Beautiful scenery, a higher calorie burn, and a toned lower body are just a few things to look forward to when you start running outside. But if you don't play it safe, then you can just as easily be looking at a slew of new injuries, frustrations, and unmet expectations. Stay safe and make sure that your first outdoor runs are your best yet with these tips.
No. 1: Pick the Road More Traveled
When starting out, the last thing you want to worry about is getting lost. Before even lacing up your sneakers, do some research: ask friends where they like to run, use online running forums to find popular routes, and check to see if your park has designated trails. The more popular and visible the trail, the better. Popular routes tend to have clearly defined pathways, they are often well-lit, and there's safety in numbers by choosing a trail that's frequented by fellow runners. If you're feeling nervous, then opt to walk the route first, or ask a friend to go running with you. Wherever your run takes you, make sure to follow these basic running tips that will help keep you safe and out of harm's way.
No. 2: Start Slow (and Soft)
Aside from having to deal with what nature throws at you, running without the momentum of a treadmill is also more taxing on the body. The muscles have to work harder to push the body forward, and the joints take more of a beating from running on uneven (and harder) terrain. When you first begin running outdoors, don't expect — or even challenge yourself — to run as fast or as long as you do on a treadmill. Give your body time to adjust by gradually replacing treadmill runs with some that are outdoors, and keep your first handful of runs on the shorter side. You can pick up the pace and add mileage as your body acclimates. To make the transition easier on your joints and avoid injury, start by running on softer surfaces like grass, a track, or a wooded trail.
No. 3: There's More to It Than Just Running
At its simplest, running is about one foot in front of the other, but your regimen should include more than just runs. Running on a treadmill allows for convenient notifications to warm up and cool down — not something that happens when you're outside. Being away from the gym also means there are fewer visual reminders to stretch and strength train, which are important components of any runner's routine. Prevent injury by always warming up the muscles with a brisk five-minute walk, and remember to cool down by slowly decreasing your pace and following that up with some running-specific stretches. Lastly, don't forget to strength train! Since the body works harder when running outside, the muscles and joints need to be able to handle the challenge to ward off any overuse injuries. Check out these essential strength-training moves for runners.
No. 4: Sometimes You Just Need Support
If you've followed all of the previous advice, but still find yourself struggling with pain or overuse injuries, it doesn't hurt to see a sports doctor, running coach, or physical therapist to have your running gait checked. It wasn't until I saw a PT that I realized I severely overpronate when I run. Since seeing a doctor, I've switched to more stable running shoes and have also learned how to tape up the arches of my foot for longer runs where I need extra support. By having your own gait analyzed, you will be able to figure out what kind of runner you naturally are and learn what tweaks you can make to improve your form and time on the road.