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Uncle Sam: Exploring Athens – by running

If for some reason you wanted to squander your college career without exposure to the nooks and crannies of Athens, you probably could. With a little planning, your academic life could be confined to Ohio U’s campus. Your consumptive life could roll out on Court and State Streets, and your social life could reside in the bars and on Mill Street. The only snag to this strategy: it wouldn’t be much fun.

Such a constrained experience of the city of Athens wouldn’t be very meaningful, either. The town and its near surroundings harbor scores of hidden gems, from pleasant vistas to intriguing architecture, vibrant wildlife and beyond. Exploring the town can bring inspiration and relaxation, and it can nurture a more nuanced perspective of the geographical situation of where we study.

For me, one of the best ways to explore Athens has been running. Starting from my residence within the city limits, I jog on streets, sidewalks, trails and staircases. With no set agenda, I make split decisions about which turns to take and which paths to explore. Following this general structure, I have found some of my favorite little spots in the whole town.

Sometimes, these spots are places to sit and absorb the world around me – like a bench with a beautiful view. Other times, they are places to which I return for more focused exploration – like a ravine where I can search for wildlife. Either way, running has greatly expanded my horizons during my time here.

Although it’s difficult to get truly lost while exploring Athens thanks to the significant connectivity of its trails and streets, losing yourself in the moment is delightfully possible. While living in Athens, I can’t begin to count the moments in which I’ve run into a new and charming place that left me wondering, “How have I never been here before?” In these novel moments, my quotidian stress evaporates, and I simultaneously reconnect with myself mentally, intellectually and physically.

Running and exploring have entered a symbiotic relationship in my life: I am the first to admit that running isn’t always fun. On the contrary, it’s often painful, messy and generally challenging. Fortunately, exploring while running occupies my mind with things other than these inconveniences, and it keeps running fresh. On the other hand, exploration benefits from running because, through running, I can cover more ground than walking. Running also grants me access to tighter, less navigable spaces more than biking does. Of course, I enjoy exploring by walking and biking all the same!

During the pandemic, running outside is a safe way to engage your body and clear your mind. As things warm up and spring surges from the Athens hills, running becomes an even more fulfilling means of exploring the town. By starting with small distances and alternating between running and walking, building your endurance becomes feasible. Even more than physical health, mental and emotional wellbeing stand to benefit from exploring while running. So, if you’re interested in seeing Athens and staying healthy all the while, running might just be for you.

Sam Smith is a rising senior studying geography at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Sam know by tweeting him @sambobsmith_.  

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