One of my standard easy run routes in Wellington
One thing that is not discussed as often as it might be amongst runners is the question of making up the run as you go along versus a standard route. It's a question of temperament, environment and running season. The choice between meandering new routes or taking the path previously trodden poses itself most often in this base building phase. Workouts and races are far from one's mind, and there's only so much you can say or think about another 10 steady miles. For me that means exploring, but perhaps not for others of a different temperament.
Slipping between "loop" in the title, and "route" in the sentence reveals temperament—the tolerance for boredom or the craving for variety. My craving for variety is such that I rarely run an out-and-back, much preferring loops. Of course, when you run up and down the banks of a river, even one as wide as the Mississippi, you are close to collapsing the distinction between loops and out-and-backs! I rarely run the same route twice in a row, though cold winter winds sometimes mean that several runs in a row will follow the same direction, often heading north to start. And I gently curse the wind for making me run the same direction as yesterday.
Running the same basic route gives me the comparison to yesterday that I'd rather not have in this phase of training. Personally I care most about the pace for workouts in race season, and that's a couple of days a week a few months of the year. On other days of the week, and at other times of year my need to know the pace varies with my mood. Wind, climate, terrain, non-running stressors, and incremental changes in fitness can add so much "noise" to the "signal" that the relationship between effort and pace is not constant. I prefer to try and focus on how I feel, asking myself are my legs heavy? what kind of fatigue do I feel? if I had the time would I want to go further than scheduled? The start of a run is the noisiest. Warming up quickly is often the sign of a good run, but taking 20 to 40 minutes to warm to the exertion—especially in the Minnesota winter—is not a reliable sign of how well the run is going. Thus I tend to care about the pace-effort relationship later in the run, hitting the known checkpoints where the times means something in the last 10-30 minutes.
When the running seasons shift from base building to racing tempo runs and everything quicker begin to shift to measured courses. In the off season there is a lot of benefit to the mostly unmeasured tempo runs where you focus on the right effort rather than the right pace. Recovery days in the racing season are a different question! Sometimes I don't want to know how slowly I'm going, and I'll shuffle round the parks or trails where I know nothing of the distances. But on other days—I suspect the days I know I'm feeling better—I like to confirm that I'm recovering well and see an acceptable pace for an easy effort despite the hard workout a day or two earlier.
So right now I'm in the mood to mostly meander around. It's been a good year for exploring and running different routes. Living in two cities and traveling a lot gives you that freedom. Even my regular winter runs heading north along the Mississippi river banks are somewhat different with the detour imposed by the I-35W bridge collapse.Posted by eroberts at November 30, 2007 12:52 PM