On running outside

Until relatively recently I was a treadmill girl. I could run for an hour straight on a treadmill – until it cut off – and I was super proud of myself for that. (For the record, I’m still super proud when I do that now.) But I have learned the hard way I need to spend more time outdoors if I want to have any chance of improving myself during races.

Running outside is a whole new ballgame. There are weather issues (rain, heat, sun – read: sunburn -), there are hills (unplanned hills, a little different than incline), cars, kids on bikes, roadkill, dogs without fences, etc. etc. etc.

My runs have gotten longer and longer and in doing so I have run out of sidewalk in my neighborhood. My neighborhood has 2 sides to it with a 2-lane road in between that used to not be busy at all but now hosts a high school/middle school complex. At certain times of the day, traffic is brutal. For years I have been cursing the lack of sidewalks on this .2 mile stretch of my run between one side of the neighborhood and another. Not to mention the lack of sidewalks on the other streets surrounding the neighborhood. As a result, when I run long runs I’m running around and around in circles, which gets rather boring. My friend Matt said a recent 9.5 mile run looked like an insane person escaped from an asylum, as I ran around my neighborhood again. and again. and again.:



So I have decided to change my way of thinking regarding sidewalks. Kevin bought the  Garmin Forerunner 405 GPS watch and has been telling me ever since that I have got to pick one up. Well, I finally did and – wow. Just wow. I decided to use my first day with my watch to also test out a new technique: Running without sidewalks. Other people do it, why can’t I? I didn’t take my dog with me – one thing I hate about running alongside traffic is the effort it takes – mostly mentally, but physically as well – to keep both him and me from getting hit by a car. I am much lighter when I run alone.

I started out on my normal route: From the driveway up the street in the neighborhood, down the .2 mile stretch of annoyance with cars. Enter the other side of my neighborhood and run up and around in there for a bit. So far so good and I am absolutely loving my new GPS. I get about 1.5 miles in so far. But this time, instead of circling around, I exited – onto a road that is typically busier than the .2 mile stretch ever is.

Instantly, there is a problem. Roadkill. Right where I need to run. And cars are swerving to miss it, but I need to swerve in the same direction they are and I don’t want to get hit head on. Normally I wouldn’t mind the wait (a good “excuse” to take a break) but it smells really, really bad. I’m covering my mouth and nose and I don’t know if the drivers in the cars are aware of how bad it smells or if they just think I’m runnin and pukin or something. Finally there is a break in traffic and I dart around the dead something I refuse to look at.

I continue on my run and I notice something I hadn’t thought 0f: This busier road is actually easier to run on – because it’s wider. There are turn lanes and everything, and the shoulder is wider so cars can get around me easier and I’m running in the grass much less. Nice! There’s one point in which I’m running up a hill and I’m a little concerned: If a car is coming the other direction, driving too fast, he/she might not see me until it’s too late. I get into the grass just in case. I make it over the hill – no cars in sight – but better safe than sorry!

My unofficial plan is to run at least 3.1 miles out before I turn around – then I have to do 6.2. I’m also running in the general direction of a walking trail – not really planning to go there, but just thinking eventually I could take my runs that far if there are no major obstacles. I get sidetracked by another neighborhood off the busy road – and I decide that, at least on the first day of running wherever I want, maybe this would be far enough sans sidewalks and I could take the safe route in the neighborhood. So I do, and it’s not so bad.

Except at one point it starts to rain (which is rather refreshing, actually) and some of these driveways are stone. And they are slick when I run across them. I learn that the hard way over the first one, and I almost twist my ankle. By this point I’m about 2.5 miles out and that would be a sucky trip back in the rain with a twisted ankle. I take the next set of driveways very carefully, and it’s not too bad. For a little while I think I’m lost in the neighborhood but it doesn’t bother me – I figure that would just make for a longer run.

The rain stops and that’s not a good thing. It’s humid and hot and I know I’m getting sunburned. I’ve been about 4 miles, so I’ll turn around. The run back is uneventful, which is nice. I’m glad I’m on the opposite side of the road as the roadkill.

I get home and update my run the new way (through the Garmin.) Looks much less like a crazy person now!



Out and back. Not much circling. And then I get a sign – another person using mapmyrun recorded a run beginning from the neighborhood but going the opposite direction. Maybe I’ll try that next time! The sky’s the limit now! I can run anywhere I want to! Of course, for safety reasons when I’m running with my dog I will absolutely stick to the sidewalks.

A few things to note:

= Wear sunscreen. Yes, I constantly forget, and I’ve been walking around with random lines from whatever I was wearing that day, sometimes more on one side than the other depending on which way the sun was facing.
= iPod.I tried running sans music, since Kevin and Chris both preach the beauty of listening to your own footsteps and thoughts. Blah Blah Blah, I thought. I need a beat. But for safety reasons I tried it – and it’s not so bad. And I can hear cars coming. When I got a little bored I tried listening to a podcast of “Run Run Live” – which talks about running. Then I listened to an episode of “This American Life.” Both gave me something to focus on, and since I’m kinda sick of my running music it was a refreshing change. But on the main roads I kept iPod off – listened only on sidewalks.
= Water. I brought my water belt with 16 oz of water. I don’t know if it’s necessary if you’re not going for a long run, but I look at it this way: The further away from my house I get, the further I have to get back to get water OR knock on some random person’s door to ask for some (not my favorite idea.)
= Cell phone. I could have run with my Shuffle but instead I took my iPhone just in case of emergency (plus, it fits in my water belt pouch so why not? Then if I got bored I could call someone.) When I had the almost-ankle incident I started thinking “What would I do if I hurt myself 3 miles from home?” I knew Colleen was getting off work early that day so I figured I could call her in an emergency. If I didn’t have a phone I would have either had to a) limp home b) hitchhike c) knock on some random person’s door. Again, don’t really want to have to do that.
= Know your route. I don’t know much about this category so far – but I do know that occasionally I’ve found myself on roads that have little to no shoulder and cars that don’t know what the word “speed limit” means. My choices are run in a ditch or run on the road and hope cars dodge me. Not great choices. It might not be a bad idea to drive where you plan to run and check out the shoulder.

I’m hoping that by branching out my runs I’ll be more comfortable with the idea of biking on roads. Next up: Cycle! Anyone want to buy me a bike? Anyone?