Yesterday, two of my training partners, Joel, who has requested the pseudonym The Jewish Stallion for this blog, and Alain, and I met at 8:00 A.M. for our usual Sunday long run. Alain planned a 20-mile run, I planned 13, and The Jewish Stallion planned 12. (JS and I were beginning a scheduled recovery week.) JS only desired an easy run and I had a feeling that Alain didn’t want to go too hard too early because he hadn’t been running consistently for a few weeks and hadn’t run more than 13 miles since the end of December. We decided to run the Meijendel loop (9.3 miles) in reverse and add on to that either in the middle of the run or at the end of the run. (The direction of choice is based on which direction the wind is blowing.) Our first three miles were slower than even normal long-run pace: 9:10, 8:38, and 8:30. After the third mile, during which we climbed what may be the steepest and longest hill in Wassenaar, JS said that he was fine running 8:30s. I told him that I needed to go a bit harder and he said go ahead, so I opened up a gap on Alain and JS as we entered Meijendel park.
I don’t know what forced me to turn left, but after a couple of minutes on the trail that I always run when I’m in Meijendel, I made a left-hand turn onto a trail I had never been on. As soon as I hit the new trail, I felt a jolt of energy course through me. I felt lighter on my feet. I felt my breathing settle into a comfortable rhythm with my stride. I felt the run had become easier.
I’d stay on a trail until I had to turn, and then I’d make a decision on the fly about which way to turn. I followed the blue trail markings for a while and then I followed the red and white trail markings. Because it’s almost impossible to get lost in the dunes, I didn’t worry about finding my way back. My fourth mile, half of which I spent running with JS and Alain, was 8:11. My fifth and sixth were 7:55 and 7:46. I was getting faster and my run was getting easier.
Unfortunately, I ran out of new trails toward the end of mile six and got back on the regular trail. But I had spent enough time on new trails to provide me with the energy I needed to finish my run at a nice pace. During my first four miles, I averaged 8:38 per mile. For the 13.23 miles of my run overall, I averaged 7:57 per mile. By just spending a short period of time in a new environment, my run changed from the same-old, boring Sunday run to an exciting, up-tempo, carefree game.
Habitual practices and familiar paths offer us comfort and the ability to measure ourselves against the previous day. However, following new trails and striking out on new routes help us honor the need we have for adventure and can reinvigorate stale routines.