Almost as much as putting one foot in front of the other, I love being outside. I love the sun blinding me. I love the wind on my face, the smell of freshly cut lawns in my nose, and the incline of hills under my feet. But more than anything, I love looking around and just seeing what I can see.
Which is why some of the greatest memories I have of runs and races aren’t about personal records, splits, heart rate zones, or distance. Most of the great memories I have are kind of impossible to describe and qualify because they are sights I saw and moments that have meaning primarily because they happened–and could only have happened–while I was running.
Whether it’s in my own neighborhood, a local park, or a city halfway across the country, taking the time to experience the environment I’m running through is one of the top reasons why I run.
See Your Neighborhood
Here’s the thing: if you’re like most people, you don’t pay very close attention to the details of your every day life. Sure, you see the stuff every day, but do you really see it?
Think about it this way. If you stop at a stop sign or a traffic light and look around your car, things look way different to you than they do barreling down the road at 60 mph. You see finer details for those few seconds your stopped than would be possible if you were moving much faster, even if you were looking at the same spots.
The same is true for running. Take the time to look around while you’re galivanting around, and I guarantee you’ll see new stuff. You may find a side road or an alley you didn’t know about that cuts 10 minutes off your commute, or you might notice a neighbor with awesome holiday decorations you can’t see from your car. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll find random pieces of discarded toys or whatever else that you can take home and play with. I call the my Running Treasures.
Like this Minecraft sword! It’s so tiny!
And this super creepy voodoo doll from a church parking lot! Spooky!
One time, I even found a cat in a pile of tree limbs on the side of the road. I bent down to pet him, and he bit me. So I left him to his brush pile. We didn’t stay in touch.
When I first started running, I ran through David Crockett State Park in Lawrenceburg, TN. It was beautiful, and there was a particular paved trail that I could use as an out-and-back that was almost exactly 3.1 miles long. It was my first real outdoor running, and to this day, I have fond memories of seeing the sunrise and how the beams broke through the canopy and fall leaves.
When I’m running for scenery like that, I don’t really worry about time. I mean, I don’t let myself just slog along, but I’m not trying to set a distance PR, either. When I’m out exploring and enjoying the day, I want to do just that–explore and enjoy the day.
City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks
Probably my favorite thing about going to Albuquerque in early October (aside from running a freaking awesome 10K race) was how much of the city I got to see on foot. I flew on (New Mexico is a long way from Alabama, obviously) and didn’t rent a car since I was staying at the conference hotel. So anything I saw was on foot.
From the first day, I asked the concierge if the neighborhoods were safe to run, and he said “yes!” and handed me a map that the hotel had prepared for runners. It was a 6-mile out-and-back. Awesome.
I tried to follow it, but it wasn’t something I was terribly good at. So three times that week, I laced up my Asics and headed out to see what I could see over the course of 6.1 miles (and then a fourth 6.1 up and down the mountain during the race–but that was a different kind of exploring).
I found cool neighborhoods, a few places I’m pretty sure they used in filming Breaking Bad, and ran alongside the Rio Grande for miles. I passed people on the sidewalks, had dogs bark at me, gave a homeless guy a burrito, and nearly had a hot air balloon land on my head. I saw things I never would have see–and did things I never would have done–if I were trapped inside a car.
I have no idea where the next place I travel will be. I know, though, that I’ll definitely be checking it out on foot instead of just out of the window of my car. Because it’s awesome, and it’s just one reason why I run.