Out and Back and Out and Back

Most runs fall (though usually not literally) into one of a few categories – out and back, loop, point to point, or laps. A recent pace run has given me reason to appreciate a variation I’d never considered – the repeated out and back.

Back-story: I set out this past Saturday on a mid-length run, aiming to sustain a particular pace (faster than any of my recent long runs, but not as fast as shorter ones), but quickly began to fear the packed snow and ice on local streets was a recipe for injury.  Deciding to stop and consider my options, I actually did fall  down – thanks to a hidden patch of glare ice,  and so packed it in right there and headed to a Rec. Center treadmill to finish an abbreviated workout.

On Sunday, still hungry for real miles, I drove some distance to where the lower elevation meant a paved trail would be clear and safe. I planned to run 5 miles out before turning around, but nearing 2 1/2, began to suspect the treadmill intervals might have taken too much out of my legs to keep the targeted pace that long.  Plus I had no idea how far downhill I’d go on the rest of the out bound leg and have to climb back up later. The prospect of finding myself five miles downhill from my car, with worn out legs, did not seem fun, or even very wise.

It was then that Plan B occurred to me: how about turning back at 2 1/2 miles, and pushing hard back to the car at 5?   That’d give a better shot at maintaining goal-pace, limit downhill to what I’d already seen (not much to that point), and still leave the option of heading back out for more. Done deal!

The first discovery was the added optimism I felt turning around at 2.5, as if I’d already achieved something.  Next was the realization that since I’d just covered them in the other direction, I had a clear idea what each of the next 2.5 would bring, and the confidence to attack them more aggressively.  Approaching the 5 mile mark, it was surprisingly comfortable to push the pedal down and hit my goal pace with a ten-second margin, the satisfaction of which was more than enough incentive to head back out again (after a short breather).

Not surprisingly, the next 2.5 began a bit tough, but well-before the turn-around the ol’ legs had cleared themselves of exhaust gases and seemed eager to revisit the same stretches they had just ‘conquered.’   Plus I could tell myself I’d already succeeded for 5 miles, so had a lot more reason to believe I could do the same distance again.

End of story: after initially wondering if my intended run was possible, it turned out to be very much do-able and fun; not only able to beat goal pace for the first half, I managed to come within just a few seconds of it over the entire distance.  Plus I can now compare splits on the two halves and see clearly what role fatigue played on identical terrain, something you don’t get ever get on a loop, point-to-point or single out-and-back (where covering grades in reverse prevents any direct comparison).

Out and back, out and back – it’s really another way of saying you can run laps on any route, it doesn’t have to be a track or even a loop.  That turns out to be a great way to break up a long effort (see Divide and Conquer, 10/22/17) and also to hedge your bets if the weather is iffy, the terrain unknown or your own readiness in question.

Who would’a thunk?  Not this mid-packer, at least.


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