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Loop vs. Out-and-Back: What’s your route type and why?


 This morning, I ran a “loop”-style route for the first time in…

…Yikes. I’m not sure how long.

A very long time.

Long enough that I can’t even remember the last time I ran a Loop route that wasn’t on a race course. 

And it got me thinking that for a few reasons, I’m an Out-and-Back runner.

Out. And. Back.

No, I’m not exclusively an Out-and-Backer. More often than not, my running routes end up being something of an Out-and-Back “Freestyle” situation, with a couple small loops or other mini-out-and-backs thrown in there. 

Under the general phylogeny of route types, though, you’d stick my tendencies firmly in the Out-and-Back category.

Why do I enjoy Out-and-Backs?

  • I like noticing new things when I turn back in the other direction.
  • I like that it gives me concrete evidence of my negative splits.
  • I like that I know what to expect from the second half of the run.

And if you think about it, there are underlying factors aside from those insignificant benefits that dispose me to this affinity for the Out-and-Back method. I suspect these same factors affect the Route Type that other runners are partial to, too.

1.  Running for time vs. running for distance.

I’m a “time on feet” runner. I decide beforehand how long, timewise, I’m going to run. Then I estimate my mileage based on my pace through certain stretches for which I know the exact distance. Running for time is a probably the primary reason I tend toward Out-and-Backs instead of Loops, because:

  • With a Loop, I might come up short on my pre-planned time-length, and let’s face it, having to tack on more when I’m at my house or endpoint destination is a buzzkill.  
  • Alternatively, if the Loop turns out to be too long, I’ll run overtime, which is equally infuriating because a morning runner has to shower, eat breakfast, and get to work on time, right?

Do you run for time or distance?

2. Being a planner.

Map your run. Plan, plan, plan!


Planners pre-map their routes and stick to them. Planners, I imagine, tend to run for distance rather than time. Since I largely run for time instead of distance, I don’t pre-map. I simply step out the door with an idea of where I’m headed, and then freestyle-it-up when I get to that general location. When I’m curious about exact pace and mileage, I’ll map out my run online afterward. Do you pre-map your routes? If you do know the exact route beforehand, do you usually stick with the plan?


3. Running with a Garmin.

Does this graphic identify me as a "hater?"

Garmin use blows a big nasty hole in my highly scientific analysis of the types of routes folks choose, because with a Garmin, you could conceivably run for time and mileage simultaneously. Since I don’t run with one, I can’t include this confounding factor in my Out-and-Back vs. Loop musings. Garmin runners, perhaps you can shed light on whether you’re an Out-and-Backer or a Looper. Does using the Garmin impact your tendencies?

I’m truly curious about the habits of other runners. Today on my impromptu Loop run, it struck me that my tendency to run for time rather than distance might be uncommon, particularly in a technological age that allows us to be so attuned to our exact distances and paces. And it’s running for time that facilitates my inclination toward Out-and-Back routes.

What about you? Of loop vs. out-and-back routes, which do you tend toward and why?

(TRUE: this post is convoluted, poorly organized, and involves a lot of weak reasoning. I hope you still understood what I was trying to get at.)

17 Comments leave one →
  1. 10/21/2010 01:49

    I’m definitely a distance runner. Mainly because I’ve lived in the same area for so long that I know every single route in a 10 mile radius. No Garmin needed. I tend to do loops. I have a 3, 5, 6, and 10. I also have a few out and backs that are used to tack on distance to the loops.

  2. 10/21/2010 02:21

    Don’t hate on Garmin’s. I love mine 😉

    I am an out and back all the way!

  3. 10/21/2010 02:43

    Oh. Oh. I am def, for sure, cien por centado a loop runner. Out-and-backs only work for me if I am in a specific mood – and I can usually identify that – but I have a huge range of loop routes and love ’em. I will stick up for the Garmin, tho – it’s mega for out-and-backs, especially when you are traveling. Want to get in an eight-miler before sightseeing in [insert city you’re visiting]? Slap on the Garmin, and your questions are answered. A wristwatch doesn’t make you obsessive.

  4. 10/21/2010 04:33

    Out and back for me. Because I like to run on trails, and I run by distance, mostly. And I’m not geo-savvy enough to figure out loops through the park. So I go out for a bit, turn back and come back for a bit. Works for me. And I’m with you – I like to see how things look so different when you’re coming from the opposite direction.

    • 10/26/2010 20:56

      That’s a common issue for me too, when it comes to figuring out mileage. I’m definitely not geo-savvy enough to estimate any mystery trail distances either.

