These days, more and more people are turning to running outside, some of whom have never been a fan of lacing up before. As long as you’re social distancing and following local guidelines, fresh air miles can be the perfect way to alleviate anxiety, give back to your body — and keep as a habit long after the pandemic. According to MapMyRun, this year’s runs tracked in their app are up 144% over last year’s number, with Tuesday, April 7, being the biggest single day of workouts in the app’s history. Plus, new users are up 428% year-over-year.
“Most people pick up running to enjoy the physical benefits like losing weight, getting fit and better sleep,” says Matt Mills, an RRCA-certified run coach. “Beyond the physical benefits, running can also transform your mental and emotional health, which is really important to help people cope with the current situation. It can also give you a reason for some time alone and also get you out of the house for a change of scenery.”
If you’re already getting out there, that’s a perfect first step. The next step is to do so in a way that keeps you feeling motivated in a sustainable manner so it becomes part of your lifestyle. We talked to a few top experts and got their best tips to help you start (and keep) running.
Don’t take on too much too soon. The last thing you want to do is get overambitious about your personal running goals, and then end up on the injured list, says Pam Sherman, a running coach in California. When you’re just starting out, Sherman recommends doing a run/walk combination. “I encourage people to start with a 3–5-minute walk, then jog for 15–30 seconds and walk until your breathing is back to normal,” she says. “Try repeating that for five rounds and be done.”
Cory Smith, running coach behind Run Your Personal Best, tells his newer athletes never to run two days in a row. “Whenever you start a new exercise routine, such as running, you put a great amount of stress on your muscles, tendons and ligaments. The stress causes minor damage, a normal part of building muscle,” he says. “Waiting 48 hours until your next run, gives your body time to rebuild itself and can guard against injury.”
It’s always important to dress smart for your run, wearing technical fabrics that help to wick sweat and keep your comfortable mile after mile. These days, that means wearing a mask or buff to keep you safe when you’re on the move, in addition to layers, especially as temperatures heat up and vary from morning to night.
Plus, the right gear may actually make you perform better (and perform, period). In MapMyRun research, runners who elected to wear gloves in the winter were more comfortable, encouraging them to actually get up and out. Among MapMyRun users, cold-weather gear like beanies, jackets and gloves is associated with a 33% increase in women and 28% increase in men continuing to run throughout winter. Another study found that clothing influences behavior and attitudes because it has a symbolic meaning. In other words, what you wear is actually influencing how you act — or in this case, sweat.
WARM UP SMART
On the starting slow note, you also want to make sure you’re taking the time to prepare your body for what you’re about to do. The proper dynamic — or fluid — warmup can make a big difference, getting your muscles warm for effort.
“You want to make sure that you incorporate exercises to warm up the body before a high-impact sport like running,” says Nick Karwoski, a Boston-based coach. “It will help prevent any injury and allow for proper muscle and tendon engagement during the run.”
READ MORE: 5 Easy Warm Up Moves to Boost Your Run
FIND A PARTNER
Running may be a solo sport right now, but you don’t have to go it alone. Even though running clubs can’t meet in person, it’s possible to find someone who you can share your goals with and can keep you accountable and motivated, whether that be on the MapMyRun app or elsewhere. Whether you can do it in-person or not, research shows working out with a “more capable partner” can encourage you to keep up your effort for longer.
MIX UP YOUR ROUTINE
Right now, the most important thing is you’re giving back to your body through exercise in a way that feels good, rather than overexerting yourself. It may get a little mundane, doing the same pace and route day after day. Instead, try doing different types of runs, incorporating intervals or different inclines, to vary your workouts.