I wasn’t born a runner. I never even tried until I was in my late teens, and the bug never truly bit until I was in my early twenties.
Now, I could wax lyrical about why I love to run, but that isn’t what you’ve come here to read about. Instead, I’d like to share why I run when I’m away.
Running is part of our routine when we’re away. The way we shape our trips has evolved over time, but somehow carving out half an hour or an hour, early in the morning, seems to have become a constant.
There’s a certain magic to being up and about before others are. In a city, you’ll get the streets to yourself – or get to share them with only a few. Without crowds in your way, your eyes pick out details you would not otherwise have spotted, your senses become sharpened. You find streets, passageways, invisible at other times. You follow your feet. Visiting Munich a few years ago I found myself sharing the cobblestones with an incredible team of handymen transforming the city’s largest department store into a festive delight, decked with trees and lights. Walking back into the city later, at breakfast time, the transformation was complete. I was the only one who saw what went on behind the scenes.
Then there’s the light. The time of year doesn’t matter, although the best light will be found at different times in different places. In Toledo, as my feet fell softly on the stone beneath them, the rising sun cast a soothing glow over the misty fields below the city walls. In Stockholm the days are short in winter, and capturing the dawn is a way of life for the Swedes. Unlike elsewhere, people are out at first light going about their business. The warm colours of the painted facades in the old town came alive as the sun peaked above the horizon.
In southern Europe, the smells are just as provocative. In any French town, get up early on market day. Watch the streets come alive with vibrant colours and alluring fragrances. Cut flowers, fresh baked bread just out of the oven, sweet pastries, pungent herbs. There is no happier place on earth than the winding passageways of Annecy in the French Alps, on market day. As you slip past, lithe on your feet, your mind doesn’t have time to take in everything it can see, but it can take in everything you can smell. Breathe deeply, and enjoy.
It’s fresh first thing. Exploring during the summer months can be hard, with a hot sun beating down on you. On an August morning, it’s cool under the trees and by the water. It’s an excuse to get up and out. In Hvar town, you can follow the Riva through the old town harbour and beyond. Sheltered by umbrella pines and out of the glare of the sun, you catch the breeze by the water. It’s hot, but it’s not unbearable. Following Ivana Vucetica brought me to a deserted cove, with sand under my feet. Me versus the world, just sea and sky, blue and bright. It’s the moments you run for.
Your feet take you places you could not otherwise go. On city streets, it’s the curious cut-throughs and alleys that take you to hidden squares, secret gardens. Peep through doorways in Catalunya into the courtyards beyond. Canal towpaths, where tree roots burst through the banks and paths making it treacherous by bike, are made for trail shoes. Under the shade of the Plane trees lining the Canal du Midi it’s tranquil at dawn. Mountain paths can feel heavy going on hike, but you feel light on your toes first thing. The views reward above and beyond anything else. Running gives permission to be inquisitive, to find the road less trodden.
I don’t run to get faster, burn calories, for kudos or to meet goals. I run because I explore, and exploring is more than just visiting a place. It’s about throwing yourself in head-first, finding out what makes somewhere tick. Changing the way you see a place changes how you see a place.
And I’ve seen good things.
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