It must be such an upheaval. If I were going on a voyage, I think I should like to make written notes of every aspects of my character before leaving, so that on my return I could compare what I used to be and what I have become. I’ve read that there are travellers who have changed physically and mentally to such an extent that their closet relatives didn’t recognize them when they came back.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
A runner travels, as the title suggests, was intended to be dedicated to both running and travel, two passions of mine that, on the surface, share few similarities. Over the past six months, however, this blog became decidedly running-heavy while I worked and lived in Cambridge to built up a war chest to fund trips to new lands, only journeying as far as Cornwall to drink beer and surf badly. I’m not being self-critical; money talks, even in the wanderlust land of backpacking!
As much as I enjoy Cambridge life, its learned atmosphere, its cosmopolitan mix, the lovely running routes, my friends and family, I felt the grind of repetition wearing me down. Post after post about running – some good and insightful, others tenuous and as subtle as the allegories in Animal Farm – began to frustrate me. Like a troubled painter seeking a muse, I sought inspiration and adventure.
After a dreary, wet morning, strong sunlight is falling on my garden. I like the view from my bedroom window. But when I peel up my blind every morning, a pang of disappointment runs through me. Nothing has changed. All is the same. As pleasant as the view is, it suffers from its own equanimity. A departure day countdown ticks incessantly in the recesses of my mind, my excitement simmers, barely tempered with each day’s commitments. I long for warm weather and Spanish conversation.
Central America, the slender strip of nations linking the indomitable masses of Southern and Northern America, is my chosen destination. I backpacked through South America in 2011. It was a momentous experience, and as I type these words I understand that I’m still processing the lessons learnt in the southern bulk of the New World. Daily, through conversation or the internal machinations of my perpetually wandering mind, I relive memories from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Boliva, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, the mad, the bad, the dangerous, the sexy, the excessive, the wonderful, the ordinary. (I see no reason why this sun-dappled nostalgia will ever dim.) As a result of those memories, I decided to visit the lands above. Though tiny when compared with the aforementioned countries, Central America seems less trodden by the footsteps of so many before.
So, Costa Rica-bound and knowing little about what makes the average Costa Rican tick, I’m sorting the final pre-trip errands, arranging a sublet, socialising and running, mostly at night.
With the Madrid half marathon a few days after the end of my Central America trip, I’ll need to maintain my fitness. Trekking, surfing and dancing will help. I’ve run in some special places, but despite appreciating how exciting it is to take exploratory runs, I do struggle with the lack of structure. Sad, I know. Yet change and challenges are good. And finding my own little of corner in San Jose for an interval session – camera in tow – does hold more appeal than laps of Coldham’s Common.
To me, running and travel share themes of exploration, sacrifice and, pompous as it sounds, self discovery. Like the stress of a races’ latter stages or an unplanned stranding in a disconnected town, comfort zones are forgotten and coping mechanisms emerge like ever-present buildings in the dispersing mist. The runner and the traveller share a single-minded yet open-minded personality, a liberalism, they are unaffected yet aware of what can affect. Rational dreamers. An interesting, oxymoron-addled bunch. And it seems no coincidence to me that I’ve met many people in hostels who are keen runners.
Whether I’ll be able to harmonise both passions on this trip remains to be seen. Spain and Portugal last year were successes in this respect. But the wilds of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama offer a different proposition. The certainty is that when I peel back a blind in two weeks’ time the view will have changed. It may be a row of houses, gardens, a blue sky, indolent cats, but that’s just the surface. A mad, bad, dangerous, sexy, excessive, wonderful, ordinary world exists beneath.