As the Covid restrictions ease further in the UK, many people have become practically obsessed with the all-important subject and First World problem of where to go on holiday. I’ve noticed, however, that most people seem to fall into one of two very distinct camps of thought. Up first are the holiday optimists, who have their eyes fixed firmly on the travel traffic light system like a personal beacon of hope. They grasp their passports while waiting on tenterhooks and praying out to anyone listening to get the green light to safely travel abroad to sunnier horizons. A fringe sub-set of this group will settle for amber. Then there are the holiday realists, who have taken a much more cautious and slightly pessimistic approach. They think that traffic lights systems should be left for the roads. They believe that the only safe and sensible option of any vacation is that it takes place within the confines of the temperamental British shores. End of. But no matter how divergent and contentious the opinions of these two camps are, they wholeheartedly agree in the essential need and indeed, urgency for a break from this Covid-shaped year.
Which is why these two camps cannot possibly relate to the questionable motives and dubious rationale of a lesser-known third camp of people. This camp is made up of runners…those who are perhaps a little bit too committed to their trainers. Because like some rogue holiday outliers, they willingly choose to take a busman’s holiday rather than put their feet up to relax and recover. And I might as well come clean and admit that I have recently joined this third camp of reprobates. Yes, I am one of a surprisingly growing number of those who have decided to escape by going on a ‘running holiday’.
To explain, running holidays come in many guises. However, the majority tend to involve running in a beautiful location from A to B on a route that will include experiencing some stunning scenery and wildlife. As the holiday takes place over several days, you can choose to camp overnight or stay in nearby B&Bs where you can soak up the surroundings and enjoy the local fare. There are many tour operators around specialising in running holidays which makes it easy to choose the number of days you want to do it in and whether you want to join a group or run it self-guided with a map. This means that you only need to run with a small day pack as your luggage is taken to your accommodation every day. Of course, it is also perfectly possible to organise your own bespoke running holiday and there are a number of competing transport companies out there offering luggage ferrying services.
Naturally, a non-runner would not be the least bit convinced by this sales pitch. Even if you try explaining the concept to them, you will only be met with blank stares, disbelief and a reaction along the lines of, ‘Wouldn’t it be far better to have a holiday from running? What is the actual point?!’ To non-runners, a ‘running holiday’ can only be a mad juxtaposition of words and an impossibility that obviously doesn’t add up. But going on a ‘running holiday’ can even seem like a ridiculous idea to those who actually enjoy going for the odd run while they are on holiday. They cannot understand why anyone would want to spend their entire vacation running and having to cover some unnecessarily excessive mileage. Why couldn’t you do, say, a pre-breakfast run and then spend the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying yourself? You could even do it every single day of your holiday if you really can’t bear the idea of taking an actual break from running.
I have to admit that previously, I was also one of those naysayers. The idea of going on a ‘running holiday’ sounded like the absolute opposite of a vacation. I imagined that it involved way too much hard work and a lot of unwelcome pain. Why would anyone put themselves through that wilfully?! What are they trying to prove? However, I have since learned that despite the name, there is quite a lot more to a running holiday than just slogging it out in your trainers every day. In fact, there are some definite advantages of going on a running holiday which I can share. But be warned…Once you try out a running holiday you may well be hooked.
First, and foremost, going on a running holiday is a great way to explore the great outdoors without the limits of being stuck in a car or being based in a city. It is also the perfect opportunity to see some parts of the world that you have always been curious about or to go someplace nearer to home where you’ve never got around to visiting. Running holidays are also generally routed off piste so the vast majority of your time is spent running through the countryside on trails, footpaths and towpaths. Of course running on softer terrain rather than the usual tarmac is far kinder to your feet! Being away from built-up areas also helps you to get a better sense of a place and the nature surrounding it. And as the only traffic you can expect to encounter will be other runners, walkers and wildlife, you can really relax and enjoy the fresh air.
Secondly, a running holiday, by definition, will inevitably involve a lot of exercise. And clearly that is fantastic for your physical health. But exercise can also boost your mental health. Fundamentally, doing exercise produces feelings of wellness and decreases stress through the release of endorphins. And a running holiday will further improve your mental health by producing a real sense of achievement every single day. Not only will you have covered the massive distance you needed to get through for the day which will be a feat, in itself. But running self-guided will take you on even more of an adventure that also tests your navigation skills. Whether your route was difficult to orient or if it was clearly signposted, every day that you reach your accommodation you will get another huge sense of accomplishment that you have surpassed some endurance test.
Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, as a general rule a running holiday does not involve running all day. In fact, like many organised ultra-marathons, it includes quite a lot of walking. As in ultras, most runners follow the golden rule of ‘walk up all hills, run downhill and on flats’. Anything else and you would be an ultra-fool. The real key to enjoying any multi-day running holiday is to remember to take it slow and easy to avoid fatigue and injury. But essentially on a running holiday, how much you run is entirely up to you and how you feel at the time. It’s not a timed event and there is no reward, medal or bragging rights for doing the distance the quickest or running the longest. Which means that you can relax and simply run or walk whenever you want to, as long as you somehow reach your destination to sleep. In any case, as you would imagine, you will need to keep fuelling yourself up to do all this running and walking. Fortunately, running holidays are usually routed near to places where there are many opportunities to stop and take a break en route to stretch and eat while you enjoy the views.
Speaking of fuel, I recently went on a running holiday in the Scottish Highlands and ran the Great Glen Way from Fort William to Inverness over 4 days. I highly recommend it for its outstanding beauty, the lovely people we met every day on the trails and the amazing food that we fuelled up on while on the run and in between stages. One lunch in particular that I enjoyed on one of the longer days of running was eaten at the Abriachan Eco-Campsite & Café, north of Loch Ness. Although famous for their huge wedges of lemon cake, I opted instead for some tasty homemade vegan carrot and butter bean soup with oatcakes which kept me running all afternoon. This is my version of their bowl of heaven: Carrot and butter bean soup