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Bette & Tim in Galway

As I walked off the ferry in the town of Galway on Ireland’s west coast, our fellow passengers swarmed up a small road to the hub of activity on the Aran Island of Inis Mor. Known for the sheep that produce wool for famous Aran sweaters, the island also draws tourists to view the ruins of Dun Aengus, a second-century fort, and the cliffs upon which it was built.

Most of the ferry passengers were headed to the bike-hire barns and horse-drawn buggies to ride to the fort ruins at the far end of the island, about five miles away. Tim and I approached bike wrangler Robert, who greeted us and set about pulling out appropriately sized wheels. Tim stopped him and explained we only needed one bike because I was going to run to Dun Aengus. Robert tilted his head and said, “I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. Are you sure you don’t want two bikes?”

To which Tim replied, “Believe me, if she says she can do it, she’ll do it.”  

I ran the five miles to the ancient site in cool but dry weather, along a perimeter road with rolling terrain, ocean views and grazing sheep as Tim rode his bike alongside. We toured Dun Aengus, took lots of photos and then took the interior road back, which was a big change from the outbound route: all climbing to the midpoint, then down to the harbor.

Robert’s eyes grew large when we returned, and he said I had given him the courage to work up to running out and back himself. He truly seemed impressed and even proud of me. It was indicative of most of the Irish we met on our week-long trip.

The joys and benefits of running during travel are numerous, and if we do a little research before leaving home, running in unfamiliar lands pays off with unforgettable experiences.

With that in mind, here are five lessons I’ve learned through my years of running while traveling.

Do your homework

Most travel requires “before you go” work: finding a good airfare, securing affordable and convenient lodging, figuring out how to get around once you arrive. Add “Find safe and fun places to run” to your list before you go:

  • Scope out the city or region via the satellite version of Google Maps to see where the nearby green areas are, such as parks and riverside/lakeside paths.
  • Find local running groups or clubs and ask where they run. I got great advice from a local Dublin running group found on Facebook; they even offered help when I posted that I couldn’t make their group run because my luggage was delayed.
  • Look up running shops and sporting goods stores in the area. Chances are employees can help, and there may be a board announcing group runs or upcoming races.
  • Check the weather! It is easy to forget that the climate in some parts of the world changes hourly.
  • Check out the customized search tool on RaceRaves for events in the area. Even if there are no races while you are visiting, going to the race websites could lead you to routes, clubs or group contact info.

Know the lay of the land

When in Rome, start roamin’

I once arrived solo in Rome in the late afternoon — not enough time to sightsee but too early for dinner, a perfect excuse for a short run. My host recommended I run to the Piazza del Popolo, a public square about two km away. He gave me simple directions requiring only one turn and explained that if I felt like running farther, there was a large park nearby.

I ran to Popolo, slowly navigating the cobblestones on café-lined streets. Tired from my flight, I decided to take in the park the next morning and so returned the way I had come. The next morning I ran back to the square and up the marble stairs to the magnificent Borghese Gardens, with miles of paths to run. I then returned to the square and decided, rather than take the same street back to my lodging, I would take the street before it for a change of scenery.

It can be tough to log uninterrupted miles when running in a new place, especially a place like Rome. There are antiquities on every corner, elaborate street name carvings on buildings… I even found a dusty window full of ancient doll heads, just the heads. It is enough to get a woman lost.

But heck, I figured I was pretty much going back the way I’d come on a parallel route; who needed to pay attention?

As it turns out, all was not as it appeared. After running the distance to where I should have hit my cross street and right turn to “home,” I was confounded. It wasn’t on the next block, or the next.

I forced myself not to panic, took a deep breath and retraced my steps back to Popolo. Resetting myself on the original route, I noted on my map that all the roads from Popolo radiate outward like sunbeams. I never would have crossed my intended road.

The lesson? Get to know where you are, where you are going, and where you’ve been!

