I Run Without a Plan and Think You Should (Sometimes) Too

running without a destination

My fiancée, Julia, is a superwoman for many reasons, not least of which is because she ran her first half-marathon by doing laps on a quarter mile stretch of road in the desert. Basically, on a Saturday morning she ran through our neighborhood 52 times, stopping at planned intervals for water and electrolytes. I’m stupefied by both her determination and the sheer repetition of the workout. I’ve run a few marathons and one ultra, but I can honestly say that her cul-de-sac half-marathon is too hard for me. I won’t do it. Thankfully, opposites do very, very much attract.

While precise loops and exact data help Julia thrive, I can’t stand the idea of running in circles or going nowhere. If track workouts and treadmills were the name of the game, I would be a “I hate running” person. Instead, I adore long, meandering runs, preferably on new trails or through unfamiliar neighborhoods. For me, running is exploration. I’m the protagonist of my own adventure and whatever comes within frame, whether friend, foe, or marvel, becomes part of my running story that I “write” simply by going left or right, up or down, faster or slower.

My first half marathon was also on neighborhood streets, but I ran through parts of town I’d only ever traversed by car, taking turns at random until my mileage tracker showed 13.1. Taking in new sights and conceiving of the run as more of a journey than a workout helps me “forget” that I’m running. Don’t ask me how far I’ve gone, what my splits are, or even where I’m going. Most of the time, I don’t know – and I love it. (Cue awful running pun:) Obviously, this method has its ups and downs. My laissez-faire attitude makes for great discoveries and terrific meditation, but terrible awareness of pace, heart rate, and grade. I’ve stumbled upon hidden beaches and encountered neat events (silent group rave by the river, anyone?), but I’ve also gotten lost and been late for dinner more than I’d care to admit.

It’s totally worth it, though, and I recommend running without destination, purpose, or metrics to anyone who goes for runs to “get away from it all.” In my mind, “it all” includes time constraints, concrete plans, and mundane routines: the stuff that comprises most of our daily lives. I used to run without a phone, watch, water, or anything at all. Indeed, until a couple years ago, I didn’t even own shorts with zipper pockets (I know, I know…). While I’ve since come to my senses on the gear front, I still happily advocate for unsystematic, playful jaunts that better connect you with your neighborhood, immerse you nature, or lend you a sense of a new city. Give it a try. Thankfully, 13.1 is the same, whether it’s loops, lines, zig-zags.

Click here if you want to learn more about why Julia runs in loops, and here if you want answers to some of the most common running problems.

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