Countless writers have talked about the positive health and athletic effects of taking the long way in anything you do. Be it taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking a few blocks instead of driving, or running on the outside of the track versus the inside, there are countless benefits in one’s athletic performance to taking the longer route.
To avoid undue repetition I won’t spent much time highlighting this aspect of taking the long way, instead, I will focus on learning about the environment you are in at the time. On March 20th, I had the opportunity to run in the Washington DC Half-Marathon (my first) which took us through the various neighborhoods of the capital. Starting in the east side by Robert F. Kennedy’s stadium, the beginning of the route took us by the capitol, along the mall, past the white house before heading north through Dupont Circle and beyond. As we left the more manicured neighborhoods of the city, we entered some of the lower-income areas and saw a part of the city which I admit I had never really seen. As we ran deeper inside DC, the crowds grew more fun and lively waiting for us with music, cheers, even beer stations at times. There is a feeling that one can get from walking (or running) through various neighborhoods of a city that would be impossible to gather simply by driving through it. Understanding the culture of one’s environment can only be done by being right where the people live and staying in the public, well-groomed environments cannot possibly provide a comprehensive view of that culture or a sense for how its people act, react and interact with one another. In most cases, this requires taking the long way.
I am now in Europe – Paris to be specific – working on another business opportunity for my company. As it often happens, the first few days were a bit chaotic primarily reacting to the environment, the demands of the new deal, and the culture, even though I am already quite familiar with it. The first three days were filled with meetings, business dinners, and were particularly fast paced requiring me to travel via taxis to maximize my time. To my surprise, I had a particularly hard time adapting to my environment these first days and grew quite frustrated at my seemingly lack of adaptability, something I am usually quite good at particularly for a country where I’ve spent so many years. For these first few days, I felt a bit lost. The fourth day, I decided to wake an hour earlier and take the metro across Paris to go to work instead of the usual cab which required a bit of walking to even get to the station.
Walking amidst the streets of Paris and seeing it famous buildings and monuments such as the “Place de la Republique” was soothing. Noting the pace of people walking with a purpose yet with a certain elegance, seeing people sitting at various “cafes” enjoying the dark and powerful flavor of their espressos reminded me of their famous “art de vivre”. I saw in these few streets to the metro the French live. Once inside the efficient underground metro system I saw how people of different economic backgrounds, race heritage, sex, or age interact and meld so well together. I noted how pregnant women or mothers were treated like queens, (much more so than within our American heritage I must say) and similarly how purposefully people move and are unlikely to pause to help you lest they knew you.
By the time I had reached the office that fourth day I felt that I understood my environment better and was ready to interact with the local culture. From then on my movements were slower but more purposeful, my focus became one aimed at the relationships versus the tasks, my meals became social events as opposed to events focused on ingesting food. I became more engrained in the local culture and felt like the resulting work my time there was much more successful and frankly, I enjoyed it more. The rest of the week I made it a point to take the long way, walking through the crowded streets of the city of lights, taking its public transportation system and my time. I walked through the Canal St. Martin and saw lovers strolling, I felt the city wake and rest as I travelled its worn sidewalks, I noticed the dance between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, I noted how people smiled and dined, how they smoked and talked, how they drove and dressed. Taking the long way became more and more enjoyable as the week went by.
Though taking the public transportation system while in Europe was likely slower than a taxi and left less time to work out and stay close to my training plan, it was truly beneficial in so many ways. It made me appreciate the culture more, it made me more efficient in my job and in dealing with local people. Though the sport of triathlon is an important part of my life, putting it on hold for a week while I had the immense opportunity to be in a different environment was entirely worth it. That is the challenge in balancing our various passions, it sometimes means that it’s ok to put a work-out plan on hold to cherish what life brings you. I most definitely recommend taking the long way in all you do. Take the time to know and understand your environment, take a longer loop while you run, take the public transportation system as opposed to the blend taxi cabs. It’s always worth it to take the long way.