Amateur sporting events are now so well associated with travel that it’s not unusual to find groups of like minded individuals (whether they’re long distance runners or walkers, swimmers, or members of a team) heading off to some exciting location in the world to pursue their fitness and fun goals. The New York marathon has become a bucket-list destination, as has the daunting Marathon des Sables. But what few people realise is that there are much more low-key sporting events happening in the world all the time – and that they don’t require the enormous amount of forward planning, cost, or intense levels of fitness to enter. What’s more, because these events are small scale, they enable you to connect with the locals in a way that you might never do if you hadn’t discovered them. The only requirement is that you take a modest about of fitness with you – and who doesn’t want that!
I first discovered these kinds of opportunities by accident while home exchanging away from New Zealand for 9 months. While in Piran, in Slovenia, I was sight-seeing around the town one afternoon when I noticed a poster tacked to the town hall’s notice board. It was advertising a 10km run the coming weekend. The trail was displayed as well, and as it appeared to take in some highly scenic parts of the surrounding landscape, I decided to give it a go. When I arrived at the town hall two days later, it was to discover the run was in honour of a famous musician who had composed in the city 200 years before – and that I was one of just 10 runners taking part. I had stumbled upon the local harrier’s group!
The run itself was outstanding – nothing demanding in terms of fitness (in fact, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I didn’t know the way, I would have probably been leading the pack!) but the real joy came afterwards over a cup of coffee and torte in the town hall, and the chance to connect with the locals who were over the moon at having a Kiwi competitor!
A similar scene played out in a small village in the south of France where we were home exchanging for a month. Once again, it was a casual encounter with a poster (this time attached to a lamppost) that alerted me to a 10km run or walk two weeks away. As the route was through myriad vineyards, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity, and with two weeks warning, I covered a lot of very scenic ground as I did my training each morning.
Once again, the event was low key (although it did have around 200 people taking part), and there was a great deal of camaraderie and amusement at the ‘after-match function’ (wine and croissants served from market tables set up in the town square) when it was discovered that a New Zealander had competed. I’ve no doubt that my ‘prize’ was hastily concocted (I hadn’t achieved an actual placing), but I was very happy to accept a bottle of local vino in recognition that I had come further than any other one else to compete!
If mixing with the locals through low key events interest you, there’s no need to leave it to the last minute. Before you leave on your travels, do some internet research on the town or region you’ll be staying in. Then contact the council, running or walking group of that community to find out ahead of time how you can take part in events. Even joining in with a local walking or running group for a regular day trip or morning run can see you making enjoyable connections. And at whatever event you turn up to, you can be certain you’ll be warmly welcomed!