There's nothing quite like a refreshing Sunday afternoon run in spring. The sound of rubber meeting asphalt, birds chirping in the background, lungs sucking in fresh, healthy air amid dark-green pastures and powder-blue skies. We got you in the mood now, didn't we? Well, while you consider going out there for a little slice of runner's heaven, take a look at our list of five tips to make your already blissful run even more pleasant.
1. Have a set playlist before you hit the road
You're mid-run, heart pounding, lungs screaming, energy waning. Each step drains a bit more life from your body, but you dig deep, search for motivation, and inch closer to the finish. Then, that Kenny G track you've been meaning to take off your iPod starts up, or worse, Pandora goes to a commercial. Rhythm and motivation gone. Don't let this happen. Running a quick two-mile sprint? Have six pump-up songs lined up. Going for a distance? Pick 20 and press play.
2. Breathe with your belly in slow, deep breaths
Most casual runners make two common mistakes with their breath when running: They breathe with their chest and take shallow, quick breaths. The result? Less oxygen to your lungs and muscles, and more energy exerted. The solution? Breathe with your belly in deep, slow, extended inhales and exhales. Not only do you take in more oxygen to feed your muscles but you exert less energy, too. Unsure what we mean when we say "breathe with your belly?" Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Now breathe. If your chest expands, you're breathing with your chest. If your stomach expands, you're breathing with your belly. Breathing with your chest not only takes in less oxygen but also moves your shoulders up and down, making them tense and exerting unnecessary energy.
3. Use a running app to keep track of your performances
It's hard to run faster and farther than yesterday when you have no idea how fast or far you actually ran. That's where the wide world of running apps comes into play. There's a heap of choices out there, but we like MapMyRun. It's easy to use, and it tracks your time, distance, and course. The real kicker, though, is its ability to load routes run by other users in your area. If you travel a lot or simply like to change the scenery, this is the app to have. Did we mention it's free?
4. Don't fight the pain, outsmart it
Remember your old high-school sports coach yelling at you to run through your cramp like a real man? He didn't know this trick. When you get that nasty cramp in your side, don't panic, stop, and give up, and certainly don't try to fight through it to prove your manhood. Instead, inhale deeply when your foot on the same side of the cramp strikes the ground. Then (this is the key), exhale when the foot on the opposite side of the cramp strikes the ground. It doesn't have to be the next step, just breathe naturally and find the rhythm of the two. Remember, same side, inhale; opposite side, exhale. Repeat a few times and you should feel the cramp start to fade away.
5. Warm up and cool down
We know you've heard it a million times, but that's probably because it's so important. Stretch your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes before even stepping outside. Then begin by walking slowly, increasing your speed every 30 seconds or so until you're in a light jog. Once there, you can begin your run. Warming up this way not only prevents injury, it also loosens your muscles, allowing for a freer range of motion, and increases blood flow to your lungs and muscles, warming your core muscle temperature.
Ahhhhhh, you just finished your run. Feels great, doesn't it? Reward yourself and relax, but don't just stop, walk back home, and sit on the couch. A proper cool-down like a slow jog, a casual walk, or some light stretching can prevent cramping, nausea, and tightness the day after. Do all three and you'll really feel the difference. A small warning: Don't overdo the stretching. Your muscles are already tired, and stretching works them more. Some simple downward dogs, standing quad stretches, and your favorite hamstring stretch (there are a million) will work just fine.