  5. Murdoch permalink
    10/21/2010 04:46

    Its all about rhe Figure 8. In a typical 10 i’ll do 6-7 on one loop, come past where I parked and do another 3-4. It feels like a bonus for some reason and i’m always confident if something happens I can make it back (though Ive never had that problem so I wonder why it bothers me so much).

    • 10/26/2010 20:58

      Shoot. This is a great point. I was going to do a whole goofy post on “What’s your route shape,” and include a few of the silly shapes I end up doing a lot (cross, birdclaw), but then it morphed into a loops vs. out-and-back thing. Figure 8’s are a good idea.

  6. 10/21/2010 05:12

    I’m a looper or a wanderer. And definitely a distance versus time runner. (Although with very long runs, sometimes it’s easier for me to swallow “three hours” versus “22 miles” and I’ll consciously try to think of it that way instead.)

    Although I’m a fairly recent Garmin convert, I don’t think it’s really changed how I see things, running-wise! I mostly just use it as a stopwatch + feedback on pace. If anything, I find it rather freeing to have it because I can wander more aimlessly and don’t have to worry about trying to map things out when I get home to see how far I went!

  7. 10/21/2010 05:39

    I’m more of a distance runner than a time runner. I am also a Garmin addict. I am typically an out and back runner, but my favorite of all is the one way run. I like to be dropped off somewhere and run home. (Or in my college days, drive “out” at night, get a ride home safely, then, in the morning, run back to wherever I left my car, hopefully before it accumulated any parking tickets.)

    I like the out and back best because I like seeing the landmarks that I already passed on the way out as points of reference. I know my Garmin will also tell me how much distance is remaining, but my brain processes the two types of feedback differently and sometimes one is more palatable than the other.

    With respect to the distance vs. time debate, I like the idea of running for distance because if I run faster I get a few “bonus” minutes back to my day. Also, with morning running, I am less inclined to dog my run if I know that it might mean going to work with wet hair.

    • 10/26/2010 20:59

      The one-way run! D’oh. I completely forgot about that option. One-way runs are a blast; I relish the occasions that I get to do those.

  8. 10/21/2010 05:41

    I do both, but I guess I’m more of an OAB. I am physically incapable of adding mileage on if I am short once I get back to the house (or car). Just doesnt happen. I have a garmin which enables me to run without a plan most days-I just go. I have a rough idea of where I’m going/how far but garmin allows me to loosen up a bit and explore if I’m in the mood.

  9. 10/21/2010 07:22

    i love loops. i think i like them because they’re “harder” for me. or at least more mentally involved. with an out and back, once you’re at the half way point it’s like “okay i’m almost done”. and since i don’t have a garmin (yay garmin haters hahaha) i never know exactly how much i have left on a loop

  10. 10/21/2010 10:19

    Loops all the way right now. I think because I’m running through a residential area and I like traveling through different neighborhoods. When I’m traveling and can run on trails, or when I lived elsewhere and ran almost exclusively on trails (or rural highways), then it’s out-and-back.

    Distance rather than time. Just easier to keep track of, and then I don’t worry about how fast I’m going. I map out my runs using the USATF website, save them, send them to myself, and now have a file in my email called “running routes.” Then for any particular day I can just pull up whatever length I want, and modify it as I like for that day.

    No Garmin. I wanted one for a long time, and then I borrowed a friend’s and realized I would never use it, too much work to deal with. I would like a watch that can record splits, though, for speed workouts and for longer runs (when I tend to run multiple loops). But I really only use a watch at all for speed workouts and longer runs.

  11. 10/21/2010 20:13

    i’m not kidding you, that map from mapmyrun is 10 minutes from my place. (weird.) that’s exactly north of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

    hmm…i don’t know what kind of runner i am, maybe a lazy one. i’ve been doing the same 9kms for the past few months, i just need a new route is all. maybe i’ll steel that dude’s.

  12. 10/22/2010 22:43

    ohhh I LOVE my Garmin!!! so so much! I don’t feel like I rely on it, but I do think that looking down and seeing my mile paces helps my training, and allows me to push myself harder.
    I’m an out and back or a loop runner….I just love to run no matter the terrain(hills/dirt/trail/asphalt) are all equally enjoyed.
    i hope you have a great weekend!

  13. 10/24/2010 03:08

    I mix it up: OAB, loops, and combo lollipops … But OABs are my fave. I do run with “Miles” or Garmin, but glance at it only every 5 k or so. I like to use it to test myself and my ability to perceive effort and to analyze after the run.


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