“Stephanie, I heard you were running a race this weekend?”
“Yep, I’m doing the XYZ Race in the 12-hour category. Hoping I can get sixteen two-mile loops and hit 50K.”
It never fails that when I tell someone I’m going to run a timed loop race, I’m met with this blank stare followed by a litany of questions about boredom and the point of such races. As a staunch loop lover, I always laugh along, explain what these races are like, and patiently explain my reasons.
There are a wide variety of timed loop races, but often they consist of a loop of one to three miles that you complete as many of as you can in a period ranging from 4 to 24 hours. Not every race offers the same time periods, some have time cutoffs per loop, and some events are multiple days long.
Admittedly, I hated anything loop-like when I first started running. I’d go out of my way to avoid out-and-backs or multiple loops on training runs, preferring point-to-point or single loops. And I didn’t understand why you would-want to do
I flirted with loops during my first 50K, a combination of a mile out-and-back tagged onto three ten-mile loops, and followed this up with my first (and only) 50 miler done entirely in 1-mile loops at Three Days at the Fair. After that, I was hooked on loops, trying to find new and interesting loop races wherever I’ve lived.
After a few years off from racing due to the pandemic, I’ve returned this year and I’m falling in love with the loop race all over again. Living in Michigan, I’m lucky to have my choice of multiple loop races each year. So far, I’ve completed a 12- and 24-hour trail loop race this year and I am looking forward to a fall full of loops.
Below I share four reasons to love the loop in the hopes that you join me in in the loop life and make one of your next races a loopy one!
Learning the course inside and out
This is how to not get bored! You have a lot of time to learn the course! You can find the thing that make it special to you, your landmarks for knowing where you are, or sometimes just silly things that make you laugh. Being familiar with the course can let you tune out a bit for the loops where you need a break and can let engage your brain with your surroundings when you need some extra stimulus. Even on all 1-mile loops, I like breaking them down into pieces with little names and on flat courses I like to find the areas of “mini-vert.”
In the questions I mentioned above, I’m always asked why do it if I can just stop at any time. The answer is absolutely, I totally could stop whenever, and that’s not a weakness, it’s a selling point. If I get injured, I’m never far from an aid station.
If I’m not there that day in my training (either mentally or physically), I can adjust my goals or stop when I need to. Sometimes it’s nice to have the option to stop, take a break or do some yoga, and get going again. Loop races give you the flexibility to meet your needs and your day-of-the race circumstances.
Loop aid stations are wonderful, you see them often! All the loop races I’ve attended either bring in volunteer cooks, bring in take out, or a combination of both. I have yet to do a loop race with a disappointing spread at the aid station. Aid station offerings also allow another way to fight any perceived boredom: you can create your own themed loops. My favorite is the “breakfast loop” around an hour before the end of a race. I pick up a pancake, a bacon, and a coffee and go for a light jog (or walk) on my last loop of the race. Depending on the loop race, you may also be able to camp and or park along the loop or near the start as well. I love creating my own little aid station in the back of my hatchback, with personal creature comforts and special snacks.
My most recent race was a loop race where I planned to complete my first 50K since mid-2020 and I was a bit worried my training and ability to meet my goal. Thankfully, my own self-motivation was bolstered by the wonderful couple who parked next to me. They checked on me (and me on them) and gave me some tough love to get myself in gear and get back out there. After years of pandemic solo runs, I was grateful for a stranger cheering me on and being concerned about my well-being and my race. The aid stations at loop races often acts as the community center, you see racers in all stages enjoying their races, trading notes, and psyching each other up. Every loop, people know where you are on the course and over the course of your loops, you meet familiar faces and similar paces.