When I packed my comically oversize backpack for a three-week trip to New Zealand last month, there was one notable omission: my running shoes.
Since I first took to this dastardly hobby six years ago, I rarely travel without my trusty sneakers. I’ve run on vacation in the Luxembourg Garden in Paris and along the Limmat River in Zurich, on work trips in Brooklyn and upstate New York, and in multiple inches of freshly fallen snow on Christmas visits home to my parents in Michigan. No excuses.
But this time was different. I still have some pretty serious running goals and trained hard the past few cycles to get there. Fresh off the heels of a healthy marathon PR, however, the time felt right to step back. Not just because I know burnout is real and I wanted to give my mind and body a break before another grueling summer marathon training season, but also because this may be my one shot to explore New Zealand, and I wanted to spend every hour I could enjoying my vacation and not tired from a run, or stressed over when I’d get my miles in, or worried about how bad my running clothes stank.
I can’t say I didn’t feel a twinge of guilt when I disembarked the plane to see a poster advertising the upcoming Hawke’s Bay International Marathon or watched Auckland joggers head toward Tamaki Drive for their morning runs or crossed paths with trail runners skipping down the Rob Roy Glacier Track in Mount Aspiring National Park.
But those moments of guilt were more than compensated for by the unbelievable adventures I did have. And I think maybe I was more game to try new adventures and stretch myself in other ways with the extra energy and time I wasn’t spending running. Those adventures led me to see the most amazing rainbow at the base of a 600-foot waterfall, its green, mossy front glistening above me in the sun, and to climb to the top of a baby volcano, which erupted from Hauraki Gulf just 600 years ago, to take in panoramic views of Auckland’s harbor. I hiked within shouting distance of actively receding glaciers and through Lord of the Rings–worthy scenes of sweeping alpine grasses and sharp, craggy mountains.
I sampled local wines, and local beers, and local fruits I’d never heard of. I kayaked alongside seal pups, frolicking in the shadow of a Tasman Bay island. I bathed in natural hot springs and burned my feet in thermal pools with the crowds at Hot Water Beach. I sunk my toes into chilly ocean waters in magical, secluded white rock alcoves. I gawked at twinkling glow worms camped deep in slippery caves. And on, and on, and on.
Each night I retired to bed sated, both with beautiful, life-changing exploits and with the pleasant sense of fatigue I felt in my calves, glutes, and even lungs from all the climbing and tramping and scrambling I’d done that day. For a dedicated Type-A runner, going three weeks without tracking miles and splits felt like an eternity, but I can’t say my fitness has suffered. If anything, my legs feel stronger and my mind more attuned.
Since I got home last week, I’ve been back out on the pavement, logging miles and dreaming of my Kiwi adventures and where I’ll go next. We’ll see whether I pack my running shoes.