The Freedom of Outdoor Running….

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Vancouver Sun Run 2006

I really don’t like treadmills, I get so bored and it all feels very labored. It simply feels forced and harder than normal running, which should be free and at your own pace with a playful aspect to it.

From time to time I will use 5-10 minutes of running time on a treadmill at the gym to add an edge to my warmup, apart from that though I never run while in the gym. Running outdoors is a different story altogether and was how I first got into fitness in my early teens – Running gives a sense of freedom. Freedom to take the route you want, freedom to stop and admire the views and freedom to go at your own pace. That is what running is all about- The freedom and fresh air, plus it does the body good…..

Start and End runs with Yoga or Stretching - Starting a run with a comprehensive set of yoga stances is a great way to add a bit more to the workout. Set aside 5-10 minutes either side of the run to practice some Yoga poses will help you warm up (and cool down) plus it provides a great dynamic warmup.

Also adding 5 minutes of Deep Breathing at the end of a run is a great way to calm the nervous system and calm the body down after a strenuous workout. Simply breath in for 4 seconds through the nose and into the belly, hold for 4 seconds and breath out for 4-6 seconds, continue until you feel the nervous system calming down.

Pick a nice route – If you live in a city like me it can be difficult to find a nice scenic route while running. With a bit of searching though, you can find some pretty beautiful places to run wherever you are – look for parks, or nice parts of the city with the least traffic in the surrounding area. This not only makes the run far more pleasurable but also makes the run far healthier as you won’t be inhaling all kinds of fumes and chemicals.

Go at your own Pace – Many people push themselves too hard when they start running. I find the optimal length for a run to be 30-40 minutes. Any longer and I get bored, any shorter and I don’t get a flow. Find a time that suits you and take it at your own pace. If you are starting out feel free to mix running with walking until you can work up to a consistent run. Also consider throwing in a few sprints, or body weight exercises throughout the run for a more complete workout.

Shoes - Back in the days I used conventional running shoes I would get terrible shin splints and pain around my knees, this was all a result of the stiff and stubborn running shoes. It made me stop running for ages as I was in too much pain, even walking became excruciating and I needed constant downtime and stretching to recover. This was as result of a few short runs a week! Since changing to a more minimalist choice of footwear my problems are non-existent and running is fun again…..

‘And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.’ ~Kahlil Gibran

Have a read of this article over at Zen Habits which is a pretty comprehensive guide to running barefoot or using simpler footwear. I love my Nike Free 5.0′s but have heard great things about Vibram Five Fingers, some more free running shoes are piece of kit that you should definitely consider investing in if you are planning to take up some sort of running. Running with lighter footwear or barefoot gives a real sense of lightness and freedom plus they will allow you to build up all the supporting muscles in your feet and ankles making injuries less likely….

Keep Clothing Basic - You don’t need fancy running gear, in fact the more natural thee clothing you wear the better. Things like cotton breath far better than modern plasticky running gear making for a more comfortable run. Your running Kit should be as simple as:

  • A T-shirt (and hoody for winter)
  • Some Shorts
  • Shoes and Socks

Nothing more is needed, keep it simple and use stuff that you feel comfortable in that allows your skin the breathe….

As Christopher McDougall puts it -

Everything I’d been taught about running was wrong. We treat running in the modern world the same way we treat childbirth—it’s going to hurt, and requires special exercises and equipment, and the best you can hope for is to get it over with quickly with minimal damage.

If you haven’t read it yet his book ‘Born to Run’ it is great, and shows just what running should be and the freedom it should give us. Besides what better time to start running a few times a week than now……

Freedom – Running should be fun and free, not like the photo above which is orderly and regimented with set distances and goals. While these things are fun, it is best to start out with running in a uncontrolled manner just hitting the road and running for fun. It would be great to hear any tips from readers about how they started running or how they motivate themselves to run, also any conventional running shoes to barefoot transition stories would be cool…….

If you enjoyed this article, please checkout my book A Simple Guide to Eating Well and you also can follow me on Twitter.


  1. Luke M-Davies says

    Great to see some running stuff on ZTF!
    I’ve run for over 12 years now, and the health benefits have been brilliant. My training is diversified but running is always there, year round! I could talk about it forever but to echo Chris and share some tips

    -Running will improve my mood, guaranteed!

