Exploring Maastricht via a Running Tour

Maastricht water wheel

Running is not my thing.

I mean, it’s really not my thing.

I don’t get it. I don’t understand how people can run for more than a mile without stopping.

Don’t their lungs feel like they’re about to explode? Don’t they get stitches within the first few minutes? Don’t they get stabbing pains in their lungs for the 72 hours following a half-mile run?

If I try to run for more than a few minutes, I end up sat by the side of the road with my head between my knees, wondering whether I’m about to throw up or have a heart attack.

I’ve tried and failed to take up running more times than I can count: I want to be a runner! I’m envious of runners.

So, I start running, and I’m dedicated to my new challenge.

At first, I can run around the block without stopping.

Then, I start running five days a week to increase my distance, but mostly fail. There’s a voice in my head that starts ordering me to stop as soon as I start.

I once ran regularly for a month straight and then finally, I could manage to run around the block plus an extra ten metres. It was progress; I soldiered on.

Three months later, I could run one whole mile without stopping. Six months later, I could run two miles. Um, people train for marathons in six months! I ran five days a week for six months straight and could only manage two miles in *cough* forty minutes.

Surely it’s not meant to be this hard?

When I announced at the start of this year that I wanted to be able to run ten kilometres without stopping by the end of it, a reader messaged me to say that anyone who can run a few kilometres can run ten of them!

Not me.

A few months ago, I managed to hit five kilometres on the treadmill without stopping. In forty-five minutes. And I ended up being so close to passing out that I lost my vision when I stopped. I then had chest pains for the next few days and lost all sensation in my feet for several hours.

While I’m not inclined to believe people who say, “I’m just not a runner!” because I’ve read so many articles by people who once felt that way and are now ultra-marathoners, I really can’t see how I could ever be a runner.

No matter how hard I try and how much effort I put into it, I always do terribly.

Lauren in the Sahara Desert
In which I attempt to run in the Sahara Desert

Back in 2015 — yes, this is a flashback post — I committed to trying as many new things as possible. Sure, travel has blessed me with a whole host of new experiences, but they were generally activities that occurred accidentally. I hadn’t been seeking them out, because I was terrified of them, but they still seemed to happen to me.

2015 was the year I said no more! to being afraid of normal things. I was going to try everything that intimidated me, I was going to get even further outside of my comfort zone, and I was going to see how it affected my life.

So I headed to the Netherlands in search of something new to try.

Something like… a running tour.

A running tour?!

I couldn’t think of anything worse.

So I signed up for it.

Maastricht river

And then I panicked.

I spent the next few days worrying about how I was going to handle a running tour when I’d spent the past three months straight locked up in an apartment in Granada working, managing 30 steps a day if I was lucky. I was worried about ending up in a group full of excellent runners and holding everyone back. I was worried about having a heart attack part-way through the tour, because I’d been too embarrassed to stop when I needed to.

I pretended to be sick on the morning of the tour, because that’s the only way I know how to get out of things I don’t want to do, even though I’ve done that roughly 173 times with Dave and he no longer believes a word of it.

But it was still worth a try.

By the time our tour guide knocked on our door, I had accepted my fate. I stepped outside with the grim knowledge that within mere minutes I would most likely be bleeding out into Maastricht’s river.


My eyes met Raoul’s and I forced a smile.

“Hi, Lauren and Dave!” he beamed. “You’re in luck — it’s just us on the tour today!”

I couldn’t have been more relieved.

“So, you love to run?” he asked, expecting enthusiastic whoops from Dave and I.

Dave told him he did, while I grimaced and half-nodded my head.

“I don’t have much running experience,” I said.

“That’s fine,” he reassured me. “How often do you run?”

Dave laughed. “She hasn’t even left the house in three months!”

Raoul frowned.

“I don’t run often,” I confessed. “And I’ve been writing a book this year, so I haven’t run at all so far.”

If he was perplexed as to why I had signed up for a running tour, he didn’t let it show.

“Well, just let me know if you need to stop at any point. We’ll take it slow.”

I nodded, despite knowing my Britishness would never allow me to stop the tour.

I wouldn’t want to put anyone else out.

Maastricht underground

And we were off!

I took a deep breath and broke into a light jog as we made our way from our apartment into the centre of Maastricht. As Dave and Raoul expertly weaved around pedestrians and dogs, I staggered along behind them like a drunk giraffe with a broken neck.

We made it two hundred metres and stopped, thank god. I already had a stitch burning in my side.

Our first port of call was the Derlon Hotel, which from the outside, looked like any other standard four-star hotel. Raoul led the way inside and took us down into the cellar, where we came face-to-face with some Roman ruins! Maastricht used to be a Roman military camp, and beneath the hotel, you can see the remains of several buildings, a road, and a temple — all from around 260 A.D.

And that was the beauty of taking a tour like this, because I would have had no idea they were there otherwise.

Maastricht water wheel

We were off again! This time I lurched behind like an overexcited blind puppy, panting loudly, tongue hanging out, limbs swinging out at sharp angles, nudging into Dave every few seconds. I could already feel my face starting to burn up.

This time, we jogged roughly four hundred metres before we came to a halt. We were at an old water wheel. The oldest working water wheel in the Netherlands, in fact, which was originally built in the 7th Century. These days, it powers a vintage flour mill for a small bakery in town.

