by Dr. Todd Shatynski
Last winter, I wrote an article with tips on how to tolerate (or even enjoy) and stay safe while running in cold weather. I write this article tonight contemplating my day in the office where I saw several runners preparing for a spring marathon. Obviously, things were not going well for them as they weren’t in my office for a social call! It puts on full display the perils of a key, “A” race to be held in the spring months while living in upstate New York. Aside from the perils of running outdoors with traffic, dark, slippery and narrow road conditions, and risks of exposure, the alternative can be just as daunting – beware the dreaded treadmill! (aka “dreadmill”)
In my opinion, the best way to spend the time in between Thanksgiving racing and spring racing is to incorporate some true OFF season. I like to call it “cheesecake season,” or “holiday cookie season,” or “eggnog season” – well, you get the point. Runners are notoriously conscious of what goes into their bodies so allowing this guard to come down for a finite amount of time while cutting way back on run training is actually quite healthy. Even the professional endurance athletes find benefit in taking time off where they allow themselves to gain a few pounds (gasp!) and enjoy the pleasures of the decadent life. The body is allowed to heal up those nagging little aches and pains, the fatigue of our overworked bodies can diminish, and our families can enjoy our company even more! Now, when I say, “take a break,” however, I do not mean that you should binge watch every series on Netflix while consuming nothing but beer and cheesecake. Stay active, get outside, take a hike, ski, lift weights, take some yoga – stay active but forget “training” for a little while.
Still, many runners are able to realize the dream of a large city marathon and that may require the “holiday cookie” season to be abbreviated or even eliminated all together. The Boston and Paris Marathons are both held in April and are greatly benefitted from maintaining the fitness you have gained through running all those summer and fall miles. In these cases, I recommend a two-week break between the holidays to rest up, recharge and then resume your training plans to lead up to the big event. This really can reduce the chances of burnout and injury when the training is most important.
If you continue your training and vary it up with some dreadmill miles, I recommend making a few adjustments. With the more reliable and resilient surface, the impact forces through the legs are lower on a treadmill. However, our gait has subtle differences from running outside. Our foot strikes differently and our stride varies less because of the constant pace and limited grade changes. These gait changes actually can increase the risk of overuse muscle, tendon, and soft tissue injuries. To combat this, I recommend always running at no less than a 1% grade (slight uphill) and varying the speed and hills to switch up your cadence, foot strike and stride pattern. I think treadmills make a nice venue to get some of your speedwork done once a week as the conditions are more controllable and thus hitting reliable goals is easier. I would keep the treadmill at once or twice a week at most.
If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to run Boston, Paris, or another spring marathon, I agree that it is often too good to pass up. However, if you do complete that coveted spring marathon race after finishing a full season of running, expect to feel a little more burn out than normal. Consider taking a prolonged break after the race – I suggest one day of rest per mile raced. You might even need to modify your “cheesecake season” into a “Cadbury egg season”!
Dr. Shatynski’s Archive
Dr. Shatynski, of the Bone and Joint Center, has extensive experience in a variety of sports, including football, hockey, and endurance sports. A graduate of Guilderland High School, he enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, as well as participating in running and triathlons. He has completed multiple marathons and Ironman distance triathlons, including Ironman Hawaii.