Monday, January 26, 2015

The Beauty of the Out-and-Back

Most of the time, I cover my miles using loop courses.  I like to make tidy little shapes with my maps and check out new scenery on every step of the run.  As I've been planning longer runs, however, I've found it difficult to always make a nice little loop.  I'm learning that not all neighborhoods around me have sidewalks or comfortable shoulders for running, so some routes that look good on Google maps, quickly become treacherous when I attempt them on foot.

For my last few long runs, I've tried out-and-back courses instead, and I'm really liking them.  I find it a challenge to push myself far enough on the out.  I sometimes want to cave and turn around before I'm halfway through my miles, but I usually try to resist the temptation.  I'd rather go too far out and tack a little extra walking on the end of the run than not go far enough and face the temptation to cut the run short or run laps around my block to make up the extra distance.

I took my "more out is better than more back" idea a little too far on Saturday's 14-miler.  I was heading out on a road I've driven many times but one that I've never run.  Engrossed in an episode of Serial, I cruised along, enjoying new scenery and fresh air.  I checked my watch and realized that I'd gone out further than I needed to and quickly turned around to retrace my steps back home.  Sure enough, my watch clicked over to 14 miles when I was more than a mile from my house.  I didn't really mind.  I appreciated the extra time to walk to stretch out my legs, and it was such a gloriously sunny, warm day that I enjoyed the additional fresh air and quiet moments to myself.

My I-just-rocked-14-miles (and have crazy wind-blown hair to prove it) face :)
My favorite part about an out-and-back is that the back always seems to go so much quicker than the out.  Retracing the ground I just covered seems like it would annoy me, but instead, it feels comforting.  And I love the idea that each step I take is getting me closer to my destination: home.  While it can take some mental gymnastics to go out far enough, the back feels like a no-brainer.  In the late miles when my legs are tired and my brain is protesting, I need any mental advantage that I can get.

Do you prefer out-and-back courses or loops?  Why?