Solstice GeeseIt is the (Northern Hemisphere’s) winter solstice, the days will be getting longer again and the height of winter is about to fall over the land. In itself, reason enough to think about cycles of the year, cycles of life, and how they play out in our very own lives and the places they are.

I’m thinking all the more about that because I continue to break the common advice on running training and keep on going in always the same circles. Not just because I start at the place I live and need to get back there – there’d be enough different paths I could take – but deliberately. And without an iPod or other kind of distraction, either.

Why this craziness that is usually described as the surefire way to boredom?

Because it’s not boring. In fact, literally running in always the same circles never is running in the same circles.

The track may, by and large, be the same. The conditions always change, though. Sometimes it’s dry weather, sometimes wet. Sometimes calm, sometimes windy or even a storm. I need to adapt what I wear, how I run – and I will still know where along the circle I am.

I sometimes run in bright daylight, sometimes at night, and it makes the familiarity all the nicer. At the same time, it shakes things up quite a bit. The awareness of the trail surface becomes much more acute, what is and isn’t seen as much makes for very different impressions.

The conditions may be similar, but the seasons change. Running on the same circle on winter’s snow and seeing animal tracks is very different from running in the heat of a summer night and listening to the insects’ chorus. There is always some change, and an awareness of time’s passing, and the seasons’ cycles, that has its effects.

I myself change. Running the same circles makes it all the easier to compare, see the effect of different conditions, recognize progress, and become aware of my own current state. Sometimes things go easier, sometimes I need to shake them up.
Oftentimes, I remember the times I ran to some landmarks when I was just getting started, and was winded by the time I got there. Now, I run past the same places when I’m just getting warmed up, and go on for miles.

Thanks to how I run over fields and along hedges, there is also a realization of how necessary more-natural areas are. Some of the changes would also happen on a sports track, but the mixture of familiarity with the trail and the plants, animals and structures along it, and the awareness of all the changes, is much stronger with these natural elements than it would be with elements of the human-built environment alone.

A new house decoration all well and good, but seeing a bird of prey alight from a branch right in front of me for the first time, and later seeing that this place is a favorite haunt of that animal, a run is not just physical exertion, it becomes a part of the fun exploration of my surroundings.

The runs in Riga, Latvia, were not in quite as natural surroundings, also in similar or the same circles – and also always different in some ways, even as they had become so familiar, I often still remember the city in their terms.

Open eyes and a learning mind are what makes the difference.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. We humans were made to move and learn.