Fitness / Outdoor Running

How to Safely Ease Back Into Outdoor Running

Time to hit the trails—but read this first.

There’s nothing quite like the first warm day after a long stint of below-zero temperatures. Everyone is out and about soaking up the vitamin D. The mood is suddenly easier and happier. For runners, 70-degree weather can only mean one thing. It’s time to tie your laces and get goin’. After months of jogging on a treadmill, getting back into outdoor running is energizing and refreshing. But it also may be harder than you think. As fitness trainer Kyle Kranz explains, logging miles inside is typically consistent. However, the unpredictable nature of outdoor tracks and paths challenges your limbs in a different way. Not to mention the conditions outside. “Outdoor running can feel more difficult because you have to contend with heat, humidity, wind, hills, and more,” he says.

To ease yourself and your body back into outdoor running, take these tips from pros, so you can hit the ground running.

Start slowly.

The sky is blue, your stride feels fine, and your playlist has the perfect beat, so you’re tempted to speed up. Physical therapist Kate Mihevc Edwards, P.T., D.P.T., O.C.S., explains that it’s better to take your first runs slower than you normally would when getting back into outdoor running. You’ll need to adapt to varied surfaces and weather ailments. So, you may burn yourself out within a mile or so if you move too fast. “Running on trails and sand requires more balance, coordination, and eccentric muscle control that you will not be able to truly mimic on a treadmill,” she explains. “Running on terrains such as sidewalk or pavement is less forgiving than a treadmill. If you start to add more outside runs slowly, your muscles, tendons, and bone can adapt to the new stress placed upon them.”

Pay attention to your body.

It’s easy to get lost in a sitcom or new podcast episode when you’re running on a treadmill. It may prompt you to forget you’re even running at all. But once you’re outdoors, your attention span needs to be more centered on your movement. This is especially true if you notice any aches and pains. As Kranz explains, once he transitioned back into outdoor running post-winter, his ankles were more sore than usual. “I reduced the time I spent on these difficult trails for a couple weeks and took a couple more weeks to more mindfully ease back out on these routes. After this period, I experienced no further issues,” he says. Pay thorough attention to your muscles, including how they feel and how they’re adjusting. In doing so, you can prevent yourself from injuries that could keep you off your feet.

Buy new shoes.

Much like you don’t wear your super-high wedges when you’re strolling around all day, indoor and outdoor running shoes require different features. That’s why fitness expert Jerry Snider recommends taking yourself shopping before you make a loop around the park. “Your foot placement during your stride will be different on a treadmill versus outdoors. This causes your foot to create a different impression on the insoles. Although it seems like a small difference, it’s enough to cause injury,” he explains.

Drink more water.

Dehydration is much more common in the summer than the winter. Reminding yourself to down that H2O is an essential part of building your stamina and health for outdoor fitness. Even when it’s not 80 or 90 degrees outside, Dr. Edwards says any sort of extra sweat means you need more aqua. Plus, it’ll make you a better athlete! “Staying hydrated will help you perform better, recover sooner, depress exhaustion, and could even decrease your chances for injury,” she says.

Give your lungs some TLC.

When you shift from an air-conditioned environment to fresh air, Snider says your lungs and sinuses can experience a bit of shock. They’ll have to adapt to whatever is outdoors, including pollen, altitude, pollution, and more. Because of this, you should consider preparing them before you head out. He suggests using a sinus wash, such as a neti pot, for a few weeks. Then add a tablespoon of raw honey to your daily diet. “This helps with allergies in that the local honey is made from bees producing honey from the local pollen you are allergic to. It builds up an immunity to the local pollen,” he notes.

Have fun with it.

Even if you have a race coming up or you’re attempting to improve your pace per mile, remember to take it all in at the beginning of your outdoor training. As Dr. Edwards says, too many runners place pressure on themselves from the get-go of their new routine. But those endorphins from exercise are said to reduce stress, clear your brain fog, and brighten your mood, so it’s important to remember why you’re jogging in the first place. “Take a moment to really enjoy the sounds of birds or people you pass on the street, the breeze in your face, and the beauty of the outdoors,” she says. “Even if you are in a city, you can use your first few runs to be present and pay attention to the world around you.”

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