On this summer’s tail end, my girlfriend and I spent a week traveling in California, and then, after a quick turnaround, a week in Colorado. In both cases, we stayed in a different place every few nights; we saw healthy portions of two very large states; and we basically used a rental vehicle as a mobile headquarters for our traveling.
And, of course, the entire time we were traveling, I was running.
Or, rather, trying to run. Travel, for me at least, is often fluid; training plans often aren’t. And in the clash of those two types of scheduling lies a very interesting dilemma. What’s going to give first?
Like all writers, I try to take at least one lesson from every life experience that comes my way. Here are three that I learned (or re-learned) along the way:
When an Indiana boy, whose every run is cornfield-flat and whose average elevation is something like 714 feet above sea level, meets a trail like Barr Trail, which runs straight up Pikes Peak, one of the taller mountains in Colorado, you get fireworks. Specifically, fireworks inside of the Indiana boy’s chest and lungs.
If traveling to terrains and geographies different than your own is going to teach you anything, it’s likely this: that there are many types of running in this world (up or down, for instance, but also straight-up and extremely-up and painfully-unfair-up)… and you could be better at almost all of them.
Sure, it’s no fun to get humbled, to have your face rubbed in your lack-of-fitness. However, I’m a firm believer that being bad at something is one of the greatest things you can be, so long as you want to get better; a person with desire and direction is a person to watch out for.
Turn outside yourself
Running at home is easy: you know the route, where to expend your effort, and what you’ll see along the way. For me, this breeds reflection, turns me inward since everything outward is familiar.
Running in an unfamiliar place, however, requires something of you: your attention. In order to make it back to your hotel safely, you’ve got to read the road or trail, the surroundings, the weather, the terrain, even the actions of other runners or pedestrians. On many of my runs out west this summer, I purposefully avoided the “recommended routes” I’d seen online. There’s a value in not knowing where you’re going; reading your environment well is a skill, particularly for runners and travelers, and it’s hard to practice that skill on familiar trails.
Besides, a chance to get out of your own head is never a bad thing—you already know everything inside there anyways.
Listen to your body
If travel is anything, it’s a collection of unplanned-for stimuli. If training is anything, it’s the sum total of how your body reacts to different stimuli.
Travel, then, is a unique chance to experiment and learn. Maybe your hotel bed turns out to be a train wreck of stiff springs, or the drive between two points of interest actually takes three times as long. Maybe the food you’re eating is not exactly runner-stomach-friendly. What ruins your day? What has a surprisingly small effect on your running? And, perhaps most revealing of all, how do you react in the face of uncertainty and unfamiliar stimuli?
(Maybe—and I’m speaking truly hypothetically here—you try to run at altitude and learn that there are actually tiny little muscles along your ribcage that allow you to suck air. Muscles that can strain under undue exertion, as in, for instance, when trying to run up a mountain. Muscles that, when strained, make it difficult to suck said air, which is already thin. Which make it difficult to run. Difficult to talk. BUT, on the plus side, you learn that if you put a smile on your face so large that it’s actually disconcerting, people won’t try to talk to you at all, and you can go on failing at sucking air and trying to get your butt off of the mountain.)
Sure, travel can lay waste to your training plan, or your legs, or your lungs. But if you’ll let it, travel can also teach you a few things—things that are awfully hard to find back home.
Ryan Horner is a Roam & Run athlete, as well as a reader, a writer, and an ultrarunner. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and makes running-related videos about his training and his running life on his video blog (ForTheLoveOfRunning) at www.youtube.com/c/ForTheLoveOfRunning. You can also find him on instagram at @ryan_horner_