as a result - extra curves, extra spots, extra softness, extra me! - but I'm happy to say my mind has mostly stayed strong and supple, helped of course, by the fact that I'm pursuing a life I love and work I love with a man I love.

There were times where I nearly got the habit back - in Sydney I ran up and down the hills of the North Shore (ouch!), in Amsterdam I loved falling in line with the joggers in Vondelpark and in Phuket - too hot to run - I was swimming over 1km a day in our small but perfectly formed pool - but it was in Marrakech that it all finally clicked. The cool but sunny weather was perfect. Our routine of waking early and working full days suited it too. The flat field that surrounded our villa was less than perfect with a rocky terrain, thorny bushes and excrement of all kinds (sheep, goats, dog, donkey, cow, horse - you name it I ran in it!) but it was open and vast and safe. And flat. I love flat! I planned a route so that for the last half of my run I was facing the impressive backdrop of the Atlas Mountains. That was pretty special. I needed to take advantage of all this and keep on running.So I set myself a small challenge. I have to run one mile a day. Nothing less, nothing more.

I was inspired by  another blogger who does this challenge regularly and I love its simplicity. Running a mile will take no more than ten minutes for most people. That's three silly pop songs. That's less time than it takes to drink a cup of tea. That's how long I waited to upload a photo on Moroccan internet. Ten minutes.And it works. I've been running a mile a day for the last four weeks, albeit with a handful or so of missed days due to illness and well, just because I wanted a day off. It's for that reason that I actually run about 1.5 miles every day so that after I've done it twice I know I can have a day off that week, if I really, really want to.

My point is this was a realistic and achievable goal, even if I'm travelling. It is also one that has come with almost immediate measurable benefits. I feel bouncier - emotionally and physically - and let's just say I'm not as soft in some places as I used to be. Furthermore, I don't want to not run anymore. That's the key, really, I've got to keep up that momentum of wanting to run in order to avoid the dry (and soft!) spells when we travel or move around a lot. But strangely, I'm looking forward to this...If you'd like to embark on a similar challenge as a beginner or as someone who wants to get their running mojo back, here are some more tips I have for the #mileaday challenge and for running while travelling:

  • Running in new places is exciting and can take the boredom out of running, however, you have to be sure you're safe. Try walking a potential route first or asking the tourist board, your hotel, your apartment landlord the best and safest places to run - none of these people want any harm to come to you so you can trust them. Many cities also have public race tracks that you can also use if you do a little research. For me, I find a lot of common sense and walking a route with NewMan or someone else before running it is the best way to gauge if an area is safe to pound the pavements alone.
  • Also you can use Runners World and MapMyRun to find peoples' existing running routes, which suggests that these are safe and tried and tested many times.
  • Always run in daylight. Full stop.
  • There are many, many mapping devices for planning or finding a route but my favourite is the old school Gmap.Pedometer. There's something satisfying about painstakingly mapping out every turn and corner that makes me feel proud of the distance I've covered.
  • If you have to encounter a gradient on your run then attack uphill first or in the earlier part of your run. Your legs may not have the same bounce later.
  • Adopt the ten minute rule. This works with anything you don't want to do but you force yourself to start based on the promise to yourself that if you still don't want to it after ten minutes you can stop and go home. Now you see how handy it is that ten minutes is roughly a mile?
  • Bathe and bask in the glory of the post-run glow. Remember how it feels, how strong your legs feel, how clear your mind is and then remind your tired, lazy self about how that feels when the time comes to get running again the next day.
  • Document your miles. Make them part of your travel experience. I don't like to fill my Instagram feed with too many trainer photos but taking photos or sending out a short tweet about going for my #mileaday run helps me get myself moving and I now have a lovely collection of scenery photos that I've taken all over the world during my runs. The #mileaday hashtag is also very active on Instagram so you may find a little inspiration there.
  • Never run when you're sick because that's how you get more sick. That said, I have personally found running to help with both period pains and jetlag, not that any of you will be keen to test this theory!
  • Pick good songs to run with. Build a playlist or two. I often listen to my Snowboardom playlist for running. The songs that make you want to jump up and down and high kick with jazz hands are the songs you need to listen to to get you and keep you running.
  • If you have to run on a treadmill remember that 1.6km is a mile and you should always elevate the gradient to +0.5 or +1.

What other tips do you have for running or keeping fit while travelling?

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+

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