The perks of exercising while traveling

As I have described in other posts, the activity around which I have built my current fitness habits is distance running. For me, that usually consists of choosing two or three full marathon (26.2 miles) events each year for which to train and then run, and often a few shorter events in the mix. Because most marathon training programs are set up on a 16 to 18 week cycle, with some recover time after each event, this “regimen” basically keeps me running all year. For me, that consistency keeps me from slipping into more sedentary habits. This schedule has also allowed me to do quite a few marathons in the 7 years since my first one. Most of these marathons have been chosen either due to convenience (relatively close) or my perception that the course would be fast (downhill enough to make me seem faster). But, there are also marathons that runners refer to as “destination,” “sight-seeing,” or “tourist” marathons—ones that we run to see the city or country where the event is held, more than for the marathon itself. My marathon on Saturday was definitely one of those—a sight-seeing event: The Mayor’s (Midnight Sun) Marathon in Alaska.

Saturday, my wife, Candice, and I ran one of the most picturesque marathons an Arizonan can imagine. In fact, this Arizonan could not imagine it—the Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. Tree-lined, paved bike paths, wide dirt roads in majestic mountains, dense-forest hiking trails, ocean-side roads, in 50 to 60-degree temperatures, all on the same course, and at a time that was light clear through the night. The beauty of this course is unmatched in my current experience. June, of course, is also an inviting time of year to experience many of the other attractions of that great state (like the sight-seeing ship excursions, the wildlife parks, etc.), which we also did.

I have not done many destination marathons. We transitioned into distance running as our kids were starting their own adult lives. Much of our travel is built around seeing them (clear from Manhattan to Anchorage), so our marathon budget is structured more “conservatively.” Of my 18 full marathons, 11 of them have been in Arizona, four in Utah, two in California, and now one in Alaska. One of the California marathons was the Big Sur, which I ran because the course was reported to be breathtaking (18 miles of it on the coastline), and the area (Monterrey) worth touring. That, and now the Midnight Sun, are really the only ones I’ve run because I wanted to see the area, and course, as a tourist.

And, truthfully, even this one really happened because of the previously-mentioned kid trips. My wife started talking about wanting to see Alaska about 4 years into our now 31-year marriage. At that time, I was not yet out of law school, but assured her we would get right on that Alaska trip after I had a real job. Well, apparently it took me a long time to land that job, because we hadn’t made it to Alaska until now. And, even then, it took one of my daughter’s and her husband moving to Anchorage (for the summer) to get us there. So, the official reason for the trip was to see one of our kids, her husband, and the in-laws. But, neither Candice nor I I were going to go as far as Alaska without finding a running event, and time the trip around it.

(Photo: Did Kevin see wildlife during his18th marathon in Alaska? Yes! He saw Annabelle who was working at the event!)

The idea of running destination marathons is very attractive. I have a running friend who is a pilot and another who works IT for an airline, and both take full advantage of their employment to run (literally) all over the world. But, since I run primarily to stay in shape, rather than to sight-see, coupled with practical limitations of time, money, and family, it is highly likely that I will continue to run most of my events locally—and mix in a few where my kids live. It will help my destination marathon desires if my kids continue to move to places that also have beautiful marathon courses—like this one.

The fact that I have stayed mostly local, or chose by geographical convenience or course speed, does not mean I haven’t seen some beautiful courses. The Tucson and Mt. Lemmon marathons are both beautiful. Utah Valley and Big Cottonwood in Utah, both run down fantastic canyons in the Wasatch Front of the Rockies. And there is something comforting about the “Phoenix” marathon, that does not actually touch Phoenix, but runs through Mesa, overlaps where I do hill training, and passes within ½ mile of the home where I raised my kids.

If, on the other hand, you are already doing a lot of traveling, working in a running event, or even training for one while traveling, adds some significant fitness benefits I didn’t really anticipate. This Alaska trip is a prime example. Often, one of the most delightful part of travel is the food—experiencing the local specialties, restaurants, street vendors, etc. But that carries some obvious problems for weight-gain. What I am about to share is not by way of recommendation, and actually may irritate some who are fighting weight battles. But, it is also the truth, illustrates an important “benefit,” and may be helpful to some. During the couple days we were in Anchorage before the marathon, and the few days after, I consciously took the “food” brakes off, even suspending my normal vegan/vegetarian diet to eat the local salmon and halibut. I did not enter anything into My Fitness Pal, regularly ate dessert, and basically ate whenever there was any room in my stomach to put more food. I also did not exercise for the three days after the marathon (I usually do a little light running or cross training, but there was no place to put it). I also did not get on a scale until the morning after returning (the morning I am writing this). The punchline is that the upward change in my weight was only about two pounds, which I probably actually needed. I had a similar experience when we traveled Europe a few years ago, and I kept my training schedule going throughout the tour, while fully enjoying of the local cuisine. When you exercise regularly, you burn more calories, and your metabolism does change into a higher gear. Keeping that up during travel seems to make room for some extra indulgences—at least that is what I’ve experienced.

As I continue to learn to fight against the tendency to become more physically and often more emotionally “vulnerable” as our society guides us toward a sedentary lifestyle, I am regularly surprised at the number of unanticipated benefits that surface. The perk of how I can enjoy food while doing a “destination” event or training while traveling has definitely been one.


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