running basics

Running is regularly enjoyed by millions of people because it is a healthy activity—physically, mentally and socially. All you need is a good pair of running shoes and the desire to step out the door and do it.

This article gives you basic info and tips to get started.

The Benefits of Running

Why run? The reasons are many:

  • It's one of the most efficient ways to achieve aerobic fitness.
  • It helps you lose weight.
  • It can be done inexpensively.
  • It's convenient indoors or out.
  • It's a good stress reliever.
  • You can run alone for solitude or with others for social interaction.

Here is a closer look at the key benefits.

Aerobic Fitness

Running works your heart and lungs. It allows your blood to become more efficient at carrying oxygen to the cells and eliminating carbon dioxide and other wastes. As your heart strengthens, it pumps more blood with less effort.

As your fitness increases, your resting heart rate decreases. Aerobically fit individuals have resting heart rates of around 45 to 50 beats per minute as compared to 75 to 80 beats for an unconditioned person's heart.

Running regularly helps you to achieve:

  • Higher lung capacity.
  • Increased metabolism.
  • Lower total cholesterol levels.
  • Better overall health.

Bone Health

Running—along with other weight-bearing exercise—stimulates stronger bones. As muscles get stronger and bigger, the bone becomes stronger and denser. So running can be especially beneficial for women who are going into menopause and/or have a family history of osteoporosis.

It's Just a Good Feeling

Once you get past the beginning stages, you'll most likely feel like you want to run—and not that you have to run. A few commonly cited benefits:

  • The "runner's high" when endorphins are released during exercise—this gives you a euphoric feeling.
  • More energy.
  • Greater creativity.
  • Increased fitness and stamina.

Calories Burned per Hour

Here's an estimate of how running stacks up against other popular activities:

Activity (1 hour) 160-lb. person 200-lb. person 240-lb. person
Aerobics, high impact 511 637 763
Aerobics, low impact 365 455 545
Aerobics, water 292 364 436
Backpacking 511 637 763
Basketball game 584 728 872
Bicycling, 10 mph 292 364 436
Canoeing 256 319 382
Dancing, ballroom 219 273 327
Jogging, 5 mph 584 728 872
Racquetball 511 637 736
Rowing, stationary 511 637 736
Running, 8 mph 986 1,229 1,472
Skiing, cross-country 511 637 736
Skiing, downhill 365 455 545
Skiing, water 438 546 654
Softball or baseball 365 455 545
Swimming, laps 511 637 736
Tae kwon do 730 910 1,090
Tai chi 292 364 436
Tennis, singles 584 728 872
Volleyball 292 364 436
Walking, 3.5 mph 277 346 414

Source: Mayo Clinic.

Getting Started Running

If you're a beginner or starting out again after a layoff, start out easy and build up gradually to avoid injury. Specifically:

  1. Important: Check with your doctor before you start any new exercise program. Your doctor will probably be happy you want to exercise, but he or she may set some guidelines for you.
  2. Wear a pair of running-specific shoes that fit comfortably and properly. While running shoes can be used for walking, walking shoes are not ideal for running—they do not offer the same cushioning and support. For shoe-shopping help, see the REI Expert Advice article, Running Shoes: How to Choose.
  3. Do some light stretching and warm-up before running. See the Stretching Techniques section below for some approaches.
  4. Walk first, then run. Next, gradually mix walking and jogging, lengthening each over time. Try walking a block, jogging a block and walking another block. Or walk 2 minutes, jog 2 minutes and continue rotating. As you become more comfortable, switch over to all jogging.
  5. Keep a deliberate pace. As a beginner, you might feel some aches and pains when you start. Running too fast, too soon could make them worse. What's too fast? Try holding a conversation with your running partner. If you can't talk comfortably, slow down. If you're running alone, try talking to yourself.
  6. Breathe easy. Some people breathe through their nose, some through their mouths and others do a combination of both. Whichever method you use, try doing deep "belly breathing" to take in more air.
  7. Aim for frequency rather than speed or distance. Establish a weekly running schedule to get into the exercise habit.
  8. Cool down by doing some slow jogging before and after your runs. Gentle stretching before and after will help your muscles get used to the activity and help avoid injuries.

Tip: Take along a buddy. It's harder to talk yourself out of a run when someone is waiting for you, plus you can motivate each other.

