Colin here. I have an on-again, off-again relationship with running. During early COVID days, it was a mental respite and a way to get out of the house. Many took it further, pushing their limits with hyper long runs as a mental release. I never really crossed more than 5 or 6 miles if I am being honest. But as I started running again on a scorching August morning in Dubai, I realized that for me running is best when it is about exploring a new place: taking in morning rituals in other cities and getting out of the locked groove of a route you know well. It is best served with a little side of jet lag’s mental mist and a single espresso—a good way to force yourself to get out the door at an ungodly hour.
My most memorable runs are the ones where you get a little lost, and the activity turns into an adventure in a place you don’t know by heart. I can remember a freezing cold winter run at night in Munich, which was intense and multisensory. Dodging ice patches made it seem like a video game. There was also an epic run around the Imperial Palace Gardens in Tokyo, starting out from the Peninsula in Ginza and going a lot longer than I had intended, observing the serious, perfectly attired Japanese runners out in full force. Or leaving the Park Hyatt Tokyo, passing through Yoyogi Park and stopping for a delicious coffee at Fuglen. I also had memorable runs in Bangkok, around Lumpini Park, and leaving from the Langham in London, trying to do a few laps around Regent’s Park as the leaves turned. One of the best possible runs is in Singapore’s unbelievable botanic gardens, which is about as idyllic and incredible as you can imagine—never mind the oppressive humidity most of the year.
Imperial palace gardens from above
Why is this interesting?
The foreign city runs have an extra appeal, because it allows you to tap into a place and feel the natural early morning (or late night) rhythms that you might miss if you’re just hauling yourself into an Uber or taxi en route to a meeting. Bonus points if it is early. You see the breakfast stalls and food sizzling near the MTR station. On a beach run in Dubai in the morning, on a bouncy red running track set back from the sand, you can see fishermen coming in from the morning catch a bit south of the Mandarin on Jumeirah beach. There are commuters, ranging from business executives to migrant workers coming into their days whose routes and routines are unfamiliar. Observing them lets the mind wander a bit as you try to imagine what their lives are like.
The thing for me is I can’t really recreate this in places I actually live. The familiarity with the rhythms, sounds, smells, and traffic ruins the illusion. But when I am somewhere I am not from, everything seems just a bit more … interesting. I don’t care if the weather is 100 percent humidity and 107 degrees, as it was the other day in Downtown Dubai where I ran past the Burj Khalifa. The appeal of the early morning run is too great to let external factors deter the mind. The senses are sharpened—and even if it isn’t particularly a great run, the multisensory elements make it fulfilling.(CJN)
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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Yes! My most memorable (but not my best) runs have always been in foreign places...I look forward to seeing a new place at the crack of dawn when it is the most authentic.
Yes! I loved doing this when I used to travel for work. I remember Venice and Washington DC particularly fondly. It is such a lovely way to feel part of a new place.