Even if the temperatures are still cold, the start of March is an exciting time for runners. The promise of spring lures runners outdoors, away from the treadmill. The anticipation of spring races shifts our mindset from just surviving winter running to training hard with long runs and workouts.
All the excitement to get outdoors and run all of the miles in spring comes with an injury risk, however. The transition between winter training – low mileage, often on the treadmill – and spring training – outdoors, with harder workouts and long runs – can increase injury risk, which is the last thing you want as soon as it’s nice outside. You can take some smart steps in your training to injury-proof your spring running.
Assess Your Winter Training
Your current fitness determines your training – not where you want to be or where you were a couple years ago.
If your marathon plan begins at 35 miles per week, don’t just jump straight into 35-mile weeks if you have been running 10-15 miles per week for all of winter. You don’t have to follow the 10% rule (see below), but you also don’t want to risk injury from a 175% increase in mileage in just one week. Likewise, if you only did easy runs in winter, don’t jump into a long tempo run or 800m repeats for your first workout.
What you ran in the winter months determines the first few weeks of your spring training. If you maintained a solid mileage base with a few workouts, you can transition easily into race training. If you opted for more cross-training in winter, spend a few weeks transitioning between winter maintenance and race training.
Make a Careful Treadmill to Road Transition
The treadmill provides a softer and more consistent surface than outdoor running. The higher impact forces of pavement and extra demands of tendons and muscles of uphill and downhill running do make outdoor running harder on the body after months of treadmill training. Some runners make the transition without any issue, but injury-prone runners may need to take extra caution.
Try these steps to transition from the treadmill to outdoor running without getting injured:
- Gradually transition your training outdoors. Begin with taking one or two of your shorter runs outside. If that feels good, take another run or two outside the next week, and so on, until you are running outdoors for every run.
- Take care to foam roll and stretch after each outdoor run.
- Do not compare your paces. The biomechanics of the treadmill and overground running are different. Some people run faster on the treadmill, others faster outdoors, and still others the same regardless. Focus on your effort, not your pace.
- Utilize trails to minimize the impact as you transition. Dirt and grass trails have all the benefits of outdoor running (including fresh air!) with less impact than pavement or concrete. These trail running tips for road runners are helpful if trail running is new to you!
Increasing Mileage Safely
If you are building back to previous mileage, you can ramp up at a quicker rate than if you were building to a new training load. You can safely increase at a rate of 20-25% per week until you reach your previous mileage. For example, if you normally run 40-mile weeks but cut back to 25 miles per week for winter, try increasing at a rate of 25 miles-30 miles-35 miles-40 miles. Another approach is to add one mile onto each run (4-6 miles total per week) until you reach your mileage goal.
If you are building mileage to a new level, you can take one of two approaches. One is the 10% rule, in which you increase your mileage every week. The other approach is the build-adapt rule. You increase your mileage about 15-20% for one week and then repeat that same number for another week to allow your body time to adapt before adding more load. For more on how to safely increase weekly mileage, read this blog post.
Gradually Reintroduce Speed
The trap of doing too much too soon is one of the most common causes of injury- especially when it comes to speedwork.
Just as you gradually build up mileage and the duration of your long run, so will you gradually build up the intensity of your workouts. Start with shorter amounts of work at a comfortably hard effort early on in the season. This will reduce injury risk and avoid overtraining – and prepare you for hard workouts closer to your race.
While the track is a softer surface than the roads, the responsive surface can encourage runners to run too fast for early in the season. If you do run on the track, be mindful of controlling your intensity. Otherwise, opt for effort-based intervals on the roads or a smooth dirt trail.
Hill repeats are a great option for transitioning into speedwork. The impact of running uphill is lower than on flat ground and uphill running encourages good form (such as no overstriding). Try one of these hill workouts for runners.
Include Injury Prevention Exercises
A strong body is resilient to injury. Even if you do everything right when it comes to training, you can still get injured if you have muscular imbalances or poor form. Strength training reduces muscular imbalances, strengthens the core, and makes your muscles more resistant to the impact of running.
Many muscular imbalances come from weak or misfiring glutes. If your glutes aren’t doing their share of the work, your quads, hip flexors, hamstring, or calves will take on more work than they are supposed to. Weak glutes also contribute to IT band syndrome, since your glute medius cannot control hip adduction. The flat, repetitive surface of the treadmill can encourage inactive glutes if you are not diligent about strength training and activation.
When you add in the extra demands of wind resistance, the muscular strength required for uphill running and the eccentric forces of downhill running, outdoor running requires strength to stay injury-free.
Try one of these strength workouts to prevent injury:
Hip, Core, and Glute Resistance Band Workout
Six Injury Prevention Workouts for Runners
Lateral Strength Exercises to Improve Running
Resistance Band Exercises (from Runner’s World)
Mini Band Glute Exercises (from Happy Fit Mama)
Hire a Coach
A good coach will take into account your fitness background, your recent training, injury risk, and goals to develop a plan to safely – and successfully – prepare you for a spring race. A coach removes the guesswork from training, provides support, and makes adjustments to your training before you might even realize you need them.
To celebrate the start of spring training, I’m offering 33% off the first month of coaching to all new athletes who sign up between now and March 8! Email me at [email protected] or fill out the contact form on the coaching page to get started.
Linking up with Coaches’ Corner!
What’s your favorite part about spring running?
What makes a difference for you in preventing injury?