Early season storms have dusted the Missoula hills with snow.  As the snowline drifts toward the valley floor, the thought of running outdoors may be coupled with apprehension.  Cold temperatures, shortened daylight hours, slick running surfaces, and snow packed roads and trails send many Missoula runners to indoor treadmill running or a winter of hibernation.  Training through the winter is the key to successfully achieving your spring and summer training and racing goals.  Winter is a great time to focus on cross training in order to build strength and restore muscle balance and flexibility.  Although indoor treadmill running may be convenient, running outdoors is recommended. Treadmill running does not require the same muscle activation due to the treadmill belt moving beneath your feet.  Hip extension and hip stabilization dynamics are greatly altered which results in an imbalance in hip & knee flexor versus hip & knee extensor strength.

A few simple preventative steps, however, can transform winter into a running wonderland.  Addressing footwear, clothing, balance & agility, and cold stiff muscles will enable you to run safely instead of watching winter pass you by.

Winter Running Footwear:
To avoid embarrassing and potentially dangerous falls on muddy, icy, snowy roads and trails, proper running footwear is a must.  The experts and the Runners Edge carry many excellent winter traction shoes and removable traction devices.  MICROspikes, Yaktrax, or do-it-yourself traction screws have the same effect as studded snow tires on your vehicle.  Inov8 and Ice Bug both produce winter specific running shoes which I have found to be extremely effective in running safely on icy, snow packed trails and roads.  A good article comparing running shoe traction devices can be found at Irunfar.com (December 28, 2008) for more details on traction options.

Dressing for Winter Running:
Winter temperatures necessitate warm clothing.  Breathable layering is preferred so you can shed a layer while climbing or enjoying a brief moment of sunshine and easily add layers as the chill sets in.  Overheating is dangerous in the winter as the trip home can be a near hypothermic experience.  Don’t forget a thin shell to retain your body heat as temperatures fall.  Gloves and a hat are vital as your body is constantly attempting to maintain your core temperature at the expense of your ears, hands, and feet.  Fortunately, running tends to keep the feet fairly warm provided you have a good pair of breathable wool blend or polypropylene socks.  On very cold days, hand warmers are a nice touch if your hands freeze as mine often do.

Balance & Agility Training:
Running in the winter poses unique balance and agility challenges.  Shortening your stride length will allow you to maintain your center of gravity over your feet thereby reducing your risk of slipping.  Relaxing your body will enable you to react naturally to balance challenges.  Training your balance reaction skills and rapid weigh shifting through agility drills will give you the confidence you need for safe and fun winter running.

Preparing Muscles and Connective Tissue:
A comprehensive dynamic warm-up and cool down program is very important to increase muscle and connective tissue elasticity.  Research has shown that a dynamic warm-up program is more effective than static stretching in preparing the body for running.  Arm swings, hip hugs, butt kicks, lunges, toe jumps, and kick outs are great dynamic warm-up exercises and can are illustrated in the March, 2012 Runners Edge Newsletter.  Winter is also a great time to focus on deep tissue mobilization and massage to restore muscle tissue health and extensibility.

Take a look outside at the roads, hills, and trails surrounding Missoula.  Depending on the temperature and snow conditions, nearly all of your favorite summer running routes are accessible in the winter by following the above preventative steps.  Go ahead, give winter running a try and explore!

See our website (www.sapphirept.com) for our monthly specials and more on how physical therapy can effectively treat the underlying causes of your running injury.

John Fiore, PT