Running Away From Home

Run from April 10, 2014

One of the best things about running is how portable it is. Bring your shoes and your running gear with you and you can run practically anywhere, even when you’re away from home. I started running while traveling for work and vacation a few years ago and these out-of-town runs have a special quality all their own.

This morning I ran in Madrid, Spain for the first time. I realized while running that I’ve worked out a sort of formula for these runs that is different than you might expect so I thought I’d write about it here. This is a mixture of practical and safety ideas about how I approach running while on the road, especially in Europe, where I am lucky enough to go a couple of times a year for work.

In terms of safety, if you read general instructions on running while traveling, they will inevitably tell you two things. First, tell someone where you are going. Second, tell someone when you will be back. I have found neither of these terribly easy to follow. It’s almost impossible to predict your route in a foreign city and if I’m alone, I don’t have anyone to tell when I’ll be back. If I have a roommate, I certainly let her know. Otherwise, I sometimes tell the concierge, but I also sometimes just go.

I do have my own collection of rules for running safely, however. I always carry my phone. I always carry my passport when running outside the United States and my driver’s license when running in the United States. I always carry enough money for a taxi back to the hotel and the hotel’s address. The address of the hotel is a surprisingly easy thing to forget. I always carry a map. Carrying all this stuff means I have to remember to bring my fuel belt with me on the trip. I trust my instincts. If a neighborhood looks at all dodgy, I avoid it. Finally, I always tell myself that I will get a Road ID first thing when I return home, but I have yet to follow this rule. Maybe this public confession will shame me into it.

I actually fear getting lost enormously more than I fear getting attacked if I’m running away from home. I carry a map, but it is sometimes the crappy tourist map available at the train station or the hotel that doesn’t have all the street names written on it. And, while it would be great to follow a planned route, that almost never works. Roads that look great on the map in the hotel room turn out to be horrible in person. Side streets and intriguing buildings prove too compelling to ignore. This morning I realized I have a different strategy. I plan a general route by looking at major landmarks and larger streets. Then when I’m running, I focus on remembering which direction I’m heading in. I do not have a naturally brilliant sense of direction, but it’s surprising how well I do when I am relying on myself to get me back to my accommodations.

In Madrid, I started by running west from our apartment. I stuck to the major streets partly to avoid getting lost and partly because Madrid seems to be a city of large significant buildings rather than twisty tiny streets. I was also able to go early in the morning. Running in a city in the early morning is a wonderful way to get a glimpse of a place. Not only is there much less traffic, but I always see people heading to work or taking their kids to school. I love to see the city waking up.


I turned and tried to head north, but that only worked for a few blocks so I went east instead. When I’m running in Europe, I always look for either waterways or parks. That is where the other runners will be. There weren’t any major rivers in Madrid so I headed east to the Buen Retiro Park. Sure enough, it was filled with runners. I ran north up the side of the park and felt like yes, if I lived here, I’d come run in this park! It was lovely. FLOWERS! It’s been a rough winter in Connecticut and I felt like my body and soul were slurping up all the warm air they could get. I tried to imagine what the Spanish runners were up to. Were some of them training for a race? Did they meet their friends for a morning run like I do?



Then I ran back west and the short distance south to the apartment I had rented with a friend. I ended up doing my planned route backwards, but it helped a lot to know things like the names and directions of the major streets and the location of the park.



Just before stopping, I checked out the early morning scene at the Plaza Mayor. Hard to believe how busy this place gets later in the day. Nothing but delivery trucks at 8am.



Two additional rules I generally follow when running away from home: run for time, not distance or pace and take as many pictures as you want. Because I often don’t know exactly where I’m going, I spend a fair bit of time on these runs looking at the map. If it wasn’t clear by now, I am very careful not to get lost! Also, these runs take me places I’ve never gone before and may never go again. If I see something interesting, I will stop to take a picture or run down a side street to get a closer look. I generally run early in the morning so if I’m on vacation with my family, I can find things that are fun to do together later in the day. You cover ground a lot more quickly running than walking so I can get the lay of the land pretty quickly. All that looking at the map also means that by later in the day, when it’s time to play tourist, I can generally find my way around pretty well.

If you’re reading this and thinking I’m really brave for running alone in foreign cities, don’t get the wrong idea. There are some things I don’t do when running away from home as well. I don’t run at night. I don’t run in neighborhoods that feel at all uncomfortable or even isolated. My best traveling runs are in Western Europe where the cities are extremely safe, but I’ve seen some great stuff in the United States as well, just being a bit more cautious about where I go.

In summary, things I take along:

Phone, map, money, identification, hotel name and address

Rules to follow:

Try to tell someone more or less where you’re going and when you’ll be back

If you feel at all uncomfortable, go somewhere else

Plan an approximate route ahead of time – this will also force you to study the map

Look for waterways and parks. These are havens for fellow runners!

Run for time, not distance or pace

Take lots of pictures and explore interesting side streets!

Even when running away from home, don’t forget to ice what ails you when you’re done




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3 Responses to Running Away From Home

  1. That whiny Florida bitch with the busted up hip says:

    Great posts Sarah!
    I have just decided you need to lobby the Travel ?Channel to have you host a show about running around the world.! Perfect read for my morning Joe!

  2. I wish I had been a runner when I was studying abroad. This makes me miss traveling SO much! Gorgeous pictures!!

  3. Again, awesome pictures. What an amazing trip you had!

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