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.
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.
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. (Here’s more on how to plan out your running routes!)
How often do you vary your running routes?