Monday, October 5, 2009

Sneakers in the Suitcase

Back in August before we left for Montreal, I contacted a tour company suggested by the concierge at our hotel. Not the ordinary tour company, this one gives running tours. Running Tourist provides tour guides with an intimate familiarity with the city to give tours on foot while running through various sections of Montreal. They offer several group runs each week and private runs. We chose the private run, mostly because we were able to choose the time and our guide, Steve, met us at our hotel. We had a great time, learned a lot and explored areas of the city that we would not have on our own. Plus, it was a great way to start the day.

The experience made me wonder, who had the great idea to start this company and give tours to runners instead of loading them onto double-decker buses and telling lame jokes? Well, her name is Heather Beauchesne. I was recently able to ask her a few questions about her running story and how why she started Running Tourist.

Heather was an athlete growing up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, playing league sports including volleyball, basketball, soccer and badminton, while trying out cross country a few times. It wasn’t until she was in her twenties that she became a more regular runner. While a 10km is her favorite distance, she’s happy to go farther with good company. She says “before, I was a solo runner, always, and then I met a cool group of like minded peeps and now I crave for the interaction and conversation.” Starting each day with a run along the river as the sun came up, she was completely happy, but the feeling would change when she got to work.

In August 2008, after deciding to “kick-it-up-a-notch” on her running, she came across an article on running tourism and realized that it was the perfect way to combine her love for Montreal, early morning runs, and fondness for meeting new people. She says the response so far has been “amazing.” The Running Tourist guides are locals who love their city, are enthusiastic and skilled runners (all are marathoners). They provide genuine interaction and conversation rather than a rehearsed dialogue like most tour companies of any type. (Not long after Running Tourist opened shop, several established tour companies offering bike tours added running tours to their list of services. I did not learn of any of them though when researching our trip.) Running Tourist currently has seven guides, ranging from college students to professional journalists and it sounds like the regular local runners are just as diverse.

Not only is Running Tourist a great option for tourists from other cities (and countries), it is also a great opportunity for local runners. “We have a dynamic group, 27 – 50, but everyone is social, verbal, and opinionated, but we all make the point to stay and run as a group no matter how heated a conversation is, and I feel that is strong, it’s fantastic!” she reveals. I recall our guide, Steve, telling us that after a group run, several, if not all, of the runners will go out and enjoy a meal or drink together. It’s a great way to stay healthy, active, and social.

While the group runs are popular for locals, the private runs, like ours, are also in high demand. The guides will plan routes that follow paths not typically taken by tourists, including back allies, parks, and neighborhoods. We ran through neighborhoods in the Plateau area just as parents were taking their children to the first day of school. It was cool to see locals going about their daily lives and to be out of the tourist areas. To see the city as it really is.

I asked Heather about the popularity of running in Canada, and not to my surprise, really, she said that a lot of people don’t necessarily see themselves as runners because “they are intimidated by the ‘elite’ idea, but that there really is a large community of runners. I think that happens here too. For the longest time, I wouldn’t refer to myself as a runner. I was too slow, or didn’t run enough, or didn’t know enough about running to be a runner. But the truth is, I am a runner, and anyone who gets out there and runs (or jogs) on a somewhat consistent basis and enjoys doing it, is a runner.

What does the future hold for Running Tourist? While it is a young company, Heather has received requests from cities all over Canada to open additional locations and she does plan to expand for the summer of 2010! The challenge will be to keep the coolness and easy going nature of the company as it expands to new areas.

Here are a few tips Heather was kind enough to share:

The two best running tips she ever received:
1. Keep your pelvis forwards, this will keep your back straight and avoid lower back pain. Remind yourself of this every 15 minutes and your run can last 2 hours minimum. Promise.
2. Focus on your breathing, let everything else go, live in this “now,” and everything afterwards, your work, life, love, will flow with ease.

Because she’s “too busy or lazy to stretch” she takes yoga twice a week. She believes hot yoga and yin to be really good for you – a Yin and Yang balance.

Heather’s tips for traveling – don’t wear high waisted jeans on a long flight and pack a lot of decaf tea. The tea is great for the flight and after you land.

I encourage anyone traveling to Montreal to look up Running Tourist and join them for a group run or schedule a private one. It’s a fantastic experience and I can’t say enough good things about it.

1 comment:

Morgan said...

That is really awesome! I wish we had something like this in O-town! My friend Tall Guy Surfing and I were just talking about this concept the other day.