Friday, February 8, 2013

The Beauty of the Out-and-Back Run

Running six miles today through what once again proved to be slippery, shifting, snow-covered footing, I decided that maybe out-and-back routes aren't so evil after all.

You see I have always hated out-and-back runs.  Running is hard enough without having to cover the same landscape again, retrace my footsteps just at a time when really all I want is a new distraction to take my mind off of what for me is the hardest part of a run - the second half.  When in most things practice makes perfect, running a route for the second time in a single run does anything but.  It doesn't make my run better, or more perfect.  In fact, invariably it sucks.

Covering the same ground, seeing the same landmarks, is boring.  As much as I have tried to convince myself that experiencing everything from the other direction should be FUN (with a capital F-U-N), I really just find that it is mind-numbing.  Nothing new to look at, nothing to do but put my head down and work my way home.  The second half of out-and-backs offers no novel distraction from the awful suffering that says you went out way too fast so now you can barely shuffle.

Avoiding out-and-backs though is not as easy as it sounds, and I have spent many years systematically inventing routes that would do just that - avoid them, that is.  Big serpentine loops, tiny itty-bitty loops, or even flower-shaped routes (I can be very imaginative), I have spent a lot of time designing pathways in, around, and through my neighborhood just so I could minimize running past the same houses, streets, and barking dogs again.

Many years later, a lot of miles, perhaps a better understanding of pacing, and a lot of time on my hands to think during today's run have finally allowed me to find SOME silver lining in the out-and-back....some means to appreciate it.  And it all comes down to the turnaround.

Today's six miler wasn't even supposed to be.  Yesterday, I ran four miles on pretty decently plowed roadways.  The idea of running six today after more snow was to fall didn't appeal, so even while I was running yesterday I was already hatching plans to do the elliptical today.

For some reason, though, I felt I had to go running today.  Maybe it was the sun, the slightly warmer temps than we've had lately (it was 18 degrees), or maybe just that I like running that much, but I decided I had to go.  Technically, I had six miles on the schedule, so I opted to run to a local YMCA, which I know is three miles away.  I wasn't too thrilled about the out-and-back, but I liked the idea of a bathroom and a place to warm up in the middle.

Doing this run today, I realize I had underestimated the power of the mental boost you get at the turnaround.  Now, I suppose it's because I had a good run that this struck me as such a good thing.  I could just as well have really struggled with the run and then dreaded the remaining mileage when I reached the halfway point, knowing that unless I wanted to call someone and beg for a ride I was stuck doing it.

Today was a good day, however, and getting to the turnaround and knowing that there was no place to go but home felt good for some reason.  Perhaps it was because I knew that regardless of how slow or fast I ran from that point on, I would finish the mileage I had set out to do. Until the halfway point, there had been no guarantee of that.

The second half of my run was mostly chipper knowing that I already had the six miles in the bag; it was a given.

And, when I did start getting tired, I found myself repeating over and over to myself what appears to be my new mantra....Rugged, Relentless, Remote.  But that's a story for another time.

Happy Running!

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