The Importance of Novelty

Straight out of my front door, I can take various routes for my runs. The Dave Clark Trail is a paved path along the Willamette River and ends downtown. I can extend it through Albany’s picturesque downtown or Bryant Park. I admit I love running downtown before dawn. (Too bad I like my bed, too.)

If I am looking for something unpaved, I can always pick up a dirt trail between Bowman and Simpson Park. It can get muddy and impassable during the rainy season and hard as asphalt in the summer. There is always Talking Waters. Talking Water Gardens is both wetlands and a natural water treatment facility. I particularly enjoy the seasonal changes here. Every once in a long while, I do the roundabout to roundabout route through town though part of this can be treacherous as shoulders are tight at the sides of the road. Many routes are available to me from the convenience of my front door.

And, yet, I get bored.

In boredom, it is easy for me to lose motivation or get stuck. I think this is why I like running when I travel. With so much new to see, motivation is easy. The same is true when I move to a new community. In a car or even bus, you speed past things and barely see them. When I run in a new place, I not only see it in more detail, I feel the place.

Running is visceral. As my feet hit the ground, I experience the texture. The sound of my steps varies depending on the surface. Three years ago, we visited Edinburgh. Though I remember the visuals, it’s the feel of the ancient stone beneath my feet and how the reverberating sound of my footfalls changed as I ran through the closes (narrow passageways) throughout the ancient city that is embedded deep within me.

The novelty of running in a new place does more than motivate me to run. I learn new things about myself: my spirit and my body. I push my body to do things I would not do in the mundane of the known. For example, I discovered I could run long distances because I got lost in Indianapolis five years ago. Recently, my intimidation of hills subsided quickly in Pittsburgh. I am yearning for those hills that challenged me and the sense of accomplishment I felt on them. After sloshing and falling on the 20k Tweed Valley Tunnel Trail Run in the Scottish Borders three years ago, I finally understood the Tough Mudder phenomenon. Spiritually, I feel closer to Mother Gaia when covered in mud. In running, my feet are rooted.

As I run, the weather – whether the winter rains of my beloved Oregon, the sunny desert in Utah, or the cool summer breezes of the Connecticut countryside – reminds me that I am made of dust and breath. The weather is not something to hide from. It is a novelty that reminds me that I am a beloved and integral part of this interconnected, living planet.

My received gifts from novelty and running go beyond connectedness to the earth or fond memories. The unfamiliar place jump-starts my mental prowess and creativity. When we experience novelty, we can let go of our daily routines, helping us to see things in new ways. I have found that even driving to work along a different route can open up neural pathways.

Yes, we need rootedness. There is comfort along the paths we know. I can reach out to the world because of the sense of security I gain from my family and spouse. But without novelty, we will never break free of what bears down upon us individually or collectively.

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