With the cold, short days almost behind us, chances are you're itching to get out of treadmill training mode and back to pounding the pavement and running outside. But before you lace up your running shoes for the first outdoor run of the season, there are a few things to consider.
"Running on a treadmill and running outdoors are very different with regards to demands on your body," says Cheryl T. West, PT, DPT, MBA, outpatient therapy manager at Bryn Mawr Rehab, part of Main Line Health.
Before you head outdoors, consider the following factors:
Know your running route
It seems self-explanatory, but it's worth remembering: Pick a route you're familiar with before you start. Make sure the area is well-lit and that you'll never be too far from home.
"If you're running on streets, make sure there's space on the side of the road to run against traffic and be able to be seen," says West. Consider wearing a headlamp or reflective vest to increase your visibility to drivers.
Running at a park is a safer environment to avoid the dangers of distracted drivers. Always let someone know that you're out running and make sure you have your cell phone with you. If you run with headphones, keep the volume low so you can be aware of your environment.
Start with a slow pace
You might be eager to get back outside, but pushing yourself too far on your first days and weeks outside can lead to injury. Your muscles will have to work a little harder to keep you moving without the help of a treadmill, and your feet won't be used to uneven terrain.
"It takes stronger leg muscles and core control to run up and down hills, and you may be a little sore when you're acclimating to this change," says Tabitha Muracco, PT, MSPT, CLT, a physical therapist at Bryn Mawr Rehab.
Take it easy the first few runs and don't challenge yourself to go too fast or too far. You can pick up the pace and add more miles as your body becomes acclimated to a new surface.
Shooting for a distance run, like a 10K? Make a training plan in advance with a goal of increasing the total distance ten percent each week.
If you're just getting started with a running routine, here are some tips for beginner runners:
Warm up and cool down
The warm-up and cool down cycles on your treadmill are automatic reminders of how important it is to ease your body into and out of a workout. Don't forget about these when you're back outside.
"Regardless of where you're running, warm up with both a five-minute walk and cool down by walking at a pace slower than your running pace," says West.
Gradually decrease that pace throughout your cool down. Also, don't forget to stretch before and after runs to decrease muscle soreness.
Make time for weightlifting
It may not seem like strength training and running have much in common, but strong legs and a strong core are key factors when it comes to keeping your balance on a run.
Try moves like lunges, squats, planks and push-ups to strengthen your arms, legs, core and back muscles. Once or twice a week, try light weightlifting or use resistance bands to strengthen your muscles.
Make sure your running shoes fit well
If they don't, you'll need a new pair. Treat yourself to a new pair of sneakers if yours have logged too many miles on the treadmill. You need footwear that will support and protect your feet and reduce your risk for injury.
Not sure if you need a new pair? Take them to a local running store for an evaluation. While there, check out moisture wicking socks and socks with varying degrees of compression. The staff at local running stores are a great resource to answer your running equipment questions.
"Easing yourself back into outdoor runs shouldn't take long, but don't rush it. Listen to your body and stop to assess if you feel pain," says Muracco. "If the pain is persistent or concerning, please follow up with your medical provider or a physical therapist."