Running in Europe

I clearly was not put on this earth to run, but I really enjoy running, and appreciate what it does for me. At 200+ lbs, relative short legs-to-torso ratio, and horrible gait, it’s not my predisposed exercise of choice, but I typically sweat out a few pounds, it keeps my mind balanced, and allows me hit each day with a positive attitude. Think of an image of a Rhino vs. a Gazelle. While in Europe over the past 90 days, I did a pretty good job of carrying out 7-9 minute/miles for 4-7 miles a day on 5-6 days of each week running.  Of the 20 countries we visited, I was able to get runs in 17 of them.

Running creates opportunities for me (and I assume many other runners) to go places they otherwise may never venture and gain views other travelers may never experience. I try to seek out dirt or gravel paths whenever possible and I think this goal further added to seeing stuff that one wouldn’t see from a car/bus/train window while traveling. Putting in some decent mileage here has allowed me some perspective and reflection of the running environment in Europe. They include:

  • Doesn’t seem like there are as many runners in Europe as in the United States. There were more bikers than runners, but the majority of the biking is for transportation and not necessarily for exercise. I saw more runners in large cities like Paris, Prague, Lisbon and seldom people running in less populated areas….ever.
  • Running seemed more prevalent in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, and France. I saw people running in other countries, but it was rare.
  • I saw at least one person running in every country except the countries of Albania and Montenegro. In these two countries, I genuinely felt like people were pretty perplexed as they watched me run by. On one puddle-laden run in Montenegro following a night of heavy rain, it often felt like drivers were veering toward potholes to splash me. Dogs also would chase/bark more at me in these two countries as I think runners were not a familiar sight in their world view.
  • Ironically, I felt pretty unwelcome as a runner in Amsterdam. I sensed a genuine disdain by bikers toward me as a runner. While the city is THE poster child for biking, it really isn’t very walker/runner pedestrian friendly. Having bike paths everywhere is great, but for runners the only options seemed to be the roads or the bike paths. Additionally, given the focus on bike paths, I was unable to find a dirt/gravel path anywhere in the city to run.
  • The best trails, most beautiful landscape, and some of the most difficult runs were in Iceland, Spain, and Croatia. It was very easy to find great dirt/gravel paths with amazing views (typically surrounded by mountains or near the Sea/Ocean), and often having some fun elevation changes.
  • Toughest two runs included a run up a mountain in Slovakia and another up a mountain in Southern Spain. Both left me pretty spent and sore the following day despite having some good miles under my legs.

As I type this from Bangkok, I’ve already missed one day of running in SE Asia. While I’m sure it’s possible, I couldn’t fathom trying to get out on a run nor have I seen anyone running in this traffic-heavy city. As we make our way to the coast, I’m pretty sure that there will be others running and the hard pack sand on the beach will provide at least one path option for me. I’ll try to make a point of reporting back after this leg of the trip.

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