Tuesday, December 1, 2015

8 Running Routes: Pros and Cons

A lot of runners will tell you that you enter a sort of meditative state when you run for a long time. This is true..... sometimes.

Sometimes, a run is just BORING.

You spend the whole time dreaming about how much food you will eat when you get home. On Saturday I ran 8 miles. The whole time I was fantasizing about the Grape Nuts I was going to eat afterwards. Grape Nuts! I kept thinking, "I'll slice up some bananas in there. Oh, and raisins! And chocolate chips! What else can I put in this cereal? Do I even need the cereal part?"

However, it is possible to make runs more fun and engaging. One way to do this is to change your route. Below are eight different types of runs that will hopefully keep you from going insane and day dreaming about dry cereal.

1. Out and Back

An Out and Back run is one where you run half the distance, and then run back the same way. Pretty simple, huh?

  • For me personally, I mentally only have to run half the distance. For example if I'm planning an 8 mile run, I tell myself that I only have to run 4 miles. Then once I hit 4 miles, I have no choice but to turn around and run back. Ha, brain! I tricked you! Seriously though, this works.
  • Mapping out the run is really simple. In fact, you can just go outside and start running in any direction, and then turn around when you hit half the distance. I'm lazy, so this appeals to me.
  • You can more easily adjust for how hilly you want the run, since you're only planning for half the distance. And if you run UP a big hill, you get to run back down on your way back. And you can even yell "wooo" the whole way down. This entertains passing drivers. Or scares them. I'm not sure which.
  • For the second half of the run, your brain knows you're running towards home. This often makes you run faster. No really. 
  • Among all the runs, this one will get you the farthest from your starting point. This is a problem if you bonk and can't run back, especially if you didn't bring your phone. I often don't carry my phone with me, because I'm stupid. Every time I hit the halfway point of my out-and-back, I always think, "ok, here comes the broken leg."
  • There's less change in scenery. You're going to pass by all the same spots twice. So this can make things staid. "Oh look, there's that grocery store again. And there's that homeless guy out front, staring at me forlornly." The way to get around this is to be totally oblivious to your surroundings, like I usually am. No, this is not safe.
  • Counter to the last pro above, for the FIRST half of this run, you're running AWAY from home, and away from tortilla chips and salsa. This makes your brain sad. Oh so sad.
Guess I better get used to this view.

2. Loop

This is a run that starts and ends at your house. It may not look like a perfect loop. More likely it'll look like a malformed eggplant, or a can opener that doesn't open cans.


  • You're not usually too far from your starting point, so if you get hurt or tired, you can cut the run short. Like a wuss.
  • Assuming you planned the run out right, you don't have to take any detours or double back. You just follow the loop, and when you get home, you're done! Being done is the best.
  • If you're running counterclockwise, you can run against traffic the whole time, and avoid having to cross as many streets. Yay safety! Do people even use clocks anymore? Do folks still know what "counterclockwise" means?


  • It may not always be possible to plan a route of a specific distance that fits into a neat loop. If you're OK with the distance being imprecise, this is fine. I planned on doing 6 or 7 miles on Monday and ended up doing 8. Oops!
  • There are only so many loops you can do around your house before you run out. So they can get repetitive, unless you mix them up with the other routes on this list.
You ran without me, so I found a way to keep myself busy.

3. Weaving

This means running back and forth on a bunch of streets. You may cross a lot of the same streets, or even run the same street more than once. This run will often look like a blocky zig-zag on your map, or perhaps like a deranged toddler took a crayon to your wall.

  • This run usually covers a small area. This means you can often stay close to home, and more easily avoid high traffic areas or hills (if you desire). Also, you get to pretend you're stalking someone's house. If that's fun for you. Ahem.
  • You can easily add some weaving to the beginning or end of any other style of run to add some distance.
  • This is a great run for speed workouts. You run fast and just turn when you have to, staying in a small area and avoiding traffic. You can even plan ahead so that the blocks you run roughly correspond to the distance of your intervals (if you're doing interval training).
  • I'm sure you're very familiar with your neighborhood, and running up and down those streets is not terribly interesting. And you inevitably cringe when you approach that one house with the pitbull on steroids. I love pitbulls, but seriously: Stop giving them drugs!
  • Even though it feels fast running down a short block, when you look at your watch, you realize you've only covered a third of a mile. This means a lot of weaving. On the plus side, you don't notice this much on speed workouts, as you're much more focused on your pace.
  •  I mentioned under the pros that you can add this to another run (say a loop) to add distance. However, after having already run 8 miles and being so close to home, it can be really tough to turn down some random street just to add mileage. Yuck! If you know your loop isn't long enough, plan ahead and add the weaving in the beginning.
Maybe I should've paid more attention to the turns I took.
Photo Cr. CG Photography

4. Trail

Technically, the runs above could be road or trail. But I mention this here separately in case you're primarily a road runner. Running trails is quite different than running on roads, and is an easy way to add variety to your week.


