It’s that time of year again. The days are getting longer, the weather warmer. And Bendites who have taken refuge in the gym all winter are hitting the trails again.
Local running coaches, however, urge runners to pace themselves for the first week or two of an outdoor running routine. Treadmills are a much different animal than trails, which can present obstacles such as rocks, foot-sized crannies and inclines, and some say the transition back to outdoor running can be tough on the body because of the different muscles it emphasizes.
The key is to start slow. Robert Hendrickson, a local running coach who will soon lead the running programs for Fleet Feet Sports in Bend, recommends switching it up at first — hit the treadmill, then the trails and then back to the treadmill — until you feel fully acclimated to running outside.
Runners should expect to feel more pulling in their hamstrings when they first hit the trails in spring, as a treadmill forces a runner to position his or her body more upright, Hendrickson said. The road will also affect the hips and the calves more than a treadmill, he said.
“Your legs are definitely going to feel that change,” Hendrickson said. “You’re having to switch up the muscles that are actually being used that have atrophied by spending too much time on the treadmill during the winter.”
A treadmill also contains a belt moving beneath the runner that forces him or her to maintain a certain pace, said Brad Haag, a USA Triathlon-certified coach in Bend.
“It kind of kicks your feet back,” he said. “Whereas, when you’re running outside, you’re propelling yourself forward. And the only thing that stays in your benefit is gravity. Whereas, on a treadmill, the belt is doing all the work for you and you just need to keep up with it.”
Trail running, with its unpredictable bumps, cracks and obstacles, also requires people to build up their feet to be able to handle such terrain, especially if they have sensitive ankles, Haag said.
A big part of dealing with those trail obstacles is simply adjusting to picking up your feet enough while running, said Connie Austin, a Bend coach who teaches running classes at FootZone of Bend, which sells running shoes and other gear and hosts running clinics.
Running through a field or on a soft, grassy surface works the feet especially hard compared with a solid, flat surface, she said. Such surfaces are, however, better for the joints, she added.
Don’t get discouraged
When people are getting back into outdoor running, Haag said he constantly hears from runners who are frustrated by how much their pace suffered over the winter. Try not to get discouraged, he said, because it happens to everyone.
Even though you’re at the same heart rate and feel as though you’re using the same effort outdoors compared with indoors, outdoor running requires a lot more effort because there is more resistance compared with treadmill running, Haag said.
“A lot of people, if they’re tracking themselves with a GPS watch or their iPhones, they’ll say, ‘I ran so much faster on the treadmill!’” he said. “It’s completely different running, so it will take some time to acclimate to normal speed.”
That’s why Austin tells clients not to pay attention to pace. It’s how many minutes you’re out running that counts. Once you have a solid base built up, the focus can turn to improving speed, she said.
This is important because going out too hard, too fast is one of the biggest causes of common running injuries such as shin splints, Austin said.
Jacque Ratliff, an exercise physiologist and education specialist with the American Council on Exercise, said she recommends that runners, when adjusting to outdoor running, download a metronome app on their smartphones and use it to maintain a running cadence of 180 steps per minute, especially on longer runs.
Don’t abandon strength training
Some coaches say there’s a tendency for people to abandon strength training once they move their running routine out of the gym.
Strength training is an important part of a running routine because it makes the body more solid and increases endurance during running, especially when it comes to running on trails, Haag said. He’s currently leading a strength training class for endurance athletes at inMotion Training Studio focusing on the core, hips and shoulders, areas that “tend to get really weak in endurance athletes,” he said.
Austin recommends getting in at least two sessions per week of strength training to maintain overall body tone and strength in the running muscles.
Strength training is especially important for outdoor runners, who tend to run on uneven surfaces that are harder on the body, Hendrickson said.
“If you can get into the gym and really focus on strengthening the hips and the core and the glutes and the hamstrings, I think with that cross-training, with that added strength benefit, you’ll be less prone to injury,” he said.
The most important thing, some coaches say, is to listen to your body and enjoy your exercise routine.
“If you do physical activity that you enjoy, you’re going to keep doing it and make it part of your lifestyle,” Ratliff said, “and in the long run, you’re going to keep doing it.”
The amount of easing into outdoor running you have to do really depends on how you feel, she said. Runners need to pay attention to their bodies and take it slow if they’re feeling pain.
Bend offers plenty of opportunities to keep running interesting, Austin said. You could try a different park or trail, or join a running group, which helps many people stay motivated.
“Make sure it’s fun,” she said. “Make kind of a game out of it.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0304,