There’s something about spring that makes us want to get active. Whether it’s the fresh air or the looming threat of having to wear shorts in public, many Ottawans choose this time of year to dust off their fitness routines.
And there are few better activities to take up than running. Aside from the city’s growing population of runners that will ensure you’re in good company, Ottawa is host to several world-class running events that draw participants from all over the world.
Seasoned runners have a laundry list of reasons why this sport is so popular. For starters, “it’s the cheapest sport in the world,” says Phil Marsh, an Ottawa-based regional manager for the Running Room, a local coach and blogger for the Canada Army Run website.
“All you need is a pair of shoes. It’s only when you add goodies like GPS and heartrate monitors or fancy clothes that things get expensive. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want.”
“Running is perhaps the most accessible and time-effective fitness activity,” adds Run Ottawa president and race organizer for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, John Halvorsen. “The ‘gym’ is outside, so you can literally do it anywhere and anytime, which makes it easy to fit into a busy family schedule.”
Running is also effective, Halvorsen says, and a 30-minute workout three times a week is an attainable goal for many.
“The cool thing about the sport is that as a runner, you can run in the same race as the fastest runners in the world,” says Marsh. “You may be way behind them, but you don’t need to be rich or have an exclusive country club membership. It’s social and a healthy community to be a part of.”
When beginning a running routine, the key is to start easy, by ramping up your walking and gradually building up to running. “Most beginners tend to start off too hard and get discouraged by needing to slow down,” Halvorsen says.
Halvorsen suggests setting a target of going out for 30 minutes. Start by walking, alternate between running and walking and only walk up and down hills, which is easier on the joints.
As for where to run, the possibilities in this city are endless.
“There are so many pathways in Ottawa,” says Marsh. “There’s the Arboretum, NCC pathways, the (Rideau) Canal and then there’s Gatineau Park. You can do it solo or socially with friends or a run club.”
Marsh started running as a child – “my dad and I sprinted down the main street to go to the store,” he remembers fondly – but these days, he jokes that running is a way “to keep my pants fitting.”
In addition to being a healthy habit for adults, it sets a good example for children, he says.
Kids of runners grow up around the sport, said Marsh, who sees little ones being pushed in strollers and hanging out at the track. “They see their parents going out for a run and it makes them want to be active.”
A busy parent himself, Halvorsen says the trick is to build it into your work and family schedule.
He suggests finding a running partner or group at work that runs on their lunch hour, or ending the workday with a run home, where a shower conveniently awaits. “The key is to plan ahead and have your shoes and clothing with you as well as a change of clothes to get into after so you stay dry,” he said.
Anything new can be daunting, but running doesn’t have to be. Gone are the days when there was a runner archetype, Marsh says. The running groups he volunteers with have people of all ages and professions, and of all shapes and sizes. “People look at runners and think, ‘I look like that. I can run too.’”
Sometime later, Marsh sees many of these same runners go on to do other activities, like triathlon and obstacle races.
“Running is a great gateway activity,” he says. “You feel like you can do anything.”
The experts weigh in: How to fit running into your schedule
If you work long hours and get home after dark
“Incorporate it into your workday,” said Marsh. “Run to or from work, or during your lunch. Have a change of clothes ready. Even if you can find 25 or 30 minutes, get out.”
If you have the budget and the space, consider buying a treadmill, which can be a solution if you simply don’t want to go outside, says Halvorsen. “If you do get out, planning your route to residential streets and sidewalks is much safer.”
If you want to get fit again after baby
First, clear it with your doctor, cautions Marsh, as the hips or abdominal muscles can separate after pregnancy. “Don’t rush it. Get easy runs in and if you’re on leave, just squeeze it in when you can.”
Once the baby is old enough, parents can make him or her part of the running routine, Halvorsen says. “With all the great running strollers available, the baby can enjoy a nap while you are getting exercise.”
If you have young children
“Most kids can certainly run or walk 30 minutes,” says Halvorsen. “When my kids were young we made our outside time a run/walk in a park, which has great terrain for getting fit and interesting things to see and experience. Make stops part of the routine. For example, stop at a lookout for treats. Explore getting fit together.”
If the kids are involved in sports of their own, Marsh suggests using that time to squeeze in your own workout. “You don’t need to sit in the bleachers for an hour with a coffee,” says Marsh. “Go for a run or a walk, or bring a mat and do some yoga. Instead of looking at the kids’ lessons as a time barrier, use it as an opportunity to get your own workout in.”
Free training plans
Marsh recommends checking out free training plans at http://armyrun.ca/race-weekend/running-room-training-guides/