Headsweats Ambassador Jeff Stein proves it’s possible to maintain your training no matter where life takes you.
When I learned I had been accepted to a three-month fellowship program in the West Bank, I wondered what those three months would mean for my training. As an elite marathoner averaging 110+-mile weeks, I was worried that the unfamiliar routes, hot climate, and unavailability of energy and hydration products (not to mention prevalence of Israeli military checkpoints) would interfere with my training. At the same time, I was anxious that the time I would spend running would cause me to “miss out” on some of the experiences of living abroad. Looking back, the training I did in the West Bank was some of the highest quality running I have ever done. And, instead of detracting from the experience of living abroad, running actually enhanced my ability to sight-see, meet local residents, immerse myself in the culture, and generally enjoy my time living abroad. When done right, training and travelling can be mutually complementary. To maximize both the efficacy of your raining and enjoyment of your travelling, keep these three thoughts in mind:
- Bring the right gear. Whether cold or hot, you’ll want headwear. My Headsweats race hat shielded me from the oppressive sun in the Jordanian desert as well as it did from the chilling rain in Iceland and, before that, the ferocious flies in Nicaragua. You’ll also want some sort of race belt to carry a water bottle (I use a zippered FlipBelt), a passport photocopy, and some money. You don’t ever want to be stranded in a foreign country without those. Finally, wear a watch, ideally with GPS. When running through new areas, measuring distances can be challenging. A GPS-enabled watch will liberate you to wander and explore beyond a rigid, pre-mapped route, without undermining your ability to tabulate your mileage. Once you’re properly equipped, you can travel farther, faster, and more independently than walking or touring around by conventional means.
- Find a friend. Nearly every community in the world has at least some runners, even if running is not a mainstay in the local culture. Approach people and ask around about running groups and where (or where not) to run. You will be surprised how often you will uncover links to the local running scene. And, even if you don’t, those questions are conversation-starters. You may even end up making a local friend. If talking to strangers is not your style, you can try free online networks like Strava and MapMyRun, which have helpful information about routes that others have tried all over the globe. And, of course, there’s always Google.
- Use local fuel. One of my favorite perks of running is that it allows me to follow my stomach, wherever it may lead. Incidentally, my favorite part of travelling is trying local cuisines. Take advantage of training while travelling to fuel yourself with what the actual residents eat. It’s fine to bring some of your preferred energy/hydration foods “just in case” (I brought a few packs of Nuun tablets and Honey Stinger waffles), but virtually all societies have their own foods that will meet your in-training caloric and nutritional needs. In the West Bank, I lived off of fresh pita, hummus, eggs (with the most vibrant yokes I’ve ever seen), cheese, and locally farmed vegetables. During workouts, I downed dates. Afterwards, I rehydrated with copious quantities of watermelon. Local foods are not only cheaper—they are an excellent way to consume local culture.
While training in the West Bank I accomplished some of the highest quality workouts of my career. I left the region healthier, more relaxed, and in better shape than I was when I arrived. Meanwhile, running opened up doors that would have been otherwise closed to me. I literally ran into a Palestinian athlete who became my training partner and ultimately invited me into his home for a Ramadan break-fast. My long runs through Ramallah familiarized me with the town and its environs to the point that I can now give directions like a local. During a mystical 10-mile run through the Lost City of Petra in Jordan, I saw more ancient ruins in a single day than would have been possible by simply walking through. And, perhaps most importantly, keeping up my training enabled me to devour as much delicious local food as my heart (and stomach) desired.
As I learned in the West Bank, you don’t need to sacrifice your training to travel. Do both. Life is too short to shortchange either one.