As runners, it can be easy to get caught up in our “next big thing.” Days after a race, we’re tempted to sign up for something longer, farther, or more challenging. After basking in a new personal record, we’re drawn toward a faster time on a faster course. And when our calendars are wide open, it’s easy to feel pressured to sign up for an organized event. But what if, instead of searching for the next big thing, we ran toward the next best, the next most fun, the next most creative goal imaginable?
By opening ourselves up to new adventures and challenges, we are not only broadening our approach as athletes. Instead, we are opening ourselves up to the vastness of nature. We are connecting with local and not-so-local communities, building new relationships, and seeking wild places that will forever remain in our memories. We’re laughing when we make it back to the car, and we’re celebrating the sense of exploration that makes our sport so unique. Here are four starting points for planning your own fall adventure, your next best day doing what you love.
Create Your Own Start Line.Runners are often creatures of habit. We drive to the same trailheads, start on the same streets, run to the same playlists, and group up with the same people. But what if, in the spirit of creative goal-setting, we decided to shake things up? What if, instead of starting from the usual parking lot, we started from our favorite coffee shop or food truck? Or from a new bakery in a neighborhood we’ve only visited once or twice before? By creating our own start line from well-loved or intriguing places, we can support local business and connect our sport with the greater community. We can finish our runs with good friends, our favorite drink, and the happiness in knowing that running brought us somewhere familiar, but also new.
Connect the Dots.Throughout the pandemic, many of us became fascinated by our own backyards. We were wide-eyed newcomers within our own cities, and noticed certain local features and landmarks for what felt like the first time. From roundabouts to peaks, bridges to breweries, we can still use these points of interests to create unique routes through the places we love. We can hit every butte in Bend, park in Portland, or each of the seven hills in Seattle. We can also create these challenges in new places; for many runners, there’s no better way to explore than a long, easy run through the most notable parts of town. So what are the landmarks, either human-built or natural, that you could connect on your next weekend adventure? How can you use running to connect the dots and create a memorable day in your own backyard?
Run as Transportation.In a sport filled with races, workouts, and training theories, we can quickly forget that running is more than just exercise. It’s also transportation, and one of the most environmentally-friendly ways of getting just about anywhere. For an accessible adventure, try ditching the car keys and getting to your next work meeting or social meetup by foot. Find a coworker who’s also willing to show up to the office in their running shoes. Notice how the world looks different at a human’s pace, and how trees and buildings move more slowly when you aren’t seeing them through a car window. Explore the endorphins that come when you arrive at your destination, energized by the movement of your morning or evening commute. When we allow running into new hours of our daily routine, we create opportunities for adventure that extend far beyond our typical daily run.
Uncommon Event Formats.As the world of trail running expands, so do the types of races, relays, and events offered by local race directors. If you’re the type of runner that needs something official on your calendar, try checking out a lesser-known format. I like to think of these as the cool uncles of trail running; these races aren’t always around, but when they are, things are bound to be more fun. Instead of running alone, look into a team relay with members of your running community. Instead of redlining it onto the podium, look into backyard-style or “last person standing” courses that reward patience and steady pacing. Instead of mileage, focus on a time goal in a six-, twelve-, or twenty-four-hour race. Or better yet, experience racing from the other side of the aid station as a volunteer. All of these events get us onto the trails in new, energizing ways that will deepen our connection to the sport and bring new goals into our lives.
For the past year, I’ve been running with a group of folks who combine creativity and art with athleticism and a deep love for the outdoors. Through great conversation and early miles, this group has helped me to look beyond the mechanics of training and notice the many creative, original ways that we can celebrate the outdoors. From creating our own start lines to connecting the dots, running to work or as part of a team relay, there is always an opportunity to broaden your athletic goals. With the right mindset, and with the right people surrounding you, anything is possible.
–Aaron Burrick is a trail runner, writer, and clinical social working living in Bend, Oregon. You can find him on social media @aaronburrick and online at www.aaronburrick.com.