When it comes to building your dream run on the regular, the limit does not exist
Having a go-to loop in the park is a solid way to get yourself out there without needing to think much about it (and we all know getting out there is half the battle when it comes to running, or anything, really). But like your signature salad order, sometimes you just need a little change.
“If you’re doing the same 5K every day, where’s the joy in that?” asks Nike senior director of global running Chris Bennett, aka Coach Bennett. “There’s no success other than ‘I finished another run.’”
Varying the run that you do — in any way possible — is crucial to staying invested in the sport for, ahem, the long run, says Coach Bennett. What’s more, he adds, it’s essential for challenging your muscles in new ways (how you run stronger and, you know, get fitter in general) and keeping your body healthy and your mind engaged.
Stuck in repeat mode? Use these tips to plot out and mix up your miles to safely explore new places, and you’ll always be psyched to lace up.
Keep your routes fresh
Changing up your run isn’t a matter of just running longer or faster than usual. Aside from meandering through a neighborhood or randomly picking a new path to try, here are three ways to breathe new life into your routine.
1. Match your route to your workout
To make your training more effective and fun, choose a setting that complements the workout you’re doing.
Say you’re doing speedwork. Ditch the stoplights and traffic on busy city streets and run your pacier intervals uninterrupted at a track, suggest Niko Zeigert, the co-founder of Berlin running crew Kraft, and Steffi Platt, one of the crew’s coaches.
For slower recovery runs, when you have the opportunity to take in your surroundings, you might want to pick a serene, picturesque path, say Zeigert and Platt. For long runs that cover a lot of terrain, try switching things up midway: Do the first half on the road and the second half off-road, or vice versa. This keeps things exciting for your muscles and mind. (If you’re running the farthest you’ve ever run, the duo recommends that you do the final 2 to 3 miles in a loop near home, where you’ve got the safety net of being a stroll away from your front door.)
On those leisurely “I just need to run” days, you don’t even have to worry about an exact location or distance. “On easy runs or runs where pace doesn’t matter, run by time,” says Nike Run Coach Jessica Woods, who also manages the treadmill studio Mile High Run Club in New York City. Keep it simple: “Go out for 45 minutes — you don’t even need an exact route — and just turn around halfway through,” says Woods.
2. Switch Up the Surface
Try hills. Grass. Gravel. Sand! Though they may slow you down, these variables add variety to your training, says Woods. And they force your body to adapt to different running scenarios, a physical and mental benefit.
“Every terrain has a purpose, and different grades and surfaces utilize different leg muscles and stabilizers,” says Woods. Running uphill, for example, uses primarily the calves, glutes and hamstrings, while your quads are the dominant downhill muscle. Running on an unstable surface, like the beach or a root- and rock-packed trail, engages more stabilizing muscles in your ankles, knees and core than running on a smooth, level track or road does.
Dirt paths or trails, which are much softer than pavement, are also a nice way to give the joints a break, says Woods. Running off-road can be a mental break too, because pace matters less when you’re in the mountains or navigating natural obstacles. And you get the beauty of the outdoors to boot. All of these perks make these surfaces clutch for long or recovery runs.
3. Run with friends
Even a well-worn path can feel fresh and exciting when you’re not trotting on it alone, say Zeigert and Platt. So ask a workout buddy to join you on your favorite route — it can psych you up for that run and for running in general, says four-time Olympian and Bowerman Track Club coach Shalane Flanagan. “I see so many people who don’t think they like running, but then they run with others and love it,” she says. “You’re able to run farther and faster than you think. It’s a game changer.”
Stay safe out there
Now that you know how to switch up your surroundings, here’s how to make sure you don’t get swept up in them.
1. Plan ahead
Sure, you could just head out the door and go (sometimes you just want to feel free). But actually planning your route can make for a safer, less stressful outing.
Map out your run ahead of time, says Woods. You can still explore new routes or neighborhoods when you feel like it, but you should always have a general idea of where you’re going, for how long, and how to get back home. And especially for hot days or long runs, do a quick search for potential water stops and restrooms. “You don’t want to find yourself 5 miles from home dying of thirst or needing to pee and still have to run back somehow.”
Also, check the weather before you leave, as that might affect where you go, not just what you wear. If it’s raining, avoid a trail unless you want to navigate deep puddles, and head to the track in poor visibility.
2. Dodge traffic and pollution
Be mindful of where your route takes you. If you’re running on the road, stick to a wide shoulder or running lane (for obvious reasons), and run in the opposite direction of traffic so you’re aware of oncoming cars, say Zeigert and Platt. And avoid running during rush hour, which forces you to fight for space on the streets and could increase the amount of polluted air you inhale.
Poor air quality can make a workout feel harder and affect overall performance, particularly in women, research suggests. Of course, you can’t always avoid crap air (hi, major cities everywhere). But when you can, especially during long runs, limit running in high-traffic, high-smog areas.
For the best access to clean air in a city, Zeigert and Platt recommend choosing a path away from busy streets and running early in the morning, when fewer cars are on the road. Before you head out, you can also go online to check your local air-quality forecasts. If the quality is unhealthy or worse, you probably want to take your run indoors.
If you find yourself stuck in a high-people-traffic area, try to focus on the positive: Woods says that zipping between pedestrians on the sidewalk forces you to move side to side, which is good for engaging different muscles (and if you’re training for a race, it also prepares you for a crowded course). “If possible, use this part of your run as your warm-up,” says Woods. “Once you get to an open path, then you can hit your stride.”
3. Be aware and prepared
All running routes are safer when you have good visibility (no blind spots or dark, narrow tunnels), decent lighting (natural or otherwise), and other people around. Think about these elements when choosing your route, say Zeigert and Platt.
If you can squeeze in a run only during low-light conditions, Zeigert and Platt say to wear reflective clothing and carry a light source to make yourself more visible to drivers, cyclists and other runners. And if you find yourself on a route that’s heavily trafficked — which may be inevitable in cities or if you’re running on a major road to get to a quieter area — and you run with music, try keeping just one earbud in so you can still hear outside noise and be more aware of your environment.
If you’re going solo, Woods recommends sharing your plan with your partner or friend, letting them know where you’ll be running and when you expect to be back. Or better yet, use an app to have them track you if you have any concern (perfectly understandable and not OTT). And wherever you go, bring cash and a debit or credit card — and maybe pepper spray — for emergencies, says Woods.
Finally — and we probably don’t need to tell you this — bring your phone (put it in Do Not Disturb mode if you don’t want to be bothered). Annoying, maybe. But regrettable? Definitely not.