Today I want to discuss an important part of training: route planning.
When I was running 5K or less for my training runs, I wouldn’t put much thought into this. After all, I would be gone for less than an hour, so it wasn’t that big a deal. The chances of my needing a bathroom break, somewhere to get water, or a place to pull over and call home because of weather emergency were pretty slim. I could pick a direction and run until I was approximately halfway to my goal distance, then turn around and come home without being in too much discomfort for any reason.
As my runs became longer, I needed to start to plan better. Who wants to have to think about giving themselves directions when they’re huffing and puffing like their lungs are going to explode at any moment? And do you really want to be surprised with yet another hill to climb when you’re only about .5 miles away from your turn-around point? What about if it suddenly starts to downpour and you’ve already run an hour out, are you really going to safely run an hour home in the weather conditions?
Route planning opens up a whole host of options that I hadn’t even thought of before I started planning better. It might sound simplistic or obvious, but I never thought that taking a quick break to use a restroom would make my long run that much nicer. In addition, when I pre-plan routes I can let someone know where I am going to be in case of emergency (so that I can be picked up, tracked down, or contacted if something goes horribly wrong while I’m on the road). Being a woman who almost always runs by myself, it makes me feel safer to know that someone will have an idea of where I am and when I should get back. In short: route planning is an essential tool if you’re looking to increase your distance, but it’s not a bad idea to get into the habit early.
For route planning, I almost exclusively use MapMyRun. You will need to sign up for an account (or link it to your Facebook account), but it is a free service (unless you opt into the paid MVP version which I have not). MapMyRun allows you to create routes starting from pretty much any point you specify. On the route creator (maps courtesy of Google maps; thank you, Google even though you’re someday going to be Skynet!), you can input a starting address and then customize your start point. For instance, I almost never actually begin running at my doorstep, but rather take a warm-up walk to the end of my street and then leave that distance for a cool down as well. I can input my address to focus the map on my neighborhood, but scroll to where I would like to place my start pin. The route will then begin measuring distance from the pin and not the inputted address. Since the route creator uses Google maps, you can also input the name of a landmark and often it will be able to find that place. For instance, I frequently run on the Minuteman Bikeway; MapMyRun knows where that is and will show me the bikeway without having to input a start address. The power of Google additionally means that this map is fairly smart when it comes to back roads, small roads, or hiking paths; the route creator pretty much has anything you could want to run on already in its database.
MapMyRun will give you elevation splits for your planned route (important if you’re hill training), and it will show distance markers in Imperial or Metric Units (you set this) at a specified distance (fractions of 1; so you can set them at 1 mile, .5 mile, .25 mile, etc.). It will allow you to loop and manipulate routes until you come up with something that will meet your training needs, and then it will allow you to save the route.
Once a route is saved, you can send it to your phone via email. Download MapMyRun’s free App, click the link in the e-mail, and you can upload the route directly to the app. I haven’t honestly tested the app because it doesn’t integrate with Run, Zombies (my preferred running companion), but I do know it will record your workouts, give you splits data on elevation and speed, and allow you to create “challenges” for yourself that it can then push to reminders on your phone (“I want to run five times this week.” “Hey, dude, I see you have only gotten in three runs and it’s Thursday, wanna go for a run today?” stuff like that). For me, the best functionality of MapMyRun has simply been being able to see where water and bathroom stops are on my route (yes, it has a legend for that!).
You can also search for pre-existing routes that other people have created in your area at your target distance. This has been helpful to me because it allows me to see the possibilities without having to experience them; as every runner knows, not every single road is “runnable” due to such variables as: disappearing sidewalks, not enough light when it gets dark, proximity to high-traffic not-quite-highways, blind corners where cars whip around really fast without looking, etc. Getting a sense of where other people tend to run can help me gauge my personal comfort with a route without having to drive or walk the area first.
MapMyRun is definitely worth playing with, even for the beginner runner. At the low low cost of nothing, this tool is well worth every penny.