My favourite stop, however, was the Bookstore Dominicanen, a 13th century Dominican church that has been renovated into a bookstore. It’s regularly voted the most beautiful in the world, and I can’t argue with that. It was gorgeous!

Maastricht bookstore

The rest of the tour continued in a similar vein as before. We would run for a few hundred metres, I would feel like I was going to die, and we’d pause just as I was about to swallow my pride and ask for a break. Our rests would last a couple of minutes while Raoul told us a cool fact about something we would have ordinarily walked past without noticing. Once we’d learned the history behind the spot, we’d resume our run once more.

I appreciated the much slower speeds on this tour, and especially appreciated that there were stops every few minutes.

I didn’t quite get to bleed out on that day.

Given that I’m basically the worst runner to have ever existed, I’m convinced that most people could take this running tour in Maastricht and survive. I could tell that it was really easy going — we ran 5 kilometres in 90 minutes — even if it did feel like sprinting a marathon to me.

Lauren on a Maastricht running tour

As the tour drew to a close, Raoul led us straight to a cosy bar full of locals in town and bought us both a beer to celebrate our accomplishments.

And it felt like a huge accomplishment for me.

I’m not going to lie: the tour was a struggle, and there were times I was convinced I was going to throw up if I had to run for much longer, but with endorphins flooding my system afterwards, I was already making plans for taking running tours in every city I visit in the future.

And as for Dave? Well, as a lover of all things running, he was thrilled to run his way around the city and even joined Raoul for a 10 kilometre run into Belgium and back the very next day.

I sat that one out.

Does taking a running tour of a city sound like your idea of heaven or hell?

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  1. October 26, 2016

    Haha! That’s awesome! I used to run and even at my best, I was a pretty slow runner. It took me a really long time to get faster. Years, in fact.

    I haven’t run much in over a decade and when I try to run now, I feel like I’m dying. I still want to do it. I think that’s the truth of running. It actually sucks, but the endorphins convince you that it’s the best thing ever. It makes you a little insane.

    Case in point, I really, really want to take a running tour now.

    Also, training for a marathon is really different than running without training. I ran such slow miles until I signed up (and paid!) for a marathon training group.

  2. October 27, 2016

    Like you I’d love to be a runner but I just can’t seem to do more than a few K without getting an unbearable stitch in one side that I simply cannot run through. Either that or I have to stop because I feel like my face is on fire. I managed 10K on a treadmill once at the gym (I had some really good tunes on my MP3 player and my body was being cooperative for once!) but I did feel like I was dying at the end of it! ;-)

    • November 4, 2016

      Congrats on the 10k! I’m currently allocating one day a week to run/walk 10k in the hope I’ll one day be able to run it all. We’ll see what happens :-)

  3. October 28, 2016

    Ha, I don’t think I would consider a running tour. I’m certainly not fit enough to run and enjoy my surroundings at the same time ;) It’s a nice way to see a city though for people who are fit enough!

    • November 4, 2016

      I was surprised by how fun it was, and I definitely didn’t feel as though I was fit enough! It obviously helped that it was just me and Dave on the tour, so we could jog pretty slowly… but I would totally sign up for another one in the future!

  4. October 29, 2016

    This is a thing?!?!

    And Maastricht, what a cool town to do it in too.

    I hate exercise – running (mostly jogging) is the only thing I put up with. So, I’d give it a go just for the novelty once, I think! I’ve run a couple 10ks and would never run anything longer. 5k in 90 mins sounds manageable at least.

    • October 29, 2016

      Yes! And they have running tours in pretty much every major city. I had no idea.

  5. Rachel
    November 14, 2016

    Lauren, Even though I’m probably old enough to be your grandma (ouch!), I can really identify with you! I used to run with my husband occasionally, but only about 5k. As we’d get near the end of our “finish line,” I would speed up, sprinting past him to the end. He said, “How did you have all that energy at the end? See, you were meant to be a runner!”
    “No,” I replied, “I just sprinted because then I could get the misery over faster!”
    Thanks for another great post!

  6. You’re very brave Lauren. It sounds like complete and utter hell!

    Sadly, while I was an undergraduate, I used to run for my Hall. And my Department. And my Faculty! In fact, I was quite sporty and even played football and handball!

    And now? Well, let’s just say that I went to Bali and hiked up a live volcano a few years ago, and it was so painful, that I actually cried. A lot!

  7. Patricia
    January 9, 2017

    I used to have a similar problem and I found two things that helped me loads. One of them was getting proper shoes. The “barefoot” variety actually strengthen your muscles and alleviate a lot of common running-related ailments like plantar fasciitis and shin splints. They also make it a lot easier to run with correct form, which has always been a struggle for me.
    Furthermore, I started doing low-impact cardio at home. Check out Fitness Blender on YouTube and maybe consider trying a few of their workouts if you’d like. It really helps you build a strong cardiovascular system, which makes the act of physically running so much easier. I’m not sure these tips will help you, but if you’re keen on trying something different I’d definitely give the cardio videos a shot. Best of luck to you!

    • March 2, 2017

      Oooh, thank you so much for the recommendation! I’ll definitely give both a shot :-)

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