Types of Running

Road Running

This includes paved roads, paths and sidewalks. It is the most convenient type of running—just step out your door and go.

Pros: Convenient; enjoy fresh air and scenery; smooth, even surfaces are more comfortable for running; good way to explore new areas.

Cons: Occasional bad weather; safety concerns on busy streets; hard running surfaces can stress joints.

Trail Running

This includes hiking trails or other mixed hard/soft surfaces. It can range from a flat local park to challenging mountain terrain.

Pros: Varied terrain offers a positive impact on more muscle groups and your core strength; enjoy fresh air and scenery; soft surfaces are easier on the feet.

Cons: Driving distance to get to a trail; trail access may require a permit; remote trails can present safety concerns; risk of injury increases on rough trails; tougher on your body, at least initially, than other running types.

Treadmill

These are easy to find at a gym, office workout room or hotel and are popular at home, too. Most treadmills offer adjustments for pace, incline and resistance. Some have a built-in TV to keep you entertained.

Pros: No weather concerns; can control the degree of difficulty; can target specifics such as hills or sprints; most track performance and calories burned.

Cons: Limited muscle growth potential; can be monotonous; gym users must get to the gym during their hours of operation.

Other Options

Racing: Running events such as a 5K, 10K, half-marathon or marathon are plentiful and a great way to keep motivated and meet other runners. There are many trail-running races, too. While you'll most likely run slower on the trails than the roads, it can be a real adventure. For inspiration, visit The North Face Endurance Challenge site or the Vasque project site.

Cross country: Though this is usually a race run on trails or other soft surfaces for school-age runners, some running clubs have cross-country races for masters (anyone past school age), too.

Track: Track running workouts can be a great way to increase your speed. Indoor tracks are smaller, have tighter turns and are banked, which make running more challenging. Track race distances usually range from 220 meters to 10 kilometers.

Ultra: This is any distance over a marathon, which is 26.2 miles. Ultra running is usually done on trails in the wilderness. The most common distances are 50 and 100 kilometers and 50 and 100 miles.

A Stretching Overview

For any runner, it's generally considered best to warm-up and cool down with a brisk walk or light jog and/or stretching. Warming up helps your running performance and cooling down helps you recover from the workout.

Injuries can come from overtraining, doing too much too soon, being too intense and even over-stretching. But warm-up stretching can both help prevent and rehab injuries. Feeling aches or pains? Don't ignore them. Listen to your body. Rest, ice and consult your physician.

Stretching is believed to:

  • Reduce muscle tension and increase flexibility.
  • Improve muscular coordination.
  • Increased joint range of movement.
  • Boost blood circulation and energy levels.

There are 2 basic types of stretching—dynamic and static.

Dynamic stretching is active stretching. It loosens tendons, muscles and joints and warms the body up with sport-specific movements that use more than just one muscle when doing the stretch. A dynamic stretch is usually repeated 8 to 12 times.

Static stretching is stretching with no movement. It is stretching individual muscles to the farthest point of resistance you can without pain, holding it for 15 to 30 seconds and repeating 10 to 15 times. These are the stretches you probably learned as a kid or ones a physical therapist prescribed to rehab an injury.

What Type of Stretching Is Best?

The primary purpose of stretching and warming up is to increase the body temperature. This increases blood flow so muscles can endure more force.

Several news articles in recent years have suggested that static stretching might be a waste of time and bad for you before an activity, and dynamic stretching is the right way to warm up. They cite studies that have shown dynamic stretching increases power, flexibility and range of motion, while static exercises did not give a performance boost.

Dr. Bob Adams, chair of the USA Track & Field Sports Medicine & Sports Committee and a member of the International Association of Athletics Federation's (IAAF) Sports Medicine & Anti-Doping Committee, states that most professional athletes use dynamic stretching, but he adds that none of the studies show that static stretching is counterproductive for athletes.

"If it feels better to do that (static stretching)," Adams says, "do that." He notes, however, "It is best to do a dynamic stretch for a warm-up."

Adams says the average athlete may warm up for 3 to 12 minutes while a professional athlete may warm up from 3 to 30 minutes with dynamic stretches. Post-workout stretching could be a walk, light jog or dynamic stretching for 5 to 20 minutes. It just depends on the athlete and the intensity of the workout.

