Running your way through a river cruise

It was a tough decision for Paula: Take a 14-day Viking river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest in August or continue her intensive training to complete three more half-marathons in 2014 (she’d already finished five of ’em since January).

But this ever-smiling resident of Vancouver (British Columbia) didn’t have to think about it too long—she knew what she wanted to do: Both!

And that’s how I met Paula on the Atla.


After running up 298 stairs to the Veste Oberhaus, Paula pauses for a view over Passau.

She and hubby, William, were typically off the Atla before I even began thinking about breakfast. No matter where we were docked, they headed out on the trails, sidewalks and riverside pathways early in the morning, running and enjoying the day’s fresh beginning.

A few miles’ run later, they’d bound back on to the boat, laughing and telling us what they’d seen—then freshening up and taking on the morning’s tour with the rest of us. I’m a bit of a casual runner myself (‘never tackled an official race, but I do enjoy trail running through the woods near our home) and I’d rather thought of packing my running shoes and shorts on this trip but then decided against it.

After listening to Paula, I wish I had gone with my first instinct and packed those shoes.

“A river cruise was something we’d always wanted to do,” she says. “We’ve traveled a lot, but we thought a river cruise would enable us to see things differently as we cruised down the Rhine and Danube. But with my training for the half-marathons, I didn’t want to stop running entirely for over two weeks. So William and I just incorporated running into our river cruising. It made a nice holiday even better.”

While in training, Paula says she typically runs 40 to 45 kilometers weekly. She wasn’t able to put that much distance under her shoes while river cruising, but she did run enough to enable her to head back into her regular training at home without a big loss.

“I feel good that when I head home I’ll be able to slide right into my regular training schedule. Really, I was quite surprised at how much running we were able to squeeze in,” she says. “A lot of it was dependent on what time we docked. If we woke up early and were already docked, we’d tie on our shoes and head out to explore.

“We’d often run along the river and, since I ‘collect’ unusual graffiti, we had the chance to see a lot of it on the bridges we ran under. We’d see other runners and local people starting their day. Running is a great way to discover a new city or explore it in a different way.”

Some days, such as in Passau, the weather and the docking time didn’t make an early-morning run possible.

“We found that there’s a lot of free time on a river cruise and we frequently used that to run,” says this native of South Africa. “In Passau that meant we did the morning tour then headed out on our run in the afternoon.”

That afternoon’s run looked challenging, too: It was straight up a trail from the river to the peak of St. Georgsberg (344 feet higher than the valley floor) where the Veste Oberhaus fortress looked over Passau and the river valley. Mom and I went up there too, but we rode a bus and walked down it. No buses for Paula and William though, as we walked down we saw met them heading up the steep trail.

“We have a hill we run in Vancouver regularly but that one in Passau was definitely a climb,” laughs Paula. “You can run up to the top on the street, but we used the trail, which had 298 stairs. I really enjoyed it—and I always take my phone when I run so I can take my pictures and tie them in with the RunKeeper app. I don’t feel that we’ve missed out by running on the cruise—I think it really added to the holiday.”

Paula warns other runners that there are some cautions to consider when running while on a river cruise.

“First and foremost it’s the cobblestones,” she says. “Be alert that running on cobblestones is very different. And there are several types of cobblestones. After my first day running on cobblestones, I could really feel it in my ankles the next day.”

Running in Miltenberg.

Secondly, running in a tourist area can be a bit of a stumbling block. “There are a lot of people to dodge—and you might not share their language to be able to explain yourself as you run by,” she explains.

Paula uses an iPhone app, RunKeeper, which not only tracks her distance but has detailed maps—a real necessity when running in a “new” area.

When they couldn’t run, Paula relates that she and William did yoga in their room (they had a suite—it definitely wouldn’t have been possible in our room, but I’ve heard of others who’ve used the top deck early in the morning for quiet yoga).

They also watched what they ate (they follow a type of fasting diet) both on- and off-ship. “As a runner in training, I’m careful about what I eat, but I was always able to find something good,” she says. “Plus, the ship provided fruit all the time and we often took some out with us on a run.”

Paula said her biggest challenge was creating a balance between running on a training schedule and being on vacation.

“While I would have liked to get in a little more distance, I also really enjoyed the experience of relaxing and participating in everything the river cruise offers,” she says. “Running was part of our trip but it wasn’t all of our trip. There was so much to see and do.”

Paula’s notes on running in specific ports:

Amsterdam. It was easy to find great running here. The big park (Museumplein) by the Riksmuseum with the iconic iAmsterdam sign made for good running. Watch for the bicyclists everywhere in Amsterdam!

Cologne. Paula and William ran on the bank opposite where the Atla docked; there was a park there and it was an easy out and back over the bridge. Not very crowded and almost impossible to get lost since they could see the river on the entire run. They ran past a display of “lovers’ locks” in Cologne.

Miltenberg. They ran through this small town with cobbled streets and made their way out of the city again an out-and-back route. They happened upon a small cobbled stone bridge with a statue.

Passau. It’s 298 stairs up to the Veste Oberhaus—and a great view!

Vienna. Run early in the morning, as soon as you dock, because there’s so much to do in this city. Run across the bridge right where the ship docks using the pedestrian pathway. Cross two waterways and you’re in a great park to run along the Danube.


Categories: Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Running your way through a river cruise

  1. Love this post! This is what I should have done on our cruise, but I didn’t want the weight of running shoes and gear. Next time, though, I will. River paths are great for running!


  2. Karen Baker

    Great story…..makes me want to go out an buy a pair of running shoes….and wish I could buy a body to use them 😀


  3. Betty

    A question on an unrelated topic: Did you see any really tall guys on the ship, and how did they fit through doorways and such?


    • Oh, Betty…I am *so* sorry I didn’t see this question earlier! I hope this can still help you: My father-in-law was 6 foot 6 inches, my own dad was 6’2″ and my hubby and sons are all six feet or over. I tell you that to explain why I *am* more aware than some folks about height. The doorways are standard height in the new (built in 2013) Viking “longboat” which we traveled on. The cabin ceiling heights are standard as well. Viking’s design aesthetics call for open and airy main spaces so I don’t think a “tall guy” would feel at risk of nicking his forehead anywhere–even the public stairways were tall. He would definitely need to duck going down the staff stairs and being in the kitchen (you’ll see this on the “kitchen tour” night). The rest of the time, everything should be just right. Now, my Mom, at just under five feet these days, did find her feet dangling a bit from the chairs in the dining room…but that’s another story!


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