July 30, 2009

Running Around the World

iranian-runner

I’ve been a dedicated runner for about five years now, and a casual one for several years before that. I find that running is the best overall exercise I can do, and the minimalist in me enjoys the fact that running is very low-tech.

All you need are some decent running shoes – no fancy equipment or nice clothes are necessary. I like to listen to music when I run, but other than an iPod shuffle, I don’t take anything with me.

So far I’ve ran four half-marathons and three full marathons, including one self-created event on a cruise ship in Alaska last year. Some of the places that I’ve most enjoyed running are listed below.

Running in Cape Town

Cape Town, South Africa – My all-time favorite city for running is Cape Town, although I was dealing with my first running injury for most of the three weeks I was there in 2005. While living in East London for several months beforehand, I started running at least 4-5 miles a day with too few rest days during the week. After setting in Cape Town’s amazing waterfront area, I had to stop running for about 10 days after a guy in a shoe store diagnosed my problem as minor ITB syndrome. I was better after a while, although I only ran short distances for the rest of my Cape Town stay. Regardless, the city and ocean view were absolutely beautiful.

Running in Budapest

Budapest, Hungary – My first major solo trip took me to Budapest by way of Benin, and then down to Johannesburg, South Africa. I stayed in the city for three days before continuing on to Bratislava and Prague by train. While I was there, I stayed on the Pest side of the divided city, and I enjoyed running up and down the hills and across the bridge to the more frequently visited Buda side.

Running in Cadiz, Spain

Cadiz, Spain – My second all-time favorite running city. I trained for my first half-marathon in Cadiz in the summer of 2003, the same summer that 37,000 Europeans died from a massive heat wave. Running in Cadiz was about like running in West Africa, except the sun didn’t go down until 9:00 p.m. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. I loved it there, and enjoyed it even more when I went to England for the Windsor Half Marathon. After all the training in the heat, I had a much better time than expected.

Running in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico – In December 2005, I ran along the pier where the cruise ships docked, before going on my own first cruise as part of a vacation before going back to Africa. Every day for the next week while we were traveling, I tried to run at least three miles at every port stop. I succeeded four out of five times, in Aruba, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, and on the ship’s jogging track outside of Grenada. That gave me the inspiration to think about running a longer event a couple of years later, when I went to Alaska on a different vacation.

(A brief side note: while on the jogging track that day, I was amazed to see another passenger smoking a cigarette while walking briskly around the track. That guy is either very committed to smoking or very committed to exercise, I remember thinking.)

Running in Saigon, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Actually, this is a terrible running city. I include it here not because it’s one of my favorites but because it’s certainly one of the most memorable. In Saigon, as most people call the city, the traffic consists of literally hundreds of thousands of motorbikes that are largely unlicensed and seemingly unpoliced. Your best bet for running in Saigon is to head for the river, where your chances of being hit by a motorbike fall to a more reasonable 50%. Watch this video to get an idea of what it’s like.

Running in Tema, Ghana

Tema, Ghana – The last country I lived in before returning to the U.S. was Ghana, and I spent the last three weeks of our three month stay there without a job. My replacement in the charity I worked for had arrived and taken over during that time, so I attended meetings in the morning but was usually free in the afternoons. I began the initial training for my first marathon in Tema, running 6-10 miles at a time twice a week outside the port. It was beautiful, and it was hot—but I usually didn’t mind. I had a lot on my mind then, and it was good to spend time outside in the late afternoons to process it all.

After the time in Ghana and some traveling in Southern Africa, I moved to…

Running in Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington – My city of residence for more than two years before coming to Portland, I trained for the Seattle Marathon by running around Green Lake during the week and all around the city for long runs on weekends. There are rumors that it rains a lot in Seattle, and a lot of time I didn’t mind it… but when I ran for two hours at a time and it never stopped raining, I started feeling like I’d be better off inside. After finishing, though, I always felt better about myself for sticking it out.

Other Spots

When I travel now, I take running shoes with me even though they take up a lot of space in my small carry-on bag.

I’ve also run in Singapore, Vienna, Brunei, Amsterdam, Guayaquil, Auckland, Phnom Penh, and the list could go on a while.

In Warsaw I had a great two-hour run, only to return to my hotel and realize I had made a big mistake on my upcoming travel plans.

In Benin I ran for half an hour after calling my dad on Father’s Day, leaving coins along the street as I went.

In Pakistan I ran 10k around a track the hotel had installed on the property in a guarded parking lot. It felt a little surreal.

