No matter how much I value running, there’s no escaping the fact that some days, it fails to excite me to return to the same routine over and over. The same easy three mile loop past the same houses, the same mailboxes, the same dogs, the same street signs, the same undulating hill(s) – it’s the most convenient way for me to hit my exercise quota for the day and feel like I’ve fulfilled my requirements, but it’s not surprising that it doesn’t provide me with an extra burst of enthusiasm as I head out the door.
On the same ordinary route, the minutes often seem to drag by. I stop noticing my surroundings because they are so predictable. Instead of appreciating the way the sun reflects off the surface of the lake at dusk, instead I look down to check my watch. Four minutes down, twenty-six minutes to go. (I’ll look again in thirty seconds.) Instead of charging up the hill to challenge myself, I slow my pace to maintain my effort level and shuffle up. And as I approach my 15 minute turn-around spot, I look left and right and see that I’ve reached the same mailbox (plus or minus one) as I do on most days. My pace has been unremarkable, and I, foolishly, have failed to appreciate my run.
For this reason, a change of scenery is exactly what the doctor (or running coach, perhaps) ordered. Not only is a new course good for the body, it’s also good for the mind.
For starters, running the same loops with the same canted sidewalks day in and day out can lead to repetitive use injuries. Varying your terrain (as well as your pace and distance) is good for your muscles and joints and can be a useful way to improve your performance!
Perhaps most importantly, however, varying my course keeps me coming back for more, year in and year out. It’s the reason that I continue to love running. Whenever I can, I will seek out a trail, a new neighborhood, or a route I’ve never run. (Sometimes even the variety of hitting the track or a treadmill gets me out of my box enough to feel refreshed! I know that doesn’t make sense, but I treat myself to a podcast while I complete a treadmill run which is just enough variation from my usual routine to make it exciting if done sparingly…) When I run a new route, I’m not constantly checking my watch to see how much time I have left because I’m actually engaged in checking out my surroundings. If I’m lucky, I’ve chosen a beautiful place to run – maybe a nice bit of nature to appreciate or some beautiful homes to fantasize about? The miles tick by faster as I explore my new territory. The very fact that I’m doing something different makes me feel like I’m growing as a runner and a person.
Maybe this is why I like vacation running so much? I know some people who love giving themselves a free pass on vacation and skipping their runs altogether. I love indulging in some time off as much as the next guy, but I would never plan to skip running on a vacation! What a waste! Each run on a vacation feels like a little mini-tour of a new area. I have a chance to scope out my surroundings on foot and be constantly stimulated by surroundings I haven’t seen before or don’t get to enjoy every day. And if I’m really impressed with what I saw, then I might enjoy returning to do it again the next day. Just because you’ve run a route once or twice doesn’t mean that it has no more excitement to offer! One of my favorite running destinations, for example, is a route I’ve run many many times on Hilton Head Island. At best I get to run this route a few times over the span of a single week in any given year – not nearly enough to get burnt out, and I always can’t wait to return!
I know that on many days, my “usual” course will be the only thing I can find time for, and for that reason, I won’t give it up entirely. Its efficiency and convenience are its redeeming qualities. Obviously I wish I had the luxury of running my favorite trails and routes or exploring new ones every single day, but in lieu of that option, I will continue to do my best to appreciate my “usual” route for what it helps me to accomplish – maintaining my fitness in the midst of a busy and hectic schedule, and preparing me to take on an exciting long run on a new route the next time I have a chance!