Vacation! Get Away Without Throwing Your Training Away

imageYou cross the days off of your calendar in anticipation. You start to pack, make a list of things you need to pick up at the store, and begin to plan each day’s activities. If you’re going to the beach or some place warm, your bag is probably pretty empty; flip-flops and bikinis don’t take up too much space … unless you’re a runner. If you’re a runner, half of your suitcase has been taken over with sports bras, shorts, water bottles, a watch, and those suitcase space hogs otherwise known as running shoes. Your friends and family ask, how much running are you really going to do? Can’t you just chill out for once and enjoy your trip?

Vacations are a time to relax and rejuvenate, so you may think it’s not worth worrying about getting all your miles in. If you are cool with taking a break, by all means do it. But if your vacation falls in the middle of your training cycle, how do you get in your runs without it being stressful, a burden, or causing strife between you and those you are traveling with?

The week before I left for the Outerbanks, I sat down with my training plan and my vacation schedule. I took a realistic look at what I needed and what I wanted to do, but with a keen understanding that neither might line up with what I would actually be able to do on vacation. I rearranged my long runs so that I would get them done before and after our trip. I decided to do some speed work when we were staying at a hotel with a treadmill and to do easy runs when I didn’t have access to a treadmill. I didn’t plan a run the morning we were to travel back home, because I knew I wouldn’t get up early enough. I planned and rearranged, but I also planned to miss a couple of runs and I was ok with that.

However, this was my most recent vacation. It’s taken me many years and many vacations to gain the self-awareness and experience to know what I can and can’t expect to do on vacation. So what have I learned that can help you continue training on your next adventure?

When to Run

My best advice would be to plan on running in the morning. Temperatures are usually cooler, traffic is lighter and the sun is less intense in the early morning hours. Getting up early can be a bummer, but I’ve found once I’ve started doing something fun for the day, I rarely want to step away to get my run in.

You also need to consider your family and travel companions’ habits.  Even the most supportive friends and family will find your running annoying at some point, especially if it’s not part of their daily routine. I never want to find myself in a situation where people are waiting on me to finish running so that they can start a group activity. When your travel companions are likely to take down time is a good time to plan to run. Are they early risers who expect the day’s adventure to start promptly at 7:00 a.m.? Perhaps you should plan to run at night then. Do your travel companions like to party ’til the sun comes up? Cut out early and get your run in before they roll out of bed in the morning. Do you have small children that need to nap? Nap time can be a great time to squeeze in a run.

Where to run

As with any time you travel, doing a little research on running options for your vacation destination is key. A great place to start is to contact a local running store and see if they have any group runs or if they can direct you to a local running group. I’ll also search for a local race that I can run. But keep in mind, a lot of vacation spots are not exactly hot spots for endurance athletes; what some people think is running friendly for a vacation resort, might not be running friendly for someone who’s actually looking to get in some quality time on her feet.

We took our family to Disney World a few years ago and stayed at one of the main hotels. It was a great location for getting to Magic Kingdom and it had signs with a little Mickey mouse in running gear boasting about a running route around the hotel. That “running” route was about a mile long walkway paved with brick and full of people with giant strollers. I was disappointed and frustrated that I didn’t have a better option. (Although with the amount of miles you walk at Disney, I probably could have just skipped my runs for the week.) The hotel gym had a decent treadmill, so I did the rest of my runs there.

In most beach towns, you can often find a road that has a big enough shoulder for runners and walkers.  You need to be careful and alert here because the speed limits might be high and people driving are usually pretty relaxed and not super focused on the road or expecting runners. (Remember a lot of people think it’s absurd to exercise while on vacation.)  If you are somewhere with lots of side streets, explore those. You’ll usually find interesting local neighborhoods to look at and you can add on mileage without having to get too far from your hotel.

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The coconut chase 8k was a fun way to get some miles in while we were in Hawaii

Hydration

In most cases, vacation means running in the heat, so it is especially important to remember to hydrate. Actually, vacation also often means drinking a lot of alcohol, flying on an airplane filled with dry air, baking in the sun, and generally being off our schedules. I recommend bringing a small handheld water bottle with you or scope out routes near public parks, which usually have water fountains. I’ve also found that gas stations and subway restaurants often have a self serve fountain drink machine that has a tab for water. Be sure to ask for permission, but they are usually alright with letting you refill.

Specific Workouts

The one thing I always tell myself is to focus on getting some miles in over worrying too much about the quality of them. Sometimes though, I try to squeeze in a long run or some speed work.