  • When you first arrive at your destination, take a walk to shake off jet lag and restlessness and to familiarize yourself with the immediate area.
  • Ask your lodging host or concierge for suggestions on the best running routes.
  • If you will not have access to GPS on your phone while you run, take photos of the GPS directions and map before you leave your lodging.
  • If you’re unable to run with a phone, write down the name of your lodging and the street(s) you are taking so you can show a shopkeeper on your route in case you get lost. They may not speak fluent English, but they will know the street names and likely recognize the hotel/guest house name.
  • Note the miles you have run before turning back. You can avoid panic if you see you still have some distance to go before you are back at your starting point.
  • Run with a companion whenever possible.

Choose the road less traveled

While running in Galway along an oceanfront path, I noticed runners veering off to what I thought was a boat ramp. As I followed them, I realized there was a diving board on a platform over the water! Sweaty runners were removing their shoes, watches and sunglasses and diving right in. I asked the person beside me if this was part of a triathlon and was informed that this was just how they cool off after a long run!

A few years earlier, on my first trip to Boston, I went out for an early morning run. As I ran up a small hill in Boston Common, I noticed a large circle of seniors making sweeping, slow movements of tai chi.  Mesmerized, I paused to watch and was soon invited, silently and with only hand gestures, to join them. Not wanting to offend or disrupt them, I found an opening and began to mimic the leader and his students with their fluid movements in perfect unison. They may have been thirty or more years my senior, but after twenty minutes my arms gave up and I quietly bowed and slipped away.

These memories will be with me forever, and I’m grateful I was able to experience them.

The lesson? While personal safety and having a plan are key during travel, running or not, be open to exploring without an agenda. Even if you’re in the middle of training for a race, give yourself permission to stop and smell the lilacs you find along a planned route. Wander, but wander mindfully.

  • Looking around to see what is just off the beaten path can lead to unforgettable discoveries.
  • A park may have a path that runs around the perimeter, but taking interior paths can lead you to lovely spots such as a waterfall, bridge, statuary or garden.
  • Landmark signs along the way offer an education in the history of your host town and serve as good markers for your return.
  • Go out the door for a planned time instead of distance, giving yourself “permission” to wander or run through a sleepy downtown, sprint down a beach path or even walk a while to soak in the atmosphere.
  • Be mindful and safe: If you are running alone or any time near dawn or dusk, leave the earbuds in the hotel and be keenly aware of your surroundings. I like to turn around occasionally to see what the return trip looks like, especially on trails. It is also a good practice to exude an alert, strong and even defensive attitude in unfamiliar areas.

Avoid wardrobe malfunctions

I’ve had my checked luggage misdirected more than once, so having a change of clothes including running shorts and sports bra stuffed in my carry-on is mandatory. I learned this lesson years ago when I traveled home to visit friends and family and ended up having to run a local race in a regular bra and my nephew’s socks. The socks were no problem, but the bounce and underwire that came with a regular bra left a physical impression on me and an unwelcome visual one on spectators.

The lesson? The logistics make all the difference! You probably need less than you think.

  • Check out “Packing for a Destination Race” by guest author Lani Teshima on the RaceRaves blog for the full story on packing to run!
  • Running apparel is made to be quick drying, so hand wash/line dry works well for most items during a longer trip; that way you don’t have to take gear for every day you’ll run.
  • Unless you’ll be gone for more than a couple of weeks, one pair of shoes should suffice.
  • Anti-chafing balms, sunscreen, and nutrition gels come in sizes that can be carried on in your quart-sized bag. If checking luggage, be sure those items are in a closable bag to avoid leakage and gooey clothing at unpacking time.

Race with the locals

Winner, winner, pasta dinner!

While visiting friends in Bologna a few years ago, I learned of a 15K race being held in the nearby town of Lovoleto. Not having plans for that day, my hosts drove us to the race, where I was welcome to register and run but would not be allowed to compete for a top place in the race. Why? As I discovered that day, to do so in Italy required a release from my physician confirming I was healthy enough to run, though apparently only those who medal are actually asked to produce such assurance. As it turned out, I finished as the 10th overall female and was awarded with two packages of locally made spaghetti, which I carried away with pride!

