Stuck in a Running Rut? Sick of Your Running Routes? Here are Some Suggestions.

If you run enough, sooner or later chances are pretty good you’ll grow tired of running past the same places over and over again. Getting stuck in a running rut can suck the joy out of running if you don’t do something to mix up your running routes, or at least it can for me. Last year I was struggling with this and I was in serious need of some new running routes. I felt like I was running the same paths and/or streets every week and I desperately needed some new places to run.

The funny thing is for years I would run my long run on the same exact path every single Saturday. I would tell my fellow runner co-workers how great this converted railway trail was and how much I liked running there. Fast-forward to present day and I would never choose to run there. I find it terribly boring and monotonous with pretty much the same scenery for miles on end.

Sure, this path is scenic to the newcomer, with trees on both sides and the occasional bridge over a small creek. There’s crushed gravel in parts, asphalt in parts, and packed dirt in other parts. What it’s lacking in is a change of scenery, though, since it was once a railway line and goes in a straight path through the woods. There are no turns, no curves even, just miles and miles of one straight path.

IMG_20190302_094418257-3
Running in Hawaii. I could never get bored of this view!

I am somewhat a creature of habit, however, and I run all of my long runs on the same trail now, but there’s a ton of variety along this path. This is a greenway, so it’s asphalt for the most part, but there are large sections of wood (boardwalks, for lack of a better term) that go over wetlands and other water sections like creeks. There are also many twists and turns along the way, with one tunnel, and some hills to mix things up. The greenway goes along and through many different neighborhoods so you may see a wide variety of trees, flowers, ponds, houses, and the occasional road to cross (but not too many). In short, I never get bored of the scenery here plus there are often adorable dogs being walked along the way to brighten my run.

As I said earlier, though, I began to grow bored of the running routes I was running during the week and I started Exploring While Running and Fighting Boredom. I discovered entire neighborhoods that I previously never even knew existed, just by deciding to run somewhere and see what was there. Instead of running the neighborhoods around where I lived, I would change into my running clothes on my way out of work, stop at a place along the way home, and just park my car and start running. Sometimes this worked out, sometimes it didn’t but I learned a few things along the way.

One big thing I started doing that was really simple but I had never thought to do it before is open up Google maps, choose a neighborhood, search for greenways or trails, and figure out where they are in relation to the neighborhood. I’m lucky that we have miles and miles of greenways and other running/walking/cycling paths in the 20 mile radius between and around my home and work places, although unless you live in a particular neighborhood you may never even know that greenway exists unless you look it up like I did.

IMG_20170225_101501176
Running a race in another state is a fun way to mix things up! This was taken in Utah.

I also do a Google search for running paths and include the city and state I want to run in. Inevitably what will come up includes greenways, routes from mapmyrun.com, traillink.com, and alltrails.com. Yelp also comes up, with links to greenways and parks. You do have to register with traillink but it’s free, with the option to upgrade for $29.99/year. You also have to register with alltrails.com if you do anything other than just a simple search, but again, it’s free for the basic plan and $29.99/year for pro. I don’t use either enough to warrant paying for the upgraded plans but the basic plans are really basic.

You can also search local running stores online whether you’ll be running in your area and want new places to run or will be running while on vacation. Sometimes if they do group runs, the routes and days/times will be on their calendar, but if not you can always give them a call and ask where they recommend for safe places to run. Another option is to try meetup.com where you can search for running groups. Click their sports & fitness box and go from there.

Sometimes you have to just think differently about your runs if you want to mix things up. Instead of running straight out your door and heading down the same way you always run, just make little changes like going right instead of left or straight instead of turning like you usually do. You can make as many or few of these changes along the route as you feel like that day. Just pay attention when you make changes so you don’t get lost!

IMG_20190502_081627
One of many beautiful trails near where I work!

You can also try running near your work place if you drive to work but don’t normally run near where you work. If you’re lucky enough to have showers at your work place, you have multiple options of when to run- before work, during your lunch break, or after work but before you drive home. If you don’t have showers at work, you’ll have to either make due with body wipes and deodorant (which you can possibly get by with during cool to cold months if you don’t sweat a lot) or run after work but before you drive home. Just be sure to bring a towel for your car seat (and another small one to dry off with before you get in your car).

If you have school-age children who are in after-school activities, you can even run near their school. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to drive there, run, and have a bit of a buffer before you pick them up. I’ve run during my daughter’s soccer and swim practices many times. This helps break up the monotony of not running in the same areas all the time plus gives you something productive to do rather than just blowing that time sitting around on your phone while they’re at practice.

What about you guys? Do you prefer to run the same routes every week or do you like to mix things up? If you do mix things up, what do you do to choose new running routes?

Happy running!

Donna

 

How to Choose Your First Half Marathon That’s Right for You

As an adult, over the years I’ve run everything from a 5k to a marathon and everything in between. Mostly I’ve stuck with half marathons because of my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states and so far I’m up to 42 states. When I first started running races I just signed up for a local 5k, not really taking anything into account like weather, elevation or anything else course-related. It was hot since it was July 4th but the race wasn’t anything very memorable other than that.

