Two Tokyo sights the author wouldn’t have seen from a hotel gym.
Memoirs of Vacations on the Run
By Lee Sandford
Wherever you travel, bring your running shoes — for sanity and time on your own taking in the sights.
Do you pack your workout gear when you’re traveling? A very common answer to this is “yes, but I never wear it” and another is “yes, if I’m traveling for work and I know the hotel has a gym, but not on vacation.”
I have a friend in the UK who, like me, leads outdoor fitness classes and recently asked this question on Instagram. Most people replied in the affirmative and she noted, “I’ve definitely had some conversions to vacation running after people do my beginners’ running courses and they realize it’s one way to really get a bit of peace and alone-time when on holiday!”
This hit the nail on the head for me and is the reason I’ve been packing workout gear since 1997. That year, my husband and I were finishing our Australian secondment and took four months off work to travel the world before returning to our native Scotland. Six weeks of this was a road trip across the States. That’s a long time to spend only in each other’s company and nowadays we do wonder what on earth we talked about on those long stretches across Texas. Thankfully, the trip included outlet mall shopping, and so with my new running shoes, Nike Air Huarache of course, I could seek out aerobic classes or just hit the road running in places I felt safe enough to do so alone. Getting to stretch my legs after the longest days in the car navigating (with an atlas no less!) and a little time away from each other, I’m sure helped keep us both sane. I’ll also forever treasure the memories of a couple of step aerobics classes in Provincetown, where unusually as a woman, I was by far in the minority, and the fabulousness of the men’s choreography was matched only by their outfits. It was fantastic!
Back in Scotland, and with two young children, we bought a tiny vacation home in a seaside town for breaks from city life. Seaside towns in Scotland seldom have weather conducive to traditional seaside activities like say, sitting on the beach. As anyone with kids knows, days with toddlers can be long, and I quickly realized that a running break seemed like a perfectly justifiable way to get out of the tiny space alone, not so much to get away from my kids, but on the rainiest days to get away from kids’ TV and not having to answer toddler questions for thirty minutes.
A few years later we came on a look-see trip to Rye, a week ahead of a half-marathon we were signed up for, so we had to pack running gear to get our training run in. Still in the days before you could depend on your phone for everything, we consulted an atlas and mapped out a route from the Courtyard Marriott. I remember well running up Oakland Beach Avenue, entirely unfamiliar to us, and a woman lifting the headphones connected to her CD Walkman to wish us a loud and cheery “good morning!” It’s one of the reasons I give that we moved to Rye, because that seemed an amazingly friendly gesture to us. (So, if you are a happy runner who ran with a CD Walkman in 2002, thank you!)
Once in Rye, summer family vacations were on Block Island, with now five of us packed into one Victorian hotel room. Since I’ve been marking these running memoirs by technology and fashions, this would have been around the time of Blackberry’s and the advent of being contactable for work 24/7. I found being the wife of a Blackberry owner very hard. I remember on one Block Island trip in particular, my morning runs weren’t just a break from five-to-a-room chaos, but a chance for my husband to catch up on all his correspondence without my disapproving glares.
A fond memory from that era: along a run I noted landmarks and came back and secretly sketched a “pirate’s treasure map”. I told the kids a family who was heading home gave it to me hoping that my family would have better luck. We followed the map, which miraculously led us to a small bag of quarters under driftwood on the beach. The kids were victorious against the pirates and the story lived on in legend for a long time.
Most recently, I had the unbelievable experience of being flown to Tokyo for three days to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday. We were a party of nine women, ages 20 though 75, and were fortunate enough to have drivers to take us to the temples, galleries, and parks we visited. My suite was stunning, my evening meals all chosen carefully by the Japanese family hosting, and the company was both gracious and great fun. It would be churlish to suggest that anything was lacking, but I had of course, taken my workout gear and my five-mile runs every morning added another facet to the trip I will be forever glad I had.
Bringing the story up-to-date culturally, without the navigation and personal safety back-up of my phone, I may have stuck to the stunning views from the hotel gym. But being able to hit the streets, very early in the morning thanks to jet-lag and early sunrises, was just sublime. I took lots of pictures to be able to converse, at least visually, with my Japanese friends. I ran in the opposite direction of a large organized running group one morning and all the non-Japanese people called good morning to me, which felt like a scene from “Lost in Translation”. It was just lovely being alone and having a chance get a feel for the layout, architecture, culture, and comings-and-goings of the city.
This summer take your running shoes with you on vacation, for peace and a deeper connection with wherever you’re visiting.