How Running Shaped My Time in New Zealand

Guest Post By: Jonah Foss, a Senior studying Entrepreneurship. He studied abroad through Foster Exchange at the University of Auckland in Auckland, New Zealand, during Autumn Semester 2023.

The author walking up from the shore of Lake Taupo, taking a break from a training run. Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake and is actually the caldera of an active supervolcano.

The first night I arrived in Auckland, I felt antsy and needed to get outside after a long flight. As I started my run in downtown, I felt optimistic about the months ahead and looked forward to running on this beachside road many more times. My excitement, combined with the adrenaline of running in the dark to an unknown destination, pushed me to run faster and faster. It was uncertain and exhilarating.

Before arriving in New Zealand, I registered for the Auckland Marathon, which I would run the same week as my final exams– giving my time in New Zealand a hectic but exciting conclusion. The months of training for the race gave me consistency in a place where many things felt new and overwhelming. I found a joyful routine in early morning runs as an affordable way to explore parts of the city that I might not have otherwise seen.

The map is a heatmap of where I ran in the Auckland metro area. The darker and thicker the line, the more frequently I ran there.

Running gave me an outlet to build community. I would run a 5k on Tuesday evenings through the city’s waterfront that starts and ends at a local bar– an event that has been regularly hosted for over 30 years. While I ran alone for the first few weeks, I eventually convinced my friends to run the race with me (with the allure of a cold drink afterwards). I never knew who I’d meet that week, but I always looked forward to the opportunity to race hard and trade stories. 

On weekend or week-long trips when I left the city, I still made the effort to train. When I ran on these trips, similarly to the first run I did in New Zealand, I really had no idea where I was going but felt compelled to be active and feel good. This idea of moving forward in the face of uncertainty, knowing that somehow it will benefit me later on is a philosophy that I try to embrace on a regular basis.

I unfortunately got injured a few weeks before my marathon race day, and although I lined up on the starting line feeling healthy, I dropped out 14 miles in with debilitating knee pain and cramps. As disappointed as I was, I felt lucky to be supported by friends who were simply proud of me for trying to run the race. Their actions and words made me realize that the opportunities that I got to explore new places, form new connections and communities, and challenge myself in training were much more important than any medal I could have won that day.

I’m not usually a proponent of “running away from your problems”. But if my experiences abroad have taught me anything, it’s that running will encourage me to create consistency, build community, and take action in the face of adversity and uncertainty.