The Benefits of Varying Your Running Route

The Benefits of Varying Your Running Route

Runners are often creatures of habit – which is generally beneficial for a sport that depends so heavily on consistency. However, habit can be detrimental if it devolves into monotony. Running the same distance every day is less beneficial than running shorter some days and longer on others. While running the same route every day will not harm your training, you will benefit from regularly varying your running routes. 

The Benefits of Varying Your Running Route

Preventing Mental Burnout

A well-structured training plan actually is not super exciting. Most of run training consists of easy runs. If you run the same route constantly, you may develop route fatigue and become bored. Too much boredom can cause mental burnout. You may even start skipping runs. 

Varying your running route introduces just enough variety to keep training interesting. Variety counteracts route fatigue – while still keeping your runs true to their intended purpose. You will be less likely to speed up an easy run if you change your scenery on a regular basis. The variety will also make training more exciting and foster more consistency – which leads to breakthroughs. 

Prevent Injury

Running is, by nature, a high-impact sport – especially road running. Softer surfaces reduce the impact of running. For high mileage runners, injury-prone runners, or simply those seeking training variety, training on different surfaces can give both the mind and body some welcome change. 

Gravel paths, dirt roads, trails, grassy parks, and rubber tracks all offer softer alternatives to the road. While specificity does matter (ie if you are training for a road marathon, you want to adapt your body to long runs on the roads), changing your surface for one or two runs per week reduces stress on the body. You may find you are able to handle higher mileage or intensity or that you recover better from your training load by running off-road once per week. 

f you run the exact same route each time, then stress imbalances can accumulate over time and cause issues such as IT band or knee injuries – especially on hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete. Softer surfaces naturally introduce variety and also will strengthen your musculoskeletal system over time. 

Nervous about venturing onto trails? Read up on these trail running tips for road runners

Become a Stronger Runner

Hills and flat routes both offer benefits to a runner – especially when both are incorporated into your regular training. If you look at the training of elite runners, they are often training on everything from challenging hills to dirt roads to pancake-flat tracks. While you cannot always replicate (nor should not) replicate the training of elites, this one approach will benefit runners of any ability. Hills build strength and develop force output. Flats can improve speed during quality sessions or facilitate recovery on easy days. 

Even in a relatively flat area, you will still experience variances in elevation on different routes. Some routes may be truly flat; others may be false flat or features slight rollers. Even small differences in terrain can make a huge difference over time. 

Mental Resilience and Adaptability for Race Day

Have you ever encountered a race course that appears nothing like the elevation map promised? If you have raced, you probably have. If you are used to only training on one type of surface or elevation, a surprise gravel path or hill in a race can throw you off your game. 

Varying your running routes builds a mental resilience to surprises in course terrain. If you know how to handle hills that crop up in the middle of your long run, surprise inclines in your marathon should not derail your race. Even if you end up in a surprise trail race (it happens!), you will be able to adapt on the spot. 

How to Vary Your Route

Run your go-to route backward. This simple change requires very little thinking. However, the physical and mental benefits will be fruitful. You will approach hills in a new manner, see the scenery from a different perspective, and simply have a sense of doing something different.

Drive for your long run. Venture out to a rail trail or park and let yourself cruise along uninterrupted. This is especially beneficial if you live in a city and encounter frequent stoplights and traffic crossings. 

Swap an out-and-back for a loop (or vice versa). If you often run out-and-back routes, running a large loop can add some welcome variety. This is particularly helpful if you are struggling with motivation with long runs. 

Move your hard workouts to different terrain. If you normally run your quality sessions on your daily go-to route, mix them up. Take intervals to the track, try hill repeats, or run a fartlek on a trail instead of the roads. 

Make vertical gain into a game. If you typically shy away from hills, make it into a game. See how many feet of vertical gain you can incorporate into your runs – and try to gradually beat your previous records over time.

Use Strava’s heatmap and route finder to plot new routes. If you enjoy your go-to route because you know the exact mile markers, take time to map out new routes before you go.

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How often do you vary your running routes?

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12 Responses

  1. Most days I run the same 1-2 mile area, but not in the same direction or order of streets, if that makes sense. I don’t like going into high-traffic areas with the stroller which limits where we can go, and due to the time I have to run between when Grayson gets up and when I start working I don’t have time to drive anywhere (there really aren’t any close places to drive to anyway). I try to change it up a bit on the weekends when I have more time and flexibility, and when I feel safer going in certain routes in the daylight.

  2. What Lisa said! For safety and convenience, I prefer to start my runs at my front door and stay in residential areas. BUT even so, there are many different routes that I can take, and I love mixing it up. I recently started running with friends, and it’s really interesting to see what everyone’s “favorite” route through town is, so that’s given me even more variety.

  3. This year, I’ve been doing just that! After living here for 23 years, I have found a variety of places I can run. I try to do at least one trail run per week, one run in the neighborhood, and one on the bike path. This weekend, I’m hoping to get in some miles on a segment of the Ice Age Trail. I love that i have access to so many different places to run!

  4. I always start at my door but I have a great variety to choose from.
    A flat route along a river or a hilly route in the forest. The surface is a mix of pavement and dirt paths.
    Since I have been training with a virtual Garmin coach I have been running more flat routes and I can tell it’s too monotonous, both for mind and body.
    So I took the hilly route this morning. So much better!

  5. I am definitely guilty of running the same route often but sometimes in different directions, I have also learned that my body does not enjoy running on sidewalks too hard. The past few months I have been taking my weekend run to a different spot and loving it. Good reminders!

  6. Yes, yes, and YES!! Variety is key 😉 I have so many different routes, all with varying terrain and inclines. I’m still sidelined from running, but I have been varying my bike routes for the same reason…avoiding boredom and testing my quads on different hills.

  7. Yes! Variety is key!! I have easy access to a paved trail that goes for miles, but I have found that running on said path solo….I can only go for 6-7 miles before I am bored out of my mind. <– in addition to the fact the trail is "flat" (by PNW standards) and I do not like flat. 🙂

  8. I love changing my route! I get so bored so quickly if I run the same route so I mix it up a lot. I’ll reverse, take random turns, change loops, all things to keep my brain confused so my long runs don’t seem as long and my easy runs seem easier.

  9. Don’t forget about safety! That’s so important!

    But yes, varying the route is a great thing. Sometimes, I switch it up, and sometimes I just stick with what feels right. It always just depends on the day.

  10. This is good advice. I have a few routes that I run over and over again, because it feels like I can run those “in my sleep” and without much mental involvement, but it’s really beneficial to switch it up.

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