6 tips for transitioning to outdoor running

6 tips for transitioning to outdoor running - Eat Spin Run Repeat

Good morning all!

It’s Monday, but not just any Monday. Those of you who are runners are probably very aware that, possibly as you’re reading this, there are about 30,000 running the Boston Marathon. I’m not sure about you, but I always get shivers when I think about the history behind the race. It’s always so inspiring to read the unique stories of people who participate, and if you stay tuned, on Friday I’ll plan to include a few in your weekly dose of fitness-related reading.

sunrise at kits beach
Seen on my run yesterday

With running on my mind, I figured it would be a great day to chat about tips for transitioning to outdoor running. Depending on where you live, you may have already been on roads or trails outside for a few weeks. Or, in the case of all of the year-round runners (who are far more badass than I), perhaps you never headed inside in the first place! But for those of you who are currently working on moving your sweat sessions outside, I’ve got 7 tips to help you do it safely and (hopefully) stay injury-free.

6 tips for transitioning to outdoor running - Eat Spin Run Repeat

1. Avoid making your first run your long run

Start with shorter distances and mix your outdoor runs with a few indoor ones for the first week or two. This will allow your body some time to get accustomed to having to propel itself forward (rather than the treadmill doing it for you), and get used to all the variability that comes along with running in a non-controlled environment. Uneven terrain, gusty winds, traffic, dodging puddles and pedestrians don’t need to be factored into treadmill sessions, so you’ve got a bit more to think about when you go outside.

2. Go easy on the hills

I’ve made the result of trying to hammer hills too soon after taking to the roads, and the result was quite possibly the worst shin splints I’ve ever had. You can avoid this by strategically planning routes that avoid steep hills, and I’e found that shortening my stride a bit also helps. For your indoor sessions, try adding a 1% incline on the treadmill in order to prepare your body for the additional effort, and take the speed down initially if you need to.

It’s also worth throwing it out there that what goes up obviously goes down, and running downhill can be just as hard (sometimes harder) on your legs. This is because the quadricep muscles in your thighs need to act as brakes on your way down, and depending on your foot strike, your knees and shins can take a beating. Just like uphills, I usually try to limit my exposure to downhills to just a couple of runs per week. Oh, and if those downhills happen to be on trails, pay attention and don’t get scraped up like me!

scrapes from trail running

3. Try trails or softer surfaces

Treadmills can be lovely because they flex as you run on them, which means that your body doesn’t need to absorb anywhere near as much impact as it does while road running. Similarly, dirt or grass-covered trails are softer surfaces and are more forgiving – especially if you’re just getting used to being outside again.

running in north van

4. Don’t worry too much about pace

As I said in point #1, there’s a lot to think about when you’re outside in terms of weather conditions, traffic, uneven surfaces. The treadmill belt helps to propel your body forward, but unfortunately when you’re outside you’re on your own! Your ‘comfortable’ treadmill paces will probably be faster than outside at first, but don’t stress about it while you’re transitioning. Instead, if you really want to look at numbers, look at your heart rate. Aim to keep it in check with where it would be if you were running on the treadmill. I’m sure you’d agree that it’s better to be a little slow in your ramp-up than injure yourself by running too hard, right? Don’t care about heart rate? Simply run by rate of perceived exertion for the first couple of weeks while your body gets used to the outdoors.

polar v800 on a long run day

5. Dress in layers and carry some essentials

Early this spring I made the mistake of thinking that, because the sun was shining, I’d be fine running without mittens and a hat. BIG mistake. That sort of weather is long gone here in Vancouver, but regardless, make sure you dress appropriately for the temperature. You can always take layers off if you have them, but it would suck to have to end a run early because you forgot to bring your mittens and your fingers froze, right?

As far as accessories go, I like to use my SPIbelt to stash my phone (it fits an iPhone 6!) and keys, and if I’m going out for a long run, I use the elastic loops to hold a gel or two. Luckily there are several stops along my running routes with water fountains, so I can grab a quick swig of water to wash the gels down. If that’s not the case for you, you might want to consider carrying water depending on how long you’re out for and how hot it is.

drinking from the water fountain

6. Check your shoes

If you’re hanging on to those shoes that ran you to your newest PR in last summer, I know the feeling. No matter how stinky and tattered, those guys are special and have sentimental value! BUT… they aren’t going to do you any favours this year.

asics gel tri noosa 10s - blue and purple

Check the treads on the soles and/or try to figure out how many miles you’ve run in each pair. Experts recommend replacing your running shoes every 300-500 miles. That’s a wide range, but wear will depend on whether you’re training indoors or outdoors. If you know you did most of your training outside last year between spring and fall (which would make the shoes wear down faster), and averaged 25 miles per week for 5-6 months, that would be 500-600 miles. Time to go shopping! ?

7. Safety first

I don’t mean to sound like your mum, but obviously you should be sensible when you run outside. I don’t normally run with music unless I’m on the treadmill, and if I do, the volume is significantly lower so I can be conscious of the noises around me. My phone wasn’t a must-have run accessory in the past, but it is now for safety purposes (and selfie purposes… obviously. ?) If you’re running in the very early mornings or after dark, try to dress in gear that has some reflective features so that you can be seen, and don’t take the same route all the time because, well… there’s creepers out there.

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Alright, what have I missed?! Leave a comment below if you’ve got any more spring transition tips to add. And if you or anyone you know are running Boston today, I’m sending you ALL the speedy vibes!

3 thoughts on “6 tips for transitioning to outdoor running

  1. The tip to avoid hills is so smart! I live in Nashville, which is pretty hilly and my first outdoor runs after winter are always really tough (and slow) because my body is adjusting to the different inclines.

  2. Having someone to run with is a great way to transition outdoors. A run buddy, or even better, a run club with various paces encourages you to explore routes you may not have thought about running before. Running stores often have meet-ups to get in some miles during the weekday. Knowing someone may be waiting to run with you also holds you accountable to sticking to your fitness plan.

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