Most people do like I do and just run a local 5k, sometimes coerced by friends so they may not put any thought into choosing the race. For a 5k, that’s probably fine unless it turns out the race is insanely hilly or has such difficult conditions that it turns you against running and/or racing. If you’ve run several 5k races and perhaps a 10k or two and would like to run your first half marathon, where do you start? I’ll go through the steps I go through as a kind of guideline.

There are several considerations for me when I’m choosing a half marathon to run. At this point since I don’t have many states left until I reach my goal of a half marathon in all 50 states so I have to be more thoughtful than I was early on in this journey. The most obvious thing I have to consider is where the half marathon is being held. If it’s in a state that I’ve already run a half marathon, I won’t run it. My wallet, legs, and time off from work are limited so I can’t afford to go twice. This might be different if I didn’t make every race a racecation, but I just don’t see the point in flying into a city the day before a race and flying out the evening of or day after a race. Obviously this doesn’t apply to most people, but I did want to throw that out there because everyone still has to decide if the location of the race would work for them.

dsc02930
You’ll want to decide if you want to run in a more natural setting like Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota…

Once I find a half marathon in a state, I’ll look at what part of the state the race is being held. If it looks like an interesting city or is within a reasonable drive to a city I’m interested in going to, I’ll consider it. There have been exceptions to this, however, like when I ran in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire, Dixville Half Marathon, New Hampshire- 35th state. My daughter, who always goes to every race with me, has a friend who lives about 20 minutes from this race, and she had asked me a couple of years before I ran this race when her friend moved away from where we live if we could visit her sometime. I thought given the circumstances, it was meant to be for sure, so how could I turn down that one. Fortunately Dixville, New Hampshire is about a 3 hour drive to Montreal, so that’s where we spent the vacation part of our racecation.

Once I figure out if the location appeals to me, I’ll look at the time of year when the race is being held. As I said, my daughter always goes to races with me, and I don’t typically pull her out of school since we do spend more than a couple of days at these places. Fortunately, her school schedule has been flexible enough that I’ve been able to find races around the country on dates when she’s been on a school break. Some parents may think the only time to travel with school kids is during the summer, but there are many breaks throughout the year like spring break and Thanksgiving break for example. Some schools also have a fall break and other week-long breaks throughout the year, and others that are “year-round” have three-week-long breaks every 3 months spread over 12 months. If you’ll be going by yourself to the race or don’t have kids (or your kids won’t be going with you), it makes planning easier but I want to make sure I include that information for people who might want to bring family members along.

dsc01861
Or would you rather run in a more urban setting like this race in New York City?

Another thing to consider when choosing a race and factoring in the time of year the race is held is your training schedule. If the race is in March, that means you’ll be running the bulk of your longest long runs in February. If you live in the deep south, that might be fine, but pretty much anywhere else and you’re likely to have some nasty weather to contend with in February. Likewise, if the race is in mid-to-late November, you’ll have some pretty nice running weather during your training schedule although the race itself could be pretty cold especially if it’s in a far northern state.

After the where and when are figured out, then comes the analysis of the race course. If a race advertises on its web page that it’s “the toughest half marathon” in the state, I’ll pass and you probably should too if it’s your first half marathon. Or if the race goes straight up a mountain, I’ll pass. I’ll check out the elevation and course on the race website then I’ll go to other places to get reviews from runners like Bib Rave and Race Raves. This isn’t to say I’ve never run a hilly race because I have many times over but when I have, at least I’ve known what I was getting myself into ahead of time.

Finally, I check logistics of flying or driving to the area. If I have two or more races for the same state that I’m comparing and one is significantly easier or cheaper to get to, and all other factors are similar, I’ll go with the one that’s easier or cheaper. Again, though, there have been exceptions to this, like when I ran the San Juan Island Half Marathon, Washington- 28th state. I had to fly into Seattle then take a ferry to San Juan Island from Seattle, but the ferry was one of the most scenic ferries I’ve ever been on so it was totally worth the extra hassle of getting there, plus the San Juan Islands are absolutely gorgeous. I just allowed extra time to get to the island before the race in my planning.

DSC01112
View from the ferry to San Juan Islands

I know a lot of runners like running big races like the ones at Disney World and Disneyland and the Rock ‘N’ Roll series races, but I’ve personally never had any interest in any of them. The Disney races despite being hugely popular have some serious drawbacks in my opinion such as 1) the inflated cost, 2) the ungodly hour the races begin, and 3) the crowds. Start time and cost of race registration are two other things to consider when figuring out what race you want to run. If a race states you will be bussed to the start at 4:30 a.m. but you simply don’t function let alone be in a pre-race state at that time, it may not be a good choice for you for your first half marathon.

The flip side of big races are smaller races. I personally prefer medium to small races for several reasons. Not only are there less people running the races so you don’t have to worry about being slowed down at the beginning, parking usually isn’t an issue so you may not have to be bussed to the start. If you’re the type of person who feeds off the energy of spectators, you likely won’t get that at small races, however. Sometimes you’ll often just get a shirt and medal at small races, too, so if you like getting lots of things at packet pickup, you’ll have to take this into consideration.

