You may have noticed I’ve been a little scarce around here the past few weeks.

That wasn’t the intention.

I intended to take advantage of extra free time to write, read, post, and have a very productive few weeks on the blog.

But that didn’t happen. And now I’m thankful for that.

I spent the last three weeks with my wife traveling around Italy on our belated honeymoon. We started out in Rome, before taking the train to Florence, renting a car for a week in Tuscany, heading back on the train to the coastal towns of Cinque Terre, and finally spending nights in the northern lake district on Lake Como.

I did have a ton of free time, but instead of writing, it was filled with exploring, adventure, relaxation, and wine. Lots of wine.

I even cut significantly back on my running, only lacing up the shoes three times during those three weeks. That was partly because we did a ton of walking, kayaking, swimming, and other active activities, but also because after my recent 100 mile ultramarathon, I needed a break.

What better place to take a break than beautiful Italy?

But as any runner knows, you can’t ever really take a break from running. Even if you aren’t physically logging miles, running comes to mind all the time. Just seeing a beautiful road or gnarly trail, all you can think about is how you can manage to run it.

Even though I wasn’t running much while in Italy, I found that the experience taught me a few things that I’ll continue to carry with me throughout training. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Expect to be Disappointed, and Rebound Even Stronger

We had our first disappointment before we even left the States. Our flight from Charlotte to New York was delayed, and after nearly 3 hours of sitting on the tarmac, flying to Italy that night was no longer possible.

It was disappointing.

We only had a few days in Rome, and were excited to explore the city and see the sights.

After numerous phone calls to the airline, testing both of our patience, and a night at a JFK airport hotel, we finally re-booked a flight for the next day. When we arrived into Rome at 6:30 am a day after we had planned, it was tempting to head to our apartment and sleep through most of the day. Instead we decided to shower up, grab a bite, and push through a full day as planned.

Of course we were both tired, I even started to fall asleep during lunch, but we made the best of it and still hit up all the spots in Rome we were hoping to see.

When you’re training for a race, shit happens. Injuries, life, work, family, any number of things can get in the way and throw off your plan.

It can be disappointing.

We have to expect those things to happen, and instead of letting them get us down, refocus and bounce back even stronger.

2) Be Adventurous and Take Chances

Going into this trip, we had very few plans scheduled ahead of time. We knew where we would stay, and when we’d travel to different locations, but once we got there, nothing was planned.

Both the Mrs. and I like spontaneity, especially when traveling, so that was the goal. Sometimes that spontaneity led us on some unexpected adventures.

One of my favorites involved kayaking along the cliff coastal line in Cinque Terre, and spotting a small waterfall falling dozens of feet directly into the ocean. We decided to check it out, and were both blown away when we paddled past a few large rocks and into the most perfectly calm cove with a stunning view.

It was so gorgeous we were stunned no one else was there.

Being adventurous and deviating from the script lead us to an unexpectedly magical place.

With detailed training programs and running logs, it’s easy to get caught up in the plan and avoid anything risky. Sometimes those plans and that structure are holding us back.

Don’t be afraid to take chances with your training. Play around with adding a little extra mileage or including more climbing, cross training, trails, or speed work.

Being adventurous doesn’t mean being reckless, so make sure you’re making smart decisions, but sometimes taking chances and seeing where your training will take you is just what you need to find that magical place in your running.


3) Relax

When I have a big race coming up, I find it hard to relax. I’m not talking about sitting back with a glass of wine, but relaxing into my training runs, avoiding the pre-race jitters, and letting go of that constant drive to do more.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I thought I was going to take advantage of free time to do work. The opposite of relaxing.

But as I found myself sipping a glass of Chianti Classico next to Katie while watching a Tuscan sunset, doing work was the last thing on my mind. I was finally letting go. I was relaxing.

Which is exactly what I need to do more of when I’m training:

  • Let go of the bad runs and relax into the next.
  • Take the pressure off each workout.
  • Trust your training and let go of the nerves.

There is always more than can be done, and more miles that can be run, but the pressure and stress of a tough training schedule can lead to burn out and injury.

Guidebooks Sometimes Lead You Astray

We spent plenty of time reading our guidebook and studying the map (this is what we used, and it was great!), but there was even more time that the guidebook stayed in the backpack.

As I sat on a rock, enjoying a nice ocean view, I couldn’t help but think about what all the tourists running around, nose stuffed in their guidebooks, trying not to miss a sight or “the best gelato in town,” were missing.

Guidebooks, plans, and schedules are all vital to any successful trip, just as they are to running and training cycles. Hell, I think they’re so important for training that I wrote one myself!

But this trip was a reminder that sometimes you need to step away from the advice and do a little experiencing on your own terms.

Whether on a trip or training for your next race.


Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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