Changing up routine turns 10-mile endurance test into a fun run

Weekly 10-mile runs have been a fall ritual for my sister and I ever since we started running together back in 2010.

That first year, those runs came on weigh-in day during the final stages of my 90-pound weight loss and really helped seal the deal. Now, whether or not we’re training for a specific race, it just seems like the time is right to get those 10s in again.

Trouble is, we’ve always used the same out-and-back paved course, starting on Bluffton’s River Greenway and turning around at the Ouabache State Park campground. That can be a lot of pounding on my sister’s achey joints. After all these years, on Saturday we finally realized we could cut over in the park and run a section of our favorite dirt trail to arrive at our same turning point.

It was a huge boost both mentally and physically. The rains this summer derailed our trail running, so it almost felt like a homecoming to enter the woods. And Traci could feel the difference in her knees and hips almost immediately. It turned what can sometimes feel like an endurance test – this was our third go at a 10 in as many weeks  and the first where we intended to run the whole way without walk breaks – into more of a pleasure cruise.

It didn’t hurt that it was much cooler running at 8 a.m. rather than midday, or that we’d stashed Powerades at the gatehouse ahead of time. As it turned out we weren’t as desperate for hydration on this run as the past two, but it was still a psychological boost to know we had an aid station we could hit once on the way out and again on the way back.

Changing up a familiar route had paid off in another run earlier in the week, a 6-miler on our hills course. Usually we do three sets of out-and-back 2-milers over two different sections of hills, but this time we extended one of those so we only had two turnarounds instead of three. It turned what usually feels like a grind into more of an adventure. No matter how many times you drive down a road – this was a familiar route we always took to our Grandma’s house – it just looks different when you run it.

My sister’s fear of dogs sometimes keeps us from trying new roads, but in this case it gave us some extra juice because she insisted we pick the pace up to try to get past a house where a Fed Ex truck was distracting a large dog. It wound up being a pretty fast run on a cooler-than-average August day, and that felt like the turning point that helped me get my confidence back for Saturday’s 10-miler.

Shooting out of the woods at our turnaround gave us plenty of momentum heading back to the gatehouse.

“You know, I think our training plan is paying off,” Traci said. For the fall we were aiming to do a 6-mile speed workout, 6 miles of hills and a slower-paced 10-miler every week. It felt awesome to be building in an automatic 22-mile base. And this week, because this 10 was coming on a Saturday instead of a Sunday, we’d have a 32-mile week on just four runs.

After picking up our Powerades at the Gatehouse we slowed the pace down a bit, toting our surprisingly full bottles. We’d expected to guzzle them, but we just weren’t as thirsty this time. We wound up stashing them behind the White Bridge and settled in for the last 2 miles back on the Greenway.

We’d forgotten about a 5K run that had been setting up as we took off earlier that morning until we came across some volunteers at the race turnaround point. There were no runners or walkers in sight, but we picked up the pace, thinking we might overtake some stragglers. But it was a pretty small race and we were probably about 10 minutes too late to really get in on any of it, though as we “finished” somebody did try to give us a 5K time and someone else insisted we take a bottle of water from their cooler.

We wound up cutting at least 5 minutes off last week’s 10-miler, finishing in exactly 2 hours for a 12:00 pace. Regardless of the time, it felt great to run the whole thing without trying to maintain a 3:1 or 4:1 run/walk ratio.

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