Winter Running Wisdom

Winter Wisdom

Originally taken from Upper Valley Running February Newsletter

By Laura Hagley

As a year-round runner, I’ve had my share of injuries. With cold and flu running rampant in the transitions of season, it’s also a time when injuries tend to run rampant in the running community. These are my top five recommendations to fend off injuries in winter.

  1. Stay adapted to the surface – Bad weather can leave a runner off the road for days or weeks at a time. Maintaining adaptation to the surfaces we choose on a regular basis reduces the risk of injury. If you’re a road runner in the spring, but treadmill runner in the winter, make sure you adapt slowly to the new surface. The same is true for transitioning back to the road in the Spring. My tendency is to do at least 1-2 sessions on the road and 1-2 sessions on the treadmill each week to maintain adaptation to both.
  2. Indoor track – While the track can be more mentally pleasing than the treadmill, keep in mind the principle of adaptation. There are two issues here. First, if you’re not adapted to the track, your first few sessions on the track will be an unwelcome surprise to muscles/joints, possibly leading to injury and overuse. Second, if you always run counter-clockwise on the track, you’re likely to have muscle and tissue adaptation to reflect that. If you must run on a track, at the least switch directions and give yourself plenty of time to adapt.
  3. Days of the week – Research makes it quite clear that we are more likely to get injured when running less than 4 days/week or greater than 6 days/week. If you’re going to run, then commit to running at least 4 days/week. If your mileage needs to be low, then separate the total miles over those 4 days. For example, running 1 mile/day on four days each week will reduce your risk of injury compared to running 4 miles on one day/week.
  4. Hills are our friends – Running in the winter is often slower due to road conditions. While there are benefits from running on snow for development of stabilizers and proprioception, the roads can limit our ability to safely perform intensity. For those of us who won’t give in to the Track or Dreadmill in the winter, hill repeats are a great option for intensity without the hazard of slipping. A great place to do this is Tuck Drive where you can choose to do a workout such as 12-16 reps of 30sec all out (like a 200m track repeats), or 6-10 reps of a 2-3minute hard effort (like 800m track repeats).
  5. It’s not worth the injury – Some days are just not suited for running outside. I tend to need a little reinforcement to remember I’m a “mortal runner” … that is not an oxymoron. Last time nature reminded me of this was sliding face first down Ledyard Bridge at 6am on ice. An injury one morning could mean no running for 6 weeks. It’s not worth it. My tendency is to look at the week’s weather and plan my intensity days on the treadmill for the days with the worst weather. Or, take a cross training day knowing that elite Nordic skiers have higher Aerobic Capacities (VO2max) than any other group of endurance athletes! But the most important thing I’ve learned about running in the winter is advice from my Midwestern husband ….and that is, WEAR A Buff!!!!
Laura Hagley, DPT, CSCS, EP-C runs competitively for Millennium Running Club. She placed 25th at 2016 Olympic Trials, and competed in the Elite Women’s Wave of the 2016 Boston Marathon. Professionally, Laura is the Director of Rehabilitation and physical therapist at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH. For questions, please email laura.hagley@vrh.org.
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