This week Suzanne and I are doing some business travel and looking at life from the perspective which is some 13 time zones, and perhaps a few mindsets, distant from the ones with which we grew. Part of the trip, at least for Suzanne, has been reacquainting herself with many international telecommunications workers...many of whom have never met me but know some of my story. When they ask about how Suzanne and I they are amazed to find out we met, dated and courted by way of the internet. Some of they laugh and marvel at how well it seems to have worked for us. But it's not the traditional method of courting and dating, as we well know. It's hard to explain to your parents that you met through the online personals, so we both told them something along the lines of "oh, by way of some yahoos we know." Once we married we became a tad more fearless and told them we met by way of Yahoo.
Any person who has looked at internet personals will be quick to acknowledge there are "crap shoot" aspects which almost make the risk to reward ratio astronomically insane. You never know whether the photo of the seemingly hot person you're looking at is of them at the relative present (one of my favorite authors reminded me every photo we have is of us in the past); if they're providing the entire story or feeding you a line of fertilizer base material, stuff like that.
The internet is a lovely thing for research but sometimes you can't get enough perspective to make an educated guess about what to do; is this person a good fit or will I be sorely disappointed in six weeks when I find out they're a complete head case?
When I learned from my wife we were going to Singapore I also learned from my closest family and friends that I could end up gaining five pounds in a week. That's not something you want to hear if you're a person who still feels the need to lose an inch. I jumped on the internet and began to search for several friendly neighborhood resources.
I first looked at Gmap Pedometer (www.gmap-pedometer.com); most runners have learned by now to use this site - and several others like it - to scope out potential run routes. I like the interface, which is usable enough for my immediate needs. It's faster than other on-line mapping programs, a couple of which are too advertising-laden for my taste.
But it has one problem. Much like on-line dating, a mapping program cannot always tell you what you REALLY need to know; road congestion, construction, unintentional obstacles (bicyclists, pedestrians, and so on...). My "flatlander" friends might - or might not - look at elevation changes and terrain when scoping out a potential run course. So you're stuck with a thirty-thousand foot view of the place where you plan to spend a few days...and no clue whether there's a public bathroom in that park...
So it does not hurt to use a couple of other resources when preparing for business travel - or leisure travel, for that matter.
An internet search for local running stores and bicycle shops can provide great gouge on running clubs, training runs, and even hash kennels. These particular groups can provide resources on where - and where not - to do a training run. Some shops have training groups or organized runs, which naturally get folks in the door to look at their wares. Nothing wrong with joining capitalism with altruism.
The Road Runners Club of America website (www.rrca.org) provides contact information for individual running clubs and state representatives. I used to get at least one phone call or e-mail per week from a runner planning a visit to a particular city, looking for a running club or a race in which to participate during their stay. RRCA-member running clubs often have training groups or group runs affiliated with them, or at least can point the individual in the right direction. Some clubs are more active or proactive than others.
Two less-commonly-tapped sources for great places to run, in my humble opinion, are Hash House Harriers groups, or kennels, and hotel desk staff.
When Suzanne and I looked at the world wide hash directory (www.gthhh.com) we learned there were ten hash kennels in Singapore. We could hash every day of the week, time and finances permitting. Our challenge then lay in learning exactly where the kennel planned to meet. Some kennels are better at marketing runs than others. After a quick e-mail to the head of the hash they were kind enough to send us the calendar for the next weeks' runs. We've often tapped the hotel desk clerks to find out where the best places to run were, or at least to learn the places to avoid.
Striking up a conversation with a bartender or waitress sometimes even brings out the most unusual information or stories...neither my wife nor I are one to back down from a good story.
Just because you're traveling doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your run. Besides, the best way to learn about a city is to run in it.