Dynamic Stretching Techniques

Here are basic instructions for some of the most popular dynamic stretches.

Hand walks (for shoulders and hamstrings):

  1. Stand straight and keep your legs together.
  2. Bend forward and put both hands on the ground.
  3. Keep your legs straight and walk your hands forward until your back is nearly extended.
  4. Walk your feet to your hands.
  5. Repeat.

Hand walks

Backward running (glutes, calves and ankles):

  1. Jog backwards.
  2. Land on your toes.
  3. Keep the knee slightly bent, and don't lock your knee.

Backward running

Side-to-side shuttle (groin, hamstring, glutes and ankles):

  1. Stand with a slight bend in the knee.
  2. Keep the hip, knee and ankle in a straight line.
  3. Move one foot and leg to the side while pushing off with the other.
  4. Repeat to the opposite side.

Side-to-side shuttle

Leg kicks (glutes, calves, lower back and hamstrings):

  1. Stand straight and flex your hips upward.
  2. Kick one leg out, fully extended.
  3. Toes should be flexed upward.
  4. Lift the opposite arm to the extended toes.
  5. Alternate sides.

Leg kicks

High knee lunges (glutes, hamstring, hip flexor and calves):

  1. Stand straight.
  2. Grasp one knee and pull it upward.
  3. Release it while moving it in an exaggerated step down and forward.
  4. Keep the front leg down and forward while the back leg is extended and down.
  5. Alternate sides.

High knee lunges

Heel lifts:

  1. Stand straight with feet together.
  2. Extend leg and foot so that the foot hits the ground heel first.
  3. Next let the toes contact the ground.
  4. Keep repeating.

Heel lifts

Scorpion (hip flexors, abdominals, quads, lower back and glutes):

  1. Lay on your stomach.
  2. Keep your chest on the ground and spread your arms out to the side.
  3. Kick your right foot toward your left arm.
  4. Kick your left foot toward the right arm.

Scorpion

Power skip (glutes and shoulders):

  1. Stand tall and straight.
  2. Start skipping using a high and exaggerated skip and knee lift.
  3. Do big arm swings.

Power skip

Leg swing (quad, hip and glutes):

  1. Stand straight and place your hand on a wall for balance.
  2. Swing one leg forward, then swing it backwards.
  3. Continue swinging back and forth.
  4. Repeat with the opposite leg.

Leg swing

Backward kicks (quads and hip flexors):

  1. Get on the ground in the push-up position.
  2. Do not arch your back.
  3. Kick your foot toward your buttocks.
  4. Lift your knee as high as possible.
  5. Alternate legs.

Backward kicks

Not pictured: Medicine ball twist (core and upper body):

  1. Use either a medicine ball or kettle bell.
  2. Start with the ball/bell at either your left or right hip.
  3. Using one fluid motion, swing the ball/bell up and angled to the opposite shoulder.
  4. Stop when the ball/bell is even with the opposite shoulder.
  5. Lower and repeat.
  6. Do each side 10 to 15 times.

Static Stretching Techniques

As noted earlier, dynamic stretching is considered more beneficial than static stretching, but either can be used depending on the runner. General tips on static stretching:

  • Do it properly—improper stretching can do more damage than not stretching at all. Move smoothly and gently, remembering to breathe throughout.
  • You should never bounce during a stretch or move past the point of pain. Both of these can make muscles tighter and tear muscle tissues.
  • Move to the point of mild tension and relax as you hold the stretch.
  • The tension should diminish as you hold it. If not, ease off a bit until you're more comfortable.
  • Remember, "no pain, no gain" is simply not true.
  • Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and do each 1 to 3 times.
  • Do each stretch on both sides of your body.

Here are basic instructions for some of the most popular static stretches.

Calf stretches:

  1. Stand straight next to a wall, fence or back of a chair.
  2. Place both palms on a wall.
  3. Slide your right foot about 2 feet behind you.
  4. With your left leg bent in front of you, lean forward, pressing your right hip toward the wall.
  5. The right leg should be straight, but the knee should be just slightly bent so it is not hyperextended.
  6. Push down with your right heel, making sure the toes are pointed straight ahead. You should feel a gentle stretch in the upper portion of your right calf.

