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4 tips for successful winter running

1. Don’t focus on pace: When you run on snowy and/or icy paths, your pace is going to be slower. The uneven footing and softer surface lead to a reduction in the energy storage- and-release mechanism that occurs on paved paths. We get less free energy on soft surfaces, which means our muscles having to work harder when we run. The same is true with uneven surfaces, which is why running on snow or sand is really hard. We have less free energy AND our foot moves more when it is planted, leading to our muscles having to work harder to stabilize us.

Tip: Focus on rate of perceived effort vs pace (this is good to do 100% of the time, but really important to do during winter running). You want your easy and long runs to be at a 4-5/10 effort and you should be able to maintain a full conversation without feeling breathless. So, stop looking at your watch and listen to your body.

2. Be ok with running on the treadmill (but also, don’t get attached to it): First, we need to get away from calling the treadmill a “dreadmill.” Treadmills are a FANTASTIC tool for Midwest runners to use to continue quality training over winter months. Slipping and sliding in slow and ice reinforces terrible running form (not to mention increases the risk of getting injured from a fall). If you are signed up for early year races, he treadmill is a great way to continue speed work and hill work during the winter months.

With that said, if you do 100% of your run over the winter on the treadmill, you will likely be miserable. Get outside and embrace the elements every once in a while. Another point is that spending 100% of your time on the treadmill during the winter can lead to injuries in the spring once you move to pavement running. The treadmill puts less load through the body, so spending months on the treadmill and then moving to a harder surface without an effective adjustment process increases the risk for spring injuries. Pavement running puts more total load on the body (this isn’t a bad thing, but we want our bodies to be ready for this). More forces = the body having to work harder and if it doesn’t have the strength to do that, then tissues break down too much and turn into an injury.

3. Be smart with clothing: Everyone who knows me right now is laughing because I am the queen of overdressing! So, this is something I am working on too. If you wear too many layers, you will sweat, the sweat will freeze, and then you will be cold and miserable. Wear too little, and you also will be cold and miserable.

Layers: I recommend wearing just enough layers so that you feel cold at the start of your run and then comfortable once you get going. Wear a wicking under layer and a jacket over that. Wearing a jacket with zippers that create holes in the jacket is nice so that you can allow more air movement once you get hot and then close them up when you get cold. This helps to reduce the chance of sweating. If you deal with snow and/or cold winds, wearing a jacket that is water and wind proof is ideal. If you are dealing with really nasty cold, then doing this same type of layer for your legs is helpful.

Regarding gloves: Wearing two layers of gloves is key. Wear a warmer liner glove and then an outer shell that is windproof and waterproof. That way if you get hot, you can take off the outer layer but still have something covering your hands.

4. Stay hydrated!!!: Just because you are cold doesn’t mean that your body suddenly doesn’t need water to create energy! Your muscles and organs NEED water. So, even if you don’t feel thirsty, keep drinking. Make sure that your hydration system stays warm to avoid the nozzles from freezing. Wearing a vest with bottles or a bladder under a jacket works really well so that everything stays warm!

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