Since 2006, “running a marathon” has also come to mean “travel excuse.” In fact, I cannot imagine myself running a marathon (whether half or full) in a town I’ve been to before. A race is a phenomenal reason to get to a place you wouldn’t have thought to visit and is a fantastic way to see the area once you arrive.
For one thing, you notice more about a city when you are running through it–well, jogging through it–rather than driving. Also, marathon weekends are often themed around some local history (like pirates in the Outer Banks), offer discounts on local sightseeing, or are centered around a naturally beautiful landmark. Of course there are also horribly planned, boring races that don’t have enough water for the number of participants, but we aren’t talking about those.
The simultaneous benefit of athletic-accomplishment-plus-travel didn’t seem clear to me immediately. However, I realize the bug bit me with my first marathon, which I ran with Team in Training. When I signed up to train with them and raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I could either have run 26.2 miles down the San Diego freeway or I could have run one of the most beautiful trails in Alaska. Guess which one I picked? Hint: I saw a moose on my run.
(Team in Training is a phenomenal organization, by the way. I recommend them wholeheartedly for their skilled trainers, their incredible ability to motivate, and the fact that they train for diverse races in awesome cities. Importantly, being around such genuine, dedicated people helped nudge me the extra mile toward Peace Corps service.)
Now that I am here in Florida, I am once again using training for a race as a way to see more of the state. For both better and worse, it will come almost exactly three years after one of my most unique runs, the Marrakesh International Marathon. I say “better and worse” because it reminds me, yet again, of how much has happened in the last three years. At that point, I was just coming through my last winter as a Peace Corps volunteer, got to visit a country I had always dreamed of visiting, and had to run past starving children asking for my water bottle. I had knee pain and shin splints and none of the three of us volunteers had run in the six weeks leading to the race (It also lead to one of my most well-received blog entries, the “poopy pants” entry, and, consequently, one of the most endearing moments of my last relationship. Thus, it is a memory of mixed emotions).
The complexity of my marathon memories only adds to their richness. I highly recommend looking up upcoming races and choosing one in a location you have never been to before. And if you need a little encouragement, take a look at the calendar for your local Team in Training group and pick a race they’re training for. The combined excitement of seeing the new city and accomplishing a significant feat is a formula for Go Girl nirvana!