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Battle-tested Winter Running Tips: How to Stay Injury Free on Your Winter Runs

I know, I know….at this point you're wondering "how many winter running injury prevention tips do we need?"

A lot. You need a lot.

Because after just a few short years of physical therapy practice, you cannot dissuade me. Because every winter, all I have to do is wait.

Injured runners start walking through my doors beginning of February all the way through end of March because the ice-monster got them: icy curbs, black ice, frozen potholes, etc.

(If you're lucky enough to NOT live somewhere neighboring the Great White North or somewhere resembling the frigid tundra, then count yourself fortunate that the ice-monster doesn't come looking for you and your running soul. However, you can still take these tips and tricks and share them with your running friends who do live in icy places. You might just save their upcoming race reasons.)

So with icy pavement and all things slick and frozen successfully personified as "the ice-monster", let's dive into how to "out-whitt" this terrifying beast that eats runners for mid-winter snacks.

1. Chose a route you know well.

This might sound simple but, be smart. Be safe.

If there is a particular loop or route you run that you know like the back of your hand, that one is probably going to be your best bet for those icy running days in less than preferred conditions. If you know one road or sidewalk as a ton of cracks or potholes, please, don't tempt fate. This is probably the number 1 reason I see ankle sprains in the clinic during the winter.

A runner thinks a pothole in the road is completely snowed-filled, but instead it's only partially filled with ice. Before she knows it, she's wiped out in the middle of the road with a twisted ankle.

So how do you avoid a similar fate?

If you find several roads or paths that are clear, use those to your advantage!

Do multiple out and backs on those various paths to add up your mileage. The best way to do this: find one central point with various running loops stemming from that one spot. A path that is only 3 miles out-and-back can quickly add up when you stack another 4 mile out-and-back on top of it.

The best part?

Because you're always coming back to the central spot, you can keep tacking on the miles as you feel comfortable or call it a day in case the weather gets really sideways.

2. When in doubt, chose snow.

If you're faced with the options of:

a) questionably cleared pavement but it looks potentially slick

b) questionable looking packed-down snow that is maybe frozen

c) fresh snow / still fluffy snow

…also choose snow. Even with spiked shoes or yaktracks. (Although, I will be honest, those different spikey shoe devices are life-savers! But...they don't make you superman.)

Here's why I vote snow every time:

You can generally count on snow to be more "grippy" than ice. You know what you're getting into stepping onto fresh powder. Stepping or running onto ice is the equivalent of driving with your eyes closed and singing "Jesus Take the Wheel".

Another thing, snow is softer for you to run on, meaning your feet (and legs) are going to enjoy landing on that much more than a very hard surface such as frozen pavement.

(By the way, did you catch my Winter Runner's Clinic and grab the Winter Running First Aid Manual that went along with it? I talk all about how landing on harder surfaces like ice is one of the contributing reasons to feet and ankle injuries being one of the most common winter running injuries).

The point is, impact from hard surfaces + the impact of running can really tear up our bodies. Be kind to your body.

On that side note, while running on snow is kinder in one regards, there's a trade-off.

It is a little bit more work.

It's similar to walking or running on a beach. You not only have to contend with the work that is running, but now you have to adapt and overcome a shifting surface underneath your feet. But have you ever noticed what happens after a week of beach walking/running? When you get back to your regular running routine, you're actually a heck of a lot stronger than before. Because you're body adapted to the new challenge. So like with anything new, when running on the snow go slow as you need to, and run by effort rather than pace.

Bonus tip: If you're worried about your feet getting wet because of snow, I hear you can use plastic bags (aka: put your feet inside the bag and then your shoe on your foot). Just be sure to wear moisture wicking socks. (If you do this on the regular, tell me in the comments below how this works out for you! I'm really curious.)

3. Avoid anything that looks shiny or wet.

If you only have one takeaway from this entire blog post, let it be this!!

Live by the rule of "if it looks like ice, assume it's ice."

And avoid it!

I can't tell you how many times this has saved me. Because black ice in Michigan is very real.

I also can't tell you how many runners have come into the clinic because they thought "oh just this one time it won't be slippy. It's not *that* icey. I'll be fine…."

2 weeks later, they're coming to see me for a bruised knee and twisted ankle.

Don't tempt the ice-monster.

4. Have fun.

Yes, I'm serious.

Despite all that gloom and doom I just dispensed, winter running is the opportunity to stop and breath; to ease off the gas and maybe take running a little less seriously.

It's our chance to just have fun and play.

To take in how beautiful everything is covered in snow and how quiet the world is except for the soft crunch of snow under our feet.

It can be our chance to take an adventure while the rest of the neighborhood is hunkered down in their snug, little houses.

All you have to do:

  • Take your safety seriously and use the right winter gear, paying attention to temperatures, how long you're running outside, etc.

  • Respect the weather and what Mother Nature is capable of, and you'll be just fine.

You might just find your new favorite running season if you give it a chance.

Till next time, running fit fam.

Run Strong and Dare to Train Differently,

Dr. Marie Whitt //

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