There was a Nike commercial a few years ago that told us that “the roads are always open”; however, any seasoned runner will tell you that running five miles when you don’t know where you’re going feels interminably long compared to running a five-mile loop you’ve been doing for years. Perhaps you have had this experience when running in an unfamiliar territory while on vacation. One of the best ways to make running easier on yourself is to establish a few ‘go-to’ routes. I suggest having more than one course for most of the distances (i.e. multiple 4-5 mile routes, 8-9 mile routes, etc.).
A favorite fictional novel among college distance runners called “Once a Runner”, sums this up nicely, “… had they been less familiar with the course they would have had the impression they had already come a very long way, a notion that they suppressed neatly and automatically. Little tricks of the mind were important to them. They knew that it was psychologically easier to run a familiar course than a new one, so the seldom went out exploring for changes of scenery.” p. 158
How to Find & Measure Your Routes
You may be pleasantly surprised to find that other running enthusiasts have already chalked up some great courses in your neck of the woods. If you design a good 5K or 10K loop, consider setting it as a ‘public’ course.
2) Use Google-Maps! This is an underrated resource for finding regional parks and trails. Regional parks typically have fantastic websites complete with trail maps and nature guides. Check out the National Park Service site for Valley Forge National Historic park featured below.
3) Talk to local runners! One of my favorite runs in my hometown was shown to me six years ago by a runner who had competed at a local high school and college in the area.
On that note, my personal all-time favorite ‘go-to’ run is an 8-mile loop at Valley Forge Park called “The Railroad”, because some of its trails are found alongside train tracks. It’s funny how little it takes for a course to acquire a prosaic name; my college team named one of our common routes” Kansas”, because you spend upwards to two minutes running by cornfields.
I consider myself quite lucky to live near Valley Forge. Marcus O’Sullivan, the Men’s Cross Country & Track coach at Villanova University, says that Valley Forge is a great place to train for many reasons: “Thanks to the extensive trails, you can do a 15-20 mile long run there—all on soft surfaces without running the same place twice. With the large groups we sometimes train in, and the high mileage we do, running on the roads can be dangerous and tough on the body. Valley Forge is an ideal place to get away from that.”
Map out your favorite run via ‘mapmyrun.com’ and then share it with us on our facebook page!
Dennis Young is entering his senior year at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and is a member of the cross-country and track teams. Dennis enjoys watching “his” Phillies and looks to pursue a collegiate coaching career after graduation.