Adapting to Winter Running Conditions
By: Paula Burchat, RMT, SMT(C) • December 12, 2017
Training for spring races and events can be extremely challenging in a cold climate. You want to follow your program and have a good routine in place so your body can adapt to gradual training changes. However, it is important to be prepared to adapt to the changing winter weather conditions. Loosing training days due to bad weather can hamper your training outcomes, but working too hard in conditions that are difficult can also lead to repetitive strain type injuries. Finding a balance is important.
Training consistently and regularly is the key to improvement over time. You need to be able adjust at times so you are not pushing too hard in bad conditions that could lead to injury. Here are few key strategies you can use for winter adaptation and training:
1) There is no bad weather condition just bad clothing: Missing training days because it’s too cold or too sloppy are not good reasons to avoid training. Get properly outfitted for the weather so you are comfortable and can deal with the varied conditions. You want to stay dry and warm without overheating and getting sweaty. To achieve this, dress in layers with a good jacket that has zippers, Velcro vents, draw strings and pockets. Open and close them as needed to retain heat or release it. You want to start out a little cold and then warm up in the first 5-7 minutes to a comfortable temperature. If you feel to warm in the first 7 minutes, vent a bit or loosen a toggle or zipper. On long runs carry a light balaclava and extra mitts to change part way through the run if you are sweating or get wet. You should also dress to the temperature not the wind chill. For example: If it’s -10C with a wind-chill of -18C, dress for the -10C temperature (base layers, top, tights, socks, etc.) and put on a good windproof jacket, windproof mitts, and face covering. The outer layer should be windproof without adding bulk or layers of warmth.
2) Running shoes: This is a very personal choice. For clear pavement days use your regular running shoes. I prefer trail running shoes for snow and ice. Others like crampon-type products or shoes with spikes. It’s up to you and what you feel comfortable running in. If there is a day to miss running in the winter it’s during freezing rain or in the days following when the footing is bad.
3) Adaptation to new terrain: When the snow and bad footing first arrive take time to adapt to the new terrain. It’s the same principle as adapting to trail running or running on the beach. You cannot expect to do the exact same distance or intensity in a different environment without risking injury. Reduce your mileage for 2-3 weeks, reduce your interval workouts and slow the pace a bit. Try doing tempo or steady state runs instead of intervals. Or reduce the speed and distance of your intervals. You need to do this to give your muscles, tendons and ligaments time to adjust to the uneven and changing terrain.
4) Run for Time: The sloppy, snow and slush covered roads and extremely low temperatures can sometimes be really challenging and make for a slow run. On these days run for time not distance. If you normally run an average 6:00min/km pace for a certain run multiply that by your distance and that is your running time for the day (10kx6min=60 min). Running the full distance at a slower pace in bad footing may take much longer and lead to poor training outcomes like increased fatigue and bad running form causing overuse of muscles. This principle can also be applied to interval workouts. If you know you normally run a 5:00min/km pace for 1km intervals then do 5:00 minute repeats rather than 1k repeats. It frees you from expecting a certain performance in the bad conditions.
5) Cross Train: There are so many great options for cross training in the winter. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, skating, spinning, treadmill running, swimming and water running are just a few. If the conditions are really bad for running then find another activity for your workout. Again, workout for time not distance.
6) Increase your turn over: Even in good weather on clear pavement many people run with a slow turnover of about 150-160 steps/minute. Increasing your stride rate to about 160-170 steps/minute means your foot will be on the ground for a shorter duration each step you take. This can help reduce repetitive strain injuries. Additionally, this helps you navigate icy and slippery footing better and avoid a fall by quickly shifting your weight to the other foot.
7) When all else fails, go to bed: If you are feeling tired and beat up from training get more rest. Sleep is your number one method of recovery from training exertion. Get more of it. Research shows that bad performance is improved with more sleep and good performance is further improved with more sleep. If you are not a good sleeper remember that sleep is a learned process so teach your body a pre-bedtime routine, turn off your electronics 90 minutes before going to bed, and read a dull book. For some, good sleep takes an effort to achieve.
Paula Burchat is a certified Sport Massage Therapist, SMT(C) and a Level 2 trained distance running coach. Paula operates a clinic in Ottawa at www.balanceandmotion.ca. Paula was a therapist with Athletics Canada and travelled internationally on 14 national teams. In April 2018, Paula will be a member of Canada’s medical team at the Commonwealth Games in Australia. In her clinic, she treats clients aged 10-90 years who are active at all levels. Before becoming Laurel’ mom, Paula was a competitive ultra marathoner winning races ranging from 50 miles to 100 miles. She is proud to have competed for Canada at the World 100km Ultramarathon Championships in 2007 and 2008. Paula is a past race committee, board and executive member of the Ottawa Race Weekend and she held several positions on the board and executive of the Canadian Sport Massage Therapists’ Association.