For the last 1/2 of 2011 I was going to my gym and working out 5-6 times per week. It was amazing! I preferred running on the treadmill as it was predictable with less impact. I also was able to switch it up and hop on an elliptical to diversify.

However, I'm no longer able to afford a gym or treadmill, and I'm trying to stick with some ad-hoc routines at home and running outside. But when I run outside consistently, I have a lot of pain. Feet, ankles, calves, knees and hips. This never happened when running on the treadmill, so it seems to be due to the impact of running outside, on steep hills and on pavement. Once I stop running and stretch, the pain is gone as quick as 10 minutes after my run is complete. I am definitely stretching both before and after.

How can I cope? I'd love not to be able to be eating ibuprofen all day and I really want to continue running, it keeps me sane!


EDIT With More Information:

After reading some of these responses and thinking about it some more, I have some additional information that I think would be helpful. This run is the same every time and it includes some pretty steep hills down in the beginning. I can imagine that the impact of downhill running on steep hills just makes the impact much worse? This could set the stage for pain throughout my run if running on this hill downward and landing heavily.

My shoes are great, never had an issue before, but that was on a treadmill. I would bet that I am conditioned to run on a treadmill, but since that is not an option and there are very little other choices where I live, can I train my body to run better on hard surfaces?

I've always been intrigued by the Vibram Five-Finger shoes, but I've heard mixed results. I am sure it would take a while to train myself to run differently, as I don't run this way.


I tried my runs recently by skipping the hill, which I know is very tough on my body. The effort it takes to just make sure I don't go rolling down the hill is one thing, let alone the impact of my weight + momentum all landing on my feet and move throughout my body.

The last few days while running the trail I tried to get on real ground when I can (1/3 of the time) as well as skipping the extremely steep hills - it was not any better or less painful.

EVERYONE had great feedback and worthwhile points, but I'm inclined to think that it's about getting used to it. I do think that I'll try learning to run with less impact as well.

  • Have you tried different shoes and/or surfaces? I know I have a lot of pain running on pavement in my Vibrams. But I can run on pavement just fine in my eccos. Just a thought... Apr 26, 2012 at 15:11
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    Like @NathanWheeler suggested, try switching up the surfaces. If there is a school nearby, use their track for running; typically school tracks are made from a much softer rubber-type substance that will absorb a great deal of impact.
    – Moses
    Apr 26, 2012 at 16:29
  • That's the one thing about the treadmill... it's ALWAYS consistently softer with a lower impact than a lot of other places you would run. I like running in just dirt myself... it's a little cool if you're running barefoot, and it just feels right, not overly hard or soft. Apr 26, 2012 at 18:44
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    Isn't there some grass or dirt or whatever next to the road you are taking? Why not just run on it instead?
    – VPeric
    Apr 28, 2012 at 9:01
  • Consider simply avoiding the steep downhills by riding your bike to a better starting point.
    – ladenedge
    May 2, 2012 at 1:21

2 Answers 2


I would guess that by running exclusively on a tread mill you developed a stride that relied on the forgiving surface. I run exclusively in minimalist shoes (Vibram Fivefingers) on pavement with no complaints now but I ran in traditional running shoes for over a decade and had occasional knee or plantar fascia problems. I also spent about five years running almost exclusively on gravel and during that time I had pretty severe knee pain any time I ran on pavement. It is clear to me now that my old stride included very hard heel strikes while the stride that I learned running in minimalist shoes does not. I can take off my shoes and run the same way barefooted with no discomfort (until the abrasion gets to the soles of my feet :-)

Learning to run in minimalist shoes would probably require more of a commitment than you would want to take on, but I recommend visiting this Harvard web site on the biomechanics of foot strikes to get an idea of how to run with a forefoot strike, then practicing that with the shoes you wear now. If you can modify your stride you will likely relieve much of your pain.

UPDATE: I just noticed the additional info you added. Running down steep hills definitely generates the hardest impacts so you should avoid them as long as you are experiencing pain. You could also consider walking down steep hills. Also, take plenty of time to recover between runs, perhaps several days. If you do not want to skip exercise for that length of time substitute walking between your runs.

UPDATE 2: I should have linked to this video originally. It gives you a nice overview of the information you will find at the Harvard Barefoot Running website.

  • Are Vibram Fivefingers worth using on treadmills?
    – Chris S
    Apr 30, 2012 at 18:52
  • I think almost any runner would benefit from learning to run with a forefoot strike as described at the website linked in my answer. This is easier to learn with a shoe that has a "zero drop" from heel to toe. In other words, no lift at the heel. But you can run this way without buying a minimalist shoe is you do not want to spend the money.
    – Jim Clark
    May 1, 2012 at 17:37

The problem is that you're conditioned to run on a treadmill and are transitioning to a road down-hill too quickly.

Your heart and lungs are prepared but your legs aren't; so you need to train them.

I would do something a little like a beginner's training plan. You'll need to start by walking and then walk-running before you can actually run. Yes, it will be very frustrating because your heart and lungs can run the distance. At the moment, your legs can't and that's why you're getting pain.

@JimClark's comment about forefoot/minimalist running is useful. While I'm unconvinced by Vibrams per se learning to run on your forefoot is definitely an advantage. (I think most people who move to Vibrams don't take the time to adapt to them properly and get problems.)

  • 1
    I would agree with Sarge entirely on the issue with adaptation to minimalist shoes. It is like learning to run all over again, a process that took you months to learn originally and years to perfect. The muscles in your feet and lower legs are practically atrophied from lack of use when you first start and it takes quite a while to develop the necessary strength to absorb shock and stabilize your feet.
    – Jim Clark
    May 3, 2012 at 12:13

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