By R.L. Bynum
Many of us run in familiar areas and often repeatedly use the same loops. That can help gauge your fitness level by comparing your times to previous runs on those routes.
Let’s be honest, though: It can get boring running the same loops all the time.
I’ve found a way to discover loops I’d never lay out otherwise and also create a bit of a race feel at one level along the way.
If you are a Strava premium member, the “Explore Routes” feature helps create new routes. If your experience of using this is anything like mine, this will turn up routes you’ve never used in areas of your city that you have never or rarely have run.
You can adjust the preferences for the loop you want it to create for:
Length — You can toggle for loops with mile lengths of 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 10, 13, 20 or 30. The actual length of the loops it creates might be a little less or a little more than that. If you choose “ride” instead of “run,” the length options are 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 60, 80 or 100. The lengths on the “walk” option are the same as the “run” option.
Elevation — You can choose any, flat or hilly. If, like me, you live in a hilly city, good luck with that “flat” option.
Surface — Your choices are any, paved or dirt. If you prefer road running over trail running (which is a common preference during the pandemic), you’ll want to select paved.
If you like what you see, tap on “Save.”
You, of course, need to use your local knowledge to reject routes that have you running on roads where there is way too much traffic with no sidewalk options, or in areas that may be known for a lot of crime.
Running a new loop in an area you’ve never seen — either running or driving — has somewhat the feel of running a race (something we can’t do that often during the pandemic) in that everything is new and you wonder what you’ll see when you turn the next corner.
The advantage of running an old, familiar loop is that you remember every turn and every hill and know what to expect. With a new loop, it’s always a challenge to remember where and when to turn onto another street.
The good news is that technology has you covered there as well.
Once you save a new loop on the Strava app, you can go to the desktop version of Strava to view the loop. Go to the “Dashboard” tab and click on “My Routes.”
Yes, reviewing your new loop there can help you learn every turn. Many of you may have watches that allow you to upload the loop and have it give you turn-by-turn directions.
If you’re like me (I have a Forerunner 25) and your watch doesn’t have that option, the RunGo app does that for you. Just click on your loop in Strava on your computer and click on “Export GPX.” On your computer, go to RunGo, click on create a route and click on “From GPX File” to upload your loop.
It shows you each turn. If you think the turn direction is to vague or could use clarification, you can customize the dialogue after clicking on the turn.
When you’re ready to run, tap on your loop in the RunGo app and it gives you turn-by-turn directions.
While RunGo is very nice, don’t be surprised if it either misses telling you to take a turn or tells you to turn left a few seconds after you’ve already passed the intersection in question. It could be my phone or GPS issues in areas with a lot of trees, but that invariably happens.
Because of this, it’s still a good idea to review your loop so that you have a general idea about where the loop goes in case there’s a glitch. Sometimes you’ll get the dreaded “off course” message and “trying to rejoin at nearest waypoint.” If you go off course and rejoin the loop, you get a message such as, “rejoining course at 8.2 miles.”
It’s always a good idea to know the main routes back to your house so that you can improvise if RunGo becomes balky. I’ve had instances where it just stopped giving me directions.
If the loop includes a lot of turns, it might be a good idea to write the turns on an index card to carry along the first time you run it.
On my long runs, I listen to music. But for all other runs, I listen to podcasts. It’s nice that when RunGo gives you directions, the audio stops. When RunGo finishes the direction, the audio resumes a second or two earlier than when it stopped so that you don’t miss anything.
It will usually say, “in 100 yards, turn left on Main Street,” then when you get to Main Street, it will say, “turn left.”
Unlike when you are driving using Google Maps or Waze, it doesn’t tell you how to get back “on course” or provide an alternate route. That’s when you have to improvise.
The RunGo app is also handy when you’re traveling. Open the app on your phone and it will give you routes near your location. You can do that for Strava as well. But you’ll need to follow the aforementioned saving and uploading procedure to get the loop on RunGo to get its turn-by-turn directions if your watch can’t do that.
On Strava and RunGo, you can also create a route. This is much easier than the old days when I’d use the odometer on my car to measure a route. With the feature on both services, it’s easy to create routes for exactly the lengths you desire.
If a Strava friend runs a route that you’d like to try, you can save it by clicking on the “Try this route” tab that shows up when hover over a map of that person’s run.
For more on Strava’s Explore Routes feature, go to its blog post about it.
Enjoy exploring new loops!