We run at dawn: Why I lace up in cities while travelling 

written by Jade Hegarty February 17, 2024
a woman standing in front of the Verona Arena

Ask any runner about their must-pack item for a trip and I’m pretty sure running shoes will be mentioned time and again. The thrill of logging miles in an unknown place are too good to pass on.  

One bitterly cold -14oC winter morning in Niagara Falls, Canada, taught me the joy and discovery of getting up before first light, lacing up my running shoes and setting off to explore before the rest of the world had the chance. 

My family and I had made a two-day trip to see Niagara Falls. When we arrived in the middle of the day, throngs of tourists were gathered all along the barriers to the waterfall. It was enthralling to be there, but the unrelenting push of the crowd dampened my enthusiasm as I fought my way through for a photo.   

The next morning, my husband and I set our alarms to squeeze in a 7 am run before heading home. We wove our way through eery, abandoned streets at twilight toward the iconic waterfall, the sound of its turbulent cascade growing louder as we approached.  

By the time we reached the mouth of the Falls, the noise was deafening, and it was the only noise we heard. Totally alone, we stood mesmerized, silently aware this was a rare opportunity.  

One year later, we took a mid-summer trip to Verona, Italy. I expected to slowly file through the city alongside thousands of people, peeking between shoulders to glimpse Juliet’s balcony and the Basillica di San Zeno Maggiore.  

But, knowing my newfound dawn running ritual was waiting, an invitation to explore the city in a different way, a sort of secret rendezvous, gave me a renewed sense of holiday anticipation of what was to come.  

That first morning, it almost felt like we were doing something wrong. The side glance and raised eyebrows from the night porter at the front desk of our hotel suggested that no visitor should be awake at 6 am, let alone hurrying out the door in running shorts.  

In compact Verona, where Romanesque landmarks, sky-scraping monuments, and renaissance plazas can be found at every turn, it’s easy to search for different vantage points throughout the city.  

The famous Ponte Scaligero and Ponte Pietra bridges, with their regal parapets and upturned cappuccino shades of brown and cream on top, linking one side of the city to the other, became our marked our route.  

Flashes of the wide Adige River sped by through gaps in the walls as we ran. Tiny lizards scuttled across our path in the early morning heat as we kicked up dust.  

With a little planning on the AllTrails and Footpath apps the night before, we had marked a route towards the Scalone Volto San Bartolomeo steps alongside local residences.  

Running at dawn lets me quiet my thoughts and become more mindful of my surroundings, seeing intricate details and hearing the unfamiliar city sounds that I otherwise would have missed.

When we finally reached the top of the crumbling steps, panting for breath and glistening with sweat, we stopped and looked around to see the ancient Italian city bathed in early morning light, not yet fully awake, but stirring gently from slumber.  

As we kept running towards our destination, perspectives changed. No longer surrounded by crowds we could now immerse ourselves in the city. We passed another runner, perhaps on a similar mission, and silently nodded to each other in approval.

Far below, an older woman pulled up the shutter of her local supermarket and hobbled around outside, preparing for a day of trade ahead. There was no hum of traffic or beeping of moped horns or shouting of traders.  

This tourist hotspot had become a runner’s haven: I had the freedom and space to move and drift without worrying about pedestrians slowing me down or dodging cars. In the distance, we had clear sight of the tip of the tower we’d paid to climb inside just the day before. 

Afterwards, we wandered back through the streets without any real agenda and arrived back at the main plaza to the smell of pastries in the air. Waiters at a nearby cafe were setting out chairs and tables on the cobbled streets. We seized the opportunity to be the first patrons of the day and, in broken Italian, ordered some freshly brewed coffee. 

Verona is one of many cities in the world that lends itself to running. You’d be surprised at just how many kilometres – and sights – you can cover. Whether you’re in the arrondissements of Paris or the monument-lined streets of Dublin, it’s empowering to know that you can put on some running shoes and head off at sunrise, not quite sure what will happen. 

That liberating feeling is something I’ve chased for a while, at home and abroad. 

It’s allowed me to explore the pebbles of ancient ruins, stopping to gently feel the stone and wonder what it would have looked like all those years before. It’s permitted me to quietly observe the daily lives of the locals without intruding on them.  

Running at dawn lets me quiet my thoughts and become more mindful of my surroundings, seeing intricate details and hearing the unfamiliar city sounds that I otherwise would have missed. So make space for those running shoes and you won’t hit the snooze button on your alarm.  

Lace up for one of these small group adventures to Europe.

Feeling inspired?

You might also like

Back To Top