I USE THIS 08: 'Non-Stop' Trails vs. City Sidewalks

>> Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This is kind of an odd "I use this" topic, but it's something worth noting.

This idea obvious for some people, but brand new to others. This only became slightly obvious (if that's not an oxymoron) to me around December of 2009. And over the course of the 2010, it became more and more obvious.

I stopped running all of my runs along Summit Ave in St. Paul (where there are stoplights every 1/2 mile) and started running my runs along the Mississippi river where I have an over 8 mile loop that only crosses 2 streets.

I started running along River Road in December of 2009 when I was training for my 3rd St. Paul Winter Carnival Half Marathon. It was hard to run on pedestrian sidewalks in the winter - some people shovel down to bare sidewalk, some get most of the snow off, and others don't touch the snow for days and it gets all packed down. It's really hard to have a "consistent" run in conditions like that.

I discovered that the River Road trail was plowed regularly. Here's a photo from December's "Snow-pocalypse" run that shows snow piling up, but there's less than an inch on the recently-plowed trail:

Here's a photo from my blog from later last winter, and it shows the pretty well-maintained trail with deeper snow on either side:

Here's where I run most of my long runs these days:

I sometimes do that loop. But more often then not, I run out to a mile-marker, then turn around and come back the way I came. (The photos above were taken around mile 1 and mile 1.5 on this map, FYI.)

So not only was it great to run on an "even" path over the winter, but I also learned my endurance benefitted from "CONSTANT" running where I didn't have to stop for stoplights now-and-then.

Here's what I like and don't like about these 2 kinds of runs:

I did my first 4 years of running on city streets (Summit Ave in St. Paul). Those stoplights every half mile may have hurt my endurance a little being I had to stop often for a few seconds at a time, but because I had perfect half-mile splits to take, I was REALLY able to hone my pace. I mean, REALLY. When I worked with Coach Jen a year ago, I was AMAZED that when she told me to go run 4 miles hard at something like 6:10, 6:00, 5:50, and sub 5:45 that I could nail those splits ON THE HEAD! I think those years of running while being able to check my half-mile splits really helped me recognize what pace I was running.

Now, for the past 20 months or so, I've been running long, steady, and constant runs along a trail where I don't have to stop. That has really helped my endurance, but I was happy to have been able to learn my pace running city streets earlier. So I REALLY believe that starting out with my half-mile stop lights helped me get my pacing down, and then moving on to "constant" runs helped me build up my endurance.

And for the record, I feel that I should state that I don't know HOW much it has helped my endurance to seek out non-stop runs. It might be more mental than physical (or at least more mental than I think). I did a 12 mile run mostly along the river on Sunday, and I only got stopped at 1 light during my warm-up as I was heading to the river, and then I stopped with 1 mile left before my cool-down at a drinking fountain. So I ran 10.5 miles STRAIGHT through without stopping, and that's a big mental boost for me. I think it is for a lot of people. So running non-stop helps train me physically, but I think it helps almost as much on the mental side too.

Back soon with an "I USE THIS" post about my Tutti Frutti shorts. Some of you have been asking me to write about using those!


Dr. TriRunner 11:52 AM, August 30, 2011  

I'm not sure what about it I don't like.... but I'm NOT a fan of running on River Road. Which is weird because it's so pretty and definitely a nice break from constantly doing lakes, but it always feels like it takes FOREVER!!

Although. I would definitely pick River Road over stop lights. :)

Dr. TriRunner 11:53 AM, August 30, 2011  

Probably a little safer/smoother for jogger stroller running too!

Carolina John 2:02 PM, August 30, 2011  

If you can knock down 12 miles non stop then that must be better for you than stopping every time. I like to stop every 6-8 miles just to refill the water bottle or take another gel no matter what. But a 12 mile loop with no lights? geez, that's got to be tough.

Old She dragon 8:36 AM, August 31, 2011  

How do you find running in the snow? Do you have different trainers for snow? It always looks so precarious. We have an army barracks in our town and the soldiers are often out running in the snow,even over the sloping footbridge. They are from Nepal though so maybe it is nothing new to them with their snowy mountains.

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