"Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to great places! You're off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose." In my own little world, I imagine that when Dr. Seuss wrote these words he was dreaming about the joys of the long run. Going to new places and seeing amazing things captures one of the great gifts running provides. But for someone new to the sport or attempting longer distances, those double-digit mileage workouts can be intimidating, especially when a basic question comes to mind upon seeing them: Where do I go? We all have our favorite five mile loop, but repeating that four times just seems arduous. So to give a bit of help learned from experience, below are three ways to find new places for your long runs while keeping your sanity intact.
1. Join a running group.
One of the best ways to discover somewhere new to run is by learning from others. Running groups provide an awesome opportunity to find great routes, especially with the longer distances. There were places around downtown Pittsburgh I didn't even know existed until I joined in on a run. On top of that, the social component of a group run can really help the miles breeze by. As the long run progresses and becomes more challenging, there are others around to support and encourage you. Not sure what groups are in the area or how to get in touch with them? Stop by your local running store and ask; these places can offer you a lot more resources than just shoes. Once you gather the list of the different groups, look them up on the web to find out the details about their training runs. Most running clubs will post both the distances they will be targeting for the week as well as the start time. All you need to do then is just show up ready to run.
If you choose to head out for a group run, keep a few things in mind. First, as the distances get longer and the seasons change, some communities will have their runs start earlier. Nothing is worse than showing up for a workout only to discover that everyone has already left. Also know that it's okay to try out several groups until you find the one that is best for you. Since you'll be spending 2-3 hours a week with these people, enjoying their companionship is important. But once you find that group, the fit will be just right!
2. Find a new trail.
As many cities attempt to make themselves a little more "green," trails are popping up everywhere. Especially around Pittsburgh, the number of rail-trails, former railroad paths that have been converted into pedestrian trails, is growing at an impressive rate with plans to expand many of them in the near future. Taking your long run to a trail has several advantages. First, plenty of paths stretch well beyond the distance of most long runs allowing those of us who are not the most direction apt to just perform an out-and-back without the need to worry about getting lost. Second, the only real "traffic" to be aware of on a trail are cyclists who often do a great job of alerting you to their approach if coming up from behind. And finally, the solitude that trails offer helps us to both develop mental toughness as we wrestle with our own internal demons and escape for a while from the noise and chaos of life.
In light of all the amazing reasons to use trails for your long runs, there are some things you should be aware of. One of the most important steps you can take once you have found a trail you would like to try is to do some research into what amenities it provides. Some trails are "modernized" with restrooms and water fountains along the way while others go the minimalist route of only offering a path to run. In addition, especially on your first time out on a new trail, I would advise against pulling a "Robert Frost" of taking the path less traveled. While it may be so tempting to veer off into the unknown, that 18 miler can suddenly become an ultramarathon if you lose your way. And as one final tidbit of advice, it is not in your best interest to do all your long runs on trails. With trail surfaces being significantly softer than asphalt, your legs may have a hard time adjusting to the hardness of the roads when the race rolls around.
3. Be your own navigator.
Like to keep your runs solo and not a big fan of following one path for 20 miles? Take the plunge and devise your own route! One of the best methods for figuring out where to run is by piecing together segments you already know. While this process could result in some doubling back, you will remain in areas that are familiar. Knowing where the nearest port-o-potty resides can prevent miles of discomfort and embarrassment. In contrast, if you want to appease that desire for adventure, use websites such as MapMyRun to plot an innovative and creative course. Experiencing new sights can be invigorating as you discover different neighborhoods and some of the best kept secrets of an area.
With both trail running and going long solo, please always keep safety in mind. For the majority of us, the term "long run" not only speaks of the distance but also the length of time we are trudging along. As is good practice, let someone know how long you will be running as well as where you plan to head. On top of that, if additional peace of mind is needed, use apps such as Road ID on your phone to allow family and friends to track where you are. And finally, always be aware of your surroundings. Turning the music down and not letting your mind wander too far will keep you keen on what's going on around you.
Whether you are a veteran or newbie on the running scene, let your long runs be a chance to see the world. You'll discover some amazing things when you go out of your comfort zone. And as Dr. Seuss would say, "So… be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!"