When spring weather arrives so does the itch to start running, for exercise, fun or serious competition.

But after a long winter indoors, it’s not wise to just lace up and start striding without a plan.

Outdoor running after cold weather inactivity requires preparation.

Customize your training

A training regimen should vary depending upon the runner–novice, intermediate or experienced.

“Each category will have a different training program dependent upon athlete conditioning and distance goals for the individual,” said Matthew Axtman, DO, Corewell Health Orthopedic Sports Medicine.

Most individuals looking to enter a 5K race are probably novices, he said. They should plan on a six-week program and start working out as the weather warms.

It’s important to start off slow, and consider an online search for couch-to-5K programs, he said.

“Make sure that you’re smart about the program,” Dr. Axtman said. “It starts with getting that mental picture in your mind as to what your goal is. Are doing it for health, doing it with friends or do you plan to participate in a certain race?”

Cross training is important. Your program should incorporate not just running but walking, biking, strength training and even yoga and Pilates to target different muscle groups.

Usually, it’s wise for the novice to start out mixing walking and running–run a half-mile, walk a half mile.

Experienced runners don’t need to start as slowly.

“Experienced runners can have a more intense regime but the novice needs to take it slower,” Dr. Axtman said. “You’re more at risk for injury if you have not been participating in that activity at all.”

Address pain

He said all runners need to try to prevent injury by listening to their bodies.

“If you notice pain, back down from the training,” Dr. Axtman said. “Use simple treatments at first–ice, over the counter medication, etc. If backing down doesn’t stop the pain, you may need to get an exam to find out where the pain is coming from.

“Don’t delay in finding the cause of the pain. It could make things worse if you do. Fix it as quickly as possible.”

When looking for a program, in addition to going online, individuals may want to see if the race they plan to participate in suggests a training protocol.

Training tips

Dr. Axtman offers several simple tips to make the most of your training.

Start with shoes that fit well. Go to a sports shoe store that can evaluate your running gait and help identify the best shoes for you. Most stores have a return policy if you develop pain after purchase.

Also, drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration can affect your conditioning and training.

Wear moisture-wicking clothing, he said. Those are garments that lift sweat into fabric and dispel it. For example, don’t wear cotton, which holds fluid in. Wear proper clothing to avoid overheating.

“No matter what type of athlete a person is, any exercise is good and will provide certain benefits for your health,” Axtman said. “But be smart about it and be sure to pick your goals and train appropriately.”