Calf stretches

Calf stretch for soleus muscle:

  1. For the lower calf and Achilles tendon, take the same position as above:

    a. Stand straight next to a wall, fence or back of a chair.

    b. Place both palms on a wall.

    c. With your left leg bent in front of you, lean forward, pressing your right hip toward the wall.

  2. In this stretch, bend both legs and keep your weight over your feet instead of leaning forward. (For more of an Achilles stretch, stand on a curb or stair and place the ball of one foot on the edge.)
  3. Press the rear heel down and keep your toes pointing forward.
  4. Let gravity and your weight pull the heel downward until you feel a gentle stretch in your lower calf.

Calf stretch for soleus muscle

Runner's lunge:

  1. First stand with your feet and legs a shoulder's width apart.
  2. Then extend your right leg forward and left leg backwards.
  3. Put your hands on the thigh just above the knee.
  4. Lean forward on the right leg and keep the back leg straight, but with the knee just slightly bent so it is not hyperextended.
  5. Keep your back straight and don't extend the right knee past the toes.
  6. You should feel the stretch in front of the thigh.
  7. When you finish this side, switch leg positions and do it on the other side.

Runners' lunge

Hip flexor stretch:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder's width apart.
  2. Bend your knees and place your hands on the floor beside each foot.
  3. Keep the forward leg bent at a 90° angle. (You may want to push up onto your fingertips to raise your torso above the knee and open your chest muscles.)
  4. Press through the heel of the extended leg to stretch the back of the knee.
  5. Press the hip of the extended leg toward the floor to stretch the hip flexor.

Hip flexor stretch

Quadriceps stretch:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. With one hand on a wall, fence or other object for support, bring one leg up behind you so you can grasp the ankle with the other hand.
  3. Keep your standing leg's quads taut and gently pull the heel of the raised foot in toward your buttocks.
  4. Try to keep the bent knee pointed straight down rather than out to the side. Pushing your hips forward slightly will help do this and increase the stretch in the quadriceps, the muscle group on the front of the thigh.

Quadriceps stretch

Knee/illiotibial band stretch #1:

This stretches the muscle that runs from the outside of your pelvic bone (the ilium) to the outside of your knee at the tibia.

  1. Cross one foot over the other and tighten your quadriceps.
  2. With hands on your hips lift your torso and inhale.
  3. As you exhale, bend from the hips and reach downward as far as you can.
  4. While in this position, try to push your feet closer together without actually moving them.
  5. You should feel the stretch along the outside of the leg.
  6. Come up at the hips, uncross your legs and repeat with the opposite leg crossed in front.

Knee/illiotibial band stretch

Knee/illiotibial band stretch #2:

  1. With rubber tubing or a band, tie a loop on each end. Attach one end to a sturdy object such as a chair leg, tree or post.
  2. Put your ankle that is closest to the object through the other loop end.
  3. Stand far enough away so that there is some tension, but not too much.
  4. Use the stationary object to steady yourself.
  5. The leg that has the tubing or band on it should be just slightly in front of the other leg.
  6. Extend that leg out past the other to create a pull and tension on the band. Movement should be slow and precise to gain strength.
  7. Do 3 sets of 10 and repeat on the opposite leg.

As an alternative to the above, do kicks instead of keeping the leg level.

Knee/illiotibial band stretch

Knee/illiotibial band stretch #3:

Once again use the tubing or bands as described above.

  1. This time put the band on your foot that is opposite of the stationary object.
  2. This time with the band on the outside leg, pull the leg away from the object.
  3. Do 3 sets of 10 and repeat on the opposite leg.

Knee/illiotibial band stretch

Hamstring stretch:

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. Next, bring one leg to your chest.
  3. Clasp your hands around the back of the knee (or use a strap or towel if this is too much of a stretch) and slowly raise your leg to vertical.
  4. Keep the leg extended on the floor, keep both thighs taut and feet flexed.
  5. Push up through the heel of the vertical leg to feel the stretch on the back of the thigh.

Hamstring stretch

Hip/lower-back stretch:

  1. Sit cross-legged on the ground.
  2. Cross your left leg even farther over your right leg so that the left foot is flat on the ground.
  3. Grasp the left knee with the right arm and twist your torso toward the bent left knee.
  4. Reach back behind with the left arm and support your body as you look over your left shoulder.
  5. Move just far enough to feel a gentle stretch in your hip and back.
  6. Come back to the front and repeat to the other side.

