Surprise and spontaneity are not really my thing. I like to have a plan, and I like to stick with it. This is especially true in my running. I plan out my training schedule months in advance. And I run the same paved route day after day: from my apartment to Prospect Park, around the park and back home.
And not only is it kind of boring (although I prefer to think of it as “comfortable” and “familiar”), it could lead to injuries and possibly a bit of burnout. After all, when you are as comfortable as I am on my running route, it’s easy to zone out and end up eating pavement when that pothole jumps out of nowhere – not to mention the fact that my left leg has to reach farther for the ground as it is on the inside edge of the shoulder on the park loop road. Do that for hundreds of miles and it’s bound to bite you in the back.
However, as a city-dweller, I don’t have a lot of good running options close by. My route is my route not only because it is comfortable and familiar, but because it is safe and it gives me a good distance without having to spend any extra time traveling to it. But as much as I love it and even feel beholden to it for all the good times I’ve had in running, it has started to feel a bit stale. That, along with a running injury, opened my mind to the possibility of Something Else.
The “Something Else” turned out to be another simple thing to add to your bag of DIY tricks: urban cross country. I may not have the rocks and roots and trails and streams and puddles that characterize the crazy and unpredictable world of classic cross-country running, but I can make my own unpredictability. The benefit of a little bit instability in running is that it forces you to focus and be mentally awake and aware, plus it works your muscles in ways that running on smooth surfaces can’t – totally worth it.
In urban cross-country, finding that instability becomes part of the challenge. I can take my normal running route, but maybe run with one foot on a curb and the other in the gutter for a few steps every now and then, or maybe run up the steps of a building and back down, or take a lap or two around a grassy field – just to switch things up.
And in the end, not only will I have gotten a different – and more challenging – mental and physical workout, I’ll have injected a little bit of fun and, I hope, done something to stave off injuries.
There are lots of ways to add a little “cross-country” to your urban run – now go out and find them.