The explorun isn’t going well when you come to the same downed tree for the third time. Your mind wants to make it into a different tree, but your body climbs over the trunk and through the branches in a way that already suggests muscle memory. You look at your partner and chuckle, but inside you begin to question yourself, your sanity, your resilience, your sense of direction.

The explorun IS going well when you only have to double back once to find the trail that leads down along the pond that no one goes to, and then over to the narrow ribbon of dirt along the highway that leads to the secret tunnel. High fives. Laughter. Through the tunnel and into the next patch of forest, satisfied with yourself.

An explorun is any run that begins in a place you haven’t been before, seeks to connect two areas you know but haven’t connected, or simply has no planned route. Of course, GPS can solve all your problems, but that’s beside the point. I never start an explorun with digital interference. It defeats the purpose.

I know people who are not down with this. As benign as it might sound to head out on the trails with no real plan, there are some who just aren’t up for the prospect of getting lost and/or losing control of how long the run will be. That’s fair enough.

And it is, in my experience, a 50/50 proposition.

For every explorun that yields the hoped for results, navigationally, distance-wise, and in overall fun and discovery, there’s one that goes pretty poorly, with multiple stretches of confusion, excess doubling back, bug bites, and a mile or two, too many.

Beyond navigation though, the explorun’s secondary but also critical challenge is pacing, and I’d wager that you could plot on a curve your minutes/mile relative to confidence in your ability to find your way. Explorunning can give way to explorwalking pretty quickly. And it’s funny how, once you do link up a route, once you’re on a path you know will get you where you want to go, your pace spikes. There is a euphoria in having solved the puzzle that translates directly to speed.

The explorun achieves somethin, for me personally that I’m looking for in my broader trail experience, and that is challenge. I want to put myself in difficult situations. I want to deal with uncertainty. I want to take risks. To me, those are the components of growth and self discovery. I’m not really trying to pile up miles when I’m out on the trail (although this month I do have a mileage goal). I’m trying to grow and get better. I could run the same loops over and over and still love the dirt, the trees, the birds, and just being outside, but exploring adds a dimension that keeps my “training” more interesting and breaks my too comfortable patterns.