As you may know, I am currently training for a half-marathon in mid March, as well as a 10K in early February. I hope to achieve PBs in both races.

I also am FINALLY going on vacation to Zanzibar later this week – seven days of much-needed relaxation and sunshine await me! I am beyond excited.

In light of my upcoming travels, I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss running and traveling, and how I enjoy one without sacrificing the other!

After my passport, camera & wallet, my Saucony's are my most important travel items!

I LOVE to travel – but I do not love coming home feeling like my fitness has suffered a severe setback. Thankfully, whether I’m enjoying a relaxing vacation or an intense city break, I can take my sport with me – I just need my running shoes and a sense of adventure! And as an added bonus, I get to experience my destination in a unique way.

When I’m not training for a specific event, I try to balance out my (inevitably) indulgent holiday eating with easy runs and/or other healthy activities, depending on where I am. I avoid the gym if possible to escape my routine, instead opting for more interesting things like climbing a monument or a hill for nice views; going on a hike or a self-guided walking tour; swimming in the ocean; or exploring my surroundings by bike – all combined with plenty of downtime, of course!

If I’m preparing for an important race, however, my exercise plans are slightly more rigid because I’m trying to squeeze in specific, and often more challenging, runs. Finding suitable and safe routes that suit my training needs can be a bit tricky when my location is unfamiliar, and in some cases, not runner-friendly. However, with a bit of advance research and planning, I have always been able to stay on track. Sure, I have had to adjust my plans slightly at times (i.e. I should forgo a late night of partying and have a drink or two at a bar instead, so that I can run 15 miles early tomorrow morning), but any compromise I have made has been worth it.

The benefits of packing your running shoes on your next trip

Running in foreign places, either close to home or very far away, is extremely GOOD for you as a runner, as well as a tourist, because you are exploring new routes (and perhaps, new terrains), taking in your surroundings with a fresh perspective, and subsequently, pre-empting that burnt-out, bored feeling that can emerge towards the end of a training cycle when you have done too much of the same thing for too long.

I HIGHLY recommend spicing up your training by taking it on the road. While I was training for the NYC marathon this past July – November, for example, I did my training runs and races not only all over London, but also in the following cities:

  • Trieste – 7M, mostly along the water (Very pretty, but hot!)
  • Dublin – 8M, through city center & around Phoenix Park (Not a very runner friendly city, but park was nice)
  • Stockholm – 7M & 9.5M, through city center & around Djurgården (incredible running city!!!!)
  • Burnham Beeches (South Buckinghamshire) – 13.1M race (Awesome, but hilly course)
  • San Francisco – 14M along the water & across the Golden Gate Bridge (Gorgeous!) ; 6M hill repeats on California Street (This is the city to do hills properly – nearly died!)
  • Santa Cruz –16M, Nisene Marks trail (Beautiful run in the mountains/redwoods); various shorter beach runs (good to mix up the terrain!)
  • Berlin – 17M, Tiergarten (Weekend before Berlin marathon, awesome! So many runners out and about!)
  • Brighton– 20M Jog Shop Jog (A grueling but literally breathtaking trail race in the South Downs)
  • Salisbury – 13.1M race (Another great, undulating half marathon)
  • NYC – 7M loop around Central Park, and of course, 26.2M on the marathon course!  (BEST. RACE. EVER.)

So as you can see, I certainly did not sacrifice my love of travel because I was preparing for a marathon – rather, all the variety actually inspired me to stay motivated throughout the 18 challenging weeks of training. For a few of these trips (i.e. the races), running was obviously the main purpose of my weekend away, and the travel/sightseeing was built around the event. But for the others, running was simply a fun (and productive) part of my summer and fall getaways, and most of my runs turned out to be highlights of my trips!

Not training for an event?

Who cares – bring your shoes anyway. It’s such an amazing way to explore a foreign place, or to get a new perspective on somewhere you’ve already seen. Even without an event on the horizon, mixing things up will still help stave off boredom in your general training!

One of my favorite running while travelling memories  is a 12M leisurely run that I did early on a gorgeous Saturday morning in Paris. I mapped out a circuit in advance to take in all the major sites – including Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. I had been to Paris many times before, but never had I seen it in this way! Given the hour, the streets  were completely deserted – it was so peaceful and quiet, without the hordes of tourists and normal hustle and bustle. It also proved to be an important run because only seven months later, I would run much of that same route as part of the Paris marathon!

Tackling the Logistics: Where to run

I often do some research in advance on running routes, particularly if I need to do a specific type of run.

1) Hotel concierge/B&B owner/local friend: Call or email the concierge or owner in advance of your trip for running advice and to find out if you have access to a treadmill, if necessary. The help I’ve received has ranged from practically nothing to speaking with the hotel’s “running specialist,” so it never hurts to ask! If you’re visiting a friend, then hopefully you can get even better advice. If possible, I try to stay somewhere that is close to a park or elsewhere nice to run, or I make sure I can get to a good running spot via public transport.

2) Online resources: In addition to the above, I consult Map My Run, either to plan my own routes or to check out the saved routes of other runners in the area. I also do some google searches on running where I’m going, including research on local running clubs that may be able to provide advice or even running partners. Run the Planet is another good resource.

Once you find your run

When I’m running in a foreign place, I always carry ID, a cell phone (if it works), some cash, a credit card and the hotel business card or contact info of a friend. Ideally, I’ll run with someone, or if I’m alone, I don’t listen to music so that I’m extra aware of my surroundings. I also only run when it’s light out, but early enough in the morning to avoid the crowds and experience my destination in a special, peaceful way. Obvious stuff, really!

If you still don’t know where to run

If after all my searching, I discover that my destination is not runner friendly and/or I need to do a specific speed session that cannot be completed successfully outdoors, then I turn to the treadmill, if I happen to have access to one. That is of course the most convenient option, and solves the issue of safety/getting lost/bad weather etc, but it’s also the least fun!

If I can’t find myself a treadmill…well, then I guess I’m out of luck, and instead enjoy myself doing other active things! If I’m training for a big event, however, I would have done all this research before booking the trip, and thus if it’s an option, would choose to travel to this destination at a later date when I don’t have to run. Or, if it’s only a relatively short trip, I’ll just rearrange my schedule so that I do my important runs before or after I travel.

Last but not least, the Destination Race

This is my favorite option – not like you need an excuse to travel OR race in a particular place, but why not combine the two to get the best of both worlds? I can’t think of a better way to experience a city than to OWN its streets, temporarily, and take in the major sights as hundreds, thousands or even millions of locals cheer you on, followed by a big celebration of your achievement!

Make a list of your top travel destinations – I bet that each one hosts a marathon, half marathon or other race at some point in the year. I also am in the process of populating my 2011 race calendar with races that I, at least, think sound fun! Choose one (or several), and plan a trip around that the event – you certainly won’t have to worry about the route, safety, or anything else other than enjoying yourself and getting to the finish line!

My Zanzibar running plan

Apparently there is a Zanzibar triathlon and marathon that takes place in November, so surely I can find somewhere to run! I know that I’ll cut back on the mileage and intensity of my runs while I’m away – it is a vacation afterall – but I will still try to run 3-4 times, since my 10K race is right when I get back. Most likely, I will train on the beach (because I’ve been warned that African drivers are “a bit special” by our hotel manager) and will recruit my boyfriend to join me. I just checked the weather – even at 7am it’s still in the high 80s – so that will be a challenge, but it will be good for me after so much winter training. I will also naturally get some cross training in by swimming in the ocean and going on walks.

But for the most part, I’m going to lie on the beach, soak up the sunshine, eat a lot of food and RELAX!!