As over half the world’s population now lives in an urban environment, including the vast majority who will read this, learning to make the most of city running matters. We may dream of flying through trails in idyllic woodlands but why not make running your city block just as rewarding and nourishing?
Watch your step
When running along a trail, my attention goes automatically to my feet. On an uneven path, sensing the ground’s idiosyncrasies – its bumps, stones and divots – is essentially a matter of safety. On this terrain, the risk of twisting an ankle or falling are much higher.
It is one of the aspects that I incorporate actively into city running, where the flat surfaces can negate the need to be so aware. By choosing to use this focus, however, I get to feel the thrill of the push of each step, sense the small changes in terrain and understand better how much impact my legs are accommodating. This last point is important: running on hard surfaces increases impact so recognising it helps us to learn how to deal with it.
Without the need to push off strongly from soft ground, running in the city allows us to practice running feather light. This is helped by a number of simple changes we can make. Firstly, take more and smaller steps to spread the load of each step – by lunging further, our body weight arrives heavier on our standing leg and increases impact on it. By taking smaller steps it almost feels like we’re paddling across the ground!
Further to this, focus on the uplift of the leg behind, as if gently kicking up flower petals or autumn leaves. It should feel effortless and smooth and will help prepare the leg to easily swing through for the next step.
Run / don’t run
A frustration of city running can be traffic lights and crossings interrupting the continuity of your run. There are two ways to deal with this: plan a route which avoids major road crossings, or use the regular breaks to your advantage.
Interval training is a training where you alter the intensity of your run in intervals and has benefits for the aerobic and anaerobic systems. The stop / go nature of city running can act as simple intervals in your run, allowing short bursts of faster activity which benefit how you’re working and create variety in your experience. The occasional sprint also does wonders to refresh your spirit, adding urgency and exhilaration to your running!
Join the crowds
Crowds can be seen as either another obstacle or an opportunity. To use the crowd positively, try running through it as a simple obstacle course: taking the chance to vary the direction of your step, staying responsive to changes of direction and enjoying the unpredictability this builds into your running.
A crowd is also a chance to feel your full-bodied awareness as you duck to dodge umbrellas and twist to miss approaching shoulders! This will help you become aware of your whole body and stop the dreaded inward daze that can happen when we run, leaving us unaware of most of our body.
City running can be a useful environment for learning to run and offers training variety, if we look positively how to use it. So go and visit your local streets and make the most of your city running.