How To Run in the City – Your Guide To Urban Running

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Running often in the city and want to make the most out of it? Then this article is for you.

If you live in a city or an urban area, then you know these locations present exceptional challenges for runners.

The streets are crowded with cars, and the sidewalk are crowded with people.

There’s awful traffic, terrible drivers, stray dogs, construction sites, and danger at every corner.

But don’t let these hindrances set you back.

How To Run in the City

As long as you plan your running routes the right way, running in the city can make for an enjoyable session.

In today’s post, I’ll share my best tips for running outdoors in a crowded city.

Avoid Rush Hour

I hate to state the obvious, but running in the city is no easy walk in the park.

City running is a little riskier due to congested roads, increased traffic, pollution, imperfect drivers, and bad road conditions.

The busier the traffic gets, the more likely the risk of crossing paths with other road users—some encounters that might not end be so positive.

Also, you’ll spend more time maneuvering around traffic on busier traffic times than actually moving forward. This might mean burning as much energy dodging cars as moving forward.

For these reasons, and some more, try to avoid hitting the road during rush hour.  Instead, schedule your workouts around rush hours.

These can vary by city, but often that means hitting the pavement in the early morning or later in the after afternoon.

In my experience, even the busiest metropolitan areas are relatively quiet early in the morning or late in the evening.

However, if you’re going to run when it’s dark out there, make sure to stick to a well-lit road. Also, wear clothing with reflective strips for extra visibility.

You can never be too careful out there.

You can also run in the park, trails, or other green spaces. Not only are these spaces less polluted, but research has also found that greenspaces positively impact our health and well-being.

Can’t find any nearby greenspaces? Then at the very least, avoid heavily trafficked roads. Studies have reported that busy roads, to no one’s surprise, have higher levels of air pollution.

On the other hand, running in a  parallel side street can drastically lower your exposure to air pollution. For example, one research reported four times lower carbon monoxide levels on parallel side streets than on main roads.

Additional Resource – What’s the best temperature for running?

Run Against Traffic

Though it’s never a good idea, running on the road might be your only option during a city run.

When it’s the case, it’s key to know, and abide by, the rules of the road. These can vary depending on the city and location.

The golden rule is to run against traffic than with traffic so that oncoming drivers can see you. You can also see oncoming traffic, allowing room to maneuver in case things go awry.

What’s more?

You should also avoid running in bike lanes. Taking up that space will force the biker into traffic, putting them in danger. And you don’t want that, right?

No matter how much we dislike those bikers, it’s no reason to put them in harm’s way.

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Keep The Music Down

Music can make training much more enjoyable as it helps tune out the discord of city noise and enjoy your time while you run. It’s also a fantastic way to beat boredom on runs—and the rhythms of a killer playlist can even help you set and keep a steady running pace.

Don’t take my word for it. Research has supported the impact of music on improving athletic performance.

Though music has its pros, it also makes you less aware of your surroundings, which can prove risky.

The solution?

Keep the volume somewhat low, so you can still be aware of what’s happening around you.

Running in a dangerous area, but you and your music are inseparable? Then consider only putting one earbud in while you run.

It’s better to be careful than sorry.

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Check the Forecast

Another thing to be wary of when running in the city is pollution.  Surveys have also found, to no one’s surprise, that busy roads boast higher levels of air pollution.

Air pollution varies with the location and weather. Some cities are more congested, thus expelling more air exhaust.

Air pollution is also often worst during hot and sunny days. But it’s cleaner after rainy or windy weather.

What’s more?

If you have pollen allergies, air pollution can make them worse.

For these reasons, if you’ve any pollen allergies, pay attention to the pollen count, especially on highly polluted days. Research has reported that pollen grains may interact with the chemicals in air pollutants.

Fortunately, as I’ve stated before, running in parallel side streets can drastically lower exposure to air pollution.

Still worried about exhaust fumes? Then try using an activated charcoal anti-pollution mask.

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Stay Safe

As far as I can tell that safety is one of the most pressing issues of running in cities. Here are a few safety tips to help you protect yourself out there:

  • Keep your eyes up and scan for any potential danger. Never look down, no matter how well you know the street.
  • Double-check when crossing streets. Bikes can come out of nowhere. I learned this the hard way.
  • Be willing to work around pedestrians on the sidewalks, as they won’t move for you. Most people are busy daydreaming and staring at their phones.
  • Assume that drivers and other road users can see you no matter what time of day it is.
  • Yield to other road users for your and their safety.
  • Make eye contact with road users, especially drivers, before crossing the road to ensure they see you.
  • Keep the music down
  • Stick to well-lit roads with good visibility
  • Wear reflective clothing so other road users can see you better.
  • Put on a head torch on dark mornings or nights to ensure you can see and be seen.
  • Tell someone about your whereabouts and how long you’ll be gone.

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Map Your Route

Planning your running route ahead of time can help you make the most out of the city’s geography. This can also help you adjust to running in a new city.

What’s more?

Mapping out your routes beforehand reduces the risk of unwanted surprises (such as dead ends or private drives) and removes the fear of getting lost in a new environment.

So before you head out the door, try to find a scenic path or make sure you’ll log most of your miles in less polluted areas. Avoid busy streets at all times.

You should plan your route around parks and other pedestrian-friendly areas.

What’s more?

Timing also matters. Try to avoid outdoor running during times with heavy car and pedestrian traffic. But, again, this varies from city to city and the time of the year.

To help you map out that running route:

  • Join running clubs and their online forums. Some clubs organize virtual runs.
  • Check the USA Track & Field’s online database of routes
  • Use one of the many running apps such as Strava, RunKeeper, MapMyRun, or RunGo. These apps can help you discover popular local runs or develop your own while filtering for distance and elevation.
  • Ask other runners, gym buddies, or friends
  • Join online forums.
  • Don’t give up.

Too much to handle? Then head to the nearest track and field. Here’s how many laps is a mile around a standard track.

Additional guides:

How to run with seasonal Allergies

Night running tips

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