Even when you are running with a group of friends, hitting the roads or trails on the weekends for a few hours of running can sometimes feel like a chore. If you’ve exhausted all of your usual routes and are looking to switch things up, taking in some new scenery on your long run can be the solution.
A little research at your phone and computer can go a long way to help you discover some new routes you may have been missing. And no matter who you are running with, uploading the route you create to an app like MapMyRun is the best way to make sure you stay on course (especially if you are going to be running in an unfamiliar area).
“Providing a link to the MapMyRun route beforehand allows anyone to study the route, reduce the chances of getting lost and figure out mileage/elevation,” says John Loftus, a nationally ranked Masters runner and coach at Run Your Potential. “Even better, they can also access the route directly on the MapMyRun app.”
We talked to two coaches to find out what you should consider when making a long run route — whether you’re running solo or with a group of friends. The following four suggestions are their top tips to make sure you’re ready for your race while hitting refresh on your weekly long run.
MAKE SAFETY YOUR TOP PRIORITY
The first thing you should always consider when creating your own long run route is your safety. A few things to consider are how well populated and — depending on the time of day — lit an area is, as well as what vehicular traffic is like and how well-marked your route is for pedestrians. Of course, when planning any route you should consider safety, but Kristy Campbell, founder and coach at Run The Long Road Coaching explains that it’s especially important when running long; if you choose to run on trails, for example, you’d be going that much further out than on a shorter run.
If you are unsure of an area, using Google Maps and checking out the street view is a great way to get a sneak peek at a part of town you may not be familiar with. Even better, check out nearby users on MapMyRun to see where they are running. Checking out the routes of your fellow runners’ can help you discover popular running routes you may be missing out on.
CONSIDER THE LOGISTICS
When planning your long run route, whether it’s for you or a group of friends, you’ll want to consider logistics such as water and bathrooms. This is especially important if it is a long run during marathon training and runners will be out on the route for a few hours.
“Are there water fountains and/or bathrooms on the route?” asks Campbell. “They’re not necessary, but a welcomed sight when needed!”
The other important logistical consideration is whether to make your route a loop, an out-and-back or a point-to-point. The first two options are easiest, as the start and finish areas of both are at the same place. Also, they can accommodate varying distances, so a group of runners can run individual distances with some simply running further or doing the loop more than once. Point-to-point routes involve more planning so you can get back to where you started and pick up anything you may have left before your run, such as a car.
“Point-to-point routes can be fun and offer the most new scenery along the way,” admits Loftus. “But logistics are tougher with the need to consider how to get back to the start area to retrieve any vehicles used to shuttle everyone to the start.”
VARY YOUR TERRAIN
Even if you are training for a road race, changing up your terrain — even doing multiple terrains in one run — can help you become a more well-rounded runner. Not only will you activate different muscles based on the running surface, but you’ll also change up the scenery from what you usually see during your mid-week runs.
“Variation is best to challenge different muscles in your lower extremities,” confirms Campbell. “It may be best in the offseason when route logistics (elevation, terrain, etc.) matter less. If your race has specific requirements — uphills, downhills, technical sections — it’s best to stick with routes that mimic this while training.”
If you are training for a hilly race but live in a relatively flat area, finding some rolling trails can be a great way to get in hill work and work your feet in ways you wouldn’t on the roads. Depending on your terrain, make sure you know the rules specific to that terrain to help keep everyone in the area safe, no matter their activity.
ADD COURSE-SPECIFIC TRAINING
If you live where you are going to be racing, make sure a few of your long runs include portions of the course for what Loftus refers to as a little “hometown advantage.” Keep in mind, however, that safety is still your first priority, and though you want to have practice for race day, you won’t always be able to.
“Unfortunately not all race courses can be followed accurately due to lack of road closures during training or limited access to certain areas,” he notes. “Plus, traffic can make pre-running courses unsafe.”
If you can include portions — even just the final stretch to practice your kick — safely, it is, of course, to your benefit. The good news is even if you don’t live where you are racing, you can often take a look at the course map and elevation charts to mimic what your race-day conditions will be like. Even going for a shakeout run on part of the course when you reach your race destination can help you visualize what to expect once you cross that start line.