I know exactly where the “half mile” point it, because I’ve run that trail so many times I don’t even need RunKeeper on to track how far I’ve gone. The same tree is overgrown in a spot by the bridge where I have to duck my head just a little bit to keep from being tagged in the face by a branch. There’s a rock jutting out awkwardly on one corner that I have the avoidance side-step planned out paces in advance.
I know that running trail by heart.
A week or two ago, I found a new running trail close to where I live. It’s longer. Less structured and still wearing itself into the ground. It stretches near a baseball field and I can hear the crowd cheering for their teams in the early evening, when the flood lights are switched on to signal sundown. It smells different, with different trees and rocks and wildlife. I have to watch my footsteps occasionally to still feel sure, and I run with the music at a lower volume, getting to know the lay of the land.
Running this new trail isn’t easier. It has more hills, it has less sun, and it’s a longer drive from my house. It’s harder and when I finish, my body aches in different ways.
But somehow, I’m faster.
I feel like I wear a groove with so many of my habits: same grocery store, same running trail, same diet, same at-home schedule, same way of thinking about things. While I can put my habits on pause for a week or two in order to accommodate work travel, I always fall back into the same pattern when I’m home. For some things, it’s not a bad pattern. But other things need to be changed up, swirled up, mixed around.
Is it as simple as a new meter bag to reinforce my dedication to checking my blood sugar? Is it as easy as making myself go to bed an hour earlier than usual in efforts to avoid the exhaustion cycle of self-employment? Could it really be as small as finding a new running path to force me to challenge myself, quicken my steps, ferret out security in an insecure place? Does self-improvement need to be this big, exhaustive endeavor or can it be rooted in changes that are simpler? (And can it be found in a paragraph of rhetorical questions?)
Even though it’s harder, and it hurts more, and I have no idea yet where the mile markers are, I like the new running path. I feel like I’m breaking new ground with every step, in ways that reach far outside the moments on the trail.