There was a time when I would have laughed at the idea of waking up earlier than absolutely necessary while traveling to run. Vacations are for sleeping in, right? Sleeping is definitely one of my favorite pastimes. But I’ve found that the absolute best way to start a day while traveling is with a run.
Recently, my husband and I spent 10 days in Guatemala as part of a medical service trip. We worked long hours in a medical clinic in a rural town in Guatemala called San Cristóbal. It was both rewarding and exhausting. During the course of the week, our group saw over 400 patients ranging from those with easy-to-treat UTI’s, to the most incredible experience of my life–assisting the doctor in removing a breast tumor.
My husband and I started each day with a run. While others in our group were dragging by the end of the day, we somehow still had plenty of energy. We’d had less sleep, and ran anywhere from 5-8 miles each morning. Go figure.
On the trip, our group met for breakfast each morning at 7:30. Factoring in the time it would take to run, shower (usually freezing cold), and be ready to go, we figured we would need to be out the door by 5:30. Getting up and out the door that early gave us a true glimpse into Guatemalan life.
Women walked down the street with baskets of corn masa on their heads. The central market filled up as street vendors set up shop. Roosters crowed. Church bells rang. Local shops turned on their loud speakers to get the townspeople to come visit. Fireworks went off (seriously). Trucks filled with workers headed out. Horns beeped. A few runners passed. Stray dogs cowered away.
In Guatemala, everyone greets you when you pass. Our mornings were full of “Buenos Días”. The smell of wood-burning stoves filled the air. Life starts bright and early in Guatemala. I loved being a part of it.
Whether your travels take you to Guatemala or Idaho, I’m a firm believer that you’ll get the very most out of your vacation if you incorporate a run or two into your travel plans. Here’s why:
- You’ll see places you won’t see otherwise. Your feet can take you where cars and buses can’t. In Guatemala, we ascended a steep hill that led us to the steps that led us to a church with the most incredible views of the entire city. We also came across a trail that ran alongside a small lake. (I looked at a map later that called this lake a swamp, but with the early morning mist above the swampy-lake, it was truly beautiful). The only way to get to either of these places was by foot.
- Running actually gives you more energy. Jet lag is real. Traveling is exhausting and stressful. After traveling, running is the perfect way to reboot your system. When traveling over different time zones, go to bed when the clock says it’s bedtime, and set your alarm to get up early the next morning to run. It works wonders. You’ll feel awake and ready for the day, no matter what timezone you’re in…especially if running is already a part of your normal morning routine.
- You’ll learn the lay of the land. I’m terrible with directions. In fact, before we had phones with built-in GPS systems, I would have been terrified to go running in a new place. But running is a great way to orient yourself when traveling. You pay closer attention to your surroundings and landmarks when on foot than you would otherwise.
- You’ll bond with a buddy. I run alone all the time in my own neighborhood, but when traveling, I much prefer running with someone else. Maybe it’s my fear of getting lost, but two sets of eyes are better than one. Luckily my husband and I have always loved running together. While in Guatemala, we even coerced a few other group members to join us once, and on our final day, a new Guatemalan friend named Edgar joined us for an early 10K. If I can’t run with a buddy, I often stick to the hotel treadmill when available.
- Get to know the locals even better with a local race. In our family, we often plan vacations out of races. If you already have a vacation planned, look and see if there’s a local race. We were actually shocked when we drove to the rural town in Guatemala to see runners with bibs on. I so wished I had done some research. We would’ve loved to be a part of the race to get to know the locals even better.
Sweat is universal. Wherever you travel, whether you speak the local language or not, runners have an automatic connection with one another. You pass, you wave, you greet each other. Words aren’t always exchanged. But you know they’re thinking exactly what you’re thinking. “Way to go. You’ve got this.”
There are lots of ways to explore a new place. For me, running is the best way. It gives you a deep glimpse into the culture, the city, and the people. Need an idea of what to pack for running when you travel? Check out my ultimate gear guide. How do you stay healthy on vacation?
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