  • Trails usually are much prettier than roads, with lots of turns and hills and what not. This keeps you quite engaged the whole time, making the run feel much shorter and more fun. Just don't run in to the waterfall.
  • You're often alone on trails, with no traffic or obnoxious dogs or other people. This gives you plenty of time to relax, think about things, or just enjoy your surroundings. You can even talk to yourself without anyone else knowing what a lunatic you are.
  • A trail can often be easier on the feet, if it's mostly grass, earth, or pine needles. Although if it has a lot of turns or hills, you risk injury in other ways.


  • Trails can often be "technical", meaning that they have a lot of turns, hills, and obstacles. This makes the chance of injury much higher, especially if there are wet leaves or snow or something else. Run carefully! At least calling a trail "technical" makes you sound, like, really athletic.
  • Related to the point above, running on a trail is slower than running on a road. You won't notice that it's slower, because it's more engaging, but when you look at your pace at the end, you may be disappointed. Don't look to set any records here!
  • If you do get injured - and it's more likely on a trail than on a road - finding help is a lot harder. You may find yourself limping or dragging your broken body a few miles before you hit civilization. Try not to get eaten by a bear!
If you decide to run on a trail, be careful, and - as Scar would say - be prepared!

OK, maybe this is a bit too technical.

5. Track

A track workout is just that: Running on a track. The ones nearest you are usually school tracks, so make sure to find out first when they're available to the public.


  • Zero mapping or planning ahead of time. You show up, run your laps, hit your distance, and go home. Home to sweet sweet whiskey.
  • Ideal for speed workouts. Tracks make it super easy to do intervals or other speed work. Even if you're not using a watch, you can just run two laps to hit an 800K. Or run a million laps and hit 250,000 miles. So easy!
  • Springy surface makes you faster and reduces injury. Always a nice benefit. Just watch out for that one stupid bench that always seems to get left out.

  • Literally zero change in scenery. Boring city. Unless you're doing speed work or something else that engages you the whole time, a track workout can be an epic snooze-fest.
  • You usually have to drive to a track. This takes some extra time and scheduling. With a road run, you can literally step out of your house and be running, even if you don't have much time to spare.
  • Getting kicked out by the football team. Happens. You sneak in, see that nobody's using it, and then start running. 20 minutes later, 8 minivans of kids and coaches show up and start hurling balls at you. Eep!
Just this. A lot.

6. Destination

A destination run involves driving to an interesting location and running there. This could be when you're already driving somewhere for vacation or some other reason. Or it could be a drive to the state forest half an hour away.


  • You get to run in a brand new place for the first time ever. It stays interesting the whole time. "I've never seen that particular pine cone! Wow!" This is pretty much the only pro. However, it's a big one, and makes for a really fun run, especially if you're lucky enough to have a beach or some other beautiful location within driving distance of you. No, Walmart is not a "destination".

  • You have to drive to get there. Duh. But if you already have to drive somewhere (or fly!), then you may as well go for as many runs as you can in a new place!
  • Planning for a specific distance or type of run (eg. tempo) can be challenging. You may end up taking a lot of random turns and getting lost, or staring at the map on your phone while you run (which is dangerous). Take a look at a map ahead of time, and be OK with not hitting your exact goal. Better yet, be OK with getting lost and running a few extra miles. Worst case you can turn around and go back the way you came.
  • You often can't call a friend to pick you if you get lost or hurt. Although you can still call a taxi if you need to. Of course the easy solution is travel with a friend or loved one! Assuming you have friends, you weirdo.

Ultimately all destinations lead to this.

7. Race

This is why you train! A race is typically a destination run, unless it's local. But in any case it will usually be different than the training runs you're used to.

  • It's a race!! Do I really need to go into the list of reasons why this is awesome? Races are super fun, you get to run with a ton of other people, and you'll run faster than pretty much any other time that you run.
  • If you fall down, there's a ton of people who can help you immediately. This is the only time you don't have to worry about getting stuck alone.
  • Seriously, races are super fun. Even if you're one of those solitary runners who's like, "I just do it for me, man. Screw races," or you think you're too slow to race, do it anyway! They can help keep you motivated to improve.

  • You have to get up stupidly early.
  • You have to pack all your shit and make sure not to forget anything.
  • You have to take a lot of poops.
  • You get really nervous right beforehand.
  • More pooping.
Seriously though, the "cons" just make it more fun. Doooo it. Here's the only real con to racing:
  • They smash your wallet. I love racing, but it's expensive. Plan ahead and make sure to budget carefully. But hey, free shirts!
Seriously though, you can't forget anything.

8. Treadmill

Treadmills suck.


1 comment:

  1. Great article Peter. I think I may have to mix up my runs. Trail running is my favorite, the natural scenery really does something wonderful to my brain. Then walking to the the track at the school and walking back.