When people ask me why I run, I can list many reasons; it keeps you fit, I like competing, it’s sociable and the list goes on and on. But perhaps the most appealing aspect of the sport for me is that whilst running I can explore. The word ‘explore’ is defined as travelling through an unfamiliar area to learn about it and that is exactly what running enables you to do. I tried to start running on a number of occasions before I joined my university’s running club, and I put my previous failed attempts down to going around the same boring route over and over again. My motivation eventually dwindled and I just couldn’t bear the monotony any longer. It was only when I realised that the whole world lay at my feet, and I was free to run wherever I wanted, that I truly started to enjoy it.
Often when I run, I just head out with some vague idea of where I’m going. A great deal of the time my misguided internal compass will lead me astray to some corner of the city I didn’t even know existed. But that’s the great part; ending up somewhere you’ve never been before. I seek out places which I haven’t yet had the pleasure of stumbling upon and get excited when I run down an alleyway to discover a grandiose square or a magnificent old building. Getting lost is exciting; you’re forced to run around looking for a glimpse of familiarity but usually delving deeper into the unknown. Perhaps, in the moment when I realise that I have no clue where I am, I sometimes think I should have planned where I was going. But, in the end, I’m always glad I’ve been somewhere new. Most of my favourite routes have come from aimlessly running the streets of London and accidentally discovering the most beautiful winding streets and expanses of open space.
Another one of the great things about running is that you can do it whenever you like, be that at the break of dawn or the dead of night. This provides you with the great advantage that you can explore when no one else is around. There are few things more awe inspiring than being alone at midnight, sprinting past St Paul’s Cathedral, with the sound of its cacophonous bells pounding you forwards. In that instant it feels like you own the city, that the city is yours to play with, and that you have a special connection to it that no one else would understand. Being alone at night can sometimes be a little scary, but it’s that exciting kind of scary which propels you to keep on running and keep on exploring.
When you’re away in a foreign land, you have the added thrill of unleashing yourself on roads and trails which you are completely unfamiliar with. When on holiday, sightseeing and wandering around is great, but running is simply a lot quicker and more efficient. If you’re in a fascinating city for a couple of days and want to see all of it, why walk when you can run! Trust me, you’ll see a lot more whilst running, not to mention the added benefit of keeping fit whilst abroad. Sure, sometimes running through city centres and tourist hotspots can be a bit treacherous with all the crowds, but when I do it I feel sorry for everyone else for having to go so slowly and missing out on so much. Also, when you’re experiencing the runner’s high everything looks a lot more awesome than it would do otherwise.
Running also allows you to experience a place in a way that most tourists won’t get the chance to. In Asia, I ran through a great number of backstreets where I don’t think the locals had ever seen someone run before. I ran through narrow residential streets away from tourist hotspots, and past shops and restaurants on the outskirts of town, watching people live their lives in a way you couldn’t where all the attractions are. I would arrive back in my room completely satisfied that I had explored my surroundings as I had hoped; I had travelled through an unfamiliar area and learnt about it.
Wherever you live in the world and wherever you travel to, be it a magnificent city such as London or a beautiful rural village in China, I implore you to run. Running does not have to be boring or a painful chore, but has the capacity to have a meaningful positive impact on your life, being that you will be able to experience so much more than you could do otherwise. Do something that you will thank yourself for; run, explore and see the world.