We are now into the thick of the winter season and when it comes to running outside, I am the first to say that training at this time the of year is tough on the body both mentally and physically. It’s dark, windy and icy, and your bed seems like a better place to be. If you are like me, I rely on running buddies for motivation and once I am out, I quite enjoy the accomplishment of conquering some hills in good company. It’s a time in my practice when I see an increase in frequency of injuries because of the variability in the conditions and training errors. With the right information, you too can make it more enjoyable, safe and stay injury free.
Use light weight wicking fibres as the layer closest to your body. Smart wool is a great option and a wind proof shell or heavier jacket overtop depending on the temperature outside. Gor Tex or Windstopper material is great to block you from that biting windchill. Wear socks made of synthetic fibres that wick moisture away from your skin to help prevent blisters and athlete's foot. It’s smart to invest in a winter running shoe with treads to keep you from slipping. Make sure you remember to use body glide or even vaseline will suffice on your feet, face and any other exposed skin to prevent wind burn or frostbite. In the extreme temperatures, balaclava’s or facemarks are great to moisten and warm the air before it gets to your lungs. Toques are better than headbands as our head is responsible for 40% of heat loss. I always recommend having triple thickness of gloves - a light, medium and heavy glove. My favourite low tech option are the dollar store gloves that can be worn alone on warmer winter days but layered when it gets colder. The extremely cold days require mittens that will keep your fingers together, keeping them warmer. Lastly don’t forget sunscreen and moisturizer. Your face will thank you!
Most people don’t feel like they work as hard in the winter because they are running slower but this is often not the case. Not only will you be running on snow, which is uneven making your body work harder and expend more energy, but you are also sweating a lot because of the additional gear and layers you are wearing. It is still imperative that you replace your fluids and focus on post run nutrition needs. This includes adding in a snack with a mix of carbs and protein within 30 minutes of returning from your run.
Warming up slowly and gently before a run is even more important before doing speed work. This is especially true if you are struggling with a niggle of an injury. I often suggest a warmup inside for 10-15 minutes prior to heading out. A sore muscle or tendon does not like the cold! We also need to adjust gait patterns slightly in the winter. Our cadence, or step frequency, should increase slightly which will protect us when running on slippery ground. Also, be flexible in the winter with your training, don’t be afraid to move a workout indoors or change to a different day if the weather is such that its not safe to go outside. You will be using a lot of stabilizing muscles in the winter. This will improve your strength but also puts more stress on the body. Take your time and cut a run short if you are feeling the fatigue. Avoid running on ice at all costs, it’s not worth the risk.
Be cautious when running in low-light conditions. Wear bright clothes and reflective gear. Remember, cars may see you but might not be able to stop as quickly in the winter due to slippery roads. Don’t take any chances and be extra careful at stop lights.
The winter is the perfect time to address those stubborn injuries that you have avoided doing anything about. It is also a great time to do some additional strength training in the gym on days where you prefer to be indoors where it is warmer. A little goes a long way. Once or twice a week of lower body exercises and core work is enough to get you to the summer season stronger as a more durable runner. If you are unsure about what or how, get advice from a professional. We are here to help!
If you have any questions about a current or past injury or training advice, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be safe and happy running!
Dr. Jane Weber, BKin (Hons), DC
Chiropractor & Running Expert