How to Ease Back Into Running This Spring Without Getting Injured

How to Ease Back Into Running This Spring Without Getting Injured

When spring sunshine and warmer temperatures begin to tempt us, the roads and trails beckon. After struggling mentally and physically to get our training in during the winter, conditions are now more conducive to longer kilometres and harder training. But if you rush into training too quickly, you may find yourself derailed by injury. And there’s nothing more frustrating than losing training time in picture-perfect weather.

When runners start to ramp back up from time off, they are more susceptible to injury than if they maintain a steadier volume of running. While short breaks are a necessity for both mental and physical recovery, long periods of time off and wild fluctuations in running kms can make you more prone to injury.

So what can you do if spring is right around the corner and you’re anxious to resume more serious training? If you have taken time off or significantly cut your kilometres during the winter months, the most important behaviour to practice in your training is patience. Building back slowly and consistently gives you the best opportunity to stay healthy and improve your fitness without significant setbacks.

Let’s look at some ways you can prepare now before spring officially arrives, and how you can stay healthy as your training intensifies.

How to get ready for spring running

It may sound simplistic, but when you’re ramping back up in training, it’s important to remember this bit of wisdom: Start where you’re at. You may have run a marathon three months ago, but if your training has lapsed since then, you won’t be able to handle the same volume of work as you did when you were in peak fitness.

If you have been running consistently for years, your fitness may come back more quickly than a newer runner. Regardless, take an honest look at what you have done in the past couple months, and start there.

  1. Rebuild the foundation: Start with a distance that is easy and comfortable for you. Try to pay attention to effort rather than pace. This is a great time to leave your GPS device at home — establish a consistent running routine rather than worrying about running faster or farther. At this point, consistency in training matters much more than volume.
  2. Strength train to improve resiliency: Since your initial kilometres will be lower than what you run in the peak of training, use the extra time to start lifting weights. If you lift weights at a gym, twice per week will typically be plenty. If you are doing shorter bodyweight routines for strength and mobility, these can be done on any day that you run.
  3. Build your kilometres gradually: While the adage is only to increase weekly kilometres by 10%, this may be either too conservative or even too aggressive depending on where you start from. If you have done very little running over the winter, you should keep your kilometres consistent for about two weeks before increasing. When you do increase your kilometres, add them incrementally to both your shorter runs and weekly long run as you work up to your normal weekly kilometres.
  4. Add variety to your training: Once you have started to reestablish a base of easy running, it’s time to add a little variety to your routine. While that can be done with pacing (more on that below), you can also vary the routes you run, the type of terrain, and flat vs. hilly courses.
  5. Introduce some faster running: It’s important to add variety to the pace of your runs. Make sure to keep your easy runs truly easy and conversational. Strides and short, unstructured fartleks can be a great reintroduction to faster-paced running. Fartleks can become more structured over time to help you transition to more advanced workouts.

How to prevent injuries when you start running again

If you have taken the time to maintain or reestablish a base of healthy, consistent running, you’re off to a great start. But the inviting spring weather can still tempt many of us into pushing longer and faster than our bodies are ready to handle.

Spring is a time when local races start popping up almost every weekend, and group runs with friends become more prevalent. While it’s always important to have fun with your running and seek out new adventures, you’ll still want to avoid being overzealous with your training.

To maintain good habits as you build your fitness, make sure to stick with some basic training principles:

“Sandwich” your runs

As mentioned above, strength training is an important part of staying healthy as a runner. Ideally, you should “sandwich” each of your runs with a short dynamic warmup pre-run, and finish with a focused strength or mobility routine afterwards. A five- to 10-minute warmup can prepare your body to run more efficiently from the moment you step out the door. Once you’re back home, a routine of 15 minutes that focuses on core or hip strength or can make you more durable as your runs get more intense.

Don’t dramatically increase training stress

As your training progresses, it’s important not to change too many variables all at once. While variety in pace and terrain for each of your runs is beneficial, changing variables like kilometres, training density, or intensity too quickly can lead to injury. Kilometres can typically increase more quickly than the “10% rule” until you hit your typical sweet spot. But beyond this, build your kilometres carefully. You may need several weeks at a consistent volume before you increase it beyond your comfort zone.

Similarly, don’t increase your hard efforts too quickly, both in terms of frequency (number of times per week) and how much time you spend running faster paces (minutes or kilometres). Starting with short fartlek workouts and modified tempo intervals can allow you to gradually increase your volume of harder running in a way that your body has time to adapt.

Set goals to help with consistency

Even in perfect weather, we all have times when motivation is lacking. Developing the discipline to get out the door can take time, but it ultimately becomes a habit with practice. But setting both short- and long-term goals can give you a focal point, especially when it’s early in the season and running doesn’t feel as easy or fun as it does once your fitness has improved.

With a little patience and planning, your late winter and spring training can set you up for a strong season of training and racing.

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