Dear Dr. Ron,
I’ve used my ice spikes here in Denver quite a few times this season, and they’ve really helped me keep my marathon training on track through the winter months. I’m curious about how running on snow and slick surfaces affects soreness. It has been my experience that after several days of doing my normal routine with spikes on snow & ice, I tend to have moderate pain and soreness localized almost exclusively to my lower legs. Of course, it’s common sense that running on slick surfaces is going to be harder than running on clear paths, but why are only my lower legs so sore? Does running on spikes increase the demands placed on certain muscle groups? Are there certain ways I can adjust my form to compensate? Is there anything in particular I should be watching out for to avoid injury as I train in the winter months?
Although it is difficult to know exactly what is happening from your description, one of the more likely causes may be DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). This may be due to increased use of ankle stabilizer muscles to stay upright in a more challenging environment or may be due to excessive muscle tension due to apprehension about remaining upright in a more challenging environment. Just as a seasoned marathoner (who runs mainly on flat / level surfaces) may have trouble switching instantly to long trail runs on uneven ground — or conversely a trail runner used to softer varying terrain may have trouble switching to harder / less varied asphalt surfaces — any change in training routine must be done slowly / gradually in order to lessen the risk overuse injury. Slow your pace and try to relax your legs / feet / toes as much as possible may reduce excessive unnecessary tension and help to prevent this issue for you. Respect the signals your body is sending — pain is there for a reason. Ignoring these signals only leads to injury and shortened running careers. You may need to slowly wean into running outside in winter and supplement with treadmill work inside or other cross training opportunities that stress other muscle groups. As I discussed in a previous newsletter, because of these increased demands, winter running should be enjoyed for what it is –relaxing “therapy” for our busy lives and maintaining base aerobic fitness while enjoying the wonderful ever changing winter landscape. Save the tempo runs / speedwork for the treadmill or the spring! Lastly, if this does not completely resolve with a few days of rest and activity modifications, please seek medical attention as this is also an area subject to stress fractures, tendonitis and other more serious issues that need to addressed expeditiously to prevent permanent injury.