When Monique White moved from the US to the Netherlands in 1999, she started running races in different Dutch cities as a way of seeing the new country she found herself in. 20 years later, her goal has grown into something much bigger and much more adventurous: Monique uses running not only to see the Netherlands but to see the world. Tiqets caught up with this veteran marathon runner for advice on running races and running holidays.
1. Nice to meet you, Monique! Tell us a little bit about your travel blog, An Unstoppable Journey.
This is actually the third iteration of a travel blog I started when I moved to the Netherlands. Initially, it was called ‘Ms Wooden Shoes’ because it was kind of about life in the Netherlands, and then it was called ‘Mo Travels’ because I started to travel beyond the Netherlands.
My running is featured on the blog as well. I also have two Instagram accounts, one called An Unstoppable Journey, like the blog, and one called A Runstoppable Journey, which features more of my running stuff.
2. What made you decide to start a blog when you moved to the Netherlands?
I wrote a bit about expat life in the Netherlands. But when I’d been in the Netherlands for a while, I felt like I’d moved past that. So, I started focusing more on travel. Because I was doing more traveling outside the Netherlands, I changed the name from Ms Wooden Shoes to Mo Travels.
3. When did running become a part of the blog?
Initially, I started running because I thought I’d just run around the Netherlands to see more of the country and then, like the blog itself, that expanded to running races in different places. So running as a way of seeing more of a place has always been a part of my blog.
4. What was your first marathon?
My first marathon was Amsterdam, it was actually my first half and my first full marathon. I just remember feeling so emotional starting there. I don’t know if it was just because it was my first marathon, but there was just something about being in that Amsterdam stadium.
5. It looks like you’ve done your fair share of marathons and half marathons around the world. How do you combine running and going on holiday?
I suppose I have done quite a few running holidays! I’m actually working on this goal to run 50 by 50. My initial goal was to run races in 50 countries by my 50th birthday. But then, Covid happened. So I didn’t quite manage to run my 50 races by my 50th birthday, which was last year, but the goal is still happening! I’m now aiming to run 50 before I turn 51. In fact, I recently ran a race in Geneva – that was number 46.
6. That’s incredible! How many races have you been running per year to meet that 50 by 50 goal?
About six to seven in the golden era before Covid!
7. What made you decide to set that goal of 50 before 50?
I set the goal about five years ago, right around when my divorce was finalised. I was looking at my track records, and I was kind of searching for a goal to set myself. At that point, I had already run a couple of races in different countries. And yeah, I figured my 50th birthday wasn’t that far away… Why not do something? I had already done about 35 races in 35 different countries, so 50 before 50 looked doable!
8. That sounds like a lot of running! How much of a toll do races like this take on your body?
Oh, they definitely take quite a toll on your body. I still felt the race in Geneva three days afterwards. I was so tired, but that was also probably because it had been a while since I’d done a race and my training wasn’t up to par. I still did it though!
9. How do you combine these races with a holiday?
I plan a lot of my holidays around a race. So it’s like, oh, Geneva has a marathon, I’ll go to Geneva then. I usually try and do a long weekend and I plan things around the race. Usually, I’ll do the race on one day. Then on the other 2-3 days, I spend time seeing the city, going to museums, and eating some great local food.
I didn’t get to do much of that for this last race in Geneva because a lot of things were still closed, but it was a beautiful, beautiful weekend! I got to enjoy the lake and some of Geneva’s best outdoor sights.
10. Can you tell me about one of your running holiday itineraries pre-Covid?
Sure, I’ll tell you a bit about the last race I did before COVID in Santiago, Chile. I actually spent more than a weekend there – partly because it’s further away and partly because I wanted to take more advantage of being there.
For Chile, I arrived the day before the race. That day I went to pick up my race pack and then just tried to rest and get over jet lag a little bit. It sounds intense but you’re going to be tired anyway and in fact, I think running a race so soon after arriving helps the jet lag a little bit. My second day in Chile, I ran the race and got that out of the way. Then I had the rest of the week to explore Santiago.
