Pack your running gear and go running when you are visiting different places, doing a recce of the amazing locations for the family

First published in Mint newspaper on 11th August 2014

Most of us need a break after a family vacation to recover from the stress of holiday planning and perfect execution, and the stress manifests itself in many ways—emotional, mental, physical and financial. But there is a smarter way to unwind and de-stress. Pack your running gear and go running when you are visiting different places, doing a recce of the amazing locations for the family.

This actually works.

When I finalized my vacation plan and the destination chosen was Venice, I was excited because I would be able to run in one of the world’s most romantic cities. I knew that running there would help me connect better with the artistic city. I would be able to soak in all the history and culture on foot.

Venice, with its waterways and magnificent architecture, has been featured so often in films that sometimes you feel like you are in a movie when you are there.

The two famous sons of Venice are Marco Polo and Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, born over 450 years apart. One, a maverick traveller who wasn’t necessarily the first European to travel to China, but was definitely the first one to document the adventure in detail; the other, a romantic playboy of the highest order, who wasn’t just a predator, but a man who “had loved deeply, if briefly”, all the 130 ladies he slept with. Both of them shook up the very liberal and open-minded Venetian society of their time.

What I could really connect to was the story of the war refugees who set up this city in the fifth century, fleeing to the godforsaken mudflats in a lagoon, infested heavily with mosquitoes. This story of enduring pain, their belief in themselves and their ability to take on the world, is in reality more romantic than all the other stories.

My family and I stayed at a hotel in Rialto, which has been Venice’s main commercial and financial centre for centuries. The Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal, with a history of collapse. Originally a floating bridge made of boats in 1181, it was replaced by a wooden bridge in 1255, and by a marble bridge in 1591. A parallel can be drawn between this and a runner. One of the very basic rules of running, even life, is that “failing is not a crime, lack of effort is”.

St Mark’s Square, which adjoins the lagoon, is the social, religious and political centre of Venice. It is a 10-minute run from Rialto. At the eastern end of the square is St Mark’s Basilica, a cathedral from which the square gets its name. The cathedral supposedly houses the relics of Mark the Evangelist—one of the 70 disciples of Jesus—which were stolen from Alexandria way back in 828 AD to enhance the importance of Venice.

Another 10-minute jog away is Gallerie dell’Accademia, for which I had to cross Ponte dell’Accademia, one of only four bridges to span the Grand Canal. Romance is very much alive in today’s Venice too. On the metal handrails of this bridge, you can see the padlocks attached by lovers, signifying everlasting love. The Gallerie dell’Accademia contains masterpieces of pre-19 century Venetian paintings. The one that was of most interest to me as a sports-exercise medicine and physical activity advocate was a painting by Leonardo da Vinci called Vitruvian Man. This image is a classic blend of art and science, depicting ideal human proportions.

Running itself is an amalgamation of first art and then science. Running comes naturally to us as children but technology and the modern lifestyle make us forget it. Had we carried on being very active and sporty, we wouldn’t have had to think of how we should go about it. But when we are forced to sit down from the age of 3, we are effectively deactivating the one muscle in our body that is primarily only for running, the magnificent gluteus maximus, or the butt muscle. Once we get this muscle active, running again comes to us naturally.

After Gallerie dell’Accademia, I went to the train station. From there it was another 15-minute jog back to Rialto Bridge.

I planned our day’s sightseeing based on the locations that had appealed to me during my run. It was an amazing day: I had had my dose of time travel, running through a thousand years in a city which had a lot more running background than I had imagined.

This is the second article in a two-part series on running holidays in European cities.