The lesson? A little forethought makes getting out of your comfort zone a lot easier.

  • If you do plan to compete abroad, check ahead of time and be sure to bring any required documents, including medical releases and identification.
  • Be aware of local customs, race etiquette and start/finish rules.
  • Unless you are the lead runner, chances are you won’t get lost, so don’t let a lack of familiarity with the local area prevent you from participating.
  • Be ready for an unexpected run on any trip; running clothes don’t mind wrinkles, so why not cram a singlet and running shorts into a pair of running shoes?

Rest, Recover, Renew

Vacations are a chance to enjoy a change of scenery and get away from the daily grind. When I find myself burned out from routines, even routines I normally welcome, I find that getting away is the best way to hit “reset.”

Even the planning stage is exciting, so I’ll discuss with the family what we’d like to experience, focusing on both planned activities and the opportunity to take part of each day for ourselves. By comparing our vacation planner with my training calendar, I can fit the pieces together.

If you’re an early riser like me, it’s easy to get alone time by slipping out when the spouse has a 6AM tee time or when the kids are sleeping in. I am armed and ready for the new landscape. Repetition is left at home, and joy of discovery seeps in. In an unfamiliar area, mindfulness dictates I pay attention to what is around me and the GPS watch data becomes secondary to my trek.

(And speaking of GPS data, let’s not forget how cool it looks on those saved run maps to look back at the route you took on Barbados or in the Olympic National Forest! Am I right? Even better than a photo!)

Whatever your reason for traveling, the result is a return home with memories and experiences to look back on and grow from. Did you figure out that you are stronger in a drier climate, or learn to appreciate that you don’t have to navigate city streets? Are you newly grateful for how flat (or hilly) your home routes are? Did Dad’s veggie chili recipe make all the difference in your energy level the next day?

Take advantage of your time away to follow your feet instead of a strict plan, and you may end up back home with a renewed commitment to yourself. Have fun out there!

Your turn!

Do you have tales of running-related adventures and mishaps from your own travels? Have you ever found yourself running 20 laps around a cruise ship’s upper deck? Entered a local race only to find it is in another time zone and missed it? Please share, we and other runners would love to hear about it here on RaceRaves!


Want to receive Coach Bette’s monthly column in your Inbox? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter or sign up as a RaceRaves member (it’s free)! And read her most recent column here.

About our columnist:

Betty Hagerty columnist photoBette Hagerty decided to run a 5K in 1992 after a few months of running around her neighborhood, using her car’s odometer to measure distances. When she found herself among a few hundred people talking about running, she knew she had found her community. Since then she has run several hundred races, from 5K to marathon distance and helped form two running groups.

Bette is an RRCA Certified Running Coach and posts weekly Tuesday workouts on instagram as @BetteRunning. Her passions for running and writing have finally run into each other, and she looks forward to sharing her experiences and knowledge. She welcomes your glowing compliments at [email protected].

Other RaceRaves articles you’ll enjoy (trust us!):

Getting to know the Abbott World Marathon Majors
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And for more helpful articles, check out our blog!

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3 thoughts on “Coach Bette: Tips for the traveling runner

  1. Hey Bette! Great article and wonderful tips! While I’ve been lucky enough to do some extensive travelling, I haven’t done much running outside of the U.S. I will say that I’ve run many places in the United States. and there is no better way to see the world as far as I’m concerned! Oh and thanks for posting about this in Insta. Joined Race Raves just to comment on your piece, and it seems like a great source of info. Happy running and writing!

    1. I’m so pleased you found RaceRaves! I know I really get a lot from it. I am a pacer and reading reviews of races has helped me determine if I am able to pace a certain distance based on real reviews of the course. I’ve found new races that I now have on my bucket list. And, of course, thrilled you liked the column. I’m always grateful for the chance to share what I have learned over the years. Happy Running, runninginflorida!

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