Lifestyle

Unknown territory: why do we remember the first time?

First runs in a new location are memorable, even magical – an introduction to a new city, for example – and science has set out to explain the phenomenon

You remember your first time, right? Everyone does. That grand départ into the unknown, the bewildering, clean-sheeted novelty of it all. That initial feeling of hesitation. The lingering trepidation. Then, bang, that’s all behind you. You’re away. You’ve found your feet, you’ve hit your stride. Pulse quickening, limbs loosening, excitement mounting. But your senses are where the real action is taking place. They’re off the charts, flying high. Everything is pinging and buzzing, brimming and popping. You’re alert, you’re alive, you’re there, in the zone, on the mark, nearing your peak. Yes, everyone remembers their first time.
And that was how it was for me. Just the other day. A new arrival in Porto, hitting the Portuguese city’s cobbled streets for my first morning jog. Out of the door I headed, a Day 1 novice, a Portugal virgin, my runners fresh from the suitcase, an EasyJet crick still in my neck. I had a tourist map for guidance, full of colourful squiggles and mall-shaped blobs. Pretty, but useless. In no time, I was completely disorientated. Was it left at the bottom of Avenida do Aliados or straight on? Did I go over theLuís 1 bridge or below it? I ditched the map. I’d follow my nose instead, I resolved … and my eyes … and, who knows, maybe even my toes.

The hour that followed was intoxicating. Utterly so. For 60 whole minutes, the world around transformed into something palpitating and enlivened. Everything looked brighter, sharper-edged, more given to meaning, perhaps even to magic. Above, the blue of the sky looked bluer than I ever thought possible. Below, the waters of the Douro river glistened brilliantly as though flirting with the sun. As I jogged, the urban landscape seemed to be shouting out, clamouring for my attention. Every bit of it. Pavements declaring their narrowness; roads announcing their cobbliness; riverbanks proclaiming their steepness. Every section of the run had its song, every step its specific note.

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