Hip/lower-back stretch

Groin stretch:

  1. Sit with the soles of your feet flat against one another, knees out to the sides.
  2. Grasp your feet with both hands and try to push your knees into the floor.
  3. Keep your back straight and bend slightly at the hips. You'll feel a stretch in the insides of the upper thighs.

Groin stretch

Shoulder/triceps stretch:

  1. Raise one arm and bend it at the elbow.
  2. Grasp the elbow with the opposite hand and pull toward the center of your head. Let the bent arm fall down your back as if you're reaching to scratch it.
  3. Keep your hand relaxed.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Shin splints:

  1. Sit on the ground.
  2. Place one left foot over the right foot.
  3. Pull up with the right foot while pushing down with the left foot.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Rotate feet and repeat.

Shin splints

Tip: Injuries can also be the result of ill-proper fitting shoes, shoes that are broken-down or wearing the wrong shoes. Read the REI Expert Advice article, Running Shoes: How to Choose.

Basic Running Mechanics

Running is a natural movement, but using proper form allows you to become more efficient and conserve energy. Some tips:

  1. Run using a mid-foot strike and reserve running on the toes for sprinting. Avoid overstriding; it causes you to heel strike which wastes energy, slows you down and increases your susceptibility to injuries. Land with your foot directly under your body.
  2. Keep your upper body upright, yet relaxed. Strive to keep your head up, back straight and shoulders level. Tensing up or slouching can cause tightness and pain in the lower back.
  3. Look ahead. Focus your eyes on the ground about 10 to 20 feet in front of you.
  4. Let your arms swing naturally from the shoulder joint (not elbow). Your arms should be bent at about waist height (a 90° angle) with your hands held loosely. Some runners hold thumbs to fingertips to keep from forming a fist.
  5. Keep your hands from crossing over the center of your abdomen. This helps to conserve energy.

Training to Improve Your Performance

Once you've incorporated running into your weekly routine, you may start thinking about participating in a road race. They're often called "fun runs" since most runners do not enter them for serious competition. No matter your level of competitiveness, it's a good idea to train for a race— even if your goal is simply to finish.

Whatever the race distance—5K, 10K, half marathon or a full 26.2-mile marathon—you should have specific training goals during the course of several prior months. Many resources exist for week-by-week training schedules, but for the purpose of this article, we'll talk in general terms.

Building Endurance

Once you've mastered the basic running skills, start getting your body used to running for longer periods of time. The emphasis in this base-training phase is on building distance, not speed. Endurance building should be the slow, consistent adding of mileage. Some runners recommend increasing your mileage, distance and intensity by 10% per week to avoid overuse injuries. If you're new to exercising and running, you may want to start with a 5% increase per week. For example:

Weekly Mileage 5% Increase 10% Increase
10 .5 mile 1 mile
20 1 mile 2 mile

During this part of training, it is especially important to include strength training and, most importantly, rest. As you build mileage, your body needs time to recover with rest days. Once you get past the walk/jog stage, then start doing "long days/short days." For instance, if you do 4 miles one day, you might just do 2 miles the next day.

Tip: Listen to your body. If you don't feel like running one day, it's OK. It's probably a sign that your body needs a rest.

Adding Strength and Speed

During this phase, you want to pick up the pace and intensity of your running. Do this by running hills, intervals, fartlek or simply running your usual route at a faster speed.

  1. Hill running improves your overall strength. It builds muscles in your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors. It also helps increase your speed since the motion of climbing hills mimics the high leg lifts of sprinting. When running uphill, use short strides and keep your legs underneath you. On downhills, use gravity to your advantage. Lean slightly forward and take short, quick strides—but don't brake with your heels.
  2. Fartlek, or speed play, originated in Sweden and alternates running fast and slow. This helps your body get used to the discomfort of fast running and aids in giving you a kick at the end of your race.
    1. Warm up first.
    2. Pick a landmark like a light pole, mailbox or a city block.
    3. Start running and gradually increase to a fast pace.
    4. Hold the fast pace to your landmark.
    5. Then walk or jog for half of that distance to your next landmark.
    6. Do it again...again...and again.
    7. Cool down and stretch.
  3. Intervals are essentially the same as fartlek, but they are standard distances usually done on a track. The advantage of a track is that distances are clearly marked.

