Running solo as a female in a foreign country

The scenery in Gränichen is alright.

It was inevitable that Mike and I would be running independently from each other. We spent the first two weeks without working SIM cards which meant no data and no ability to call each other. Coming from a big city, I’ve never had any issues running alone when there are always people around who speak the same language as me. And while I was pleased to discover that the majority of the population in all the Scandinavian countries we visited speak English, I still felt nervous about wandering out by myself with no way for Mike to keep in touch with me if I got lost or ran into trouble.

Our original plan of finding run groups to join was harder than we thought. It seems run groups are more of a North American thing (or maybe it’s more of a Toronto thing – I wouldn’t know because I don’t have enough experience in other cities). Typically, we could only find 1 or 2 groups max in each city, and between the language barrier and scheduling conflicts, we were only able to sync up to a group in Stockholm (which was awesome, by the way!).

We ran with a great group in Stockholm while we were there.

We quickly realized that in order for us to get our long runs in, we’d have to do these solo – which is a problem for someone as directionally challenged as me. But, we’re about three weeks in, and we’ve successfully completed two solo long runs. It takes a lot more planning than rolling out of bed and meeting a group with a planned route, but it works in a way that leaves us both feeling safe and able to execute our long runs at a pace that works for us.

Here are some of the things we do / have learned since:

  1. We map out our run in advance
    Mike usually does this for me (bless him). When he really doesn’t know a city very well, he’ll even go as far as to check out the streetview in Google Maps. Maybe this seems like a bit much, but it makes me feel safer when I know he feels it’s appropriate for me to run through an area alone.

    Mike tries to pick open spaces that aren’t too isolated.
  2. We preload the route on our iPhones.
    Right now, we’re using MapMyRun to create the route and then preload it onto our phones. A couple of things we’ve learned since using it:

    • Make sure you’ve started the route – that way you can see your location against the pre-planned route. Just having the route open in the app isn’t enough to be able to track where you currently are against the planned route.

      Make sure you hit “Do It” and then “Start Workout” otherwise you can’t track your current location against the planned route.
    • Try to keep it as the only app open – if you don’t have any cell phone data, closing the app may cause it to crash and you could lose your route.
    • Turn OFF your “cellular data” (but don’t put the phone on airplane mode). This will severely drain your battery if you have MapMyRun in use and keep it open on your screen. With cellular data off, I’ve been able to keep the app open so I can see the map for 3+ hours without my battery dipping below 20%; and
    • Preload your location on your phone’s map app too to have as a back up. I’ve even thought about adding some pins along the map in case MapMyRun stops working mid-run so that I can run towards them in case I ever need to improvise.
  3. Stay on the route as much as possible.
    The only times I’ve deviated from Mike’s route were when I ran into construction and couldn’t actually continue along the route he had set (not his fault – Google Maps can only tell you so much). Usually, I’ll try to look for an alternate route that will get me back on track as quickly as possible, and if I had the ability to text Mike to tell him a change in plans, I would. Besides, I think Mike gets a kick out of trying to find me at certain points along the route, so the more I stick to the plan, the more often he’ll be able to “see” me. 😉
  4. Set a few check points
    Mike and I will usually set a few check points where we can meet and make sure we’re both okay in the middle of the run. Usually we’ll pick a cafe that’s somewhere along the way, because there’s a bigger chance that it’ll have wifi so we can re-load our maps in case anything goes wrong, or check to see if there are any message from each other in case something happened before we reached the checkpoint (for example, we had to stop earlier and found wifi to message the other person).
  5. No music
    Running without music when I’m alone is something I usually do anyway. Because I got so familiar with my running routes in Toronto, I relaxed that rule to never listening to music if I was running in the dark or in an area that I wasn’t too comfortable with. I’ve talked about how listening to music has helped distract me during races and helped me get through boring solo runs. In Europe, I just don’t think it’s worth risking it. I need to be aware of my surroundings at all times – traffic especially varies so much from city to city that one missed step could be really bad.
The best part about long runs in new cities is the fact that you can explore so much more of it by foot compared to if you were walking around it.

The truth about how our long runs have gone

We’ve done three long runs since we’ve come to Europe. The first was in ice-infested Oslo, which we ran it together so there was  no issue (aside from the dangerous icy roads, of course). The second long run was in Copenhagen where we bought prepaid SIM cards and used that to call / text each other a few times when we ran into trouble (which we did – we ran out of battery and learned to keep cellular data OFF). The third long run was in Gränichen, where we took a chance and ran without SIM cards. We had one checkpoint in a village about halfway into the run. I had the cafe we were supposed to meet at bookmarked on Yelp, but because I didn’t have data or wifi, the Yelp app crashed and I ended up wandering around the village, trying to remember what the name of the cafe was called that we were supposed to meet at. It took us almost an hour to reconnect, so doing our long runs without SIM cards is not something we’ll feel comfortable doing again.

I kept my MapMyRun app going while I wandered around for an hour in Aarau looking for Mike at our checkpoint (which I couldn’t remember since my Yelp app bookmark was unavailable to me). It was horrible.

As I mentioned, it takes much more planning to run seperately, but having the freedom to run alone and at our own paces is invaluable. I love running with Mike – he’s my best friend and favourite running partner, but I also love and cherish my solo runs. I’m so glad we’ve been able to find a balance and include plenty of both in our lives while we live abroad.



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