Injury Prevention for Winter Weather Training

Training for any marathon is a challenge. Training for a spring marathon in a cold climate takes it up a notch. While you need to follow your training program and get a solid routine in place so that your body can gradually adapt to increases in mileage, you also need to be prepared for the inevitable-nasty winter weather. While lost training days due to inclement weather can hamper your outcome on race day, overworking when conditions are less than optimal can lead to repetitive strain injuries.

Here are five tips for winter training to get you to the starting line healthy and ready to have a great race day in the spring:

1) There are no bad weather conditions just bad clothing
Missing training days because it’s too cold or sloppy out are not good reasons to avoid training. Get properly outfitted for the weather so that you are comfortable and can deal with the varied conditions. Dress in layers with a good jacket that has zippers and Velcro vents. Open and close them as needed to retain heat or release it. On long runs carry a light balaclava or toque and mitts to change part way through the run if you are wet.

2) Run for Time
When road conditions and temperatures are challenging, run for time not distance. If you normally run an average 6:00min/km pace for long runs, multiply that by your distance and that is your running time for the day (e.g. 20k x 6min = 120 minutes of running). Trying to run your whole distance in bad footing can lead to increased fatigue and bad running form from overuse of muscles. So run for time and forget about what the GPS says.

3) 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.

4) Increase Turnover
Even in good weather many people run with a relatively slow turnover of about 150-160 steps per minute. Increasing your stride rate to about 180 steps per minute means your foot will land more closely underneath your body and spend less time in contact with the ground, reducing overstriding. This can reduce repetitive strain injuries in any weather, but in the winter quickly shifting your weight from foot to foot will also help you better navigate slippery footing and avoid falls.

5) When all else fails, go to bed
Sleep is your number one method of recovery from the exertion of training. So 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 find a pre-bedtime routine that works for you. That could mean turning off electronics two hours before going to bed or reading a dull book. For some, good sleep takes effort, but the payoff- like with any good training program -is well worth it!

Paula Burchat is a Registered Massage Therapist and Certified Sports Massage Therapist at Balance and Motion Massage Therapy in Ottawa. Paula works with athletes of all levels, from recreational to elite runners. Paula is also an avid runner and has completed over 30 ultra-marathons including competing for Canada at the World Championships for 100k in 2007 and 2008. She won the Canadian 100K Championships in 2003 and Haliburton 100 Miler in 2006. She is also a Level 2 trained distance running coach.