Vacation Running: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (But Mostly The Good)

The view from the top of a hill in Guajome Regional Park near Oceanside, California.

Last Tuesday, my family flew to Southern California, kickstarting a week-long summer vacation. Though the word “vacation” implies a relaxing hiatus from reality, collegiate runners in early August can’t escape pre-season workouts. Shoot.

However, running is personally one of my favorite parts of vacation, as I mentioned in an earlier post, and experiencing God’s creation in new areas is always a blessing.

Of course, I wrote said post way back in March, when I hadn’t traveled in awhile. I had forgotten that — like many other things — running on vacation has its pros and cons:

PRO: You don’t know where you’re going. On several of my go-to routes in Sioux Falls and Lincoln, I know the path so well that I end up staring at my watch for nearly the entire run. Instead of focusing on my surroundings, I concentrate on the distance I have covered, the pace at which I’m running and whether or not these factors are “acceptable.” However, when I run in new places, novel stimuli direct my attention away from my watch and toward exciting, beautiful scenery; I never know what I’ll run into next! And, when my attention is on God’s creation, the miles feel short.

View of a mountain at Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

CON: You don’t know where you’re going. Of course, getting lost is easy when exploring new areas. Since the odds of getting lost are high (especially for directionally-challenged people like myself), I wear a phone armband on vacation runs. Though carrying my phone in new areas is smart, my arm often feels heavier and sweatier as a result. Also, I never know whether the next mile is shady, sunny, hilly, flat or infested with rattlesnakes (though the latter has never been the case).

A year ago, I got lost in Colorado after falling down twice on a running trail. Thank Jesus for the “send my location” feature on iMessage!

PRO: Waking up for morning runs is easier. This week, I jumped from Central Time to Pacific Time — one of the most underrated blessings of traveling. At the beginning of the week, I naturally woke up at 6:30, feeling upbeat and refreshed.

CON: …until you actually adjust to the time zone. All good things must come to an end. I am now fully adjusted to Pacific Time, so waking up for early morning runs is just as difficult as it was before vacation.

PRO: You become a master packer. Runners need to squish twice as many outfits in a suitcase as non-runners do if they are planning on running every day of vacation. This challenge stretches runners’ creativity and critical thinking skills, as they master the complex art of packing.

I almost had enough room for Moki…almost…

CON: You’re tired from the previous day’s activities. Generally, my family enjoys planning multiple activities in a short span of time. Though I am always on board with this mindset, our vacation schedule thus requires A LOT of time on our feet. Adjusting to city walking is difficult, especially for Midwest natives like myself who enjoy sitting. After 11 hours at Universal Studios, adventures down Hollywood Boulevard and long strolls at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, my legs felt gelatinous in the morning.

Smiling because I didn’t know how tiring my easy three-mile run would feel the next morning.

PRO: You become a local. Arguably the greatest perk of running on vacation is the opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture. At beaches, museums and theme parks, you’re a tourist. On the trails, you’re a local. Yesterday at Griffith Park, I saw high school cross country teams practicing around the same loop on which I was running. Ultimately, the trail my family chose was recommended by a man working at the local running store; we knew the park was a go-to spot for both visitors and Los Angeles natives. Near Oceanside, Guajome Regional Park was still and peaceful — a quiet escape from life as a tourist. There, we received advice from a coach who was simultaneously watching her two kids and administering a workout; she gave us crucial tips for not getting lost on the trails.

Running in unfamiliar places is always an adventure with unexpected highs and lows (literally and metaphorically). Still, I adore the exploring; the endorphin flood I receive from vacation running and rediscovering God’s beauty deeply satisfies my soul.

The view from a Griffith Park hiking trail.

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