The funny thing about that race is that it was right before the world shut down. I remember the race was on Saturday. On Sunday, I went on a walking tour of the city, and there was just almost nobody there because things were beginning to shut down. There were some cruise ships that had just come in and people had been let off the ships and they were scrambling to try to get back home. So, every day a little bit more was closed and by Tuesday I started thinking: “Oh, am I gonna get home?” So it was quite an adventure!
11. Right, that must be pretty intense. So how do you usually balance something like training and holidays?
Well by the time you get to the race destination, your training is done. You’ve already put in the hard work and you’re just there for the big event. I try and do the race the day after I arrive so I can see the city and celebrate with a glass of wine or two after the race is done!
12. Do you feel like you still get to appreciate the scenery while you’re running a race or are you very focused on the run itself?
A lot of race courses allow you to see the main highlights of the city. But some places are better than others; some places you’re just running along the highway and at the end you’re just like “Wait, what did I even see?” So yeah, some cities are better than others!
13. What’s a really good long-distance race for a beginner “travel runner?”
For a first long distance race? Probably Amsterdam, because it’s flat and you get to go around and see the main parts of the city.
14. And what are some of your favourite runs that you’ve done over the past couple of years?
Marrakesh is probably one of my favourites, it was my first run in Africa and it just felt like it was really different. So I really liked that one. I also liked Istanbul, because you get to run in both Europe and Asia. And that was pretty cool!
I actually have a lot of favourites, there’s a race in Vancouver called SeaWheeze and it’s organised by Lululemon. That was just a fun race. It was pretty, the scenery was nice, and I just enjoyed the whole vibe.
Running a race on the Great Wall in China was also pretty memorable, but it was a lot! I just kind of stumbled upon that one. We had friends who lived in China and we went to visit them. Someone they knew had an injury and they couldn’t run the race, so I got to go!
15. Do you have any least favourite runs?
I’d say the North London run was probably one of the ugliest courses I’ve ever done. There was just nothing to see. Okay, there was one highlight: when you ran through Wembley Stadium, your name came up on the screen above the stadium. But that’s really it – I think they felt they needed that to make up for the rest of it, because the rest of the course was so ugly.
I ran that marathon relay with three other runners, and my portion of it was literally just highway – it was so boring. It was like I could have been anywhere. The person who ran the last two legs of the race got to see more of the centre and she said that was nicer.
16. What races are still on your running bucket list?
I’ve managed to run in six out of seven continents, so as much as I hate the cold, I have signed up for the waitlist for the Antarctica race in 2023. I’d also like to do the White Nights race in St. Petersburg, and run races in Peru and Argentina.
17. Tell me a bit about ‘sight running’.
Yeah, I try to do a bit of sight running and I’ve done a couple of running tours. I did one in London that was a food running tour, and I really liked it. They took you around, and showed you some of the city’s best restaurants. Obviously, we didn’t stop and eat there but it was a nice tour of the city and at the end you got all the recommendations they’d given during the tour written out for you.
I did something similar in Seville. They take you around and you get to see the highlights of the city. In the event that you can’t run an actual race while you’re visiting, that’s definitely a good way to see the city and get your run in.
18. What would your top tips be for someone planning a running holiday?
Get there a day or two before your race to acclimate yourself a bit, and stay a day or two after to be able to enjoy the city a bit.
Pack your running things in your carry-on luggage – I’ve had a few near-disaster experiences with that one before.
If you’re going to a place where the altitude is a lot higher, consider that and try to give yourself time to acclimatise – another lesson learned the hard way!
Plan in advance – especially for major marathons. The one in Berlin, for example, you’ve got to be ready to sign up the day that they open the registration. For the Amsterdam marathon, you probably have to register pretty soon after they open as well, because it’s getting pretty popular. It depends on the race though – I have booked races, you know, a couple weeks before, so it really depends how big or popular the race is.
19. What are you planning for your 50th race?
I don’t know. I’m actually in the process of looking around to see what’s going to be possible. A lot of races are virtual at the moment because of the Covid situation. So at least my next three races will be virtual. My rule is that for these virtual races to count towards the 50 goal, they have to be in places I have travelled to before. So I’ve signed up for Seoul and Bali. I’m actually curious to see what my 50th race will end up being!