Author: Jason Lewis
Most of the time, getting active outside is a blast. You get to work on your fitness while taking in the sights and sounds of your neighborhood, and it’s a great way to get your dog a workout too. But exercising outdoors isn’t all sunshine and cool breezes — sometimes, some seriously sticky situations can happen. Here’s what to do when the worst hits.
You’re pumped up for your run, but after two miles you’re doubled over in pain from muscle cramps that aren’t going away. The key to stopping cramps is to understand what caused them in the first place.
Cramps arise from a combination of dehydration, electrolyte depletion, and muscle fatigue. When one stops you in your tracks, listen to your body and take a few moments to rest, take deep breaths, and stretch the area that’s spasming. Sip some water and ease yourself back into your workout, walking home or calling for a ride if you need to.
If you realize you’re lost, stop where you are. Retrace your steps if you’re confident where you came from, otherwise stay put. If you’re running in the city, this is the time to consult your phone’s GPS to find your way home. But if you’re trail running and don’t have cell service, it’s a little more complicated.
Use your trail map determine where you veered off-trail and your compass to direct yourself back. If the ground is soft, you may be able to retrace your steps using your footprints. Don’t take a different route than the way you came, even if it seems like a shortcut. And of course, avoid getting lost in the first place by knowing your route, taking note of landmarks, and staying alert.
Headaches, nausea, dizziness, muscle spasms — these are all signs of heat illnesses that can range from mild to life-threatening. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, stop exercising immediately.
Move to a shaded, cool area, indoors if possible. If you’re feeling faint, elevate your legs and pelvis. Replenish electrolytes with a sports drink and salty foods, and put something cold on your head and neck. If you’re somewhere that you can’t pop into a store for air conditioning and a cold drink, seek shade, remove tight clothing, pour cool water on your body, and call for help.
Perhaps the most demoralizing thing that can happen while exercising outdoors is harassment. Athletes of all ages, genders, and fitness levels experience street harassment, although women arguably have it the worst. Attacks can range from catcalls to mockery to aggression.
Exercise with a partner, either human or canine, and skip headphones so you’re aware of your surroundings. Run against traffic so cars can’t drive alongside you to heckle, and if someone engages you, either ignore them or respond assertively and calmly. Carry a charged cell phone so you can call 911 if a harasser won’t quit or becomes aggressive, and consider carrying pepper spray just in case.
If you’re a trail runner and take your dog along, run-ins with wildlife are inevitable. Most of the time it’s harmless woodland creatures, but there’s always a possibility you’ll encounter a bear, coyote, snake, or even mountain lion.
If the animal hasn’t spotted you, back away slowly until it’s safe to return the way you came. If you’re running with your dog, keep it on leash to protect your pet and avoid provoking a wild animal. Don’t approach the animal, turn your back to it, or run away. Shout or speak in a firm voice and throw rocks, sticks, or other large objects at a coyote, bear, or mountain lion to scare it away.
Urban animal encounters happen too: If you come across an aggressive dog, stop running and assume an assertive stance with your arms across your chest. Keep your eye on the dog, but don’t make direct eye contact. Keep your dog restrained and calm, but if the two dogs start fighting, don’t try to intervene. Instead, find someone to help and have each person pull a dog away by its back legs, wheelbarrow-style.