With sneakers laced up and dog leash in my hand, Reuben and I set out one Saturday morning to run our usual five-miler. I was feeling great, loving the sunny 66-degree weather that had a slight breeze to keep me cool. After hitting the one-mile mark, I decided to make a left turn instead of my usual right and headed down a long stretch of farm road I'd never run before; it was breathtakingly serene. With no car or person in sight, I just kept going and going until I looked down at my iPhone and realized I'd run four miles. Oh crap! I quickly became aware that I'd need to run those same four miles to get back home.
The idea of running long distances can be daunting (and let's face it, a little miserable). Think about it: repeating shorter loops near your home can feel monotonous, making it easy to throw in the towel and just head back inside. Treadmill runs can be tough for the same reason. Can't make it to mile five? Turn off the machine and give up. But planning out one big loop to cover all the mileage can be overwhelming; it's easy to feel like the run will never end, and it can be tough to gauge how much longer is left to go. This is where an out-and-back run comes in handy.
Whatever mileage you plan on covering — be it five, eight, or more — run half the distance, then turn around and head back along the same route you just came from. Once you hit that halfway point and turn around, a mental shift happens, which can give you the extra motivation you need to make it to the end. Instead of not knowing how much is left to go, you start to tell yourself, "I'm almost there." With every now-familiar landmark you pass the second time around, you become more psyched that you're almost done that you'll naturally pick up speed.
Although an out-and-back run may seem like a cruel way to trick yourself into going the distance, it works because you have no other choice but to keep running in order to get back home. Of course, you want to be sure you're in good shape running-wise, you're injury-free, you don't break the 10 percent rule, and you don't go overboard and run a 10-miler when you've only ever run three. Start off with slightly longer distances than you're used to, and you can gradually increase as you're ready. As for me, I finished those eight miles that day and never felt better.