When runner Becky Wade was about to graduate college, she knew that she wanted to travel the world before settling into any sort of career. She longed to experience different cultures, find friends across the globe, and discover her purpose through getting lost. She wanted to learn while wandering. Travel costs money though — especially if you want to take an entire year off to do so and haven’t entered the workforce yet. Which is where the (very awesome) Watson Fellowship comes in.
The Watson Fellowship awards new college graduates the opportunity to see the world with a generous year-long stipend. They don’t expect you to work at any point, volunteer, or even come up with a tangible end product. They simply want young people to have world-broadening experiences that will enable them to become leaders (in any field) with a more empathetic and knowledgeable perspective of other cultures. The big condition of the fellowship: You’re forbidden from stepping foot back in the U.S. for an entire year. That’s it. Basically, the sky is the limit from there.
For Wade’s proposal, she decided she wanted to see the world by meeting with other runners and running clubs in various countries. She wanted to learn how communities around the world structured their lives around the sport and how they interact with and approach running in ways that were similar or different from her own experiences.
“It’s such a pure and inclusive sport and something that’s practiced everywhere,” she says. “So it just made sense to connect that to travel.”
Wade won the fellowship. And though she initially planned on visiting just a handful of countries, she took the award and… ahem… ran with it, visiting 22 different nations. She never paid for lodging, instead relying on personal recommendations of people to stay with and, at times, cold-emailing clubs, coaches, and professional runners to ask if someone would be willing to put her up. Every dollar of the grant went toward food and transportation.
The trip inspired a book and it not only allowed Wade to make friends and experience other cultures, as she had hoped, but also ended up elevating her own running career by changing her perspective.
Shortly after Wade returned from her travels, she ran her first marathon — the California International Marathon in Sacramento — and won it. Magazines touted her as “America’s Best Young Marathoner” and, in many ways, that success was a product of the life-changing year she’d had traveling. She’s now full-time a professional runner. And her trip, which proved to her that running transcends the superficial barriers that keep us from connecting to other cultures, also helped break down personal barriers to her success as a long distance expert.
We were able to catch Wade recently just hours before she flew to London to compete in the London Marathon (she came in 11th place, in what was the hottest London marathon ever on record). And she shared with us the ways travel can deepen and strengthen your running career.
1. You’ll meet the lifelong friends and running partners who will encourage you throughout life. Because runners are cool people.
I am so fortunate that as a 23-year-old, 5 foot, ninety pound American girl who’d never really traveled, that I honestly didn’t have any security or safety issues. I got pickpocketed, had my wallet stolen, and got lost so many times, but I really felt like the running community stepped up and helped me out.
I didn’t have a cell phone or a smartphone. So, there was a lot of learning how to trust my gut when I was traveling, but I will say this, for the most part: Everyone who I met, ran with, and stayed with was excited about my project and about meeting me. They were exactly the kind of people you want to meet and spend time with while you travel!
Runners are, in general, very friendly and social. It’s a really easy sport to do with other people and develop a community around. The cool thing about running is that it’s really easy to relate to all runners — from the super recreational hobby jogger to the professional runner because, we’re doing the same thing, we’re just doing it at different paces or different quantities of miles every week. It’s such a pure and inclusive sport and it’s something that’s practiced everywhere. It really lends itself well to travel.