Track Distances* ½ lap 1 lap 2 laps 4 laps
Yards 220 440 880 Mile
Meters 200 400 800 1500/1600**

* Distances given are for lane 1 (the inside lane). Outer lanes are slightly longer but have staggered starting lines to compensate for the difference. Most U.S. tracks are now metric tracks.

** 1500 meters (0.93 mile) is run in international competitions and is called the "metric mile;" 1600 meters (0.99 mile) is run in high-school competitions and is called a "mile" though it is slightly shorter.

For a track workout, run a series of shorter distances with slower recovery segments in-between. For instance, run the straights hard then jog the corners. The workout should correspond to the distance of your race.

Rest and Recovery

Don't overtrain. Depending on the length of your race, you should start cutting back on your distance 1 to 2 weeks beforehand. This resting phase helps you to be in top shape on race day. Continue with short, easy runs before the big day. In fact, a short run on the previous day will help you stay limber.

If you really get bitten by the racing bug and start to do a lot of races, or you are running in long-distance races, make sure you take some time off afterwards to let your body recover. Cross-training is a good idea for this period, as it allows different muscles to be exercised.

Cross-Training

It's a good idea to mix other activities into your training regimen. Cycling, swimming, aerobic dance, skating, Nordic skiing or an elliptical trainer offers complementary aerobic exercises that will help you keep from getting burned out. Cross-training helps to balance different muscle groups, prevent overuse injuries and add variety to your workout.

Tip: Use your running shoes for running only so they won't break down as fast.

Running in Inclement Weather

Sure, you're going to have those perfect spring-like days when the sun is out, the breeze is cool and you feel like a million bucks. But there are those times when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate. What can you do to stay safe and healthy and still get in your training run? Here are some suggestions.

Cold Weather

For winter training, layering your clothing is the key. Layering allows you to add or shed layers as your body temperature changes. Layers trap heat to keep you warm, plus they allow sweat to wick away from the first layer to the outer layer where it can evaporate. Everyone's thermostat is a bit different, so experiment with your layering.

Upper-body clothing suggestions:

Layer Function Fabric Types
Base layer Wicking Wool or synthetics
Middle layer Insulating Fleece
Outer layer Weather protecting Waterproof/breathable rain shell

Tip: A shirt with a zippered neck helps you regulate your temperature as you run. Also, make sure the sleeve cuffs aren't too tight—you can push the sleeves up when you're too warm or pull them down over your hands if you're cold.

Lower-body clothing suggestions:

Layer Function Example
Leggings and tights Stretch and insulating Running tights or loose-fit pants

Shop REI's selection of men's running clothing and women's running clothing.

In wet, winter running conditions:

  • Wear shoes with water-repelling uppers and minimal mesh.
  • Avoid cotton socks—wear only those made of merino wool or synthetics such as CoolMax polyester.

Important heat retainers:

  • A hat: You can lose significant body heat through a bare noggin.
  • Gloves or mittens: Hands are another prime area for heat loss.
  • Balaclava, ski mask, bandana or scarf: These cover your mouth and warm the air before it hits your throat and lungs.
  • Neck gaiter: It's like a sock for your neck.

It's best to avoid snowy or slushy conditions. If you have no choice but to run on snow or ice, be careful. Consider adding extra traction to your shoes with products such as Yaktrak grippers. They strap to the bottom of your shoes to help you avoid slipping.

Shop REI's selection of snow and ice traction devices.

Hot Weather

No matter your conditioning level, running in high temperatures and humidity can be hazardous.

  • When traveling to a race in a warmer climate, try to arrive a few days early to allow time to acclimatize.
  • Any time the temperature goes up, give yourself adequate time to gradually acclimatize.

Remember to take it easy—pushing too hard can lead to heat exhaustion. Your body is working hard at cooling your skin so your brain may end up not getting all the blood and oxygen it needs. This condition is marked by excessive sweating, dizziness, headache and/or leg cramps. If you feel any of these symptoms, it's your cue to stop running and get out of the sun. You should take a cool shower if possible, and start replacing your spent fluids with cool water.

