With the ice and snow melting and our favorite running routes becoming visible again, it’s time to start thinking about making the transition from winter running (or cross training) to spring running!
Soon, as the weather gets nicer, people will leave their treadmills behind and return to the roads. Those who took the winter off from running, or maybe who have never run before, will feel the urge to get started when the temperatures rise and it actually becomes enjoyable to be outside. High school and college track athletes will be back at it, some after competing in a winter track season, and others after a lay off from running.
Spring running is around the corner, here are a few things that you can do to help make the transition smooth and injury free.
Treadmill versus Road
Running on the road is a little more challenging than running on a treadmill. On a treadmill, the belt moves, taking some of the stress off of the leg muscles. Running outside requires the body to adapt to different terrain which requires more energy. Adding in the wind resistance factor of outdoor running can increase the workload between 2 – 10%. These factors combined require more oxygen consumption from your body. It will be more difficult to run the same pace outside that you have been running on a treadmill. Slow down! Don’t worry about your pace for the first few weeks. Let your body adapt to the increased demands you are placing on it.
When we run (or exercise in general), our body breaks down a little, then it repairs itself. This is how we build muscular strength and increase bone density. If breakdown exceeds repair, that’s when injury occurs. Treadmills “give” a little when running on them, which helps the body to absorb shock. The roads and sidewalks don’t give. The shock absorbed by the body will be greater than it is on a treadmill. We need time to let our bodies adapt to the stresses. If you are used to running 5 miles on a treadmill, that 5 mile run is going to be a lot more stressful (potentially harmful) to your body running outside. Decrease your distances! Let your body slowly build up bone, muscle, and tendon strength. Allow appropriate rest time between runs so your body can repair. Run every other day, or even every two days if you haven’t been running much over the winter.
To see what your shoes have in common with Peeps, three key exercises to prevent injury, and tips on hydration, click here.
Strengthen your Legs
We know that running outside is more stressful on the body, so strengthening the muscles of the legs will help them to absorb shock and ultimately prevent injury. One of the most common conditions I see when the weather turns nice is shin splints. Strong calf muscles can help absorb some of the shock that would otherwise go straight to the shin bone (tibia). Perform single leg heel raises a few times per week. Start with 10 repetitions on each leg and progress to 30 over time.
Body weight squats are one of the most efficient exercises that you can do to work on lower extremity strength and flexibility. Running alone is not enough to work the leg muscles appropriately. A simple body weight squat will engage the glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back and core muscles in a different way than running does. Training muscles in different ways will help to prevent overuse injuries. Stronger leg muscles also means better shock absorption which can help take some stress off of the knee and hip joints.
One of the most overlooked and simple exercises to perform is single leg balance. With each step during running, there is a brief period where the weight of the body is supported on a single limb. If you are unsteady while standing on a single leg, the rest of your body will have to compensate to keep you balanced. These compensations, over many steps (2,000 steps per mile) can contribute to injury of the lower extremity from the foot (plantar fasciitis) to the knee (runner’s knee), all the way up to the hip (piriformis syndrome, bursitis) and lower back. Get strong on a single leg! When single leg balance becomes easy, close your eyes. When you can do that, bend your knee a little. Keep progressing and making it harder to get the continued benefits of single leg training.
As temperatures rise, so does sweat rate. Even an increase in 5 degrees can significantly increase our fluid needs. Our body is made up of mostly water and fluid loss through sweat can affect mental and physical performance. If you aren’t hydrating properly before, during, and after your run, the effects of dehydration can creep up on you. You might feel sluggish or dizzy during your run. Maybe it catches up with you later in the day as you experience a headache that you think is due to tiredness or lack of caffeine. How about cramps at night? Foot and calf cramps are most common, but cramping can affect any of the leg muscles. This is especially painful and annoying when it wakes you up out of sleep at night!
Avoid the negative effects of dehydration by hydrating properly. Proper hydration is an all-day thing, not just a while you’re running thing. Make sure you are drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially in the days leading up to a longer run or if the weather is going to be extra hot. Replacing the electrolytes lost through sweat will help to maintain normal muscle function and might prevent cramps. Keep a water bottle with you at work and drink throughout the day, not just right before you run. Drop an electrolyte tab (Nuun) or powder (Skratch) into your water if you’ve had a hard run or are a heavy sweater, or you are just looking to make your water a little more interesting! Carry water with you on your runs, or plan to stash water somewhere along your route, especially for runs over an hour in length.
How old are your shoes? Don’t let the treadmill trick you!
Over time, the foam that provides cushioning in shoes breaks down. As the cushion breaks down, the shoe does not absorb shock as well as it once did. The body takes over in that shock absorption, which doesn’t feel good!
Running on a treadmill does not wear away too much of the tread on a shoe, however, that does not mean that you are not breaking down the cushioning! While your shoes might look brand new because you have been running inside all winter, don’t forget that the shoe is still providing cushion to your body coming down on it while you run. The wear of the outsole doesn’t matter as much for shoe health as the condition of the mid-sole. Take a look at the foam of your shoe. Is it wrinkled? That’s a sign that the cushioning is breaking down.
It’s a good idea to track how many miles you run in your shoes. Most shoes have a life of about 300 – 500 miles. If you are nearing this number, it’s better to replace your shoes before you start feeling aches and pains.
Another helpful tip is that like marshmallows (Peeps!), shoes have a shelf life! Those shoes that have been sitting in your closet since last year but haven’t gotten much use are actually a little more broken down than you think they are. Despite wear, the cushioning will break down with time. You might still have some life left in those shoes from last year, but not as much as you might think. If the shoes don’t feel good when you run in them, it’s time for new ones!
We will all be excited when the snow is gone and we can get out there and run in the sun and mild temperatures. Take some time now to start preparing for it. Spend just a few minutes a day performing simple exercises. Be a little more aware of what you are drinking throughout the day. Realize that you might need to start slower and shorter than what you are used to on the treadmill. Finally, replace those shoes before you get injured, instead of after! Happy Spring, happy running!