With borders starting to open, the opportunities for travel are coming back. And why not combine it with running? I love running as a way to discover a new city, checking out some of the sights before they get crowded. More and more, my vacations have taken me to places that feature beautiful trails and I typically use the Strava heat map to get a sense for good running routes, then a combination of All Trails or the Trail Runner Project to see if people have left reviews. This has limited me to day trips, or short runs during a backpacking trip, after setting up camp, and I have been intrigued to learn more about running vacations that facilitate the logistics. So I was excited to chat with Liz Gill (@lizcgill) at Runcation Travel (@runcationtravel).
Aude: What was your first running vacation? What did you particularly like about it?
Liz: My first real running vacation dedicated to running was actually a hut to hut trail running trip in the Dolomites in June of 2016. I had spent the few previous summers working with runners in Kenya and Peru, but our runs were always fit in either at 6am in the morning, or in the evening after activities in the day. I thought it would be really cool to see what it was like to have nothing else but running to do during the day, and to use it as a way to travel and experience a new place, culture, and style of running. I planned my trip way too early in the season in a high snow year, so my original route plans were totally shattered, but I ended up running a ton and seeing other towns, rifugios, via ferratas, and places I did not expect. I came away with that trip with a pretty good sense of the area and met a few local runners that actually helped me with baggage transport the year after on a guided trip! I loved the point to point aspect of running and getting to explore insanely beautiful trails and mountains, while also having a comfortable bed to sleep each night with espresso machines, beer on tap, etc. Most of the huts there have awesome decks to relax and take in the views of the surrounding mountains. It felt like the perfect mixture of running in the mountains, experiencing a different culture, and also relaxing on vacation which I really enjoyed.
Running Hut to Hut in the Dolomites and enjoying some flat terrains in high meadows before the next mountain pass; Photo: Liz Gill
Aude: What are other things that people enjoy with running vacations?
Liz: I think they enjoy the same thing! I think as runners we usually try and squeeze in a run during our vacations, but I think it’s a real treat to have running be more of a focus of a trip and use it to experience travel and a place in a really unique way. When you cut out time in buses or cars you can really experience a place mile by mile, which I think brings a different perspective of an area. I also think people enjoy getting to meet other runners and athletes from different areas, either in a guided group or in the huts/towns. And the mixture of doing some big runs in the mountains and getting to relax and enjoy your surroundings the rest of the day.
Enjoying lunch from outside one of the oldest rifugios in the Dolomites; Photo: Liz Gill
Aude: What are the different ways people can do a running vacation, either on their own or as part of a group?
Liz: That’s a good question. I think it depends on what they’re looking to get out of it and the location they’re visiting. Some places lend themselves to through running routes, or hut-to-hut types of trips that I tend to like to create. Others are logistically better as day trips, or taking transport to different towns between runs. There’s also fastpacking, which is basically carrying all your supplies you need through mountains without any sort of organized shelters. People can also do training trips. I would suggest maybe looking up what’s out there in terms of guided running vacations to get some ideas and maybe see what it would look like to do a running vacation in an area you’ve always wanted to visit.
Aude: What other variables would you advise people to think about during their planning? (distance, location, group style, …)
Liz: I think having an idea of mileage per day as well as elevation gain/descent is important as well as style of trails. I usually have people reach out about their running background and if a trip is right for them, the typical age of the group, how much of the day is structured vs unstructured, if solo travelers are welcome, etc. I think questions like these give a good sense of the type of group you’re joining and what you can expect from the running portion as well as the group factor. For location, I’ve always gone to places I’ve heard about from someone I know, or it’s a place I’ve seen inspiring photos or videos of. If there’s a country you’ve always wanted to visit, chances are you can make a running trip happen there!
Aude: You recently came back from a trip to Patagonia, which looked incredible! Can you share a bit about some of the exciting moments?
Liz: Yes! We just had our first guided group trip back since COVID and we went to Patagonia. I think the weather on this trip was very…exciting. It was definitely the true Patagonia experience. A few of our runs were in the mountains surrounding the town of El Chaltén, which is notorious for rapidly changing weather. We definitely had runs where we were in shorts and a t-shirt one minute and frantically putting all our layers on in a mini blizzard the next. The views and skyline finally opened up the final days we were there, which felt like a great end to the trip.
Runners run underneath the Fitz Roy Skyline in Patgonia, Argentina; Photo: Mark Remick
Aude: What other trips are you looking forward to this year?
Liz: I’m actually headed to Flagstaff this weekend for some running and climbing, which is a running town that I’ve always been curious about visiting and running in. We have our first trip in Peru the week after, which will be a really cool experience running camp-to-camp from Cusco to Machu Picchu through less traveled Incan trails in the Sacred Valley. We have a few trips in Europe this summer (on the Tour du Mont Blanc, in the Dolomites, and Slovenia) and I’m super excited to be doing those after a 2-year COVID break and getting to do some running and climbing over there in between a few of the guided trips. I’m also very much looking forward to more Tahoe trails opening up and some Eastside weekends and getting to run those in between!
Runners on a Dolomites Hut to Hut Runcation make their way through the Dolomites, also known as the “pale mountains.”; Photo: Liz Gill