In Bangladesh I wanted to run outside, but the seven million people walking around the dense city made me think twice about that idea.

Most of my serious running (well, somewhat serious – I’m definitely not an ultrarunner) takes place at home, because it’s hard to run more than six miles at a time when I’m bouncing around countries on a typical trip. I still enjoy the shorter runs from place to place, and running helps me experience a new place from a different perspective.

My next trip at the end of August will take me to Bhutan, where visitors are expected to be accompanied by a guide for most of their in-country experience. If that turns out to be true, I hope the guide is prepared to do some running! The pair of running shoes I take with me on trips is already in the bag.

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Iranian Runner Image by Hamed Saber

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26 Responses to “Running Around the World”

  1. I too am a runner, and I totally agree it’s a great low-tech program. I haven’t run in any of the places you talked about, but running in exotic places is great. Last December I had the opportunity to run in Nicaragua on La Isla de Ometepe. I highly recommend it to you, it sounds like you’d enjoy it.

    Also, since you mentioned being minimalist, you should check out the Vibram Fivefinger KSO’s. I do about 2 runs per week in those, they are extremely minimalistic (almost barefoot) and have helped my technique to become more natural and improved my injury prevention. As an ultrarunner, that’s a wonderful thing.

  2. Every day on my lunch break I try to run around the Willamette River. And every day part of me imagines I am in any one of the coastal cities you named above. It is great to have a hobby that you can do anywhere. While the activity is the same, the location makes for a different experience in each place you go.

    So what is your LEAST favorite place you have run on your travels?

  3. Better pack some shoes for your guide. And maybe an oxygen tank, if he’s anything like me. ;)

  4. @TJ,

    Thanks for the tip – I’ve heard about those but haven’t seen them yet.

    @Sean,

    Dude, if you’ve been running at lunchtime here in PDX recently, that’s hardcore! It’s been about 98 degrees all week, as you know. I made it about 4 miles last night.

    Least favorite running place – I’m not sure. I’m not a big fan of running in Asian mega-cities, like Saigon… or Bangkok, Phnom Penh, etc. The traffic is insane and there isn’t much concept of pedestrian rights.

    @Sarah,

    I’ll probably need the tank too! I’m not a good runner at elevation.

  5. No matter where you run I always find that people like to be challenged by another runner. Try it out next time…just take over on the left and smile. Suddently the person will increase speed and you are having a team thing going on!

    Chatting with the person will bring it to the next level.

    Martin
    Montreal, Canada

  6. **”In Benin I ran for half an hour after calling my dad on Father’s Day, leaving coins along the street as I went.” **

    Of all the amazing stories here, this little tid-bit about the coins (for some, not-quite palpable reason) struck a chord with me. It’s the little things I guess…the art of simplicity. ;)

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. TJ beat me to it. Im at best a casual runner – partly because running just always seemed to hurt way too much for the good it did. My shins would just kill. Then I just finishedBorn to Run by Christopher Mcdougall. Great read (well, listen in my case I love audiobooks)

    I don’t run in five fingers but I have found running in simple shoes takes all the pain away from running for me. It makes you run correctly (not on your heels). I now run in Sanuks and love it. They would save you quite a bit of room in your carry on as well. I have an old run-down pair of Tevas that work well too.

    Check out Born to Run.

  8. I second Brad’s comment. Just finished Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. If you haven’t read it yet Chris, you’ll definitely enjoy it and probably be able to take a few minimalist running tips from it. Great post!

  9. Running changed the way I live and it is my greatest form of mediation and reflection. I started my business thanks to the ideas I got while I was running. I can only hope to run in as many places as you have!

  10. I’d like to second the suggestion for the Vibram KSOs. They’re really great for running, don’t require socks and probably take up the space of just one shoe in your bag. If you’re really interested in going minimalist, you could try dropping the shoes entirely; that’s quite the experience.

  11. Don’t know if you’ve read “The Blue Sweater” yet but it seems that you and Jacqueline Novogratz have a lot in common. You two should discuss the importance of running to your respective lifestyles / careers.

  12. Budapest is a beautiful city. Margit-sziget, the island/park in the middle of the Danube, even has a rubber running track all the way around it!

  13. I know that many, many people would call their home city “the best city in the world” … I’m not about to make a claim that outrageous, but having travelled quite a bit, I can honestly say that if you are a fan of nature-and-cityscapes, and the truly picturesque running experience, Sydney Australia may be one of the most breathtakingly beautiful cities anywhere.

