You step off the plane, the weather is perfect and your mind has already wandered to planning your next run. Your enthusiasm starts to falter, however, after ditching customs and the airport as you see are inundated by traffic, crowded sidewalks, or the complete absence of sidewalks at all. As a runner and an avid traveler, I have found myself running in some pretty crazy, unique and challenging cities. What can I say? I love to run and I love to explore new landscapes and cultures with my own two feet. So, what’s a girl to do? Below are tips for running abroad in areas with an unfamiliar and at times awkward running environment.
Find the Parks (no matter how small):
Do a little research about the parks in the area near your hostel, hotel or Air BnB. Many of these parks will not be on trip advisor or travel blogs, since more than likely; they are small, quaint green spaces in huge, cities. When I landed in Bangkok, I pulled up my hostel on Google Maps and saw several green squares in the area. Wahoo! Now these parks are not always lush and manicured like US parks, but they will do the job. Sometimes it means repeating small loops to increase your mileage or maybe switching to a sprint workout and running back and forth. Either way, when you are surrounded by people, noise and traffic all day, it is sometimes nice to be in a green space, even if it is small, and not have to zigzag through people.
Zig and Zag:
Get your zigzag game face on! Developing countries, and even some major metropolitan areas, are often packed to the brim. People walk everywhere, all day, everyday. As you find your way to an open space you need to be comfortable zigzagging through the masses, darting left and right to keep up a reasonable pace. Alternatively, try to learn if there’s a quiet day of the day of the week (Sunday in Argentina for example) where the streets will be dead quiet and enjoy the solitude!
Embrace the Stares:
People will stare, guaranteed. They will stop what they are doing and gaze at this foreign creature moving and darting through the streets for the pure joy of running. While running in Chiang Mai, Thailand I had people come out of their shop doorways and stare at me as I ran past. When I turned my head, they were still watching. Becoming comfortable with the stares is part of the game and part of the fun!
This is a quote from one of my best friends who ran throughout Thailand with me. “For me, one of the coolest things was that it became very obvious that many people don’t run while traveling based on how many people are staring at you with an inquisitive look. While running, I am reminded that I am a visitor in their world and at the same time, running in areas where many people do not, allows locals to witness a new culture as well. Win- win!”
Running abroad can be tough, dusty and frustrating. You may be dodging dog shit on the sidewalks, jumping over potholes the size of small bison, or, past garbage that needed to be collected last year. Don’t let this defeat you. I love the quote, “I really regret that run. Said no one ever.”
Running abroad is challenging, rewarding and offers you a unique perspective on a city.
Find Other Runners:
I was surprised how many women I met in hostels who were runners, but had stopped running while traveling because they did not feel safe, comfortable, did not know how to navigate a large city. This is completely understandable and your safety is most important. Therefore, ask people in your hostel if they want to join you for a jog in one of the parks you have found. As a female solo runner, this can be a game changer! When I was in Rome, I found several women who wanted to go for a morning 5K before we started our individuals adventures in the city.
Learn What to Carry:
I have gotten slightly lost before or very thirsty, so here are some lessons learned on what to carry. If you want to be a minimalist, I suggest money and a wristwatch. This means less to carry and if you get into a predicament, you can get out by purchasing a ride or food.
- Put it in your bra or the zipper of your shorts. You may want to buy water or grab a taxi or Tuk Tuk back to your place.
- This one is tough since phones are often stolen in many countries. However, if you can hide your phone on you, it is nice to have so you can pull up a map.
- A wristwatch is great when traveling. This way you do not have to pull out your phone while running.
- Handheld water bottle. If you are running for a while or are in a humid area, a handheld water bottle is nice. I love the collapsible ones. Again, if you are in a busy city, there will be amble spots to buy water.
- Ziplock bags! I bring these every time I travel. When I run, I put my money in them, Kleenex or tissue and my hostel key in them. It keeps them dry and separate from my phone. I simply put the ziplock bag in the zipped pockets of my shorts or jacket. This is an easy way to store important items and they rattle and jump around less in a bag.
Make it Happen:
I love running while traveling and I love running in cities with different and new challenges for the female runner. For me, running is not only important for my physical health but for my mental health, and the perspective I have gained on other cultures by hitting the road has been invaluable. However, to make it happen, you must be aware of your surroundings as well. Safety comes first. For me, this means having money on me in case I need to get a taxi, not listening to music, and being alert to the changing scenery. In my years running abroad, I have never felt unsafe, but I have felt cautious and listened to my intuition if an area did not feel safe for a female runner and simply turned around. However, no matter where I am in the world, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala or Thailand, a run makes me feel accomplished and able to tackle the day.
Enjoy the run. Enjoy the journey. No matter where you are. You never know where you will end up!