OK, so maybe Johnny Cash wasn’t doing too much running in all of those cities he sings about, but sometimes I feel like I might be able to give him a run for his money in terms of the amount of traveling I do! As a graduate student, I often find myself spending significant stretches of time on the road. It might be a conference in San Francisco for a week, or 2-3 weeks of field work in a more remote location, but regardless of the location, I struggle with the concept of how I’m going to motivate myself to get in a few runs. Running while on the road is hard for a lot of people. You have to shove your running gear into an already-cramped suitcase, potentially navigate an unfamiliar city on foot, and, the most difficult part, break yourself out of conference-/fieldwork-/vacation-/whatever-mode long enough to log some miles.
Of course, when I start a trip, my brain knows that I would regret missing out on a week or more of running because of the negative impact it would have on the progress I’ve made. However, try telling that to me after I’ve spent a day on my feet at a conference or sucked down a few daiquiris poolside and I would bet my brain will have forgotten that I ever wanted to run at all during my trip. Added to that is the fact that I’m typically a fairly casual runner, even when I’m at home. That’s not to say that I don’t try to push myself to increase my mileage or speed, but I don’t necessarily stick to a very strict schedule. I run when I feel like it and I run to enjoy myself. Because I run with a partner, and will run with him on days I wouldn’t necessarily want to run on myself, I manage to get a decent number of runs in during the week between the ones we go on for me and the ones we go on for Steven.
What happens when I’m without my partner, though, and out of town? Well, like many of you, I’ve had my failures and my successes, even in the short time since I started my running journey this past May. Motivation became a big problem for me when I spent 3 weeks away from home in July/August of this past summer doing field work, visiting family, and taking a class trip to Yellowstone. While I didn’t go totally run-free during that trip, I think I only managed to get in about 5 runs. This was very low for me, considering I was running 4-5 times in a single week in the time leading up to the trip. In addition, the majority of those runs were completed during the week in the middle of my trip that I spent at my parent’s house, and I didn’t run at all while I was doing fieldwork my first week.
The main problem for me, both while doing fieldwork and in Yellowstone, was trying to convince myself to run after spending all day hiking around. We were also in the mountains, meaning that I was at much higher elevations than I am used to, making running a bit more taxing for me physically (I know–excuses, excuses!). Because there was no option for me to take it easier during the day on those days that I wanted to run, the best solution would have been to run first thing in the morning, before I had time to make any excuses about being tired. However, I’ve never been much of a morning-person when it comes to running. I tend to feel better when I run in the afternoon. Needless to say, that’s why this part of the post is about a time when I failed to motivate myself while traveling!
The time now comes to ask myself, “What could I have done differently and what did I learn from this experience that I can apply to future trips?” First, for situations like this where I will be doing a lot of physical activity during the day, I should probably try to get over my aversion to running first thing in the morning. One way to do this is to add a few morning runs to my running routine at home, so that it does not feel so unusual when I travel. I should also learn to accept that in travel situations, it is OK to back off a little on distance or frequency. I always want running to be fun and my source of stress-relief, not the cause of stress! The fact that I was getting in quite a bit of physical activity, even though it wasn’t in the form of running, meant that I did not experience that significant of a setback when I returned to my normal schedule at home. Finally, chances are that if you are traveling in a group, one or more people in that group are also runners. Such was the case when I was in Yellowstone. I greatly admired my friend’s determination to stick with her running routine. She ran almost every day, whether it was getting up early in the morning, or squeezing in a run during down-time in the afternoon. I definitely should’ve have taken advantage of this more and joined her more often than the one time I tagged along on one of her morning runs. She is a much more experienced (and faster!) runner than I am, so I was a little worried about slowing her down, but I shouldn’t have let this stop me. All of the runners I’ve met, my friend included, are more than happy to help out a fellow runner, so don’t let yourself be embarrassed to ask if you can join them!
Currently, I am at a conference in the Bay Area and I’m getting a chance to apply some of the lessons I learned this summer. This time, I feel like I’ve been much more successful at staying motivated, but, of course, there are still a few things I’ve had to work to overcome. I have been spending a lot of time on my feet at the conference (>16,000 steps on my first day, according to Fitbit!), but I’m still choosing to do my runs in the afternoon. I find that running is a really great way to clear my head after a day of cramming science into it. Another struggle has been resisting the urge to eat a bunch of really rich food for breakfast and lunch on the days that I run (but there are so many delicious restaurants here!). As you probably all know, it’s very easy to throw your diet and healthy eating out the window when you travel. It’s also very hard to convince yourself to run when you have a belly full of steak and caesar salad (yeah, that’s right, I ate that for lunch)! As Steven has mentioned in previous posts, this is where data logging has become my best friend. I’m much more aware of what I’m eating, including the calories, fat, carbs, etc. when I have to input it into the Fitbit website every day. Overall, I’m finding that if I look at running as a fun, relaxing activity that I can do to explore more of a new city, it means that running remains less of a chore and more of a treat at the end of the day. Running also brings a modicum of familiarity to my daily routine when I’m traveling, so I don’t feel like I’ve been totally derailed when I return home.
Now to you, readers: how do you keep yourself motivated to run while you’re traveling? What about if you’re already doing a lot of physical activity on your trip–do you skip your runs altogether or do you just lower your frequency/mileage? Post any tips you might have in the comment section!
Meagan is a geochemistry research lab manager, runner, Netflix binge-watcher, and Mom to a rescue dog, a bunny, and a human child. She started running in May 2011 and ran her first half marathon in October 2012, followed by her first marathon in October 2013. In July 2018, she joined the triathlon world and completed an Olympic-distance race. After an extended break (pregnancy/maternity leave), she is making a long-overdue return to running and is preparing for a high-elevation half marathon at Crater Lake National Park in August 2020.