A few years ago, my friend Robert Chasen wrote a lovely paean to a course that he ran every summer while on vacation at his summer cottage in Nova Scotia. (You can read it and other essays on his blog, Taking Things in Stride). He referred to the course as “Chemin du Buttereau” (Path from the Buttereau settlement), since much of the course traversed the Chemin du Buttereau hiking trail within Cape Breton National Park.
Bob described the course as a source of spiritual renewal, and I think I know just what he means. Almost every summer, I spend some time on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, and there are one or two courses there that have very special significance to me. I’m guessing that most runners have similar favorite routes that they return to during the summer months, whether for spiritual renewal or for the comfortable feeling of revisiting an old friend.
One of the reasons we go on vacation is to restore our better selves. Sometimes we do it by shaking things up, as when we go some place completely new and stimulating. Sometimes the renewal comes from quieting things down, leaving distractions behind, and re-connecting with elemental pleasures. As a serious runner (I mean, a runner who considers the daily run to be a pretty fundamental part of any 24-hour period), I believe that running on vacation intensifies both of these effects.
My inspiration for sharing the thoughts, above, was reading an article posted a few days ago on Active.com, called “How to stay Fit on Vacation as a Runner.” (The original version of the article appeared in May in Runner’s World). In it, the author offers a handful of suggestions for those seeking to run during their time away from home.
Frankly, the article baffled me. First of all, I couldn’t quite figure out the target audience. Even the opening sentence left me somewhat bewildered…
“When it comes to vacationing runners, there are two extremes: those who struggle to muster up the will to squeeze in even a single run, and those who pack the free time with hard workouts, long outings, and double sessions, possibly irritating their travel companions in the process.”
Struggle to squeeze in a single run? Really? Pack the free time with hard workouts? That doesn’t sound like me or any of my running buddies. It seems like most of us just continue to run, and feel better about it because we’re not as harried, sleep-deprived, and traffic-challenged as usual… are we in such a minority?
The article included several suggestions for addressing this huge problem posed by vacations:
- “Do a Pre-Trip Push — an extra-long run or especially tough speedwork a day or two before you leave.”
- “Plan for Company — book a guided run—similar to a sightseeing bus tour, but on foot… “
- “Or Go it Alone — consider plotting out routes before you leave […] Or if you’re planning-averse [try running without a route].”
- “Adjust Your Expectations — Dial back on the pace and distance if you’re dealing with travel stresses or a hectic schedule…”
- “Broaden Your Horizon — Rent bikes, go on hikes, play tennis, and maybe even try waterskiing…”
Maybe I’m being snotty about it, but some of this advice seems bad, and most of it seems pretty obvious.
I think planning a big pre-vacation push is a terrible idea. You’ll probably just hurt yourself, ensuring that instead of enjoying your runs during your vacation, you’ll be dealing with an injury. And even if you don’t hurt yourself, you’re putting in that big push at the same time that you’re totally stressed out because you’re tying up loose ends so you can go on vacation. I always do the opposite of this: I take the last couple of days before a vacation easy, and focus on getting things done. That way, I’m set to enjoy my vacation runs much more.
As for planning for company, I’m willing to admit that extroverts might want to do this and I understand that, but I truly cherish the opportunity to do long, solo runs on my vacation. There are times that it’s OK to prefer one’s own company.
As for the advice (“Or go it Alone”), it’s hard to argue that you should either run a pre-planned route… or do the opposite. I think those two suggestions pretty much cover the possibilities, don’t you? I guess you could plan a route carefully and then go run somewhere else, just to be surreal about it.
I suppose the real reason this article annoyed me was that I think advice about how to run on vacations is superfluous. Most of us either look forward to the wonderful opportunities to enjoy our sport, or look forward to a break from our sport, depending on what we need at the time. I’ve done great training during vacations, and also had great rests. Bannister famously took a walking tour (and a break from heavy training) before finally running the first sub-four minute mile.
There’s no formula, but then again, you don’t need one. You’re on vacation, and you finally have time to listen to what your inner voice is telling you to do. I think if you listen well, the best kind of running (or resting) will seek you out.