Let’s be realistic: moving to across town, to a new state, or across the country disrupts normal routine, including normal running routine. Many of us runners are creatures of habit: we run on the same routes at the same time of day. So when we have to find new routes because of a move and work around a new schedule because of a new job, we often need time to adjust to everything new.
I’ve lived in five cities over the past five years (Reutlingen, Germany; St. Louis, MO; Valparaiso, IN; Dayton, OH; and Bothell, WA), and over time I’ve learned how to continue my running in a new city, even when I know very little about the area.
Some of us adapt more easily to new circumstances and surroundings than others. Even if you easily adjust to a move, running in a new city requires extra caution, additional planning, flexibility in routine, and patience. It takes time to learn which routes are safe, where the local paths and trails are, and how you will react to the local allergens or weather. You can use these tips to help you in adapting your running to a new city.
Map out your routes.
I talked about using MapMyRun, Strava, or Google maps to find popular routes in your area when I offered tips on staying healthy during a move. Mapping out your routes will also help you adjust to running in a new city. Planning your exact route in advance removes the fear of getting lost and eliminates any undesirable surprises (private drives, dead ends, when the sidewalk suddenly disappears into a very busy road). You can enjoy your run more when you already have some familiarity with your route, and this enjoyment will help you stay committed to your running!
Stay in touch for safety.
Perhaps I’m unnecessarily paranoid, but I always worry in a new city about where there are pockets of danger, whether that danger is sexual assault, mountains lions and bears, or getting plowed over by inattentive drivers on a busy road. One of the best ways to stay safe on a run is to let others know where you are running and for how long. I let my husband know when I start my run, where exactly I am running, and how long I’ll be gone, and then I text him again when I return from my run. If anything bad were to happen, he would know right away and be able to contact 911 and come help me. Even though it is statistically unlikely that some pernicious event would happen on a run, extra measures of safety provide peace of mind as you get used to running in a new area.
Unplug and be aware of your surroundings.
Part of the reason I stopped listening to music when I run outdoors was for extra safety precautions for running in the eastside of Seattle. Even if you keep the volume low or only have one earbud in, music distracts you from your surroundings. Noises alert us to any dangers around us and help us stay aware of what is happening. My route is very popular with cyclists, especially during commuting hours, so running without music helps me hear when a cyclist is coming up behind me. Running without music also helps you immerse yourself in your surroundings so you can enjoy the new scenery and learn more about your new city.
Carry personal safety accessories.
The sad fact of life is that no matter how safe of an area you live in or how aware you are of your surroundings, sexual harassment and attacks are a threat to women when they are running by themselves. Even though I run on a safe and populated path, I carry Sabre Runner Pepper Spray to ease my mind with the knowledge that I could defend myself if I was attacked. The mace straps to my hand, so it is not cumbersome to carry but it is easily accessible if needed. Knowing a few basic self-defense tactics will also help you prepare for the worst; check out these videos for some tips.
Find a new running group.
A running group offers multiple benefits for you in a new city. First, joining a running group removes the guesswork of finding safe and interesting routes, since many groups plan out their routes in advance. Secondly, a running group helps you meet new people with a common interest and provides safety in numbers, fun, and a social opportunity. Finally, running with a group keeps you committed to your running. It can be easy to make excuses for not running when you’re not familiar or comfortable with your new area, but you can’t make those excuses when you have a group waiting for you! Many running stores offer their own group runs or can help introduce you to running groups in the area.
Utilize the treadmill.
When I moved to Dayton, Ohio a few years ago for graduate school, I was not familiar at all with the area, so I did almost all my runs on the treadmill. Dayton has some high-crime areas and very confusing roads (even after two years of living there I would still get lost), so I opted for the treadmill to keep up my running. While nothing beats running outside, treadmill running is better than no running and will help you stay fit while you become more accustomed to the area. A treadmill will also provide you with an option for doing speedwork when you don’t know where any open tracks are.
Give yourself a grace period for adjusting.
Thankfully, the Seattle weather and allergens are very mild. When I moved to Dayton, however, or whenever I go back to visit St. Louis now, I have to give myself time to adjust to the high allergy levels and hot temperatures. I know that these will make my run feel harder, so I adjust my pace and accept that my run won’t feel as good as it did in cooler climates where I am adapted to the allergens. Be easy on yourself in a new city and know that, while it will take time, your body will adapt to the new climate. It usually takes 2-3 weeks to adapt to running in the heat, humidity, elevation, or with new allergens, so be patient with yourself and remember that running in harder conditions will only make you a stronger runner! (Unless you live in Seattle, which is at sea level, has a very mild climate, and there are virtually no allergens compared to the Midwest. I’m probably going to die whenever I try to run on trips back to the Midwest.)
Use the opportunity to form new habits.
Have you always wanted to go trail running, do speedwork once a week, add a day of cross-training, or take a new fitness class? Use a new city as an excuse to try them! Find trails, tracks, special routes, and group fitness classes in your new city and start to include them in your routine. Since you are making new habits of where and when you run, you might as well add new classes or training stimulus at the same time so they become a habit. This will also add excitement to your new city and give you something to look forward to each week if you’re struggling with missing your former residence.
Questions of the Day:
What has been your biggest obstacle for keeping up with your running in a new city?
Do you run with any personal safety accessories like mace or a taser?
Which scares you more: seeing a bear or a snake on your run? —>I’m still going to say snakes, as much as I worry about seeing bears out here. I hate those slithery demons.