Jogging while you travel is the fastest, handiest way to get to know the area you’ve just moved to. It might also stop you dying so soon. If you’ve got other good ways to get to know a new place, I’d love to hear them! Enjoy.
KICKING THE BUCKET LIST
We ran over the finish line of the 7K Race in Vienna with smiles on our red faces. It had been my wife and I’s dream to complete this Herculean task for well over 25 minutes. Here’s how it all came about, one stormy Viennese Sunday.
The morning yawned to a start in the typical sluggish Sunday way. You know the ones: When the light peeping through the shade leaves you wondering whether it’s 6am or 10. My wife, Rachael, was sleeping soundly- borderline comatose- beside me. Rach is a much better sleeper than me but I’m not jealous. She seemed so peaceful that it would have been a crime to wake her up.
After waking Rachael up, I convinced her to join me on a jog around our new Austrian neighborhood. We’d been living in Vienna’s Jewish District for almost a week but had yet to explore.
We both have our own one-person businesses- Rach is a boutique vacation planner, I’m a freelance writer- and this week had been busy. Today was our chance to put it right. We could simultaneously stretch our legs and our knowledge or the area around us.
It was grim. ‘It’ meaning both the weather outside and Rachael’s per-jog mood inside. We wrapped up and prepared to hit the mean streets of one of Europe’s safest cities.
JOGGING OUR MEMORIES
Although our apartment is beautiful and modern, the apartment building is pre-World War II. The gold plaque outside the building remind you of the horror that took place here all those years ago when people used to be irrationally afraid of immigrants… … … … …
We’ve all heard of railroad apartments, but ours is a railWAY apartment:. There is an actual train-track going through the building. Because of this, I’ve never gotten lost even once exiting the building.
We followed the train-track until the building’s door slammed shut behind us. Our feet began to slap the rain-glistened sidewalks. Apart from the rain spitting half-heartedly at us, it was good jogging weather.
Much like in Paris, Vienna grinds to a near standstill on Sundays. I could count on one hand the shops, bars and restaurants that were open as we zig-zagged though the winding streets.
Our new Austrian friend, Julia, told us that most of these businesses close on Sundays by law. I thought that this was a lovely, family-friendly idea for almost 3 hours until we needed to buy food later that day.
We jogged on for 15 minutes before arriving at Prater Park, known locally as The Wiener Prater (‘Wien’ is German for Vienna). We’d been here once before to spend a sunny afternoon.
But today, something was different. The whole of Vienna- or so it seemed- had converged on the Park to jog. Hundreds of people, young and old, nimble and glacial, circled The Prater in an Austrian assembly line.
I’m an avid, if unremarkable, jogger. It only became important to me as I began to travel more extensively. The fact that jogging decreases your likelihood of death and strengthens your body never really mattered to me. Much like spinach. I love to jog because it blows away the mental cobwebs.
My love for jogging while traveling began when I was living with seven of my Irish mates in a studio apartment in Berkeley. This is a long story that begins with my friend and I pretending that we were UC Berkeley students to the realtor, and also that only two of us would be living in the apartment. As I would crawl unceremoniously over a floor of squeaky air mattresses, the thought of having a whole new city to jog was cathartic.
Jogging gives you time to clear your head. Or to process your first months in a new country without your friends fighting over whose bottle of Coca-Cola had just exploded all over the freezer. Each footfall reenergizes your patience like the power bar on a charging phone. I took this Born-Again Jogging While You Travel mentality with me from then on wherever I lived: From SF to NYC to London to Paris. Prague, Budapest, and now, Vienna.
The other reason jogging and traveling go together like Garth Brooks and plaid shirts is that it’s the perfect way to figure out the lay of the land.
When you’re jogging, you don’t look like a tourist: There’s no language barrier, no accent, no cultural faux pas… no seeds, no stems, no selfie sticks. And for those of us with a poor sense of direction that you will later deny if your wife asks you, getting lost actually works in your favor.
Your jogged steps feel more like they are playing to the rhythm of the city, even if your verbal interactions mostly involve you smiling dumbly at waiters.
I’d never heard of the Austrian people’s love of jogging though. But then, I hadn’t known about Hungarian people’s infatuation with sour cream, either. We moved forward to investigate.
Like most jogging scenes there was plenty of spandex, lots of luminous, and tons of sweat. But these people all had one other very noticeable thing that we didn’t:
Large rectangle stickers with their race numbers. We’d happened upon a sign-up only 7K race.
After sneaking in, we did our best to look inconspicuous. If you know my wife, she has her own unique version of inconspicuous. It involves recording Instagram stories, staring around her wide-eyed, and laughing.
We worried that a fellow jogger would peak at our stickerless tee-shirts and halt the whole race. Or pictured one of the stewards rugby-tackling us out of nowhere. But, as 1 kilometer turned into another, we realized something we both already knew but forget all-too-often:
No one gives a shit about you.
Now, this lack of interest is not malicious in any way. People just have much better things to worry about. In fact, they could be jogging to try to forget about them. At first glance, people betray little of what’s bouncing around their minds. It could be an overdue bill, a twinge in their knee, their ex’s last Facebook photo, their kids sudden aloofness, that pimple on their cheek.
We all have to remind ourselves that we’re not the center of the universe. This is especially difficult if you were raised by an Irish Mother feat. Doting Aunts and Grandparents. I mean, they can’t ALL be wrong about me. Onwards we ran.
“ICH LIEBE DICH!”
Rachael and I chatted as we rounded the corner for the final straight. Although we had joined the race about 3K in, it was technically our final straight too. I had long-since stopped secretly resenting the fact I couldn’t listen to Garth Brooks on my earphones while I ran. I loved being part of this diverse crowd. Some older men ran past cheering family members. One man, a serious jogger-type, zoomed past the girl beside us with a quick “Ich liebe dich!” (I love you).
Nearing the finish line, Rachael asked:
“Is that the sound of a marching band?”
“Ha!” I scoffed, “Be more American, Rach”
We spotted the source of the noise: an old man rolling a giant suitcase on the cement pavement. One minute later, we encountered a marching band.
They cheered us on, unaware/ indifferent to the fact that we were trespassing on the race. The drumbeat energized us, and we bounded forward until we reached the the finish line. Panting, flushed, heartbeats reverberating through our bodies, we high-fived, delighted with ourselves.
We peered around at the scores of beaming runners celebrating what they had achieved.
Call it an accident, call it fate, call it lack of research. It was such a memorable experience spending a random, rainy Sunday in Vienna surrounded by a bunch of people that didn’t give a shit about us.