For three weeks, my family and I traveled around the Baltic, focusing most of our attention and time in Copenhagen. Since none of us had ever been in this part of the world, we scheduled many guided tours, especially in Russia where we felt particularly lost with the language and culture. It was a wise decision.
Our travels were filled with trips to museums, monuments and historical sites. Even the souvenir shops provided an education. Did you know these stores offer free coffee, tea and vodka in St. Petersburg? How's that for hospitality?
For all that I learned on those tours, I can't discount what my morning runs through these countries did for my understanding of the beautiful cultures. Whether you're traveling to Poland or Pennsylvania, here's why you should consider incorporating runs into your travels.
Running through a city is a great way to orient yourself in your surroundings. It only took a 10-mile run to feel like I could navigate my way around Copenhagen's city center like a pro. Finding your way on foot forces you to slow down, notice the sites and remember your direction easier.
Running takes you places you can't go in a car or bus; you'll see things you may otherwise have missed. During one run I stumbled upon a red gate covered in ivy. I hesitated going through, not wanting to trespass and unable to read the sign posted nearby. A woman walking her dog noticed my hesitation and motioned me through anyway. On the other side of that gate was the most beautiful horse pasture and forest, bordered by a paved bike/running path that led all the way to the Baltic Sea. It was like I'd fallen into a bucolic scene from a Peder Monsted painting. And you can only get there on foot.
Running gives you more energy and stamina. Jet lag is real. And it gets more real when you get older. Keeping with my regular morning routine and running before a full day of walking actually made me feel better overall and dissipated that jet lag much faster. It also gave me a little quiet time alone before facing tiny hotel rooms and cramped subways with my family. Like my oldest daughter said at the end of the trip, "That was a lot of togetherness, Mom."
Participating in a local race is a great way to get a feel for the local culture. For Mother's Day my family entered a 5K taking place in Copenhagen on our first full day in the city. Not everyone in my house loves to run, but I love running and my family loves me, so this was a perfect and meaningful gift. It was fun to note how differently the race was coordinated. Held in the evening, the women ran their race first. About an hour later, the men ran their race separately. The pre-race warmup included a few interesting dance moves I fully embraced and that I suspect made my daughters cringe. Once again, we saw sights we wouldn't see on any tours and got to interact with locals more personally with high-fives and cheers. The most fun was the post-race atmosphere. Chilling out in a lush, green park enjoying sausages, Fun Buns, chia bars and beer, so different from any Utah 5K.
The biggest takeaway from my multiple running excursions is that we are more alike than different. Runners in Russia cruising alongside the Neva River deal with the same struggles and triumphs I do cruising alongside Daybreak Lake. We may speak different languages and differ on politics, but hamstring strains are a shared enemy. A marathon is a marathon whether measured in miles or kilometers. Running is one way to help me close the gap between cultures and find common ground.
Running isn't the only way to see a new city, but for me it's the best way to understand my surroundings and the people in them. I don't speak Danish or Russian, but sweat is universal. Check with your hotel's concierge for a safe running route, lace up your shoes and go explore.