happy trails, roads and sidewalks

I like going on long runs.  I’m doing the Fort Worth Marathon in a couple weeks and I’ve been adding two miles to my long weekend run every week.  The last 4 weeks I’ve done 17, 19, 21 and 23 mile runs.

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“You ran the whole way there?” – this route ended at the Katy Trail Ice House

You might think that training and running a marathon is 100% physical challenge, but I’d say it’s 40% training, 40% psychological and 20% physical.  I think any one can run one.  Three hours of running yesterday gave me a lot of time to think about this and I considered that a big psychological hurdle in the training plan is where to run for three hours.  Here are my thoughts on what goes into turning your 5 mile run into a 10 – 20 mile run.  Hopefully with this you can come up with a good route that will turn a 3 hours of drudge into something you anticipate and enjoy.

Treadmill   Works for 5 miles, does not work for long runs.  I can’t think of anything more boring.  Also the consistent pace of the treadmill doesn’t match how your body wants to adjust pace all the time.

One-way destination route  My favorite way to go.  Leave from home and arrange a pickup, make sure your ride brings a change of clothes and/or a towel to sit on.  If you live out in the burbs like me it’s fun to see downtown skyline as a dot on the horizon and end up among the sky scrapers.  You get a real sense of accomplishment and the destination gives you something to look forward to.  Plus, there’s no faking it or cutting corners.  Either you got there or you didn’t. I like to end at a bar, make sure they are open when you are expecting to arrive.  They shouldn’t be crowded when you get in at 10 or 11 so you can get a spot with a sufficient clearance from your sweat funk.  A gentleman would sit on the patio.  You can also run to a friend’s house and they will give you lots of respect even though they won’t want to get within 5 feet of your sweaty self.

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23 mile route that ended at the Flying Saucer

Big loop route  If you don’t have a way to get back home then I recommend a big loop.  It’s a lot more interesting than an out and back and when you look at your route later it’s a lot more impressive to see all the area you covered.  Try to get as much area as possible in the loop.

Out-and-back route  Run exactly half as far as you want to go, then turn around and run back.  I don’t recommend this way.  Sure it’s nice to know exactly what to expect on the last half but beware!  Hours into the run you might not be thinking straight and you end up with fatigue-logic that allows you to talk yourself into turning around early.  Avoid this type of route and you will avoid the temptation to shave a 12 mile run into 8 miles.

Jogging Trails  Nice but not necessary. You are lucky if your city has any, and if they do they are probably about a mile long.  That’s 5% of your distance that day.  I had this mental hurdle when I was getting into running that my route had to be 100% trail or side-walked or else the big bad cars would eat me.  Once you get over that your potential routes open way up.  Now I think a sidewalk is nice, but I’ll run in the grass for miles.  The only thing you really need to avoid is roads with no shoulder of any kind or knee high never-mowed grass.

Road crossings  Don’t worry about minimizing these.  Fifteen miles in you’ll be happy to stop for 20 seconds to wait for a gap in traffic (I press the crosswalk button, if available, but will leave sooner if there is a safe gap in traffic).

Leave early  You’d be surprised how empty the roads are Saturday morning at 7 AM.  Car traffic is light and usually the quality of drivers is higher (teens and drunks sleep in).  Often times you don’t have to slow down at road crossings at all.  Also around here if I’m running a half hour before sunrise there’s a good chance I can come across an Armadillo and it’s funny to see them poke around and scamper off when you clap your hands (but don’t touch).  Depending on the sunrise and temperature I recommend leaving between 6 and 8 am, no later.

BM  My biggest fear when running, even more so than cars, is having an “accident” of the digestive kind.  If you are already running 5 miles you probably know there’s a certain mileage, probably 1-4 miles in, where your body necessitates a pit stop.  Plan for it and know of at least a couple options along the way.  Be creative with it: port-a-potties, park restrooms, 7-Elevens, out on the woods, friends houses.  I’ve used them all the woods thing really isn’t so bad, just get sufficiently far off the trail.

Fuel  It’s annoying to carry everything with you so plan on going by a convenience store once.  A 5 dollar bill weighs less than a bottle of water and a donut, so run with the bill.  I’ve never stopped more than twice on my longest of runs and I like the 10 mile area as a good first stop.  Don’t schedule a c-store stop at mile 18 of 20 because later in the run it’s increasingly harder to get going again.  Eat whatever you feel like that won’t make you throw up.  I can’t drink regular gatorade mid run, but donuts are great. Don’t get full.

Google maps  Your best friend.  Start with a general route idea and rag the route around, add destinations.  You can print it out, but I don’t.  It sucks to stop and get the map out and it gets all sweaty.  Plus the road that you are looking for is always not marked on the map or there’s no sign.  Be very familiar with your route in more spatial terms.  Yesterday I was running a trail along a river for the first time and I knew I had to get on the 4th street bridge, but guess what? They don’t put street signs on the trail that goes underneath the bridges and I didn’t want to run up the hill from the river to find out I had to go back down.  In addition to memorizing turns and street names, look at the satellite view on google maps and know things like “go under three bridges, if I cross the rail road bridge I’ve gone too far.”  Satellite view is also helpful for scouting sidewalks, shoulders, crosswalks (not all bridges are pedestrian friendly), park restrooms, unmarked trails etc.  Use. Satellite. View.

Other websites  I’ve also had limited success with MapMyRun and other websites.  Sometimes its nice if you find a route someone has mapped out and annotated water fountains and the like.  My shortcoming that I find in those sites is that it’s hard to search routes and get relevant results.  If you do find a route you like it almost always needs some tailoring and even though many sites (like MMR) is Google Maps based, the route editing is still better directly in Google Maps.  Also check local city/organization (example) websites for maps of trail systems.

Don’t worry too much about it.  If you are going out to run 20 miles it doesn’t matter that you run exactly the 20 miles you planned on.  You started early in the morning so you aren’t going to get so lost that you end up sleeping in the woods and eating your shoes for food.  Now you can go out and find a route that will impress your friends when you tell them where you ran.


Steven Gangstead