The call of the road

The call of the road

 Running might seem like a simple and straightforward activity. But if you want to run outdoors, you better learn to do it right, advises Anjali Sareen.

Taking your run outdoors can be an exceptionally satisfying experience. And those who do so regularly will tell you how they look forward to that time spent outdoors, even if it is in the crowded cities that we live in today. There is something appealing to one’s sense of self, to be out on the road or in a park, running with a group or alone, in the early hours of the morning, or even as the day is winding down to a sunset.   

There has also been a consistent increase in these numbers, possibly a result of the increasing popularity of races and running events in the form of five-km or ten-km runs, half and full-marathons. 

Participating in these events is not just about the race, but also the whole process of training, preparation and dedication for the same. And that includes the camaraderie of sharing the aches and pains, the highs and lows of success or failure. Being a part of a group with a common goal can be a great energiser, not only in terms of external motivation, but also in terms of social wellbeing.

Taking it outdoors

Have you recently been bitten by the outdoor bug? Been convinced by friends to join them? When making a transition from running on the treadmill to running outdoors, it would help to keep the following in mind: Running outdoors versus running on a treadmill requires your muscles to work differently. So rather than just switching your running schedule completely to the road; it would be better to ease outdoor runs into your schedule until you make a complete switch. Unlike running on a treadmill, running outdoors will have you encountering varied surfaces, wind resistance and other factors. Allow your body to get used to and adapt to the changes, which includes your speed possibly slowing down, or you feeling different levels of exertion for distances that you may have been covering easily on the treadmill.  

Collective experience

To begin with, joining a group of runners can be very helpful as it gives you the benefit of learning from the experiences of others. There are a huge number of sites that provide varied training plans and innumerable suggestions for both beginners and seasoned runners. These can be very useful and informative, but you must keep in mind that these are generalised plans addressing universal groups of people. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that you will have unique stamina, willpower and speed; make sure you address your own specific requirements as well.

Getting expert guidance

Notwithstanding the experiences of friends and others, beginner or professional, getting an expert’s advice is of utmost importance. And by that I’m not referring to the most experienced runner in your group! Relying only on learning from the experiences of others in the group may not be the best or, contrary to what is often seen, the only solution. Experience is, ultimately, specific to individuals and though they can be learning examples, you have to ensure you address your skills differently.

As much as running appears to be a simple, straightforward activity, it is important to get the right guidance from professionals on varied aspects such as the correct way to run, how to build up distances and speed, how to strengthen core muscles, how to build resistance and flexibility, how to reduce stress and decrease risk of injury, the right form of rehabilitation for your injury, cross-training requirements and the correct nutrition.  

Cross training

Often, due to time constraints or lack of information, runners supplement their running with some stretching or flexibility-based classes. But this is really not enough. Running is based on repetitive movements and runners are prone to some form of repetitive stress injury that can turn severe or chronic if not addressed correctly. It is important to incorporate workouts that are based on functional training involving multi-joint movements, core-strengthening, balance and stability training. Pilates is one such programme that addresses two important aspects for runners. Firstly, it strengthens the entire core, comprising the hips, abdominals and the back - all important areas for building strength for good running.
 Secondly, pilates focuses on correcting and improving movement through the right muscular engagements and alignments - again areas of concern for runners. 

Barefoot running

A concept gaining much popularity is barefoot or minimalist running that is promoted for its more natural running form, thereby believed to reduce risk of chronic repetitive stress-related injuries.

However, one has to look at the practicality and applicability of this concept. For instance, it may not be practical to run barefoot on our roads and pavements. Also, if we have spent a lifetime wearing shoes our feet will not just automatically adjust to being barefoot or in minimalist shoes, even if they are meant to promote better bio-mechanics. If you are making a transition to barefoot or minimalist running, do so gradually. Understand that every individual will respond and adapt differently to barefoot running, as with everything else in life.

The appeal of being outdoors, enjoying the sun, the breeze, getting some important vitamin D, can be very invigorating. No wonder running outdoors is known to have psychological and physiological benefits. Learn to run clean, and by that, I mean running sure-footed but light, irrespective of whether you choose to run barefoot or in shoes. 
(The writer is a fitness and pilates educator & co-owner, The Zone, Mind & Body Studio, Bangalore)

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