If you’re like me, the scenario might go something like this. You were pretty darn committed to keeping in shape through the short dark days of winter, but not too keen on a steady running or walking routine in the frigid outdoors. So the treadmill became your best buddy. But as the temps rise, so is your longing for fresh air and a change of scenery. The first sunny April day arrives and instead of your typical 45 minute treadmill run, you hit the road. Two days later you’re sore in spots you didn’t even know you had muscles. Now even if the spring weather holds up, your body clearly is not. What the heck happened?
Truth is, although the basic mechanics may be the same, there are multiple factors that make running and walking outdoors harder than on a treadmill or smooth indoor surface. The uneven surfaces of the outdoors make the work of walking or running noticeably more difficult and even the slightest breeze can cause wind resistance with a considerable impact. Without proper preparation, taking to the road too quickly can set you up for injury, failure and frustration.
Here are some simple tips to consider before hitting the road:
Prepare indoors first. Start varying your speed and inclines on the treadmill routinely before you head outside. As little as a 1% grade on the treadmill can adequately mimic the energy required for outdoor running or walking (though you will need to vary this more greatly to prepare for hilly conditions).
Get good gear. Invest in a pair of good running or walking shoes. Break them in on the treadmill several weeks before heading outdoors. You may need to layer up in the cooler months of spring, but consider light layers of breathable clothing options that wick away moisture including socks. You will still sweat!
Ease in. Though your desire may be to go, go, go, your body will thank you if you take it slow. Avoid all out efforts and long runs at first. Take it easy on hills (up AND down), even if you prepared indoors. Full speed downhill is as tough on the joints as an uphill climb if you’re not careful.
Use all your senses. It can be a jungle out there! People, bikes, cars, dogs, other wild animals… you never know! If using headphones, turn the iPod volume way down or consider using in just one ear so you can stay tuned into your environment. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, but also to see your surroundings clearly.
Plan your route. It’s easy to get lost in wonder of the outdoors, but be sure to plan where you’re going and how long it will take before you head out. There are many awesome apps to help you plan your route, such as MapMyRun and RunKeeper.
Be Smart. Do all the things your mama told you…hydrate before, during and after exercise. Wear sunscreen. Stretch before and after. Avoid extreme temps. Don’t exercise in pain.
If you do get carried away and end up with soreness, aches and pains that just won’t go away after several day’s rest, seek the attention of a physical therapist.