Sure, running will leave you speechless. But, running around the world? That will spark your voice and turn you into a storyteller.
Becky Wade, 27, knows a thing or two about accumulating miles. She’s a professional long distance runner and a former All-American, who in her marathon debut, became the third-fastest female marathoner under the age of 25 in U.S. history.
The accolades were nice, but the real reward came when she took herself off the leash at 23 years old and spent one full year traveling solo to investigate running communities in every corner of the globe.
She logged miles, meals, and deep conversations in 22 countries, nine of which she details in her newly released book, Run the World: My 3,500 Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Across the Globe.
Wade didn’t bunk up in hostels or apartments either. She stayed with locals — 72 different sleeping arrangements to be exact.
“I started making friends with runners in each place and they would all invite me to stay and hook me up with friends in the next country I was going to,” Wade said. “These people were willing to let me stay with them, eat their meals and kind of follow them around. I think that really says so much about the global running community.”
It was the ultimate “race” — the entire world was her course, all arrows directing her to go further than she had ever gone before.
Easing Her Way In
Wade grew up in Dallas with attorney parents, a twin brother, and another set of fraternal twins one year older.
“I was by far the least athletic out of all of us,” Wade said. “I was not someone you’d expect to go on and be a professional runner by any means.”
She was introduced to the sport with casual loops around the neighborhood and “Jingle Bell runs” with her marathon running father, who is also a former University of Texas football player.
She joined the fifth grade track team and continued running into her teen years at a Dallas area all-girls Catholic high school.
“My parents had a rule when we were growing up that we always had to be involved in a sport every season,” Wade said. “I was always more of a sprinter, but cross country was something I was willing to give a shot my freshman year. I fell into place there. I did that in the fall and track in the spring. It was more of a social thing at that point, though.”
Social or not, she was able to tick off a 5:07 mile and an 11:09 in the 3,200 meter race, but an injury her senior year slowed her development.
It wasn’t until she got to Rice University where she found her stride under a solid coach and a desire to up her distance to the 10,000-meter race.
“I didn’t know what I was doing until I got to college and that’s when I took off,” Wade said. “I’ve been serious with the sport now for about 10 years, which isn’t super long. Most marathoners usually peak in their mid-to-late 30’s, so hopefully I still have a lot of room to improve.”
She graduated with degrees in history, sociology, and psychology. Then came time for her to take the next step forward.
“The thought of doing some kind of fellowship after I graduated, or something that would allow me to travel was really appealing,” Wade said. “I’ve always been a very curious person, but just being a collegiate runner and basically competing year-round for five years, I wasn’t able to really commit to spending a whole semester abroad or taking any big fun summer trips.”
In fact, she had only left North America once. It was time for her to spread her wings. So, she applied for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.
“I estimate that the amount of time I would spend on a normal course for a whole year, I spent the same amount of time working on this application, making contacts, and making a travel itinerary. I built this dream year based off of studying running cultures all around the world.”
And, the globetrotting opportunity came through.
Running By ‘Feel’
Wade visited 22 countries, but spent significant time in nine — England, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan — settling in for anywhere from three weeks to two months in each location.
“I’m a huge planner; a very meticulous person,” Wade said. “Traveling, of course, is not that at all. The shocking thing is I was able to embrace the lifestyle and the lack of routine. That was so good for me.”
She hit the pavement, the trails, and really any place her new local friends suggested.
The most beautiful place to run?
“New Zealand and Switzerland, but I could think of a beautiful run for every country I went to,” Wade said.
The most surprising: Ethiopia, where she stayed for two months.
“East Africans have the reputation for being the most dominant distance runners in the world,” Wade said. “A lot of people think they’re non-stop intense and have so much discipline and really developed training plans. What I found there was more than any of that, they train by ‘feel.’ There’s an ingrained sense of toughness, a really deep desire to succeed more than I saw in any other place. The training style really surprised me.”
Wade asked an Ethiopian runner friend how many miles she runs every week.
“She had no idea how much she averaged in a given week or day,” Wade said. “In the U.S., we try to quantify everything, we get obsessed with numbers, and we try to have linear progress. It’s more intuitive in east Africa.”
Eat Like An Ethiopian
Wade stayed with everyone from Olympians to recreational runners during her time overseas.
“It gave me a huge appreciation for the variety of approaches that runners all around the world take, and none of them are superior to the others,” she said. “There are so many ways to train and be successful.”
She took some of those methods and applied them to her own life. The big tool she acquired were recipes — the fuel people were taking in before and after their runs.
One of her favorites is a spicy Ethiopian stew called shiro. It’s made with powdered chickpeas, and often combined with onions, garlic, tomatoes, chilies, and sometimes small pieces of meat. It’s almost always accompanied by injera, a spongy flatbread made of teff flour.
Wade also incorporated more hills into her workouts, and it made all the difference. Upon returning to the U.S. in 2013, Wade won her first 26.2-mile race, the California International Marathon. Not only did she hit the top of the podium, but she became the fifth fastest American woman marathoner of that year. None of the other four were under 30 years old. She also locked in her first big time endorsement deal with Asics.
Wade is coming off of a tough year, where she failed to make the Olympic team.
“I had to do a lot of looking inside myself and asking myself what I’m really trying to get out of the sport,” she said.
But, being only 27 years old, she still has plenty of time to develop both personally and professionally.
When not running, Wade can be found writing. She spent two years working on Run the World, and she’s looking to take on some freelance work, and perhaps start another book.
After uprooting from Texas three months ago and planting herself in one of the country’s best running cities (Boulder, Colo), she’s keeping her legs and lungs firing, knowing full well that nothing can be a substitute for Wanderlust.