When runners are looking for stoke and adventure, Knox Robinson brings it better than nearly anyone. The founding coach of Black Roses NYC run crew and chief curator of Nike+ Run Club also produces one of running’s must-follow Instagram feeds, @firstrun. There, the former Division I runner documents his running adventures in far-flung places—from upstate New York to South America and east Africa, along with food, music, history and other touchstones of the running lifestyle.
But what sets Robinson apart is the style with which he does it: His posts combine documentary, poetry, social commentary and a reverence for running, with plenty of thoughts on wellness, meditation and spirituality. He speaks to the rhythms and challenges that all runners can identify with. Layered on top of all that is his coaching advice and sprinkles of encyclopedic music knowledge that this former editor at The Fader magazine is full of.
Earlier this year, Robinson took a three-week trip through California, from Palm Springs to the San Francisco Bay Area and Sonoma County, then back to Los Angeles. He not only brought his running gear, he did plenty of running (75–85 miles per week). He wasn’t traveling to race—he simply met up with locals and explored a few beaten paths and many roads less traveled. In the spirit of this month’s travel issue, Robinson shared photos, plus his inspiration for running as a pursuit in and of itself. Want to get away? You don’t need to do it for a race. Do it just to go running.
How To Get Away
“You just gotta go for it,” Robinson says. “If there’s an interesting person or a place that you’re vaguely curious about, reach out and meet up with them for a run. If there’s a cool landmark or a cool park or some sort of sight that you’ve seen or have a recollection of, whether it’s six months ago on someone else’s Instagram feed, or 20 years ago with a line of poetry that you read while you were in college, go out and pursue that.”
On Meeting People To Run With
“I dialed up people and let them know I was going to be in town,” Robinson says. “But sometimes it’s also easy to be like, what town am I gonna be in? Then find the running club, like San Francisco Running Company, and join them on their runs. Other times it was cool to meet a stranger in town. Just walking up to the counter and asking, ‘Where should I run around here?’ I was having a good time just doing that. Also Googling and going to random places—just being an average runner and asking where I should go. It’s really great to have people show you their turf.”
How To Pack To Go Running In New Places
“Much respect to everybody with standard trainers, but I would pack a pair of lightweight flats so you won’t clog up your luggage, and you’ll keep your pavement runs super nimble and interesting,” Robinson says. “Definitely a pair of lightweight trail shoes as well. And a trail pack. That way you can say, you know what? I’m in Palm Springs, there’s a mountain right there, let me pack a water bottle and my hydration stuff, sunscreen and sunglasses. And mapping tools: Avenza has made scalable versions of tens of thousands of maps from all over the world, downloadable to your phone. They’re the topo maps you find at camping stores, but they’re searchable and GPS coordinated. I get the map for wherever I’m going to be to see what cool stuff is around.”
Indian Canyon, Palm Springs
Just past the trailhead at the base of the ridgeline—just for the silence, the stillness and the smell of the desert after a morning of heavy rain. Indian Canyons.
Mount Tamalpais State Park
I get it: you might not get it. But when @mariofraioli texts you “there’s a crew rolling in the morning if you wanna shred...some proper mountain running”—even if you only have the faintest suspicion that crew is gonna include ultra trail monsters @afvarner @ywangruns @fernandodss—you’re gonna show up and shred best you can cc + s/o my own @blackrosesNYC crew always up for the ups and downs @seanhlee @fredgoris. Up in the clouds around Mt Tamalpais watershed.
Shaking off the pleasures of an afternoon of private tasting @korbel_1882 with a solo 60min+ including Healdsburg’s legendary Fitch Mountain loop as suggested by the team @healdsburgrunningcompany—gorgeous pure running route above the rain-swollen Russian River...even if they neglected to mention the hills...
Ratna Ling Retreat Center, Sonoma County
“Rather than becoming involved with interpretations, images, feelings or sensations, we can remain with the energy in its pure form...like a raindrop falling into the ocean.” pp 68-9 Hidden Mind of Freedom. Spending a few days here @ratna_ling_retreat_center thinking about the practice. Tonight at mediation a teacher asked us to consider instances in which our sense of self softened and we felt connected to a larger whole. Things being what they are I wasn’t the first in the room to bring up running—but I thought about the spectrum of it: how running a big city marathon can make you feel jacked in to all the beautiful savage and severe urban energy of the place until you’re part of its very pulse, and on the other end, how running in a forest (or in the desert or along the ocean) you’ll sometimes forget your own breathing and instead feel as if the forest is breathing you.
Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve, Sonoma County
Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve, Sonoma County
PLANT BASED: Shinrin-yoku is nothing new, of course. But as a concept “forest bathing” was framed up in the early 80s by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as a way to connect walking in the woods with personal wellness. Subsequent studies from Japan, Finland and the US suggest that regular exposure to phytoncides—volatile compounds given off by spices, onion, garlic, tea tree, oak, cedar, locust, pine, and many other plants to defend from bacteria, fungi and insects—might have a positive effect on the human body such as lower blood pressure, heart rate and concentrations of salivary cortisol (a stress hormone) as well as general reductions in tension and anxiety. Spending a few days running + meditating in deep woods Sonoma County—where Shinrin Yoku LA trains and certifies its forest therapy guides—I found the environs and the plant biota particularly intense mentally and emotionally. Afterwards I wasn’t so much concerned with analyzing the effects; I just kept thinking about getting out in the woods again. And again.
Coyote Creek, Los Angeles
1h50 solo session riding concrete waves out in the hypoxic suburbia of LA, never knowing I was merely minutes from the ocean at the turnaround of an out and back until I consulted the map when it was over.