Forget ‘wellness’ and hotel gyms – a run outdoors is one of travel’s greatest pleasures


Holidays with a bit of competition thrown in? Mud runs, jogging courses, massage therapies, ball games? All in one campsite, apparently. It’s glamping with a fitness imperative and possibly without the glam bit. Organised sport en masse? I believe the Boy Scouts and the Communist Party were keen on similar things, with slightly fewer healing crystals on offer. Me, I like my punishment in private.

I like running; I am even partial to stretching and grunting (I daren’t call it yoga). But I meditate, in my own way, while I ache. As the testosterone builds up, I imagine doing injury to soft-spoken trainers and physios – even people who smile too much. And mindfulness and well-being? I worry that they would make me progressively less well. Hell is other people you don’t really know, and don’t want to get to know either.

It should be easy to pack fitness gear to travel: T-shirt, trainers, socks. But it always surprises me how much room they take up. All those shirts that get wet in hot countries and have to be lugged around in a plastic bag you daren’t undo in case you set off the smoke alarms.

Red Square

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GETTY

I like to think I have jogged the world. I have run across Red Square, along the Corniche in Nice, around an oasis in Tozeur and nervously through Nairobi. I once ran out with some girls training to be Kenyan marathon runners. They had started at the age of five. Their school had been 10 miles away, so if they hadn’t run there and back, they would never have made it. Now they were super-athletes. Next time you are stuck with a school run, bear that in mind.

But there is real adventure in leaving your hotel in the early evening and heading out into terra incognita – into the heart of Naples, say, or down the Corso in Rome. I have run (joy of joys) across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. The most exciting ever? Manchester. It was a danger zone, especially under canal bridges. As you set off, the doorman will open the door. He can’t expect a tip. No tip-room in a pair of Lycra panties, is there? I try to look a little weary and pant a lot as I get back, expecting them to admire my fortitude. They’re thinking: “there goes that poor old, mad, mean bloke.”

It can get difficult. Sailing near Phuket I went ashore and ran up and down a short Thai island beach. Silly. I had to do 40 laps, with all those backpackers gazing superciliously at me. I bet they are all heading off to those organised sport sites now.

In extremis and in India (where running in Bhuj would have been crazy – the crowds, the market goods on the pavement, the sacred cows in the way), I look for a fitness room. These vary from a claggy sweat hole with a single running machine set at an absured angle because there isn’t room to be straight, to, in Oslo, an expansive gym littered with incomprehensible equipment. Beware the separate “fitness centre” to which muscle-builders repair. They looked on with barely disguised contempt as I occupied a mat to do some minor stretches recommended by my doctor.

Running through an Indian city isn’t recommended

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GETTY

It’s no joke in the lift afterwards. Going back to the room, keep your headphones on and try to appear distracted. Some guests seem affronted to share a lift with a dripping pensioner in shorts.

Only a couple of bad moments. In Tunisia, I was confronted by several cross dogs and realised how a pack works

I much prefer getting out and about. Only a couple of bad moments. In Tunisia, I was confronted by several cross dogs and realised how a pack works. One barked savagely at me and kept my attention while the others worked around my back. Two carefully aimed stones sorted them. Now I run with rocks already clasped in my sweating hands, especially in Africa – or indeed Greece, the home of the marathon. Ha! Nowhere have I experienced people more astounded by the sight of a chubby bloke puffing past, trying to keep fit.

It only takes 20 minutes – eight minutes out, 12 minutes back. Mrs Jones has a bath while I am gone. It’s not long enough for her. But she is patient. The real problem comes later. 

“Shall we go for a walk?”

“Well, I have explored everything I want to see,” I say smugly. “I’m off to a café.”





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