Running Routes

After running 18 miles two weeks ago and 20 last weekend I have been thinking about different types of running routes. Choosing the right running route can make or break a run for me. I noticed that my 18 miler felt much harder than my 20 miler did, even though it was 2 miles less in distance. That’s because my 18 miler was on an out-and-back route, and my 20 miler was on a big looped route. Personally, I prefer looped routes because out-and-back routes are much more difficult for me mentally. However, each type of route has its pros and cons. I thought about this a lot on my last long run and thought I’d write a blog post on it!

Here are my thoughts on the two most common types of running routes.

Out-and-Back Routes


  • Good for running in a new or unfamiliar area because it’s easy to know how to get back.
  • No thinking involved except remembering to turn around when it’s time.
  • After the turn around you know exactly what to expect on the way back and how much more you will have to go based on landmarks and what you remembered.
  • Good for shorter distances (3-6 miles). Knowing you will turn around soon is motivating and the time usually flies by.
  • Easier to extend or shorten your run if you need to, while still knowing exactly how many miles you will be running.


  • After the turn around you know exactly what to expect on the way back and how much more you will have to go (this is a pro and also a con sometimes!)
  • Can be very boring and monotonous! Not much of a change of scenery.
  • Not as good for longer distances. For example, if you are running 18 miles that day it can be depressing to turn around and know that you still have 9 miles to get back to where you started.
  • Along the same lines, sometimes it scares me to know that I am so many miles out from where I started in case something were to happen (like injury or bad weather).  I have experienced both of these on an out-and-back trail when I was very far from my car and it has scarred me for life!

Looped Routes


  • Easier to break the run up into smaller sections, which makes the run feel easier. For example I broke this 20 mile run into 6 sections – 6.5 miles, 4.5 miles, 1 mile, 5 miles, 1 mile, and 2 miles (each time I turned onto a new road). This is much less overwhelming for my brain to handle when compared to running out 10 miles then turning around.
  • Along the same lines, there is a constant change of new scenery that keeps your mind from getting bored.
  • Looped routes usually don’t take you out as far as an out-and-back route would, which always makes me feel more comfortable in case something were to happen.
  • Good for both long and short distances.


  • You need to pay attention and remember when it’s time to turn or cross the street. This can be hard to do when you’re in the zone!
  • If you aren’t as familiar with the area it can be easier to get lost or turned around.
  • If you decide to spontaneously shorten or extend your route it’s harder to calculate how many more/less miles you have to get to your finish spot. With an out-and-back this is much easier to know.
I think the most important thing to keep in mind when planning your running routes is VARIETY. Whether you choose an out-and-back or a looped route, if you are always doing the same thing you are bound to get sick of it. I always do a mix of both types of routes throughout the week and I try to discover new routes all the time to keep myself from getting burned out. Sometimes trying a new route can be the ticket to renewed motivation and love for running!
What is your favorite type of running route? Do you have any pros or cons that you would add to my lists?

2 responses to “Running Routes

  1. I like running in a loop over the out and back. and running new routes are always my favorite.. until of course they are no longer new.

  2. Pingback: Spotlight on Speedwork | Run Inspired

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s