The first thing I noticed on Google Maps was the running store.
I was checking out the area near my hotel in suburban Detroit, looking for a place to grab some food when I saw a store named “Running Fit” pop up. Conveniently located in a plaza with a supermarket, bagel shop and book store, I was eager to check it out. Work brought me to Plymouth, Michigan for five days and I needed to stock up on some running odds and ends, you know gels, bars, new-to-me NUUN flavors.
Also, I needed to find a place to run.
The fitness center at my hotel was undergoing a renovation, which was fine since I’m not keen on doing long runs on the treadmill unless absolutely necessary. There appeared to be long stretches of sidewalk, which would get the job done but … well … maybe there was a better option.
As I checked out at Running Fit with my new collection of gels, waffles, bars, and drink mixes, I told the woman at the register I was from out of town and looking to get in a long run this weekend. Did the store have any group runs? Or could she recommend a place?
She enthusiastically told me about Kensington Metropark. It was about a 20-minute drive away and easy to get to. The park charged a $10 admission fee. I was only going one day, and that sounded like a reasonable way to spend $10. The park had an 8.5-mile paved path that circled Kent Lake. You can see the lake for most of the run, the woman told me. She noted it was relatively flat with a few hilly spots. That was fine by me. I was looking to get in 8-10 miles. This sounded perfect.
Saturday morning I got up early, plugged Kensington Metropark into my Google Maps app and off I went. It was a cool morning for August with temperatures in the low 60s. Perfect by me. I pulled into a parking lot that already had plenty of cars at 7:15 a.m. Two women were talking at a nearby car, dressed as fellow runners, and I approached them with a big, friendly smile.
“Hi, I’m from out of town. This is my first time here. Where do I pick up the running path?”
They pointed to a flag just a few hundred yards away and described the loop in both directions — one which had a stepper hill going up while the other way meant going down, which sounds good, but can also be hard on the joints. I decided to go counter-clock wise and take the hill going up. It was such a glorious morning and a little hill work wouldn’t hurt!
I struggled to attach my rental car keys to my fuel belt. (Aside: Why do they always give you two rental keys? On a huge key ring? That you can’t fit anywhere?) Once I got them on, I started off, leaping with joy on the inside for this beautiful space and a beautiful day to go for a stress-free long run.
There were plenty of people on the trail, runners of all ages and all speeds. I said good morning to every one I could. My watch kept track of my stats, but I didn’t look at them during the run. This was about enjoying a new place, sharing this space with other people who were out for a run. We were all trying to be healthy. We were all trying to challenge ourselves. We were all looking for ways to connect with ourselves and express ourselves. We found an avenue through running. And we shared that in this communal space of this beautiful park.
And boy was it a beautiful park. It felt as if I was running in a Pure Michigan ad. This was so much better then slogging out eight miles on the sidewalk along the highway near my hotel. This? This was pure beauty.
I stopped to take photos. This was not about speed. It wasn’t about executing a plan. Remember, my new goal for my summer training and my fall races is to run with gratitude. I can’t measure that on watch. Instead my metric is checking in with myself: Am I here now or am I thinking about the games I have to cover tonight? What am I feeling? How can I challenge myself in this moment? Am I smiling?
About halfway through the loop, the women from the parking lot passed me. We chatted for a while before they pulled ahead, their pace naturally a touch faster than mine. And while I would have liked to talk with them some more, I wasn’t pushing myself to stay with them. The second half of the loop was hotter with more open spaces in the sun, now fully risen and bright in the sky. There were more miles in my legs and travel always takes a bit of a toll on my body.
I finished the loop and couldn’t stop smiling. I regretted not bringing post-run food with me. I would have liked to have spent more time in the park, exploring the nature trails and taking in the view of the lake. But alas, all I had was water and I needed to get back to the hotel for some sustenance, yoga, and a shower.
But the long run left with me a sense of peace. A sense of happiness. And a huge sense of gratitude — particularly for the woman at Running Fit who pointed me in this direction.
Good things happen when you ask questions. Great things can happen when you take the run as it comes, when you’re in an unfamiliar place and just embrace the experiences, look around at the space and greet your fellow human beings with a smile and a “good morning.” The run becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It becomes an expression of pure joy.