The best part of spring is that there are better days ahead for running without wearing a lot of layers.
Spring brings warmer weather without having the full-on humidity of summer, as well as a gradual release of color as different trees begin to bloom. It is the absolute best time to move all that indoor elliptical and treadmill work to the great outdoors.
Whether you’re an experienced year-round runner, just gearing up for the ‘running season‘, or just starting out, here are few tips that will help you get back into the groove.
Plan to initially rebuild your pace, endurance, and strength
You may have been keeping fit all winter, but running outdoors on real terrain is completely different from using inside equipment. The muscles you use on that equipment are much different and you have limited motion.
If you ran eight or nine miles in 60 minutes just a few months ago, don’t expect to be able to do that your first time out. Take your time to set some incremental goals to get back to that pace and endurance. Then you can work on improving on that.
Many people make a huge mistake thinking they can jump back into it and this needs a little caution.
If you’re not comfortable at any time during a run don’t be brave and try to push too hard. Remember to back off your speed, even if it slows to a walk. If you’re breathing too hard and your heart feels like it’s going to pop out of your chest, use common sense to take it down a few notches while you recover.
Always remember that you’re supposed to be enjoying this. There’s plenty of time to build back the strength and endurance that you once had without giving yourself a heart attack in the process.
Choose your routes and running style for what you want to accomplish
If you’re just starting, a relatively flat route is probably best for building endurance and initial leg strength. You can then use that route to run laps to gradually increase the time and distance you want to achieve. This way you’re never too far from where you started, and can ‘bail out‘ if you get into trouble.
Once you become comfortable with longer runs, you can modify it by adding routes with varying difficulty. Adding in routes with hilly terrain will help build leg, core, and cardio strength over time.
If you’re looking to tackle some really challenging hills, it’s a good idea to not hit them full speed until you’re used to them. Prepare for the difficult spots by conserving energy about a quarter mile in advance and gradually build steam up the hill.
As you build leg and core strength you can also start to gradually build speed and more leg strength by lengthening your stride going up hills, as well as on flat terrain.
Over time you’ll start to see a noticeable change as you move from taking a lot of smaller steps to opening your hips on longer strides to gain speed and efficiency. Taking a lot of smaller steps actually uses a lot more energy and will tire you out quicker than if you lengthen your stride, which also allows you to cover more distance at a faster rate.
Keep an eye on weather conditions
Other than simple energy levels, three things will significantly affect your run from day to day: temperature, humidity, and wind. This is especially true in spring. Weather changes can be rapid, and you want to ensure you’re wearing a kit that is appropriate for a comfortable run once you’ve warmed up.
Cool, drier days can fool you into over-dressing as much as warm, humid days can fool you into under-dressing. Too much and you can overheat, which is just as bad as wearing too little and never being able to warm up at all.
As a wise person once told me recently: Always dress for the second mile.
Wind can also be a help or hindrance. Light winds of three to five mph might cool you off on warm, sunny days, but high gusts will chill you to the bone. That is, if they don’t become so severe as to impede your ability to physically move forward at all. It’s also hard to breathe when you’re trying to buck a 20-25 mph wind in the face, and make going up hills significantly worse.
It’s a great idea to track these weather factors as you track your pace and endurance progress. Everyone has a temperature and humidity combination that works best for him or her. With modern weather tools, you can even use temperature and humidity forecasts to help plan your runs at the optimum day and time during the week.
Keep an eye on what, when, and how much you eat or drink before a run
Some foods high in carbs and proteins can fuel us, but also have some ill effects in the wrong amounts. Although they might be good for weight lifters, they might not be good for runners – at least until they’re fully digested and mostly out of your system.
The mechanics of running for any length of time means you’re going to be bouncing around and applying a lot of pressure to your core. Being bloated from all that food in your system will not only bog you down, what’s left will just naturally react to all that bouncing and pressure.
There is nothing worse than being three to four miles out and getting a combination of stomach cramps and gas as a result. At that point you may find yourself having to turn around or risk having a LOAD of problems – if you get what I mean… I’m sure Gary Lineker understands, as well as any player that ate the lasagna. People can joke about those things but I’ve gained a lot of respect for people that have this problem.
If you are prone to this ‘issue‘ – and 75% of all distance runners are – be very cautious of what you eat and how much you eat the night before. Vegetable salads with chicken chunks are good, but beef and salsa taco salads with lots of jalapeños and nachos might not be such a hot idea.
If you’re hungry, it’s ok to have a very light meal (e.g., small box of cereal and/or a medium-sized banana) beforehand, but it should be about three to four hours prior running to allow for digestion.
It’s also a good idea to try to use the restroom at least once before run time to ensure what can be affected is out of your system. Drinking two six ounce cups of coffee that far in advance might help in that regard, but much more than that can make the problem worse.
If you can’t run, take a good long walk
There are going to be days where you just don’t have the energy, but that doesn’t mean you have to waste a sunny day being indoors. There are a lot of things happening this time of year that make it the most beautiful season of all.
When I’m running I’m usually paying a lot of attention to my pace, the road, avoiding cars, and listening to whatever podcast I have on. I’m only tangentially paying attention to these other things that are going on.
Take a nice walk around your usual running route. It still gives you a pretty good cardio workout and works many of the same muscles you use when you run.
It also allows you to see some of the things that you normally wouldn’t during a run. So, while you’re taking a walk seeing your neighborhood come back to life, you can bring a camera and capture some of that beauty while you’re doing it.
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