I’ve been a dedicated runner for about five years now, and a casual one for several years before that. I find that running is the best overall exercise I can do, and the minimalist in me enjoys the fact that running is very low-tech.
All you need are some decent running shoes – no fancy equipment or nice clothes are necessary. I like to listen to music when I run, but other than an iPod shuffle, I don’t take anything with me.
So far I’ve ran four half-marathons and three full marathons, including one self-created event on a cruise ship in Alaska last year. Some of the places that I’ve most enjoyed running are listed below.
Cape Town, South Africa – My all-time favorite city for running is Cape Town, although I was dealing with my first running injury for most of the three weeks I was there in 2005. While living in East London for several months beforehand, I started running at least 4-5 miles a day with too few rest days during the week. After setting in Cape Town’s amazing waterfront area, I had to stop running for about 10 days after a guy in a shoe store diagnosed my problem as minor ITB syndrome. I was better after a while, although I only ran short distances for the rest of my Cape Town stay. Regardless, the city and ocean view were absolutely beautiful.
Budapest, Hungary – My first major solo trip took me to Budapest by way of Benin, and then down to Johannesburg, South Africa. I stayed in the city for three days before continuing on to Bratislava and Prague by train. While I was there, I stayed on the Pest side of the divided city, and I enjoyed running up and down the hills and across the bridge to the more frequently visited Buda side.
Cadiz, Spain – My second all-time favorite running city. I trained for my first half-marathon in Cadiz in the summer of 2003, the same summer that 37,000 Europeans died from a massive heat wave. Running in Cadiz was about like running in West Africa, except the sun didn’t go down until 9:00 p.m. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. I loved it there, and enjoyed it even more when I went to England for the Windsor Half Marathon. After all the training in the heat, I had a much better time than expected.
San Juan, Puerto Rico – In December 2005, I ran along the pier where the cruise ships docked, before going on my own first cruise as part of a vacation before going back to Africa. Every day for the next week while we were traveling, I tried to run at least three miles at every port stop. I succeeded four out of five times, in Aruba, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, and on the ship’s jogging track outside of Grenada. That gave me the inspiration to think about running a longer event a couple of years later, when I went to Alaska on a different vacation.
(A brief side note: while on the jogging track that day, I was amazed to see another passenger smoking a cigarette while walking briskly around the track. That guy is either very committed to smoking or very committed to exercise, I remember thinking.)
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Actually, this is a terrible running city. I include it here not because it’s one of my favorites but because it’s certainly one of the most memorable. In Saigon, as most people call the city, the traffic consists of literally hundreds of thousands of motorbikes that are largely unlicensed and seemingly unpoliced. Your best bet for running in Saigon is to head for the river, where your chances of being hit by a motorbike fall to a more reasonable 50%. Watch this video to get an idea of what it’s like.
Tema, Ghana – The last country I lived in before returning to the U.S. was Ghana, and I spent the last three weeks of our three month stay there without a job. My replacement in the charity I worked for had arrived and taken over during that time, so I attended meetings in the morning but was usually free in the afternoons. I began the initial training for my first marathon in Tema, running 6-10 miles at a time twice a week outside the port. It was beautiful, and it was hot—but I usually didn’t mind. I had a lot on my mind then, and it was good to spend time outside in the late afternoons to process it all.
After the time in Ghana and some traveling in Southern Africa, I moved to…
Seattle, Washington – My city of residence for more than two years before coming to Portland, I trained for the Seattle Marathon by running around Green Lake during the week and all around the city for long runs on weekends. There are rumors that it rains a lot in Seattle, and a lot of time I didn’t mind it… but when I ran for two hours at a time and it never stopped raining, I started feeling like I’d be better off inside. After finishing, though, I always felt better about myself for sticking it out.
When I travel now, I take running shoes with me even though they take up a lot of space in my small carry-on bag.
I’ve also run in Singapore, Vienna, Brunei, Amsterdam, Guayaquil, Auckland, Phnom Penh, and the list could go on a while.
In Warsaw I had a great two-hour run, only to return to my hotel and realize I had made a big mistake on my upcoming travel plans.
In Benin I ran for half an hour after calling my dad on Father’s Day, leaving coins along the street as I went.
In Pakistan I ran 10k around a track the hotel had installed on the property in a guarded parking lot. It felt a little surreal.
In Bangladesh I wanted to run outside, but the seven million people walking around the dense city made me think twice about that idea.
Most of my serious running (well, somewhat serious – I’m definitely not an ultrarunner) takes place at home, because it’s hard to run more than six miles at a time when I’m bouncing around countries on a typical trip. I still enjoy the shorter runs from place to place, and running helps me experience a new place from a different perspective.
My next trip at the end of August will take me to Bhutan, where visitors are expected to be accompanied by a guide for most of their in-country experience. If that turns out to be true, I hope the guide is prepared to do some running! The pair of running shoes I take with me on trips is already in the bag.
Iranian Runner Image by Hamed Saber