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How to run on holiday (and still enjoy your holiday!)

Updated: Jul 17, 2022

How often have you signed up for a race, maybe even a really big one, but then nearer the time you realise you’ve got a holiday right slap bang in the middle of your training plan? As recreational runners, holidays are just one of the many challenges to fit into our running lives. Most runners will pop out for a run three to four times a week, so even just a long weekend a way might knock a dent in that regime.

For many years, I didn’t run when I went away, it just seemed too complicated, and I thought it would get in the way of fun holiday plans. My running gear would take up space in my suitcase and if I was with my partner and my friends, it took me away from the action. It still does all of those things, but now it’s worth it and I definitely don’t regret it.

If you’re training for a race it might feel more of a necessity than a luxury to run on holiday but it could be even more important to squeeze it in, so here’s my tips on how to do it well:

#1. Plan Your Routes Ahead

This might seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people just think you can pop on your trainers and just ‘run’. You can, but it might get frustrating relativity quickly, not only could you get lost, but more likely you’ll come across roads or paths you can’t run along, or they’ll be so busy with people that you can’t run at all. Look on Strava or other similar route planners to see where other runners go for a run. Strava Heat Maps are particularly useful for this. Also, if someone has created a Strava segment, you know at least someone is running up there pretty often. I always plot a route beforehand and then check it on Google Streetview to see what the terrain and surrounding area is like. If you know you’ve got a specific distance to run, then you can plot the whole route in advance and even send it to your phone or watch. Very simply you can also simply google ‘running route in x’ and see what comes up. In the big western cities there are nearly always good running routes along rivers and sometimes they’re are often marked out running routes such as Hudson River Greenway in New York City which is 31 miles long. It’s invaluable in a city with only one big park and traffic lights every few metres that make pavement running frustrating. In smaller places, I’ve found myself running along roads without pavements quite a bit. As long as the road isn’t too busy and you face the oncoming traffic, it’s doable, just keep your wits about you and don’t run at night on unlit roads with no pavements.

#2 – Adapt to the Conditions

Not only do you need to think about where you might run but you also need to think about when and how. If it’s going to be hot, then running in the middle of day might not be a good idea. Getting up early on holiday might be a good way to beat the heat, but might not be something you want to do after some late night karaoke and disco in the hotel bar. I tend to factor in a few early nights in return for some memorable early morning runs. Don’t forget to check sunrise times. Running in the dark might be fine where you are, but in an unfamiliar place, you might prefer to run in daylight so that means hitting the road no earlier than 30 minutes before sunrise – which is surprisingly late as you get closer to the equator. Don’t also forget to think about hydration, a hat and sunscreen, as required. I’ve been up for a run at sunrise in Greece in July and within half an hour it was 35 degrees and baking!

#3 – Be Realistic

If you’ve got a two-week beach holiday in a hot location or an action-packed sight-seeing jaunt, are you really going to have time to fit in those two mega long marathon training runs, two track sessions and three tempo sessions? Maybe this is an opportunity to factor a cut-back week (or two) and use it as an opportunity to rest and recover. You might find that you’re doing plenty more walking than you would normally do at home, which is great ‘time on your feet’ training. If you’d normally run three times a week, is running once or twice a week on holiday really going to have a massive impact on your training? Only you will know, but holidays are meant to be a rest (of mind and body) after all. If you’re training for that big race ahead and you’re determined to stick to your plan, then you might still be able to do that with some simple adaptation. You might find that all your costal road options are littered with steep hills. Perhaps your long run can be a shorter in distance fartlek session but with some hill training included? Or maybe one of those hills can be a replacement for that missed track interval session? I once did hill repeats on the busy footpath from the beach up to our hotel in the early evening because it was the perfect hill for training. You can imagine the reaction from the other hotel guests. It was a mixture of admiration and ‘you must be mad’!

#4 – Go Exploring

I started running on business trips before I started running on holidays. Often waking up early in a foreign city, frequently with jet lag, it became a really great way to start the day and see a bit of a city that I otherwise wouldn’t see from inside a hotel or conference centre. I’ve often come back from a run with a collection of bars and restaurant recommendations for my colleagues that I’ve spotted along my route. I enjoy seeing the locals going about their morning business, even if sometimes they look at me a little strangely. Just as if you were exploring by foot, use your common sense; I tell someone I’m going for run and wear my ICE band (In Case of Emergencies). Running when I’m away is also the only time I run with my phone so I can stop and take photos. Some of my holiday photos are from when I’m out running, I seem to see the best things on those runs.

#5 – Don’t Run on the Beach

Non-runners always assume if I go out for a run on a summer holiday then I’ll run along the beach. If anyone has ever tried it they would know it’s a complete waste of time. There are few beaches in the world that are really long enough to get a decent length in before you have to turn around. If you’re lucky enough to be one of those you still have to find the perfect bit of sand that isn’t too soft or too wet that you just sink right in. And there is often a camber to deal with too. And people, walking along in that exact bit that is just about okay to run along. So unless you just want to try it for a bit of fun, don’t even bother running along the beach.

