How to Create Perfect Running Routes
By Nike Running
Everything you need to know to stay engaged and run safe.
Keeping your training fresh will increase your motivation and drive, and help you stay more consistent in your running. Plus, when you mix it up, you'll find joy in the process.
Running the same routes on repeat is a habit almost every runner falls into, but it’s one that can torpedo your drive to lace up.
“If you're doing the same 5K every day, where's the joy in that?” asks Nike Running global head Coach Chris Bennett. “There's no success other than ‘I finished another run.’”
Varying the run that you do—in any way possible—is crucial to keeping you invested in the sport, says Bennett. What’s more, he adds, it’s essential for challenging your muscles in new ways (how you get fitter and run stronger) and keeping your body healthy and your mind engaged.
Use these tips to mix up the miles and safely explore new places, and you’ll always be psyched and ready to hit the road.
Keep Your Routes Fresh
01. Tweak Your Go-To Plan
Having a tried-and-true path isn’t a bad thing. Just make slight adjustments to your usual run to help keep you excited and challenged.
“Your choices aren’t just going faster or longer. You can run in the opposite direction. Change your music. Try the hill you always avoid.”
Chris Bennett, Nike Running Global Head Coach
What makes even tiny changes effective is that they help you experience running in a different way, says Bennett. And that’s what will encourage you to get back out there.
02. Match Your Route to Your Workout
To make your training more effective and fun, choose a setting that complements the workout you’re doing.
Say you’re doing speedwork. Ditch the stoplights and traffic on busy city streets and run your pacier intervals uninterrupted at a track, suggest Niko Zeigert, the co-founder of Berlin running crew Kraft, and Steffi Platt, one of the crew’s coaches.
“On easy runs or runs where pace doesn’t matter, run by time”
Jessica Woods, Nike Run Club Coach
For slower recovery runs, when you have the opportunity to take in your surroundings, you might want to pick a serene, picturesque path, Zeigert and Platt say. For long runs that cover a lot of terrain, try switching things up midway. Do the first half on the road and the second half off-road, or vice versa. This keeps your muscles and mind engaged. (If you’re running the furthest you’ve ever run, the duo recommends that you do the final 2 to 3 miles in a loop near home, where you’ve got the safety net of being a stroll away from your front door.)
Some days, you don’t even need to worry about an exact location or distance. “On easy runs or runs where pace doesn’t matter, run by time,” says Nike Run Club Coach Jessica Woods, who also manages the treadmill studio Mile High Run Club in New York City. “Go out for 45 minutes—you don’t even need an exact route—and just turn around halfway through,” says Woods.
03. Switch Up the Surface
Try hills. Grass. Gravel. Sand! Though they may slow you down, these variables add variety to your training, says Woods. And they force your body to adapt to different running scenarios, a physical and mental benefit.
“Every terrain has a purpose, and different grades and surfaces utilize different leg muscles and stabilizers”
Jessica Woods, Nike Run Club Coach
Running uphill, for example, uses primarily the calves, glutes, and hamstrings, while your quads are the dominant downhill muscle. Running on an unstable surface, like the beach or a root- and rock-packed trail, engages more stabilizing muscles in your ankles, knees, and core than running on a track or road does.
Dirt paths or trails, which are much softer than pavement, are also a nice way to give the joints a break, says Woods. Running off-road can be a mental break too, because pace matters less when you’re in the mountains or navigating natural obstacles. Both benefits make these surfaces great for long or recovery runs.
04. Turn Obstacles Into Opportunities
If you have to run through a heavily trafficked area, don’t get frustrated. Woods says that zipping between pedestrians on the sidewalk or navigating a trail forces you to move side to side, which is good for engaging different muscles (and if you’re racing, preparing you for a crowded course).
“If possible, use this part of your run as your warm-up,” says Woods. “Once you get to an open path, then you can hit your stride.”
05. Run With Friends
If it is safe to do so in your area, ask a workout buddy to join you on your favorite route and, Zeigert and Platt say, suddenly a well-worn path can feel fresh and exciting.
“I see so many people who don't think they like running, but then they run with others and love it”
Shalane Flanagan, Bowerman Track Club Coach
That’s because running with others psychs you up, which ultimately makes you a stronger runner, says four-time Olympian and Bowerman Track Club Coach Shalane Flanagan. “I see so many people who don't think they like running, but then they run with others and love it,” she says. “You’re able to run farther and faster than you think. It’s a game-changer.”
Stay Safe on the Road
01. Plan Ahead
Sure, you could just head out the door. But planning can make for a safer, more enjoyable run. That doesn’t mean you can’t explore new routes or neighborhoods when you feel like it. Just map out your run ahead of time, and at least know where the water fountains and public restrooms are, says Woods. “You don’t want to find yourself 5 miles from home dying of thirst or needing to pee and still have to run back somehow.” If you’re going solo, Woods recommends sharing your plan with a friend and bringing cash and a debit or credit card, just in case.
02. Double-Check the Weather
We wouldn’t constantly talk about it if it wasn’t constantly changing. Even a slight swing in temperature and potential inclement conditions could affect the route you choose, how much hydration you carry, and what you wear. And major swings can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared.
When the weather isn’t great but you’re determined to run outside, adjust your route to make the best of the situation. For example, don't trail-run if it's raining and you don't want to navigate deep puddles, and head to a track if rain is obscuring visibility on the road.
03. Avoid Traffic and Pollution
Be mindful of where your route takes you. If you’re running on the road, stick to a wide shoulder or running lane to give cars plenty of berth. And avoid running during rush hour, which forces you to fight for space on the streets and could increase the amount of polluted air you inhale.
Poor air quality can make a workout feel harder and affect overall performance, particularly in women. Female marathoners who, over a period of years, ran major races in cities where pollution tends to be highest had slower relative running times compared to men, found a study led by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. (This could be due to women’s smaller tracheas; it’s easier for particles to lodge there and possibly cause irritation.) Previous research has shown that runners process more air than the average person—during a race, a marathoner can inhale and exhale about the same volume of air as a sedentary person would during two full days—which means air pollution can be especially dangerous on longer routes.
For the best access to clean air, choose a path away from busy streets and run early in the morning, before rush hour, when fewer cars are on the road. Before you head out, you can also go online to check your local air-quality forecasts. If the air quality is good, then there’s little or no risk to running outside, but try to avoid running outside when the air quality is poor, as it could cause adverse health effects if you’re sensitive to air pollution.
04. Be Prepared
All running routes are safer when you have good visibility (no blind spots or dark, narrow tunnels), decent lighting (natural or otherwise), and other people around. Think about these elements when choosing your path.
If you can squeeze in a run only during low-light conditions, wear reflective clothing and carry a light source to make yourself more visible to drivers, cyclists, and other runners. And if you find yourself on a route that’s more heavily trafficked—which may be inevitable in cities or if you’re running on a major road to get to a quieter area—and you run with music, try keeping just one earbud in so you can still hear outside noise.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to take your phone in case of emergency, especially if you’re running alone or in an isolated area. Like the run you’re doing, you won’t regret it.