Sunday 7 October 2012

Choosing a Running Route

Choosing a good route for a run is important; it can ensure a run is more enjoyable and reduce the risk of injury. I have identified six key factors that you might want to consider when choosing a running route, these are identified in the following graphic and described further in the text below.

Running Terrain

I personally enjoy a mix of running surfaces, one of my favourite runs is around half minor road and half bridleway. There is some evidence to suggest that a different type of running terrain will result in a different type of stress on muscle, tendons and ligaments. Running on one type of terrain all the time places the same type of stress on the body in the same areas resulting in an increased risk of an overuse injury.  A change in running surface can also make the running experience more varied and help reduce boredom.

Run Elevation

The elevation of the route can be important. A range of ascents, descents and flat areas on a running route will mean that the same muscles etc are not stressed in exactly the same way as if the route was entirely flat or hilly.
Also I think boredom comes into again, I tend to get bored if the route is entirely flat, particularly when it is a long run, so a few ups and downs here and there helps to keep a run interesting. Running hills will also help stress your cardiovascular system and as such make you generally fitter. This will help endurance particularly if you are training for a race, even a flat one.
Running hills can however be physically and mentally demanding, in order to finish a run on a high note it might be best to complete the tougher sections in the early part of the run and the easier, flatter or downhill sections at the end. Take a look at the elevation profile below which takes into account the run elevation factors discussed above.


If the weather is very wet, windy or conversely very hot then you might want to consider a more sheltered route. When I encounter such conditions I tend to go for a run along a well surfaced bridleway down a valley near where I live. The majority of this route is surrounded by trees on both sides which keep out the wind, rain and sun. Buildings in urban areas can also have the same effect. Windspeed and wind chill can reduce the temperature markedly, it make sense therefore to not run more elevated routes during extremes of weather.

Running Safety

Running safety is of paramount importance and should be an important factor when choosing a running route. Try to choose a road that has a footpath. However for more rural roads this is not always possible, so don’t let the lack of a footpath put you off running the route. In such situations make sure that you run on the side of the road that faces oncoming traffic so that drivers can see you. You might also want to consider avoiding areas that are less populated or poorly lit, particularly where you get a feeling of being more vulnerable or even just a bit uncomfortable.


Two key factors when selecting a good route include noise and air pollution. Noise is often defined as ‘unwanted sound’. Transport noise is perhaps the main noise source of concern, running next to a busy road at rush hour with all the associated noise certainly decreases the enjoyment of a run for me, a nice quite footpath or minor road is much more pleasant. Noise may also be a distraction which can mean that a runner is more open to a loss of concentration causing a loss of footing etc.

As a runner there are numerous air pollutants you may be exposed to such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. Many of these pollutants are emitted from vehicles so you might want to consider choosing a route away from busy roads particularly during the morning and evening rush hours.


Every run should have a purpose, this becomes of even greater importance when you are training for a race. For example a long slow run helps to build endurance or a slow short run assists in recovery after a harder run before. The purpose of the run will obviously be an important factor when choosing a route for example if you are doing hill repeats then you will need to find a hilly route if you are doing speed work a flat route will be more appropriate.


Running is a great activity, if you want to increase your enjoyment and reduce the risk of injury when selecting a route you should consider the following:

  • Choose a running route that has a variety of elevations and terrains - this will make the run more enjoyable and will also help reduce the risk of overuse injuries.
  • If the weather is extremely hot, wet, or windy consider a run that is sheltered from the elements by trees or buildings.
  • Choose roads that have a footpath by the side or if this is not possible then run facing oncoming traffic.
  • Avoid areas that are poorly lit or where you feel vulnerable.
  • Noise and air pollution mean that it is likely to be much more pleasant and better for your health to run on minor roads or off-road.

What do you think could you think of any other factors that affect route choice?

I hope you enjoyed the post, if so please don’t hesitate to share, like or +1 runchaser using the social media links below.