Think of this as road running for people who hate road running. Because we all know how it is. There are those places we run that fit our platonic ideal — that scenic trail high above the mountains, that local track where we get a true sense of our abilities (and can indulge in a little speed work), that nearby park where we can go from front door to full stride in no time at all.
And then there’s the street.
It’s not that the street doesn’t have its advantages. You probably live close to one. It’s typically smooth or at least free of debris like branches or underbrush. You won’t get kicked out of it, and you can invent as many new routes as your imagination allows.
There’s the traffic. (Not just cars, but bikes. And, these days, e-scooters.) There’s the lack of privacy and the related risks from that. Oh, and there’s the concrete itself, which isn’t as bad as some people will tell you, but it sure isn’t as soft and inviting as a well-executed trail or a high-quality track.
So what do you do?
You run anyway, because that’s what we do. Here are our tips to make road running tolerable — or heck, even enjoyable. (And hey, at least it’s not a treadmill …)
TAKE IT ALL IN
Maybe you’re in a familiar location or maybe you’re escaping your hotel for a quick run in a new town. Either way, you’ll experience the city (or your neighborhood) in a completely new way. “Training in the city gives opportunities for seeing it from a completely different vantage point,” says Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, run coach and CEO at IRunTons. “Which can be amazing.”
This can also be an opportunity to reconnect with the mindfulness of running — a way to practice awareness, rather than numbing yourself on an overfamiliar route. Experience how your hometown — permanent or temporary — looks, feels, even smells (well, depending on the city).
Obviously, you don’t want to get too blissed out, and you should direct this extra attention toward safety. “It’s important to be mindful that, even if though as a pedestrian you may have the right of way, [you should] be respectful of the motorists you’re sharing the road with,” Gallagher-Mohler says. “Remember: Just because you can see them, that does not guarantee that they can see you.”
This increased awareness doesn’t just apply to the danger from other motorists, either. Obviously, anywhere you run can increase your proximity to bad actors. “Know your surroundings and avoid ‘zoning out’ as we so often want to do when we run,” she says. “This is important for everyone, but especially female runners.” In other words, keep your head on the proverbial swivel.
Of course, doing so will be a little easier than when you’re on the trail, as you won’t be on the lookout for uneven terrain, unwanted branches or other assorted oddities.
RECONSIDER THE HEADPHONES
According to this interview with Peter Sagal, who makes a convincing case for ditching the headphones in his recent book, “The Incomplete Guide to Running,” running sans earbuds has become de rigueur. Why? Because you’re outside, and being outside means there are all sorts of wonderful and strange sounds to connect with. Throwing on music or a podcast separates you from nature, when running ought to reconnect you with it, even if “nature” is just your fellow humans navigating a busy Brooklyn sidewalk.
Also: safety. “Keep your headphones off or turned down low enough that you can hear traffic, and be on alert,” Gallagher-Mohler advises. This helps you avoid a nasty collision — with a driver, cyclist or someone more nefarious.
Fortunately, more cities are adding greenways and other zones where cars are forbidden, which makes running safely in the city easier than it was even 10 years ago.
If you expect street running to become a regular part of your routine — as opposed to a one-off fling with something new while on the road — you might want to reconsider what you’re wearing when you run. Different shoes are designed with different purposes in mind; running on concrete allows you to wear lighter shoes that are unburdened by the heavy treads of a trail-running shoe.
You might also want to invest in reflective gear, if you haven’t already, to ensure you’re highly visible during runs early in the morning, late at night or during inclement weather. Depending on your city, you might also benefit from the additional shade brought on by buildings, so you can be (slightly) less concerned with covering your skin than you would be on an exposed trail.
One of the best parts of running on a trail or a track is you generally know the distance you’ll be running, so planning your route is a cinch. On the road? Not so much. But in that lies two opportunities:
Opportunity 1: Get creative. You can go a new way on every run or even improvise while you’re out there. (Still have energy at your turnaround point? Keep going!) Blasting Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” in your head is optional, but encouraged.
Opportunity 2: Get social. You can do this literally, by joining a running group and asking for their recs on the best local roads to run. Or you can do this virtually, by using an app like MapMyRun to discover popular routes in your neighborhood. You can also do both.
Congratulations, you’re faster. OK, not really, but chances are you will see an uptick in your mile time when you run on the road. The reason? The lack of variation in the course itself. Streets (and, to an extent, sidewalks) are designed to move you quickly from point A to point B. Trails are … not and the surface itself is not as “fast” as a street is.
Just make sure you are, as always, listening to your body. Street running typically includes more repetitive motion, as your route is likely to be less varied. You might experience more fatigue per mile, too. As always, finding a routine that works for you is critical.