running in South Africa - and why it's the traveller's perfect form of excercise

Running...the traveller's ideal form of excercise. You literally just need your body and your shoes, and I suppose some motivation might be helpful. No pricey gym memberships, no depressing treadmills or stationary bikes, no lugging around jump ropes or those weird stretchy fitness bands...just fresh air and will power. I haven't always been a runner. My dad convinced me to join the cross country team when I started high school, and although I am so glad I did (I made some of my best friends through the team comraderie), I remember HATING the actually running aspect. I always faked hip injuries and shin splints to avoid races. Not proud of it. 

I ran sporadically through college, but mainly went to the gym to use the machines and stationary equipment. I'll thank the beautiful Indiana winter weather for that one... When I did make it out for a run, it was just a way for me to work off my anxiety about frustrating homework assignments or ridiculous Thermodynamics exams. I still didn't really enjoy it.

But then I moved to South Africa. Having been very fitness-oriented for most of the past four years, and suddenly being faced with life in a rural farming town in the Eastern Cape, no gyms or yoga studios in sight...I panicked a little. And what's the best way to deal with panic and stress?

A good long run, my friends. Run it out. 

So I became a true runner for the first time. I didn't run to burn calories, although that's what the initial motivation was. I didn't run to feel less guilty about the dessert I had last night, or the two glasses of wine I knew I would have that evening. I ran because it became an addiction, and probably one of the world's healthiest ones (eh, maybe it'll be bad for my joints later on, but for now, it feels empowering). 

I ran to feel my heart wildly pounding in my chest. I ran to wipe off the sweat glistening on my forehead. I ran to feel that oh-so-lovely ache in my lungs, to pump my arms on those dirt road hills, to jump over rocks and wave to happily grazing cattle. I ran to experience my surroundings, to feel present in the moment, and to take time for myself. And I ran to earn that glorious shower at the end. 

And the motivation, the addiction, the high, whatever you want to call stuck. Wherever I travelled in South Africa, or even now, back home in the States, I always have my running shoes and a desire to start or end the day with one of those soul-serving cardio sessions. It is the ultimate traveller's excercise, because you can do it wherever you are with no equipment (provided it's in safe surroundings, of course) and it's a wonderful way to explore and experience a location while getting a kick-ass workout in. 

I still strength train and enjoy making my abs cry every now and again, but it's nothing like the high I get off of conquering each new mile. 

I wanted to show off some of the beautiful places where I was able to run while living in South Africa. I get all nostalgic just thinking about those pristine beaches and the back dirt roads weaving through the fields of cattle...

For example, my dear and hardworking friends, the Harts, own a wonderful dairy farm. I was always welcome and encouraged to run along their dirt roads, as it was a safe area (and it's not exactly an easy thing to find a safe area to run in South Africa). Besides, I liked the weird looks I would get from the cows when they saw this crazy girl panting past them.

I spent a few months living in the beach town of Chintsa, and went running around the small neighborhoods and long, flat beaches often. The best part was when I got to bring my friend's two labradors along for the ride.

The coastal runs in the seaside holiday villages of Marshstrand and Haga Haga were top notch...


And of course, those weeks I worked at a vineyard, my feet couldn't resist the urge to run amongst those grape vines.  Stellenbosch is a stunning area.

The lesser known area of Malmesbury, where I spent some days working on an organic farm and a much smaller winery, proved to be an equally stunning spot for some cardio-exploring action.

Aaaaand I can't forgot that one time I ran around the back roads of Komga in the misty morning hours...beautiful but a little chilling, too.

It's amazing what you can experience when you slip on your running shoes and just go. You start to view your world through a whole new perspective. You meet other runners on the road (unless you're running on back country roads...) and that two second smile of mutual understanding shared amongst fellow fitness enthusiasts is priceless. You feel at home all of a sudden, in a place that is thousands of miles from what you know.

So really...running is the perfect traveller's excercise.