The Physiotherapist’s Guide to Pain-Free Winter Running

To many Torontonians the idea of running outdoors through the winter seems crazy. With -25 degree temps and -40 degree wind chill, a cozy warm gym tends to be the activity of choice. But, for those of us who like to be prepared for the spring race season, we need to get the miles in to build up a foundation of fitness. And all those miles on a treadmill is worse than -40 wind-chill!

So how do you comfortably run outdoors through the winter? A few tips and a little preparation and you can be out enjoying our Toronto winters without risking injury.

Manage cold weather with layers.

There is a reason you never see anyone running in a parka! Being warm when you run is all about managing moisture (sweat). A proper base layer that wicks moisture away from your skin is essential. It should be followed by a mid-layer that has some insulating qualities and is not made of cotton. And lastly an outer-layer that is resistant to wind and moisture. Most of us skip the mid layer on the bottom half. You will not be as cold as you think – you will be running after all. Don’t forget some thin moisture wicking gloves and hat as well as quality running socks to keep those digits from freezing. Yes you will have more laundry…but it is a small price to pay for a winter of great running!

Prevent Slip and Falls with shorter strides

Toronto winters come with ice and snow and we all know that you cannot count on sidewalks or even roads to be cleared in a timely fashion. This means you will be running on uneven and sometimes slippery ground. To avoid falls that can result in significant injuries shorten your stride up to about 2/3 of your normal running stride. This allows you to keep your centre of gravity well within your base of support at all times and greatly reduces the likelihood of a fall. At first you will feel like you are taking quick baby steps but in no time, you will adjust and find your groove.

Get a grip!

On those snowy days make sure you have the traction you need. There are lots of products that you can use to supplement the soles of your runners. We personally use a set of pull-on winter studs that stretch over the sole of our runners and help bite into the ice and snow.

Reflect on your clothing choices

Winter has shorter days which means that many of us have to run when it is dark out. Dark colours are very hard for motorists to see and can end in disaster. Make sure drivers can see you with reflective outerwear and/or LED lights.

Bring a friend

If you love running enough to train through a Toronto winter, there is a large community of runners who share your passion for pain. Connect with a running group and find people to train with. Especially if you will be running in remote areas or on trails where a fall could leave you injured and in need of help. Your friends will make training more fun as you commiserate over the weather. It also helps drag you out of bed when you have to go and meet your training partner.

Cross train for performance and injury prevention

This is a great time of year to work in some resistance training, pool training or flexibility work. A quick visit to your runner/physiotherapist can help find areas that you need to improve upon to avoid injury. These supplements to your regular running will pay dividends in the spring and can be done in the cozy warmth of the gym or your home.

Don’t be a hero

You will not be setting any personal records in winter conditions so don’t try to…..period. This is the time of year to get a good volume of miles in so that when the northern hemisphere tilts toward the sun, you’ll be ready to push yourself without risking injury.

Follow these tips and you can run safely and comfortably even in the harsh Toronto winter. If you commit to it for just 3 weeks we’ll bet that you’ll love it. Join the many runners that look forward to winter once they have the routine down. So hit the road Toronto. See you out there!