    -I run in in the city too. Sometimes I run home from work but most often chose to run in to work. Pollution levels tend to be lower in the morning – run when it is fresh!

    -Variety is the key to sustainable running. I vary my distances, routes, music and more to keep the interest going.

    -Consistency is key for performance. Best results are achieved when running regularly, and finding your best nutrition habits. Sometimes I run first thing on a black coffee, but during my marathon training, I found my favorite fuel was banana & porridge!

    I love running, and will be doing the London marathon again next year hopefully!
    I wrote a 3 part series on Marathon training and running on my site, which links in quite nicely to this article……

    @ Luke: Thanks for the contribution and tips from a seasoned city runner, it is greatly appreciated. I like what you say about running lifting the mood, it is something I forgot to mention but it is one of the great benefits of a run. It seems to just clear the head of any worries or anxieties and give a fresher perspective on life.

  2. Anastasiya says

    Chris, I agree that outdoor running is definitely better than any treadmill. 20 minutes of the treadmill seem like eternity to me while 30 minutes running outside fly by like 5 minutes.
    You’ve mentioned Yoga on your website. You usually don’t talk much about it here. I thought that maybe some time you can do a post on Yoga for men? I think it is still a widespread opinion that Yoga is not manly enough :-) But it is so great for runners! I can’t imagine my running workouts without Yoga at the end. It’s a perfect combination in my opinion.

    @ Anastasiya: I would love to do a post on Yoga. I have myself tried bikram yoga in the past but now just do a bit at home a few times a week, Saying that I would love to get back into a more structured routine of Yoga. Here is an interesting book if you are looking into Yoga for men —-Click—- I will try to get something posted on Yoga, maybe some kind of short home routine. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Ken Rogers says

    I absolutely love outdoor running. I never use the gym because being outside is just too beautiful and enjoyable. I just ordered a pair of Vibram FiveFingers and I cannot wait to start using them.

    I always start my workout with a ruin down to my local park where I find things to workout out, like benches, trees, and things like that.

    I think everyone should experience the freedom and beauty of exercising outdoors.

    Ken Rogers
    Real. Effective. Fitness.

  4. Luke says

    Great blog! Another great way to ease your way into good running shape is a practice called “fartleks”. This consists of running at a steady pace for say, 5 minutes, then walking for 2 minutes. This is a good way to mix walking and running, and eventually, you will not need the walking portion at all! This practice worked for me! Connect with me on social media for more info:, twitter: @definingsports.

    Keep up the great work. What are your thoughts on a good cool down routine?

  5. Alaya says

    Great post. Have you checked out ChiRunning? Danny Dreyer has some great information on minimalist footwear, but also on BodySensing and adopting the proper pain-free form while running. I am still experimenting with his technique, but when I fall into it it feels like floating!

  6. Kat says

    I have been running pretty regularly for about three years now. My brother was my running partner. About a year ago we read about Vibram Five Fingers and a few months later he bought a pair and loved them. Now, finally (not really sure why I waited this long) I too bought myself a pair of barefoot running shoes. I can’t say enough great things about them!
    I only got them about a week ago and so far have run in them, have run several Tabata sprints in them, hill repeats, sand sprints, hiking on limestone (I live on a tropical island), in the ocean over coral and through a hike in the jungle. I also conduct a boot camp and have performed several workouts in them. No complaints.
    I did experience soreness in my calves after my first several runs but with the help of some massage, it went away within a day or so.
    Today, just one week after buying them, I ran my best run yet– on grass around the perimeter of a park. I truly felt like a little kid again– so very free.
    I highly recommend running barefoot, or essentially barefoot in Five Fingers, to everybody.

  7. Kevin says

    Chris, Cool post! I hate running on treadmills and plan to start adding outdoor running to my workouts soon. I am very interested in the vibram five fingers. I like the minimalist approach of running barefoot but have but think I would feel more comfortable with some type of protection on my feet while running. I’m gonna give them a try. Thanks for the post. You’ve got a awesome site.

  8. Jim O'Connor says

    Running is a great cardiovascular exercise! Yes, I also like running outdoors versus pounding for 30 minutes on the treadmill.

    The only thing I don’t like about running is the continuous impact, day after day. Most serious runners don’t take enough time off between runs to recover properly.

    If you want to increase your aerobic capacity, then try doing HIIT (high intensity interval training). The days of only LSD (long, slow distance) are over!

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