“At the height of summer, naps at the beach can be alluring, and many of us may find ourselves tempted to take prolonged vacations from exercise.” – Gretchen Reynolds, writing in the New York Times.
Well, I just got back from vacation and it would be news to my family to hear that I have ever been tempted to use my vacation as an excuse to take a prolonged break from running. If anything, I try to run more on vacation, which makes my family a little crazy when we’re planning outings and excursions and I’m trying to carve out a couple of hours for runs. It’s remarkable how much scheming I do to make sure I have a couple of hours every day to pursue my hobby, or obsession, or whatever it is.
I understand that the New York Times article was playing with the similarity between two ideas named with the single word vacation. Summer is the time when we take vacations from work or school, often traveling to familiar or exotic getaways. Summer might also be the time when we experience lapses in our usual routines, hence vacations from exercise and other good habits. And to be fair, the article cited above makes some interesting observations about the effects of lengthy lapses in exercise routines.
But the notion that runners would go on vacation without bringing running gear just strikes me as being unlikely… as unlikely as going on vacation without bringing sandals and sunscreen.
Usually, on the day I arrive at our vacation destination, I am overdue for a run. The day or two before leaving on a trip, the whole family is stressed out trying to pack, clean house, arrange for pet-sitting, and anticipate all the other things that need to be done so that our homestead will be in good shape when we return in a week or two. Amidst the rush and chaos, time-consuming luxuries like pre-vacation runs tend to be abbreviated or skipped. And then travel day itself is usually used up in traveling, so by the first full day in the new place, I’m antsy for exercise.
And I always unpack my running stuff (which takes up a lot more space than all my other stuff) first.
Years ago, when I was more dedicated, planning for a vacation would include mapping out all the runs and workouts I hoped to do while away from home. I would think of our vacation destination as a kind of running boot camp. Without the distraction of work, I would have more time to train! In those days of adherence to a rigorous schedule, I would try to run as soon as I got up, to minimize the disruption to family outings and other social interactions. It would be a good day if I could get in a morning 7-miler before everyone else was up, although I did have a habit of dragging when it came time for the strenuous afternoon hike later. I didn’t care, figuring it was all just another form of cross-training.
These days I’m never so formal or driven. Plus, I don’t have nearly as much energy. So I appear to be more in the spirit of vacation-as-respite than I used to be, following a more flexible schedule and even skipping days. But deep down, I’m still scheming, looking for opportunities to run more, especially if I can make an adventure out of a runs by trying a new route or tackling rougher terrain.
On this latest vacation, I had one especially satisfying run when I begged out of a slow tour of a section of Acadia National park via horse-drawn carriage and instead ran an eight-mile loop up and down a mountain on those same carriage roads. I left on my run a few minutes before the rest of my family set off on their excursion, and I finished about 70 minutes later at precisely the same time as their tour group arrived back at their destination. My extremely sweaty appearance and exact timing earned me a momentary celebrity among the other tour-goers when my grand-daughter saw me and screamed out “Papa! Papa! Papa!” from the back of the wagon.
The point is, we’re trying to achieve something when we go on vacation. We’re probably all hoping to leave behind certain cares and obligations, and to give ourselves time and space to have more of the kind of experiences that make our lives feel special and fun. At this point in my life, the experiences I have when running are pretty special, even when they aren’t that fun, and still beat most of the alternatives by a country mile. I guess that’s not true for everyone, though. From the way people write about exercise, I have to assume that many people find it to be a care or an obligation: in other words, work. If that’s the case, then it makes sense that vacation might be a time to guard against falling into bad habits of sloth and idleness.
But I’m glad for whatever restlessness inspires me to think of “time off” as being time for movement and exploration. I hope I can continue to think of it that way as my body becomes more and more feeble. And if not, if at some point all I want to do is sit on a deck chair and read the New York Times, or painstakingly put together jigsaw puzzles, or sit on the porch drinking wine and looking at the sunset, well, I think I’ll still pack all my running stuff just in case… just in case one day the legs feel spry again, because stretching your legs is what vacation is all about, right?