How running changed the way I travelJune 1, 2021
Running has always been an extremely important part of my life. I first got hooked to the sport during my time at boarding school, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where I started running cross country and was addicted to the feeling of pushing myself forward in the crisp, misty mountain air, and getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. But besides the ‘race day’ adrenaline rush, I also fell in love with the process of being outdoors, experiencing new locations, and really feeling enveloped in the weather and environment around me.
15 years later, the running bug never left me, and over the course of time, I have run countless races, ranging from 10ks to 50km ultra-marathons. I have learnt that running is so much more than getting fit. It’s about the runner’s high, the sunrises, the post-run beers and breakfasts, the banter with the motley crew of friends you make along the way, and new destinations to explore. All you need to do is lace up your running shoes, and get out the door. For World Running Day, here’s what I’ve learnt from my years of travelling as a runner and running as a traveller.
Don’t skip the sunrise (or breakfast)!
Because of running, I’ve become more of a morning person, and my body clock tends to wake me up much earlier than my friends and family when we travel together. On some days I might loll around in bed, but on most, I lace up my running shoes and try to catch the sunrise. I love these impromptu runs. Typically, I keep them short (around 5-6km), head towards a scenic spot, and carry a small running belt to keep some cash, keys and my phone. One of my top memories was doing a quick 5km along the Varkala cliff, in Kerala in 2016. This stretch is usually bustling with people, but early in the morning, it was empty, all mine! Post run, I discovered a cute little cafe that was just opening up for business, called my friends and had them join me for a delightful breakfast. Pro Tip: On vacation, you don’t have to let morning runs ruin your night life, take a power nap in the afternoon, and you’ll be ready to put on your dancing shoes.
There are some experiences you will only get by running. For instance, the Mumbai Marathon is the only time you can experience the views from the Bandra-Worli Sea Link outside of your car. On race day, the bridge is open only to runners. While not all these experiences are necessarily ‘exclusive’ to running, there are some moments that I have encountered that I never would have if I wasn’t a runner. One of my most exhilarating races was running in Gujarat’s Rann of Kutch in 2016. Just the sight of the neverending salt marshes is spectacular, but I wouldn’t have imagined the complexity of the land itself if I hadn’t run on it. I was running a 25km trail race, and though it started early in the morning—when the marsh was solid glistening salt—by mid-day, because of the sun, the salt melted, and the texture of the earth changed. I suddenly understood why it’s called a ‘salt marsh’. As I progressed halfway through the race, I was sinking into the marsh down to my calves. I am not going to lie, it was one of the toughest races I have ever run and I struggled. But what I will never forget are the amazing people I met during the race: strangers who were rooting for me, pushing me to succeed and post the run, sharing beers and life stories. Many of these ‘strangers’ are now great friends. Pro Tip: Especially when running off-road, make sure you are carrying a second pair of running shoes, there’s a large possibility that they will get wet or muddy during these runs.
Transforming holidays into ‘run’cations
For me when I plan a holiday for any occasion, I try and figure out how to make it into a ‘run’cation of sorts, I research to find any races in the area and then adjust my holiday around it. For instance, when I went to Nepal in 2015 for one of my best friend’s weddings, I found a 15km trail run in the outskirts of Kathmandu. I scheduled it towards the beginning of my holiday and spent the rest of the break enjoying the celebrations. During my trip to Bhutan with my mom in 2018, I made sure the time we landed up in Punakha was in sync with the Bhutan Marathon. On race day, mom had already made friends with a photographer, (who incidentally was visiting Tiger’s Nest at the same time as us), and made sure I got some great pictures of the day!
For a Secret Santa gift, I bought my running buddy and myself race bibs to run in Auroville, which was an enjoyable experience. My 10-year back-to-school reunion coincided with the Mussoorie half marathon, and that run was like coming full circle for me. In 2019, when I went to visit my sister in San Francisco, I made sure I ran the SF Half Marathon as well! I also managed to cross off one big bucket list moment, when I went running in The Grand Canyon. Most of these races tend to happen at the best time to visit the locations they are in, so they can fall in sync with your travel plans quite seamlessly. Pro Tip: To make a ‘run’cation happen, you have to plan in advance. Race bibs sell out pretty quickly so it’s good to have a minimum six months lead time, depending on the race. Also, many marathons have prerequisites for you to be able to qualify for a race, so make sure you are trained for the distance you want to run.
Seeing an old city in new ways
There are some cities I frequent often, but running has changed the way I look at them or has made me discover something new. I’ve lived in Mumbai for years, and have always hated the monsoon, but that took a 180 degree turn when I realised how much fun it is to run in the rain. I’ve visited Singapore numerous times, but only discovered its vast parks and gardens, including the Chinese and Japanese gardens in the outskirts of the city because of running. Even amongst the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, I found the lush Lumpini Park, where I saw a completely different side of the city. Post my run, I had a nice plate of mango sticky rice from one of the street vendors, which tasted 10 times yummier after burning some calories. Pro Tip: A lot of larger cities have running groups which you can join during their regular training sessions. It’s a great way to meet a few new people and explore the city with locals.
Off the beaten path
I have planned a lot of weekend getaways based on races around India and discovered places I would have never dreamed of travelling to (or heard of), had I not been a runner. A couple of highlights are two ultra marathons I ran in Malnad, Karnataka and Vagamon, Kerala. The routes take you across changing landscapes, are full of wildlife, and truly remind you about how incredible India really is. Pro Tip: The key to trail runs is to be as prepared as possible – carry food, enough water, (it’s worth investing in a hydration pack), a change of clothes, some money, a charged phone, sunscreen and a whistle (in case of emergency). Also, don’t do these alone, make some trail running buddies, things can go wrong on these adventures and you might need support.