Today’s positive note: I am a good cook and baker! Most college students I know live off of the dining hall, takeout, and cereal, but this would not work for me. For one, I like to eat healthfully, and I also like variety. There is something ritualistic about cooking: whether I am following a recipe or making things up as I go along, the process is almost always comforting and familiar.
I wanted to write about some of the pros and cons of different types of running today. I feel like I really try to mix up the surfaces and places that I run on/in, and I know that not everyone has access to such variety, so I thought I would write about each type of running (I’m sure there are more that I haven’t tried, feel free to tell me about them!). If you’re a runner, what’s your favorite style of running? If you’re not a runner, have you ever tried it or does it intimidate you? What kinds of workouts do you prefer instead?
Trail Running: When I run eight or ten miles on a trail, it often feels like I’ve only been running for a few minutes. The beauty and scenery make it very peaceful, and in this sense, it definitely is an “escape” more than other forms of running, at least for me. The surface is usually soft, and I enjoy the variety (i.e., dirt, snow, pine needles, etc.) it provides. Being out in nature also makes me feel more primal – like I’m a real human (I know that sounds strange, but try it and you’ll see what I mean). The rocks, roots, and elevation changes simultaneously provide a fun challenge and a dangerous hazard, although this is part of the thrill of trail running – you don’t always know what to expect. I have fallen on my face several times before. There is also a chance of running into wild animals, although they are rarely interested in you. I have seen coyotes, snakes, deer, fox, big birds, giant cows, and elk. When you’re going on a trail or out into the wilderness, it’s always a good idea to let someone know your plans, and to carry ID, a cell phone, and a snack.
Track running: The most obvious advantage of the standard 400 meter track is that you can consistently and easily determine your distance and pace. You can’t run six laps and think, oh, maybe that was two miles. Tracks are very useful for speedwork. If I don’t want to do a speed workout, I just jog over to my local track, and it instantly inspires me. You can do any distance you want from a 100 meter stride to a four mile tempo run. In this sense tracks are quite useful. But I also find them very boring. I have heard of other runners who do all their workouts on tracks, day in and day out, and I really have no idea how they do it. My tolerance for running around in circles and staring at bleachers usually runs out after about three miles.
Parks: Park running is like a less extreme version of trail running. The paths are typically paved, and you will most likely see signs of civilization around you. In many ways, a park is like an amped-up track: the path is usually longer and more scenic, but you also have the consistency of knowing your exact distance (most park paths have a clearly marked distance). One of the park loops near my house marks off every tenth of a mile with a sign. This can be either extremely annoying or a blessing, depending on what kind of runner you are (meticulous or free-spirited) and what kind of workout you’re doing (speed or distance). The paths frequently have hills and other features that make it a bit less monotonous than a track. When I am going to do a run of three to five miles, I often opt for a familiar, comforting, park path.
Roads and Sidewalks: This category actually encompasses a wide variety of environments, and in this sense, it can be fun – one day you can run along a quiet country dirt road, the next day you can run along a sidewalk in a city and people watch. The surfaces are most often hard and unforgiving, so be careful with your gait and try to mix it up once in a while if you mostly run on cement. The most obvious problem with roads is the danger of cars. You must be very careful, especially in early morning or late at night. Make sure you are visible. One of the nice things about running along a road is that it feels like you are interacting with the world. You can see houses, kids playing in yards, cars, and businesses. Sometimes this can be entertaining. Other times, it’s annoying, which can actually be quite useful if you are doing a tempo run, because it makes you run faster to get away from it. If you live in an urban area, this might be one of your only options, so be sure to plan lots of routes and loops so you don’t get bored.
Treadmills: Everyone’s favorite! Okay, kidding. Although the treadmill is mainly known for its monotony and artificiality, it can be useful to runners. I use it once or twice a week in the winter when it’s too cold or icy to head outside, and I also use it for speed work. The treadmill is unforgiving. If you set it at eight miles an hour to do some quick half mile repeats, you have to run at eight miles an hour, otherwise you will fall off and/or injure yourself. I actually kind of enjoy this discipline, although not all runners do. If I do not have music or a magazine on the treadmill, I will not last longer than thirty minutes: the boredom factor is definitely highest for this type of running. That said, it is useful for tempo or interval workouts, especially in the winter. And it is consistent.