Spring in your step

Running with spring in your step

February 23, 2021

- 5 minute read -

You Don't Run During Winter and That's OK

There have been many times in my career as a coach that people have apologetically confessed to me that they just can't get into running in the winter. I'm here to tell you that that is OK. Fair warning though, that if you are open to considering winter running I will overcome all of the technical objections and the next thing you know you'll be out there with frosted eyebrows. But just as you may not be interested in dancing salsa, it's also OK to not be interested in winter running.

It's late February now and the days are longer, temperatures warmer and we know spring will soon bring the start to running season for the masses. This post is aimed at those who have not been running but look forward to lacing them up this spring. Human behaviour being what it is, a warm spring day for some will erase all rational thought and send some runners out to prove science wrong. They ran 5k last September and, though they haven't run since, they will do it today. Running however, is not like driving. You do not pass a test once and have a license to drive at any time for the rest of your life.

Soon after I founded the Ottawa Running Club I changed the name of my introductory run program from the ubiquitous 'Learn to Run' to 'Start Smart'. The former title really carries with it an inference that you only do it once. Why would I do a 'LEARN to Run' when I already KNOW how to run? On the other hand, if I haven't been running for eight months, I'm open to following the science and to 'Start Smart'.

How much outdoor running you can do after a winter layoff depends on what activities you've been doing for the last few months. I'll start with a point of caution for treadmill runners. Yes, you've been running but it's been on a cushy deck with a motorized surface flying by beneath you. Don't go from 5k on a treadmill directly to 5k on the road. It's not the same.

There are ways to get a bit of a head start and build some injury resilience without running. In my Athletic Strength classes, I ensure there are options for our members to do a little high impact work, usually two or three 30 second intervals per class. Skipping without a rope is one of my favourites - quick, low amplitude jumping sends a great adaptive signal through our soft tissue and skeletal system. New members start with some 5 second intervals then slowly build to the 30 seconds non-stop. Another key movement is the classic A's, B's, and C's. One advantage of that option is that the leg movement also mimics running. In fact, that series was developed a century ago as indoor winter training for runners.

If you have been including some impact activities in your non-running winter then you definitely have a head start but you still need to take at least a couple weeks of caution as you get started. Do considerably less than you THINK you can do on the first run and see how you feel the next day. For example, consider 2k worth of one minute walk/jog intervals as a little initial test to see how the body feels. After that, increase your load slowly. The last thing we want is to have a run season of one run then be nursing an injury for weeks or months after. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being extra cautious on those first runs.

If your winter has not featured any impact movement patterns then it's important to start very conservatively. I'll save plenty of writing and simple share with you the Start Smart plan from the Ottawa Running Club. Before starting, my recommendation is to get some walking in if you haven't already. A couple half hour walks a week will really help you to prepare for when some slow running is added. The plan, like many, is listed over 10 weeks. Ignore that fact. If any given week feels a bit hard, then repeat that distance again the following week. I never completed a Start Smart program in 10 weeks...NEVER! Usually it was more in the 13 week range. Also, try to run as slowly as you can. Opt for a shuffling stride if you can adopt it. This eases the overall load on the body.

One final, very important point. Runners seem to think that anything shorter than 5k is not a run - you do 5k or nothing. That is ridiculous. If you get up to the point where you are doing 2-3k of walk jog intervals and you enjoy that and don't feel the need to go longer then don't! If you only have time for a 2k run then do it! Short runs are hugely beneficial to you AND they are exponentially better than no runs.

Posted by Geordie McConnell, Head Coach

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