Cruise control is a beautiful thing.
That's when you go for a run and the muscle memory of all your training and previous slogs takes over. You intuitively know how many steps it takes to reach the stoplight, which precipitous curbs will twist your ankle, and where the best backgrounds are for that perfect sunset pic. (No judgment.)
Eventually, routes become as comfortable and familiar as that old race shirt you turned into a very flattering nightgown. And in a world where it sometimes seems like you can control very little, it's reassuring to have reliable paths. You know the mileage. You know (and love) the views. You know exactly how much you'll be wheezing when you get to the top of the hill.
But running in a new city can surprise you—and also provide unexpected moments of joy. Here's why you might want to lace up elsewhere.
You're reminded of your good habits.
The devil on your shoulder always shows up at the airport. "Well, I made it to my flight on time and traveling is so exhausting—I might as well treat myself and scarf this burger...drink this bottle of wine...spend every dollar I have." Because you're a stranger in a strange land, every decision is justifiable: It's an exception to the life you left back home. And sometimes that's great! And necessary. But even one run can help you check yourself and remind you that your vacation self is still actually just, um, you.
You'll be your own tour guide.
When I was in Portland recently for a friend's wedding, I had a few days to explore. And while nothing is particularly far away in the downtown part of the city, I wanted to get everywhere faster. Instead of Uber-ing my way around, I plotted out a vague path and headed out on Saturday morning. Of course, it was a complete accident that same path happened to cross two doughnut shops and Salt & Straw ice cream.
You're more likely to meet people.
Sure, at home you may act tough. It's easy to obliviously run around your same routes. You don't need to be friendly; you have friends here. But when you're running around a new place, you're declaring something about yourself—"I'm a runner"—and that doesn't happen if you're simply walking down the sidewalk. This action might lead to a spark of recognition—"Hey, me too!"—and some friendly head nods and "good mornings" or questions about where you're from (far away!) or where you're going (to get doughnuts, of course).
Your trip gains extra purpose.
If you go for a good run—or, even better, find a race in a new city—your journey gets an extra objective. Your experience in the city won't be confined to the lens of the food (in Portland, excellent is an understatement) or the people (so friendly it was honestly shocking), but also how it felt to run there. What does the early morning feel like? How's the terrain? And you'll have to pay closer attention to things that would otherwise escape you, like the names of bridges or streets or really everything that prevents you from getting hopelessly lost.
You might get a twinge of hometown pride.
In the middle of running a half-marathon in downtown Portland, during a race with only around 250 people, I spotted a guy wearing a familiar singlet for PPTC (Prospect Park Track Club), a huge running club in Brooklyn. Seeing this 2,450 miles away from home made me so happy—and surprised—that I even yelped "PPTC!" at the speedy guy. But the sighting also reminded me of all my training runs in the park and how much I love my own city.
You'll see how other places race.
Since I've only ever run New York races, I'm used to thousands of runners, lots of volunteers, instant race results online, etc. My Portland race experience was much more intimate. They literally printed the race results and taped them to a table (which makes looking for your name much more exciting). There were miles with long stretches where I could see only one or two people ahead of or behind me, and the after-race Cinco de Mayo party featuring ciders and beer and green juices and nut butters simply wouldn't be possible in a bigger race in a bigger city. The lines would be insane.
You can embrace your competitive edge.
I'm convinced even the most magnanimous people contain a tiny ember of competitive fire, just waiting to be stoked. Straying outside of your normal confines, perhaps away from people you know and limits you unconsciously place on yourself, can push you to do more—and maybe even notch a PR. If at races back home you were a small fish in a big pond, maybe elsewhere you'll find you're at least a medium fish in a medium pond.