Finally, the biggest factor in choosing a race is why. Why do you want to run a half marathon in the first place? Many people could avoid disappointment after a race if they figure out why they want to run a race in the first place. Do you just want to have fun with your running friends? Do you want to run with a particular goal finish in mind? Do you want to see a specific part of the country and would love to experience a racecation? Do you feel pressure from other runners to run a half marathon? Obviously if you have some goal finish time in mind, you should be more picky in what race you choose than if you just want to hang out with your running friends and have fun at a race together.

In summary, major points to consider when choosing your first half marathon:

  1. Where is the race? You need to factor in transportation and lodging costs.
  2. When is the race? To factor in weather and family or work obligations.
  3. What is the race course like?
  4. Is this a big race with lots of runners or a smaller race with fewer runners?
  5. What do you want to get out of running this race? If you don’t find a race that will address this, you might not have a good first race experience.

I have a similar post to this, Planning a Racecation that gets more into the specifics of packing, accommodations, and flying to a race. I also have a post Five of my Favorite Places for Racecations and I would be tempted to add my most recent race The Famous Potato Half Marathon in Beautiful Boise to that list of racecations.

Does anyone else go through a checklist like this when choosing a half marathon or marathon? What are the most important factors when choosing a race to you?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Running While on Vacation

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to 42 states in the United States where I’ve run a half marathon in each state. I’ve also traveled throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, several countries in Europe, Chile, and New Zealand for vacations. Since I’ve often been training for a half marathon while on vacation, I’ve tried to squeeze in a run whenever I can. This hasn’t always been easy to do, especially if you don’t speak the language fluently and don’t know the area well.

I’ve tried many different approaches to running while on vacation, some have worked over and over again and others not so much. I’d like to share some of what has and hasn’t worked for me here and would love for you to share some things that have worked for you when running on vacation.

IMG_20180221_030705
Running in the Canary Islands was great once I figured out where to run!

Probably one of the biggest things that ensures I’ll actually run while on vacation is to make it a priority to follow my training plan. For example, if I’m supposed to run for 4 miles on Tuesday while I’m on vacation according to my training plan, it almost always works best if I go out first thing in the morning to run. I’m not a morning person but I can manage to get up and out the door around 7 am even on vacation (later if it’s not going to be a hot day). That way my run is out of the way and it’s not looming over my head for the rest of the day until I run.

I always run with my phone when I’m on vacation as well. If I get lost or a sudden thunderstorm comes on for example, it gives me peace of mind to know I can call my husband to come and pick me up. I’ve never actually had to do this, thankfully, but it is better to be safe just in case.

I’ll look for running routes on Strava and MapMyRun. Heck, I’ve even looked on Google Maps to find running routes using the street view. I’ll also check local running stores and local running communities to see if they have running routes posted online. In the past I’ve asked the concierge or people at the front desk of hotels for running routes, but that’s been so unproductive I’ve stopped doing that. If the person you’re asking isn’t a runner, you’re wasting your time asking for running routes.

IMG_0490
Even though it’s usually hot and humid when we go the, I still have fun running in Charleston, SC and love all of these huge old trees!

I’m cognizant of what I eat before going for a run. Once when I was spending time with my husband’s family out of town, I ate bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast and then went to go run about 45 minutes later. Big mistake. I’ve never done anything like that since then. If it’s a cooler day and I’m going to run around early evening, I know better than to have a big, rich dessert that won’t sit well in my stomach before a run (I’ll save that dessert for after I run!). I’ll pack snacks or buy some when I get to my destination that I know I can eat as soon as I wake up and eat before I go run. Speaking of snacks, I’ll also pack Honey Stinger bars to eat before or after I run and I always bring Nuun tablets to put in my water bottles during my runs. The point is, pack whatever it is you like to eat and/or drink before, during, and after you go for a run so you’ll have it with you on vacation.

Another big thing when running on vacation is to be flexible. I’ve mapped out runs before only to find out the street suddenly was closed due to construction so I’d have to make up my own detour. I’ve also been unable to find places to go for a long run based on what I’ve found on Strava or other places online because what was online was only short distances, so I’ve just gone out on my own and made it up as I went along. Sometimes the places haven’t been the most scenic but I’ve made it work.

IMG_20180512_081619
I ran in the bike lane here in Williamsburg, Virginia recently. At least it was shaded!

If you’re going to be in an area for more than a couple of days, look for possible running routes when you’re out driving around, especially if another person is driving. I did this when I was in the Canary Islands. The first day I went for a run, I ended up running along a fairly busy road and it was not ideal running conditions. Later that evening, I saw people walking along what looked like it might be a running path so the next time I went for a run, I ran in that direction and struck gold! It turned out to be a fabulous pedestrian path along the water that went for just the right distance for me.

Do any of you enjoy running on vacation or do you tend to just relax or spend your time with family or friends instead? What tips do you have for running while on vacation for those of you that do run on vacation?

Happy running!

Donna