I used to exercise only indoors. I didn’t want to be on display, huffing and puffing, in the larger world; I felt more comfortable in the sanctity of the gym, with the other huffers and puffers. No one paid any attention to me, and that was the way I liked it. Besides, everything was right there—track, machines, mats, and the shower just steps away.
It was my dog who finally pulled me outdoors. A bit too big for backyard exercise and a bit too aggressive for the dog park, he required long walks on leash, and I soon realized that if I was going to find time for both exercising and dog-walking, I would need to combine them.
So I reluctantly began running with my dog…and I had a bit of a revelation: it was good to be outside. I started to notice the natural world; the angle of the sun at different times of the day, the quality of the light, what was blooming or going to seed. I gradually came to like getting outdoors every day, rain or shine, wind or snow. But running outside in spring, especially after a long, long winter, is particularly liberating. The air along the parkside path near the creek is sweet and the warmth and humidity feels healing.
New sights and sounds
Walking and running outdoors is also a lot less boring. I leave the iPod and earphones behind because, honestly, I don’t need the distraction. There’s plenty of other things to hear: frogs in the marshy areas near the water make a lot of noise at this time of year, for example, as do the birds. I’m seeing and hearing birds I never used to see: goldfinches, orioles, juncos, wood ducks, black-capped night herons, hawks. I’m even beginning to recognize some of their calls.
I also have to pay attention to the terrain when I run outdoors; uneven pavement has tripped me up more than once. Sometimes I veer off the path onto the grass, where the softness of the turf feels good under my soles. The quality of the exercise is better too. Uneven ground creates more of a challenge than the endless circle of the track, and I have to engage my brain as well as my muscles to navigate.
One thing I don’t have to think about when I run outdoors is distance. I have a set of “loops” of varying lengths—one mile, two, three—and I just set off in the direction that draws me, without worrying about pedometers or counting laps.
I still miss the gym on winter’s cold and icy days, but in spring, give me the open road, or trail, every time. You might even say it’s in my nature to exercise outdoors.