With the closure of gyms around the world, outdoor running is one of the few methods of exercise available to most people right now so long as you’re practicing social distancing of at least six feet. Whether you’re taking up running again after a break or switching from treadmill runs, getting back to running outside can take some adjusting. Here’s what expert run coaches recommend keeping in mind when making the transition.
GIVE YOURSELF A CHANCE TO ADAPT
“One thing I encourage runners to do any time they are making adjustments to their program is to give their body time to acclimate to the new stimulus,” says Chelsea Aguiar, a coach at Precision Run.
Most people know treadmill running is gentler on the body and joints than running on other surfaces, like concrete and even dirt. That’s because treadmills have built-in shock absorption to help reduce the impact of each step, Aguiar explains. “When we’re outside, it’s our muscles, tendons and ligaments that are absorbing this impact. Odds are, your first few runs outside are going to feel a bit more challenging and leave you more sore than usual.”
That’s why, if you’re used to running on a treadmill, it’s important to take a small step back when you first venture outside. “Cut back on your mileage, bring down the speeds and listen to your body,” Aguiar advises. “Take at least 2–3 weeks to allow your body time to adjust before pushing the speed or mileage.”
If you’re getting back to running after some time off, it’s a good idea to start out with less mileage than you think you can handle, gradually working your way up.
PLAN YOUR ROUTE AHEAD OF TIME
“Before you head out the door for a run, it helps to plan your route ahead of time,” says Matt Mills, an RRCA and ICF professional certified run coach. “It’s fun to explore new roads and routes, but it can also be easy to get lost if you’re not too familiar with your surroundings.” Plus, roads with blind turns and hills can be dangerous for runners, he says. “Start where you know the roads and it’s safe, and if you need to, take a drive to a nearby park where there are trails.”
MAKE SURE YOUR SHOES HAVE PROPER ARCH SUPPORT
Having the right gear is key for smoothing this transition and avoiding injury. “As a runner, proper shoes and adequate arch support are musts, regardless of fitness level,” Aguiar says. “A solid running shoe should allow for plenty of flexion at the toes, but should be stable in the arch.” A simple way to check whether your running shoes will cut it: “If you can fold your shoe in half right at the arch, odds are your feet are not getting the support you need,” Aguiar notes.
DON’T SKIP YOUR WARMUP
It can be tempting to head outside and start running right away, especially if you don’t have the foam rollers and other warmup tools you might be used to at the gym. But don’t bypass this important step. “A quick warmup for your feet, glutes and core will make all the difference,” says Jonathan Jordan, a certified personal trainer and creator of RunFit. “I suggest rolling your feet with a lacrosse ball or tennis ball, doing some banded side steps and a plank or dead bugs. All that will take three minutes or less and will set you up for a more efficient and pain-free run.”
SET SMALL GOALS AND CHALLENGES
Without the structure of a class or treadmill settings, it can be difficult to stay motivated during your runs. But you can take advantage of your natural environment to keep things interesting. “When you get outside, you may find yourself running on more challenging terrain than a flat treadmill belt,” Mills points out. “You may run on more hills or find yourself stopping more frequently at crosswalks and stoplights. Make your runs more fun by setting small goals and challenges along the way, like pushing yourself a little harder up the hills or accelerating for 10 seconds after you cross an intersection.” That little extra push to keep getting better can be a game-changer.