    If you run around the harbour, you can go from the south-eastern beaches all the way into the city along the waterfront, you can even run across the famous bridge and into the North Shore. If you feel like hopping on a ferry you can continue running around Manly … just incredible.

    I haven’t come across any stories about Australia … have you been here yet? If you haven’t, make sure you stop off at least on both coasts, in order to count the country as having been “visited”. Only going to Sydney and then ticking the country off your list, would be like someone saying “Oh I’ve seen America, I went to Miami once.” :)

  14. July 30, 2009

    Tamas Nagy

    Hi,

    I think you mixed up the Buda and Pest side. Buda is the more hilly and Pest is the more frequently visited part. Buda is definitely my favourite as well though. Just 10-15 minutes bus ride and you are in the forest with walkable, runnable paths, fresh air etc.

    Tamas,
    London, UK

  15. @Tamas,

    Thanks, you’re probably right about my confusing the two sides of Budapest – despite the obvious, I’m not very good with geography.

    @Brad and @Russ,

    Yeah, I just started Born to Run recently – it’s a great read.

  16. Chris,

    It was interesting to read about those cities you’ve run in :-)
    Your post reminded me of the waves of motorcyclists without helmets in Viet Nam, and waves of people in Bangladesh – I had a hard time even walking across the street!

    Since I am not a runner and wouldn’t dream of becoming one, here is my question; What do you think about while you run? Is it like how Haruki Murakami describes in his book “What I talk about…” (something about having or creating a void)? Would you say it’s like a meditation for you?

    Etsuko

  17. I’m in Australia at the moment and trying to run as much as I can. I’ve just signed up for the City 2 Surf and am excited to run it with about 70,000 other people.

    Those that have run in the Five Fingers, do you run on concrete and how long do they take to get used to?

    I second that about running in Sydney. The harbour is picturesque and there is quite the running culture here.

  18. Hey Chris,
    I loved that Cape Town was your favorite running city. I lived in Cape Town and started back running seriously when I was there and I haven’t quite since. In fact, now I am an ultrarunner (and I was curious to find that we both know Jove, he and I use to run a bunch together in Seattle). One of my other fav running cities in Edinburgh, Scotland. That is where I ran my first marathon. I have run in many other countries now and always find it a great way to ground myself wherever I go and explore new places!

    Awesome!

  19. One more vote for Vibram Five Fingers. I’ve just started working them into my routine, and I can already tell a difference in the tensile strength and responsiveness of my calves and arches.

    The main reason I wanted to try them was because of my dedication to minimalism…I’m going to be going around the world with just a carry-on bag, so my workout shoes would take up a SIGNIFICANT amount of space. Both Vibram shoes can fit in the space that one of my old workout shoes would have taken up, while leaving room for a pair of Rainbow flip-flops, to boot!

    Definitely worth checking out :)

  20. Actually, it’s even more low-tech than you say: you don’t need the shoes. I got back to running after a 10-year hiatus from pain after every run by trying barefoot running … it’s been about 2 years now and I typically do about 20 miles a week.

  21. I’ve been a dedicated runner for only four months, but this article has left me drooling! :)

  22. Hi Chris,

    I also like to pack my running shoes and check out the neighborhoods, etc. where I travel. I find something fun in setting up my Ipod to a “soundtrack” to where I’m at and then going out jogging. Thanks for the inspiration with your travels, along with the great ideas that we can take with us. Cheers,

    Ryan

  23. And I think you all are just too hard-core for me. I’m in good shape and I walk around all the time. However, just the process of traveling and exploring a city involves so much walking, it can start taxing my legs.

    I imagine that running, on top of that, would force me to take every third day off just lying around in bed.

    I’m extremely tall and maybe that doesn’t help, though.

  24. I thought that it would be very difficult to travel and see things as well as keep up the running. It definitely gets easier. While it is more work than at home, that’s why you run isn’t it :)

  25. Most European cities are great for running, but my favorite is Zurich: a beautiful setting (both architecture and landscape) and a straight, runner-friendly path from the old town to the lake. Also, the motorists are so friendly one rarely needs to stop!

  26. August 5, 2009

    Rich Cook

    I just returned from Brazil and although I’m not a runner (yet) I saw lots of people running (and biking, walking, skating, moving) along the beach roads of Copacabana and Impanema beaches. There is a nice wide path next to the road and across a formidable curb. Running in any kind of weather along these icon beaches would have to be fantastic. Next time I’m there, I’ll be a runner and will enjoy them myself (as well as your recommended cities, as I travel).

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