#6 – Hit the Gym

I’ve used hotel gyms more and more frequently when I’m away and they are really handy. I’ve jumped on the treadmill during a snowstorm in New York, when running outside was completely impossible, and I was panicking about my marathon training. I’ve also done a treadmill tempo session in an airconditioned gym in the middle of the day, when it was 30 degrees in the shade outside. Now I always look for a gym in the hotel, or one I can use locally, if I’m going away. Lately, I’ve used hotel gyms for strength and conditioning work, something that is often difficult to fit in at home. Recently, on a short break in Crete I lifted some weights in the most architecturally pleasing gym I’ve ever been in, and with a great view to boot.

#7 – Consider Using a Local Track

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I quite like holidaying in Greece. This is entirely down to all the usual draws such as weather, food, people, sights but there is one additional benefit – athletic tracks are commonplace in the country that founded the Olympics. Most of the regular tourist islands have them and they are free for everyone to use. Keep in mind that just like the tracks at home, they have fixed opening hours and it may mean running in the heat, but a short and sharp track session in the warmth is fun and memorable. Make sure you know what session you are going to do ahead of time, be realistic about the heat and bring water. But even outside of Greece, it can be worth enquiring about tracks, most countries have them and many have a pay-per-visit system. Recently, in the Spain I used a very local and very high-quality local facility for just €2. In snowy regions, they are maintained and cleared when the streets might not be, and they can be a safe way to run fast in otherwise busy parks and roads.

#8 Check out Local Running Groups

I confess, I’ve never done this. Probably, because I’m lucky that I have a partner who also runs so we often run together, or at least support each other (because one of us is often injured!) However, I know many that have done this, and it’s a great way to meet local runners and get a bit of sightseeing in too. You may also get some advice about additional running routes in the area. Many of them finish with the ubiquitous coffee and cake. A former running club teammate has set up Running Ibiza in Ibiza Town so if you’re heading that way, check it out for group runs and running tours.

#9 Include a parkrun

My running week always includes parkrun. It’s the best start to the weekend and it’s one of the few things I miss when I go on holiday. Which is why, whenever I can, I try and keep my Saturday parkrun habit, even when I’m away. Whilst there is a glorious abundance of UK parkruns, there are even quite a few parkruns outside the UK. I’ve done a parkrun in Ireland and even managed to squeeze one in during a Paris short break (I made a video, if you want to see what it was like). In fact, I know quite a few people who plan their holidays around a parkrun tourism. Including someone who planned a holiday to Brisbane, Australia, just to do Zillmere parkrun and tick the letter Z off their list. I hear the one across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is a must-do. So, it’s worth checking if there is a local parkrun if you’re heading off, especially in the UK, as you still be doing something touristy and getting 5K in the bag.

I hope you find those tips useful. Do get in touch/comment below if you want more detail or have thought of a holiday run challenge I haven’t covered. I’m currently London Marathon training and just back from nine days in Spain. I managed three runs (one 18K long run, one undulating easy-ish 10k run and an interval track session). I skipped a couple of shorter runs, and I didn’t make it to the gym as planned, but I’m still pretty pleased with myself. And I don’t feel quite so bad about all the ice creams I managed to consume!

As for my injuries – well, the hip/TFL ache is almost non-existent, which I’m pretty pleased about. But it’s been replaced by not one, not two, but three new problems. I hinted at some heel pain in a previous blog and that has morphed into full-blown plantar fasciitis. This is disappointing, never mind sore (!) but it’s not the first time I’ve had it and not the first time I’ve trained for and ran a marathon with it. So I’m doing all the stretching, massaging and calf raises all over again and I’m trying shock wave therapy on it soon.

My second injury issue is also not new to me. My long-suffering left ankle (two surgeries and zillions of lost runs) is flaring up. A bit. So far, it’s only hurting after long runs and I’m massaging ibuprofen gel into it and hoping for the best. The final problem, and one that I’m starting to get a bit worried about is my right hamstring. Actually, also not new, it’s something that hasn’t niggled for a long time but something that can rear up when I increase my mileage. I would have hoped that the strength work I’d been doing in the gym might have avoided this, but I suppose I’ve been doing a lot of work a bit more targeted on the glutes. I will try some more hamstring stuff this week and see what the physio says.

I’m now four weeks into marathon training and haven’t missed a session due to injury - yet. I don’t feel 100%, but I do feel myself getting stronger and fitter. It’s like walking a metaphorical tightrope, staying carefully on the line, but at any moment something can knock you off into the abyss. For now, I’m holding steady and staying focused.

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If you have the premium Strava then Routes seems pretty reliable. I’ve used it a dozen or so times when I’m in unfamiliar places and it’s always given me a usable route and sometimes taken me to really interesting paths. You just stick in how far you want to run and it gives you a few options. The real time navigation isn‘t great (there are no prompts, as far as I know) but you can’t have everything, right?

Replying to

Thanks Andrew! I do use Strava Premium but never figured out to get it to work out a route for me. I've definitely found it a bit annoying at times too whilst being fully aware that I'm not using it to it's full potential. Great that it can do that so I will try and use it better! Really helpful thanks. And thanks for reading 😀

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