Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Basics: Running while on vacation

Originally posted on Science-Based Running, as written by our very own Dave Munger.

I apologize for the lack of posting this past week, but I have an excuse: I’ve been doing the “research” for this post! I’m in the middle of a two-week vacation in Hawaii, but I’ve also been trying to keep up with my marathon training schedule, which had me slated to do 49 miles last week and 63 this week.

Don't feel too sorry for me
I think I’ve now done enough running in unfamiliar places that I can offer some tips for others who have the same problem: How do you stick to a training regimen while you’re away from home? If you have any additional tips, I encourage you to add them in the comments section below. I’ll try to respond to your comments, but since I’m, you know, on vacation, it might take me a while to get to it.

I’ve found that I can get some excellent runs in while traveling, but it does require a little planning, patience, and flexibility. Here’s how I do it:

  • Take extra gear. You never know when you’ll have access to laundry facilities, so it’s better to be over-prepared. Fortunately, most running gear is pretty light, so it doesn’t take a lot of room in your suitcase.
  • If you’re traveling with a group, figure out a time to run that won’t interfere with your group’s plans. I have found that most vacationers don’t like to get up very early, so I set an alarm and finish my run before everyone else’s day has started. If you’re traveling with small children, you could run during their afternoon nap or in the evening after they’ve gone to bed.
  • Don’t worry if you miss a day or two of running. Remember, this is a vacation! If you have to miss a day, try to skip an “easy” day and keep up with your more challenging long/fast runs.
  • Don’t party too hard. This doesn’t mean not drinking at all, but you might consider filling every other glass with water instead of an alcoholic beverage. Or do your late-night carousing the evenings before easier runs.
  • Spend a few minutes before your run to plan out your route. I’ve found the WalkRunJog iPhone app can be helpful for this; it allows you to input your location and planned distance, then gives you nearby routes other runners have used. One problem with the app, however, is that it seems to be used primarily by other travelers who are as clueless as you are about the local running conditions. In a trip to San Francisco last year, for example, many routes went straight up or down extremely steep hills, or along streets with tons of stoplights. (I’ve added some more tips about planning your route to the end of the article.)
  • For longer runs, consider a route that takes you back to your home base once or more: You’re less likely to get lost in an unfamiliar place, and you can restock with fuel or water. You’ll also know what to expect during the second or third loop and will be able to pace yourself better.
  • Don’t forget to use sunscreen. Just because you never get burnt during your shady morning run back home doesn’t mean you won’t get scorched on a 12-miler on the beach at noon.
  • Adjust your expectations. You may be running at a higher elevation, in warmer temperatures, or on hillier or rougher terrain than you’re used to. Start slowly and build your pace as you become accustomed to the new conditions. Similarly, you might want to do a shorter run the first day in a new location and build to longer runs. For example, this week I moved my 18-miler up a day, so that I could do it on my last day in now-familiar Kauai instead of a new vacation rental on the island of Hawaii. I’ll start slowly again in this new spot.
  • Stay alert. I always leave my iPod at home when I go on vacation; this helps me pay more attention to my surroundings, both for safety and to more fully experience the wonderful location where I’m running.
  • Consider carrying a phone and a credit card so you can call a cab if you get lost.
  • Have fun! It’s a vacation, remember?

Here are some more tips for planning a good route while on vacation:

  • Pay attention to the surroundings of your lodging when you arrive. Where are the sidewalks? What roads have nice, wide shoulders? Where are other people running?
  • Consider asking about good running routes in your hotel or at a local running store.
  • If you have internet access, try using Gmaps Pedometer or MapMyRun to plot out your run before you head out.
  • Make sure your route is simple enough that you’ll actually be able to remember it while you’re out on the road. You might sketch out a map on a slip of paper or write down the names of the roads you’ll be turning on.
  • Don’t forget to take advantage of the local scenery, even if it means your route isn’t ideal. In San Francisco, I made a point of running to the top of some of the city’s famous hills, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain my pace as I climbed the long staircases it took to get there.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a detour. On my 18-mile run in Kauai, I noticed a road heading off towards an old sugar mill, and decided to head down it to get a closer look. It was fascinating seeing this bit of Hawaii history (there are no more active sugar plantations in Hawaii), and I was able to adjust my route later to account for the extra mileage.

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