On the Road Again: Start the Season Out Right

It's that time of year again--you're putting together your race calendar and building your base. Depending on your resolve, you either stayed fit at the gym or you didn't. Either way, the road-racing season is practically upon us.

Whether you are aiming for your first 5K or a PR at the half-marathon distance, you have to prepare for the transition back to the open road, Here are three tips to help you get up to speed and avoid early season setbacks.

1. Dress Right: If you are like me, after months in the gym -- or in freezing weather -- you are practically doing back flips over running in "normal" weather. The most common early-season mistake, however, is wearing the wrong gear.

Excited by the sunshine and lack of snow or ice, you put on some shorts and a light Coolmax shirt only to run your way straight into a nice chest cold. In order to avoid this common error, be sure to carry gloves and a lightweight hat with you. These can be a quick source of warmth if the temperature drops and are easily tucked away if it's too hot.

You may also want to consider a vest. The zipper allows you to regulate your temperature while running and also stows away easily. My personal running favorite is a pair of arm warmers -- worn by cyclists, these are essentially sleeves without the shirt. Pull them on at the start of your run and then slowly peel them down as you heat up.

2. Get Into Hill Shape: All that time on the treadmill has kept you aerobically fit (a good thing), but you haven't been on the road. While treadmills simulate running, it's important to remember that they run you -- you don't power the treadmill.

For those of you who use a heart rate monitor, this is why your heart rate will be four to eight beats lower than what you would see on a similar outdoor run. It follows then that if running outdoors means recruiting more muscles, running on rolling terrain requires putting those muscles to good use. You can spot a treadmill runner in an early-season race by watching them fade on the hills.

To avoid becoming a "fader" yourself, it's important to incorporate some hill running in your routine. Start small by doing two to three runs a week on a rolling course. Once this is comfortable, consider heading for a local hill and doing some 30" to 45" repeats (at normal pace) in the middle of a weekly run. When this is comfortable (four to six weeks), you can start to do some specific hill work. Start with 40" repetitions and build to 80" max.

Remember the three keys to hill workouts:
  • Warm up well beforehand -- at least 15 minutes.
  • Do not sprint up the hill -- instead, run at a normal pace up the hill then pick up the pace for the last five seconds (as you come over the top of the hill).
  • Recover after each hill workout -- Some light stretching and elevating your legs will help alleviate some of the additional stress that hill work entails.

3. Prepare for the Pounding: You have had it easy with the shock-absorbing surface of the treadmill; the open road is not that forgiving. Before you can translate your indoor fitness to the street, you must prepare for success.

Make certain your shoes are in good shape and are ready for the outdoor mileage. Do your best to avoid running on concrete or asphalt. Trail running is best, but even a path next to the sidewalk will do if all else fails. Finally, you can take some measures to ensure that your body is ready for the stress by incorporating:

  • Calf Raises -- No weights required. Do 3x15 sets on one leg at a time, full extension and contraction. Use the edge of a step and be sure to wear your sneakers while doing this. This will help to strengthen your calves in preparation for all the running.
  • Toe Raises -- Again, no weights required. Stand on the edge of a step with both toes over the edge (use a railing or the wall for balance). Slowly lower both toes down towards the floor and then pull them back up towards you. This will help to prevent the dreaded shin splints.
  • A Balance Board -- Ideally you would have a board with a 10/20-degree of rotation (to mimic the ankle's natural range of motion; 10-degrees internally, 20-degrees externally) and you would build up to three sets of ten repetitions on each leg.

Taking our running to the outdoors can be a fun and rewarding experience. By taking a few of the simple steps outlined above, you can make sure that your 2005 will start off on the right foot. Happy Running!

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