How to Create Running Routes and Track Your Mileage
The vast majority of runners start their athletic journey in one of two ways: either one day they just lace up, head out, and start running; or they find a cookie-cutter running plan, like a Couch-to-5k program, to ramp up to a specific distance or race. Either way is a great approach because at the end of the day it gets people running, and that’s the most important part of getting started- the actual running!
Once runners pass that threshold from beginner to intermediate, the concepts of planning, routing, and tracking become important tools in continuing to hit PRs and move them forward. The questions of how far, how fast, and how often a runner runs will give a more experienced runner firm data to build a running plan around. This plan allows them to start working toward their goals rather than spinning their metaphorical wheels. Helpful, right?
Here’s a basic guide to help with creating routes, tracking your mileage, and planning your training in a way that works for you, based on your feedback and experience.
The Importance of Tracking
If you research the best runners, weightlifters, and athletes, you’ll find that they all have one thing in common: they meticulously track their training and progress. Even for the casual runner, tracking mileage is a vital component of training and one that pays massive dividends down the line. Time and time again, research has shown that the key to getting better at running is to run more over a given period of time.
This sounds obvious, but you might be surprised by how many people run the same three miles, three days a week, and wonder why they are not getting any faster at running three miles. If you add up your weekly running mileage over several months, and it’s not getting any higher over time, then you’re likely not getting much better at running! It is for exactly this reason that tracking your mileage is so important; it allows you to see trends, gauge your progress, and plan for increases over the weeks and months of training.
Why Progressive Overload is Important
This structured approach to training is intimately tied to the concept of progressive overload, which states that to improve any athletic quality, you need to expose your body to increasing levels of stress to force it to adapt and become better. If you always run the same easy three miles, your body has no reason to waste extra resources on improving its speed or endurance, because it can already handle what you’re doing.
But if you run three miles this week, four miles next week, and five miles the following week, you’re increasing the stress on your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which will strengthen them and help you adapt and improve making that original three miles feel much easier (and likely faster!).
Alternatively, you could increase your frequency, meaning if you run three miles three times this week, then four times next week, and five times the following week, you’re still increasing the number of miles you’re running over time. This increases the stress on your body and promps adaptation.
Likewise, if you switch one run per week to a faster pace, you are stressing your body to improve every time you go faster.
How to Track Distance and Frequency
The most basic, tried, and true approach to tracking your running is by logging your daily, weekly, and monthly distances. This is known as running volume, and it provides a clear and defined number you can aim to build on over a long period to improve your running.
The old-fashioned method: keep a running journal on pen and paper. Track days, distances, and total mileage over each week and month to see general trends. Personally, having a physical log of my training makes it seem more concrete and real, which motivates me to keep pushing.
The tried-and-true method: keep an excel or Google sheets page to track your mileage and frequency of runs, with the option to use formulas to automatically add and display training volume and trends. This helps keep things very organized and easy to access.
The high-tech method: now more than ever, there are a plethora of smartphone GPS tracking apps that will automatically track, log, and add up your runs. I use the ASICS RunKeeper app, which tells me how far and fast I go on each run, my total run volume, and emerging trends in my training. It can be a bit burdensome to strap a phone to your arm, but the functionality is well worth this mild sacrifice.
The really high-tech method: If you prefer running watches, the Garmin Forerunner 45S is the smaller – and less expensive – version of the popular Forerunner 45 that features distance and frequency tracking as well as free Garmin Coach adaptive training plans. It also has wrist-heart rate monitoring and GPS pace and distance. And you can view texts, calls, and control the music on your paired compatible smartphone.
The Best Ways to Track Speed
Speed is an integral component to track in your training, considering that running five miles in thirty minutes is going to be a completely different kind of training stimulus than running it in sixty minutes. If you are not increasing your run distance or frequency weekly, you need to be upping your speed to make sure you are still stressing your body enough to improve!
The old-fashioned method: instead of going for a specific pace, this method involves trying to hit a certain intensity on your runs, using the 1-10 Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. An easy run should be a 3-4/10, a tempo run should be in the 6-7/10 range, and sprints should be roughly 8-9/10, making those all-out 10/10 sprints a rare occurrence to reduce the risk of burnout or injury.
Try to progressively increase the intensity of your runs for several weeks; after some serious training and tracking, what used to feel like a 7/10 might feel more like a 4/10!
The tried-and-true method: so, you have your favorite two-mile loop? Run it at your usual pace, and time yourself. For your next run, try to cut that time by 20-30 seconds. Think you could keep doing that every week for 8 weeks? Give it a try and see! This way, although you are not directly tracking your speed, you are crossing that two-mile marker earlier and earlier. That’s another way to know you’re adapting and getting faster.
The high-tech method: once again, I will admit that smartphone GPS apps are pretty handy. Many apps have the option to give you intermittent updates on your current pace throughout your run, and some will even announce if you are slowing down too much and need to pick it up! For real-time, accurate feedback on your speed, nothing beats a powerful computer strapped to the side of your arm.
How to Create Fun and Challenging Routes
Here’s the fun part- creating your running routes! No training program is complete without routes to cover all those distances you planned out. There are nearly limitless ways to come up with different running routes, but here are four great methods:
The old-fashioned method: go out and explore! This works especially great with a smartphone GPS app because you can try side streets, local trails, and clever shortcuts to create your route based on how you’re feeling and where the path leads, all while keeping track of your distance.
You can run half your planned distance out and retrace your steps, turn it into a loop, or hit your distance, and then walk the scenic route back. Get out there and explore your area!
HOW FAR DID I RUN
The tried-and-true method: the internet, in all its digital glory, is chock-full of amazing websites with lists upon lists of trails, from the most beautiful hike through Yosemite to that backwoods trail on the other side of town you’ve always wondered about.
Three sites I love in particular are TrailLink and AllTrails, which are more off-road and rail-trail oriented, and MapMyRun, which has endless lists of running routes users have created and submitted. Choose your distance, scroll through, and find one that fits your fancy- it doesn’t get much easier than that!
The high-tech method: not only does MapMyRun offer a long list of pre-made running routes, but it also gives you the power to map out your own. Using a high-tech, intuitive map interface, it allows you to map out a run turn by turn, step by step, and hill by hill, with details on distance and elevation so you know what you’re in for.
The super high-tech method: If you want an all-in-one option that features topography maps and trail options, a big watch face so you can see those maps and advanced navigation and GPS features, the Garmin Fenix 6X SAPPHIRE is well worth its price tag.
Similarly, Google Maps offers some great route-mapping tools, though admittedly a little less user-friendly for running specific endeavors. If you like to map out your run before lacing up, these tools are for you!
To Become a Better Runner, Always Do More
No matter how you decide to track, calculate, and map your training, the bottom line is that to get better, you need to do more. That does not mean every run has to be faster, farther, and harder, it just means that, over the coming weeks and months, you need to be pushing yourself more and more, little by little. When in doubt, run that little bit extra (and write it down afterward!).