Long Runs 

I’ve run long a few times on vacation. Solo long runs are hard enough when you know where you’re going, so scope out your route first in a car if possible. See if you can find a five-mile stretch that looks fairly safe or shaded. I think it’s better to run the same area several times than it is to get too far out and not be able to get back. Look for routes where you can get water. Also, take a phone with you, even if you hate taking your phone with you. If you get lost you can pull up a map, or if you get too hot or find yourself lost in a sketchy area you can call for a ride. Also, shove a few dollars in your pocket. You may not be able to find a water fountain, but you’ll usually pass by a store that will gladly sell you water.

Speed Work

Fartleks are perfect for vacation. Will you hit the pace you would on the track? Probably not, but you’re getting in a little quality work. Don’t get hung up on the fact that you don’t have a track or a treadmill.  Do the best with what you’ve got. If you have to get in a quality workout and have access to a treadmill, that’s always a great option, and one I’ve used many times.

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Cross Training

Whether you cross train regularly or not, consider it on vacation, especially if it works as double-duty as a fun vacation activity you can do with your non-running loved ones. One day in the Outerbanks I skipped my run to go to a 90 minute yoga class with my sister. No, it wasn’t running, but it was still a great workout. We also did some kayaking and some stand up paddleboarding. You might be surprised to remember that there are a million other ways to get your body moving than running. Also, it’s possible to do an entire cross training workout with little to no equipment. We drove to vacation, so I had the luxury of space. I brought a yoga mat, a set of 12 pound weights, and some bands and put together a workout that kicked my butt.

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The key thing to remember is to make a flexible plan.  We need a vacation from our daily lives and we need a vacation from our running regime sometime.  There’s nothing wrong with getting your workouts in, just make sure you are safe, think outside the box and don’t sweat it if you miss a run or two.

Do you have any tips for running on vacation? How do you handle it?

I'm a running mom of two little girls, who is busy balancing life, work and marathon training. It's always training season for me because I'm on a quest to run a marathon in every state, while constantly striving to be the best runner I can be. Running has led me to some great adventures and I always have a good story to share!

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8 comments

  1. I love running on vacation! I always have more running clothes packed than regular clothes and have learned to wear my running shoes to the airport if we’re flying to makes space in the suitcase. Vacation is also the only time i run with my phone. Our last few trips we’ve stayed in airBNBs. I ask potential hosts lots of questions about running and that always a huge factor on which place we ultimately choose. Luckily I’m a super early riser, so I can get runs in before everyone else is awake and ready to go. We’re going away for a few days this weekend, this is the first time that I’m training though. I carefully laid out my runs for the few days we’re gone, leaving the hard stuff for before/after.

  2. Great post! I just got back from 2 weeks on the road with my family and managed to run on 7 of the 11 days we were travelling. I skipped our big driving days, because I knew we wanted to hit the road early, and didn’t want to hold everyone up for me. Like you recommended, I did a mid-week long run on the day before we left, and another long run the morning after we returned (I was so ready for some time away from my family!). I even managed to do some core work in the hotels on the rest days – no equipment needed! I didn’t get in as much mileage as my marathon training plan called for, but I was pleased with the amount I managed to maintain.

  3. The time I asked my coach how to handle Disney with two kids without my husband and he said “you’ll just have to wake up and get it done early.” Uh … I managed to run twice in the 5 days we were at Disneyland (I did figure 8s around the park. I wouldn’t venture much beyond that in Anaheim, personally) and it was fine during the late afternoon in the spring. Not too many strollers, etc.

    But yeah, some vacations are almost impossible to squeeze a run in. The best thing to do is keep an open mind and be happy to get in what you can whatever it is!

  4. Research IS key! My travel companion and good friend almost killed me when I didn’t return from a 3 mile run until 3 hours later (it wound up being 9 miles) because I was completely lost in the outer neighborhoods of Rome and couldn’t figure out where the F i was! You are soooooo right about how it’s better to do loops than it is to go out too far!

  5. We vacationed in the Outer Banks last week and I was proud of myself for logging 29 miles. It was challenging to say the least. Each day I ran, the temperatures where close to 80 or above and the humidity 90-95% by 5:00 am. I saw it as good training. If I could run well in those conditions, fall races will be a breeze! I also found a local 5k that turned out to be so fun!! Fantastic swag! I met some really nice people and the route was absolutely gorgeous! Like Mina mentioned above, I honestly packed more running gear and work out clothes then regular ones. I found a really nice local gym about 10 minutes down the road and went there for two days of cross training.

  6. I love to run whenever I travel for vacation or work. I like to think I’m “collecting” GPS tracks in different locations. I like to use Strava heat maps and routes on map my run to pick where to run. I’ll also use satellite view on Google maps to figure out which roads have sidewalks or decent shoulders.

  7. I read this last week while on vacation and found it super helpful to encourage me to just relax and let things be. If I could get a quality run in that was great, but if I couldn’t, I didn’t fret.

    I agree with Megan. Strava heat maps are a great way to find good running routes!