With warmer weather officially in the air, you’re probably hankering to take your run outdoors. Those who live in urban areas and cities, though, know that these locations present a unique set of challenges. The sidewalks are crowded with people and the streets are crowded with cars. But don’t let these obstacles set you back. We spoke to Aaptiv trainer Benjamin Green for his best tips on running outdoors in a crowded city.
According to Green, planning out your run—from your route to your clothing to what you pack—is crucial to staying safe. First things first, figure out an ideal time for your runs and then take note of the conditions around that time, he says. Think about things like rush hour and sunrise or sunset. Green recommends running right in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the heat. Also, map out your run beforehand and pay attention to the streets you encounter on your route. “Try to avoid busy streets. If I’m in Midtown, for example, I’m probably not going to go down 57th street,” says Green, who is based in New York City. “Even just by going one block over, the congestion on the sidewalk is going to be minimal. So, choose your streets wisely.”
When running outdoors in a crowded city, it’s crucial to see and be seen. It’s important that all traffic—pedestrian and vehicular—is aware that you’re there. So, dress the part. “Wear bright colored clothing,” Green says. “I can’t tell you how many times I go outside to bike or run in the evening and I see even seasoned runners wearing all black.” Bright clothes, he explains, will help runners, drivers, and cyclists see you and help avoid any collisions.
Many of us like to bring the least amount of things possible when we go out for a run. However, there are a few necessities everyone should take with them. If you’re running in the evening, he suggests bringing along some kind of light, especially if any part of your route doesn’t include street lamps.
You should also make sure to have access to water. For instance, if you’re running through New York City, as Green often does, pay attention to where you’ll find hydration stops. “If you’re running in Central Park, know where the water fountains are.” If you map out your run and your route doesn’t include many water options, bring your hydration with you. Carry a lightweight water bottle or even a water belt for longer hauls.
Lastly, make sure you have some money or other means for transportation in case of emergencies. “God forbid you get a cramp or hurt your ankle. Have a subway card, Citi Bike membership, or access to Uber,” says Green. In either case, Green recommends bringing your phone with you on your run. Keep it in an armband or in a fanny pack around your waist. This way, you’ll have a way to call someone in case of emergency.
Always let someone know where you’re going, says Green. “If you’re going by yourself, let someone know where you’re going,” he says. “Let them know your route and the time it should take you. This way, if they don’t see you for longer, then they know to find out what happened.”
We don’t have to tell you how many obstacles you may encounter while running outdoors in a crowded city. Everything from people biking on the sidewalk to cars running lights to strollers in the middle of the sidewalk to dogs off leash. In crowded areas, Green recommends politely saying “on your left” or “on your right” to let someone know where you’ll be passing them. “If you see a big group in front of you, project ‘on your left’ five to 10 feet before you’re actually on their left. That gives them time to move over and you get to keep your pace,” Green says. “It’s almost like a little puzzle because you’re trying to put your run together with all these other little pieces in the way.”
Keep in mind that metropolitan areas are often visited by tourists. The person you may be asking to move may not speak the same language as you. “Maybe someone is visiting from another country,” Green says. “Don’t get upset with the pedestrians because they’re just walking—the sidewalk is designed for walking.” If you ever do have to veer off the sidewalk and run in the bike lane, stay on the edge of it to avoid getting run over. That said, try to avoid this lane as much as possible and never run in the bike lane with a group.
When running outdoors in a crowded city as a group, be mindful. Use the proper hand signals in case there are people behind you. “Extend your right or left arm out so that they know the person ahead is making a turn,” he says. “By you letting people know you’re turning, you’re being polite and setting the tone for everybody else out there. Hopefully they’ll lead by your example.”
Furthermore, he advises to never run behind someone you don’t know to avoid collisions in case they make a sudden stop. And never assume that you know what someone else is doing. “If you’re running anywhere with other people doing a similar activity to you, don’t judge them based on their looks,” says Green. “Someone could be biking or running and they could look like they’ve been doing it for 20 years. But you have no idea. So always give yourself a safe distance from them because they could make a sharp left or right at any time.”
Though you may not want to, Green advises slowing down when you encounter a stroller on a narrow sidewalk or path. The safety of the child is most important here. He reminds runners to keep their cool and have patience. For example, he says sometimes you may come across a parent with a stroller and a dog who is also on a cellphone. “Don’t get aggravated at someone. Just run by them, wait for them to pass, or say ‘excuse me,’” he says. “I know it can be hard if you’re running at a high effort level, you’re breathing hard, and then you say ‘excuse me.’ It can come across a little bit aggressive sometimes, but you have to find that polite way.”
Everyone likes to see pups outside on a warm sunny day. But sometimes these furry friends can hinder your outdoor run, especially if they’re off leash. Green suggests treating the dog as you would a small child due to their unpredictable nature. Be mindful of where the dog is at all times. If you’re trying to keep pace, perhaps avoid them altogether. “Dogs are going to go wherever they want to go. If you’re trying to do very intense interval run and you have to hit this pace at this time, don’t go somewhere where dogs are typically off leash,” Green says.
Now, if you’re running with your dog, keep him or her on a leash. This will keep the dog, you, and others around you safe.
It can be hard to stop once you get started, especially if you’re trying to keep morale up and keep up your pacing. However, running into red lights is inevitable when running outdoors in a crowded city. Green recommends running back down the block you just came up to kill time before the walk sign appears. Or, he says, to simply cross the other way and run that block before crossing back to your original path to ensure you get to the same destination without having to stop. “This way there’s constant movement,” he says. “Also, if you’re running in a highly congested area, you’re probably not going to be able to do the speeds that you want or the time. So take that into consideration.”
He adds to be cautious of oncoming cars before crossing, as many drivers often run yellow and sometimes red lights. “Forget about your mile pace [when it comes to intersections.] It’s better to be safe, wait an extra second, and check all corners, even if you’re running through a green light,” he says.
Keep in mind that outdoor urban surfaces are going to be different than the ones found on a trail or paved path. “The city is not like a track or even a trail run,” Green says. “With a trail run you might have a few holes, but in the city one street can be completely different from the next street. So just be mindful.”
Also keep in mind that there could be debris along the sidewalk. For example, Green says, if there was a big rainstorm the night before your run, there may be trash or other natural debris on the sidewalk. “It might not seem like a big deal, but stepping on a pinecone could ruin your foot placement on the ground and you could twist an ankle,” Green says. Pay attention to your path and also be mindful of weather and wind changes that may impact movable objects.
When running outdoors in a crowded city, you will come across more obstacles than you’re used to. It’s important to be patient and accept that these obstacles will factor into your pace and time. “If you’re doing an urban run, you have to remember that with so much congestion, you’re going to have to slow down. So don’t get upset mentally over that,” says Green. For those looking to train without interruptions, Green recommends staying off the sidewalks. Find the nearest park and do a few loops in areas where the paths are a little wider to accommodate more outside activity.
As you lace up and head outdoors for a run in the coming weeks, just remember that running outdoors in a crowded city can be very different from running on a treadmill or even on a running path. Be mindful of your surroundings and patient with your progress. If you ever find yourself feeling frustrated, come back to your breath.
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