Running and Traveling. Traveling and Running.

I’ve just returned from an eight day trip from South America enjoying time in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay; and Santiago, Chile.  While one of my favorite ways to see a city is by running through it, it can be tough to run on vacation.  Most of my recent trips abroad have been for marathons. I’ve only needed to do some light running around leading up to race day, race, and then enjoy the rest of the trip while recovering.  This time was different.  I’m right in the middle of a build-up to get in the best shape I can for a half marathon in mid-January to give one last attempt at an OTQ.  Improvement in running is all about consistency. There is no gain (for me, anyway, or for anyone with high goals) in interrupting a training cycle or losing fitness while away.  Soon I’ll be traveling for the holidays and I’m glad to have the experience of this trip to help prepare my mind for another week of training while traveling.  

Running along the river in Santiago, Chile.  Cinder paths lined the river for miles.

There are lots of great things about getting away and lots of challenges.  Just because I like to keep a positive attitude, I’ll start with the Pro’s:

Change. Traveling gives a chance to break away from a running routine and routes that can quickly become repetitive and mundane.  Run new routes.  See new scenery, new people.

Experience.  If you’re training for a race, you’ll most likely be running that race on unfamiliar roads in a somewhat unfamiliar climate.  Increasing your fitness is all about your body’s ability to adapt to different stressors.  Running for a week while traveling can give you experience running in an unfamiliar environment with many different elements at play.

Travel.  Running isn't the only thing in life.  Traveling brings us great experiences and knowledge of the world and its cultures.  It’s fun and exciting and adventurous.  Regardless of what running is like while you’re away, you are blessed to have the opportunity to travel.

I wouldn’t call the opposing side “Con’s”, just things to look out for and not to let get you down.  They’re just extra Challenges:

Time.  If you do vacation like I do, you pack your days full of sightseeing to get the most of your time while you’re there, especially if you’re visiting a cool new city for the first time.  This doesn’t always leave lots of time to run. Solution: Commit to running in the morning.  Most of us are used to waking up extra early for work to run in the morning, anyway.  Most days you won’t be waking up half as early as you usually do still, but you’ll get your run out of the way and won’t think about it the rest of the day.

The President's house in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Kim and I celebrated a year together while traveling!

Quality.  I rarely do really tough tempo or speed workouts alone and when I do I know not to expect the same results.  Tempo efforts are especially tough for me.  While on vacation you’ll be running solo, tired, in an unfamiliar climate and on unfamiliar routes.  I don’t see these as reasons not to do workouts all together.  Solution: Keep an open mind. Run intervals and tempo efforts based on time and feel rather than distance and pace. Do speed work on a nearby track if possible to provide familiarity.

Quantity.  This past trip, I expected my weekly miles to suffer as well.  Fortunately, I was able to sneak in two double-run days and still run just over 100 miles.  But not every trip will you have the opportunity to run as much as you do in your normal routine.  Solution: Stay as consistent as possible.  Be sure to start off on the right foot and run the first chance you get.  When you have time, don’t cut your runs short.  Since your quality of runs will most likely suffer, put effort into maintaining quantity so that the week after your vacation doesn’t have to suffer too!

For me, keeping mileage and intensity up while traveling is important.  I don’t want to lose fitness and I need to continue to put in effort throughout my time traveling.  Overall, I had a pretty crappy week of tired runs with unimpressive tempo and interval workouts.  BUT the day I got back I had an excellent long run and later that week I had great interval and tempo workouts.  I’m positive the effort I put in the week before helped create that great week of running.  For you, things may be different and that’s OK.  If you have goals, don’t let them be hindered by travel. Likewise, don’t let your goals hinder you from traveling.  If you like to just run, then running is a great way to explore a new place.  Find what works for you, make a plan if you need to, and enjoy your time away.

The Life and (Finishing) Times of Tyler Underwood

For me, it all started long ago in a far off land called Tennessee.  My dad was a very gifted and hard working runner and all-around athlete in his day.  He would say that he was more “gifted” than I am, but I am a lot “smarter.” (Thanks Dad!)  I’m not sure who said it first, but I’ve heard the quote many times: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”  I’m not saying my dad didn’t work hard, but I’d rather be a “smarter” runner than a “gifted” runner any day.

As a kid, I began to follow in my dad’s footsteps running XC and track, but took off my running shoes to pick up a tennis racket every day for four years of high school.  In college, with competitive tennis at an end for me, I began running again just for fun and fitness.  This long, untimely break in competitive running has made my approach to running very unique.  I didn’t have the years of coaching in high school and college to develop my fitness level, running economy, or knowledge of the sport.  I didn’t start running competitive road races as a recent college graduate as most runners at my current level.  I started like everyone else, from the middle of the pack.  Slow.  Worried about completing, not competing.  I was an average runner, with average goals, but they were my goals and that made them important.  Those goals, the goals after that, and the goals after that, eventually led me to where I am now- looking to chase down a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials Marathon.

I ran my first half-marathon my sophomore year of college, in the spring of 2007.  That day I decided I wanted to be a marathoner as soon as possible, so I signed up for a marathon and ran it a month later. It took me 4 hours 12 minutes… I’m almost ashamed to say it out loud (or in print).  Fast forward a year later, same marathon, 3:25.  And less than a year later, 3:07.  Fifteen months after that in 2010, a 2:55.  After a move across the country and no marathon in 2011, I ran 2:53 in 2012.  The slowing progress was a reflection of my lack of dedication.

Shaking out the legs in London during race week.

I was in the best shape of my life in the fall of 2012 and set to run the New York Marathon before it was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.  I was so upset to not get the chance to race, but it left me motivated and hungry for a PR.  I went back to NYC the next fall and ran a PR of 2:36.  So much for slowing progress!  In Boston the following spring, after hitting pace for a 2:30 finish for 21 miles, I hit something else… THE WALL.  One long year later with a few ups and a handful of downs I made the trip across the Atlantic for the London Marathon.  Once again in the best shape of my life, I was looking to redeem myself, surpass my dad’s marathon PR (I was less than a minute off at NYC), and come away with a huge PR.  And that I did.  I fell just short of a lofty goal of sub-2:25, but still PR’d by almost 10 minutes.  2:26:23.  I’m more motivated than ever to see how much I can improve and how far I can push my limits.

My running history is unique.  Few people have had personal experience pushing themselves to reach such a variety of running goals.  I’ve never had a coach.  I’ve never followed someone else’s plan.  As I’ve progressed, I’ve gained more and more knowledge of how to run faster, be more efficient, and train harder- all while avoiding injury and maintaining a love for the sport.  My degree in Exercise Science has given me valuable knowledge about the body and how it functions.  While 5 years in running specialty retail has taught me about the running community and what it lacks: knowledge.  The biggest thing stopping us from being fit (or fitter) is a lack of knowledge.  Knowledge is power.  With the right knowledge, you can train to reach goals you haven’t even made yet...