Summer clothing tips:

  • Dress for the weather. Wear lightweight, light-colored garments which breathe and reflect sunlight.
  • Lightweight nylon running shorts and singlets are about the most comfortable gear in hot weather. Women may opt to wear sport-bra tops in place of singlets in very hot temperatures.
  • Avoid wearing cotton clothing. Instead, wear moisture-wicking fabrics such as a polyester microfiber or CoolMax polyester that dry faster and help you stay cooler.
  • Wear a visor or a hat with a brim and mesh sides or crowns to keep you from overheating.

Running times:

  • Avoid noon and afternoon runs when the sun and heat are most intense. Instead, run early in the morning or later in the evening when it's cooler.
  • If you're in an urban area, late day is often the worst time for air pollution. Ideally, run in the morning before the day's traffic has started.
  • If you must go out during midday, try finding shaded areas to run.

Tip: If it's windy, try running with the wind on the way out so you have the breeze cooling you on the way back when you're perspiring and hot.

Running Safety

General Safety Tips

  • Run facing traffic so that you can see oncoming traffic and move over if needed.
  • Music via an MP3 player can be a great companion and motivator, but it also can make you less aware to your surroundings. If plugged in, be alert.
  • Anticipate ruts, traffic hazards, car doors opening, dogs, cyclists and predators.
  • Vary your routes and times. Don't make yourself a target.
  • Avoid isolated areas or at least tell someone your route and expected return time.
  • Always carry your ID with you.

Running at Night

This is inevitable for some people's work schedules, plus it's cooler for hot climates and some people just plain prefer it. Whatever the reason, running at night requires a few precautions to make these outings more comfortable and safe.

  • Wear something reflective—jackets, vests and arm or ankle bands are good choices. Avoid wearing dark colors.
  • Wear a headlamp to light your path. Most models offer multiple brightness options.
  • For added visibility, wear a safety light on a belt or armband. Models are available in clear or red light, and some feature a flashing beacon option.
  • Stick to familiar, well-lit areas and consider running with a partner.

Fueling Your Body

Hydration

Whether it's hot or cold out, your body needs to stay hydrated. You lose water through perspiration even though you may not feel like you're sweating or thirsty. Drink before, during and after a run—especially longer runs.

Tip: Drink before you're thirsty. If you feel thirsty, that's an indication you're already becoming dehydrated.

For long runs or races:

  • Start hydrating several days before a long run.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine—they dehydrate.
  • The morning before the race or run, drink at least an 8-oz. glass of water.
  • During a race, drink at the water stops. On a training run, plan your route to go past a water fountain or carry your own water.
  • Sport beverages that replace sodium and electrolytes are good for a long run.
  • Rehydrate after the run. If your urine is dark yellow, you're dehydrated. If it's pale yellow, you did a good job of hydrating.

Shop REI's selection of hydration options and sport drinks.

Nutrition

What you eat before, during and after a run affects your performance and recovery.

  • Before: Eat something light, high in carbohydrates but low in fat, protein and fiber about 2 hours before a run.
  • During: On longer runs, you should nibble on something high in carbs and easy to digest while running.
  • After: To restore muscle glycogen (stored glucose), eat some carbs and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your run.

Shop REI's selection of energy foods.

Running FAQs

Q: How do I figure out where to run?

A: Most runners simply run around their local neighborhood. But if you want to explore new areas or hook up with fellow runners, go online or ask about local running groups at your gym or workplace. Most urban areas have local running or sports magazines that list both clubs and races.

Some national Web sites that can help you find places to run:

Q: How do I know how far I'm running?

A: Some trails and running paths have mile markers, while tracks feature standard distances. Some roads have mile markers you can use. You can also use the odometer on your car and drive your running route or carry a Smartphone with a running app, a pedometer or a GPS device to measure your distance traveled.

Q: Do I really need to stretch?

A: If you want to avoid injuries and treat your body well, take at least a few minutes and stretch—it'll help your body, muscle and joints in the long run. Dynamic stretching is recommended for most runners. It'll help your fitness, energy and range of motion.

Q: Why should I run facing traffic?

A: This allows you to see what is coming toward you and get out of the way if necessary.

Q: If I get too hot and need to shed layers, where do I put them?

A: Small items like hats and gloves can be stashed in a pocket. For jackets or vests, you can tie them around your waist or, if using a hydration pack, just stuff them into the pack. When running on an out-and-back course, you may be able to hide it along your course and pick it up on your return.