Running around the World

And the running theme continues! After last Friday’s feature on the LA marathon, this week our guestblogger Jessica – a Puertorican-American “repatriate” recently returned to the States – describes her passion for running round the globe and tells us why sneakers are the most important item in her luggage.

My passion for running began in high school, where I only chose it in order to expand my extracurricular activities, hoping that it would make me more competitive for college. My first running experience took me to Cobbs Hill Park in Rochester, New York. I was not the best in the team, but I enjoyed trails runs decorated by the Upstate New York fall foliage. Ever since then, I have developed a love for it.

Running is a sport which doesn’t require equipment, or a partner, or ideal weather. I have been able to see the world through my sneakers from a marathon in Madrid to a training run in Casablanca. For those of us who like to travel, the runs sometimes take you to a street you may have not seen in a guide book or serve as a way for us to discover a new restaurant in our own neighborhood. Having had the privilege to run in five continents, I have been able to witness gorgeous sunrises and unforgettable sunsets, to embrace the goodness of others and discover myself. These are some of my favorite anecdotes.

When I first moved to Brussels, a way of getting to know the city was through running. I would check the map in order to give me an outline of where should I go, but I would end up getting lost regardless. One of my favorite places to run in Brussels is Les Étangs d’Ixelles (Lakes of Ixelles). I loved following the streets leading to the lakes, running by old Art Nouveau homes and fantasizing on how it would feel to live in one. Although running around the two lakes takes only 1.6 kilometers, not two loops are the same. The more laps you run, the more you can observe the diversity of Brussels by faces seen and languages heard.

One of my most moving running experiences was in Ghana, where I went on a business trip for two weeks in 2010. At the time, I was training for the Amsterdam marathon and had to follow my training plan. Thankfully, some of my colleagues would join me at 5:30 am for a run. Every morning, I noticed a lady carrying a load on her head, walking on the same path as us. She was barefoot. I felt compelled to give her shoes. On our last run in Accra, I brought a pair of sandals with me to give to her. That morning we did not see her. The experience taught me not to wait for the last minute to help another person.

Most recently, I was in Australia and had the opportunity to run in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Hervey Bay. Running in those places made me discover things I would not have seen otherwise. St Kilda Beach in Melbourne on an early fall evening gave me a snapshot of how locals stay in shape. With only 36 hours in Brisbane we were able to see many of the city highlights and discover a local neighborhood, Paddington, in eight kilometers. In Hervey Bay, we “ran” into Coast, the restaurant where we ordered the most glorious, decadent meal we had during our Australian adventure.

It has been ten years since the first time I was living abroad. I have very fond memories of running by the quaint fishing villages in Okinawa, Japan. The scent of the ocean reminded me of my childhood in Puerto Rico, although I was thousands of miles away. Running has always given me a sense of home and also made me realize that we are not as different as we think.

Now, I am in Washington, DC and cannot help but be in amazement while running by the National Mall. Although I live here, I seem to discover something new in every one of my runs. It may be an overlooked monument or developing a story to write. As a traveler, I find that my sneakers are one of the best resources in my suitcase.

What’s your favorite way of exploring a new location?

(Photo credits: 1) K-Swiss Tubes Run 100 Running Shoes by Wikimedia Commons user Mk2010 2) Ixelles Ponds by Wikimedia Commons user Jopparn 3) Marathon Training in Ghana by Jessica D.)

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