There’s a rail trail by my house — one of my most favorite places to run.
In the summer it is covered by shade from trees, and in the winter it is one of the only places I can crank out a long run without fear of getting hit by a car because I have to run in the street due to snow-covered sidewalks.
I know every rut in the trail. Every large rock where your ankle can roll has a place firmly in my mind where I anticipate and plan for that rock and run over or around it. I know where the biggest puddles will be on the days it has rained. I plan for those either running clear through them or clear around them depending on my mood and desire to have soaking wet feet.
It is a place I like to run when I need the comfort of knowing exactly where I am going, how many miles I need to hit, and what to expect. Running this trail tastes like Mom’s homemade beef stew — it is comfort.
But the runs I do on that trail aren’t the best ones.
The best runs are the ones where I get lost and ask myself “where the hell are we going?”
The uncertainty of a new out-and-back run is what pushes me to keep going. I do not know what the next turn will bring, I do not know exactly where I will hit the number of miles on my watch that will signal to me that I should now turn around or keep going forward.
I do not know what any of this new run feels like and thus my mind gets caught up in just trying to BE in the run. It does not have time to anticipate the ruts and puddles as it does on my favorite trail. It does not know that in 2 miles we will cross a lovely wooden bridge that is just my kind of worn-in.
That, of course, is what makes a new long run feel so amazing. It is not the act of being someplace new that fires me up: It is the fact that I have no idea where I am going or if I will ever get there. What’s more important is that I cannot worry about it. I have to be completely IN the new trail run.
Sure, I have goals for each run — 15 miles or 18 miles, or 10 miles… but some days the environment or new path forces me to change, shift, adapt my plan. Did I still run? Of course. I changed the process and rules by which I ran, but I did not change the underlying goal which was just simply TO RUN.
We can have a plan in life as much as we have a plan in running.
But both can change at any moment and still get you to where you didn’t know you needed or wanted to be if you simply let it happen.
Your internal compass will always find its way to wherever you need to be.
Get uncomfortable. Get lost. Home will always find you.