Matt Long outlines five things you should know about hitting the indoor circuit

It provides a psychological boost

One athlete who had a serious crack at indoor running last year is Irish international steeplechaser Sara Treacy, who sports the vests of both Birchfield Harriers and Dunboyne.

The Beijing World Championships representative beat Emelia Gorecka over 3000m at the British Indoor Championships last year (above).

“I love doing indoors,” Treacy says. “Psychologically it picks me up in the middle of a wet winter with something else to aim for and I love how there is no form book as it’s so early in the year.”

It’s a break from the grind

Some athletes find they are prone to getting injured in early spring after doing a lot of wet, long cross-country. For them, indoor running is a perfect alternative.

“I used to find it hard to get back into track come summer and my style wasn’t as good after doing eight months or so of cross,” Treacy explains. “Now I prefer to start changing over to road and track a bit earlier. If I can run a good time indoors with a few races off winter training it gives me confidence for the summer.”

You should be aware of biomechanical challenges

On an indoor track, the radius of the circle is effectively reduced by half, which means that for every stride forward there is a greater need to travel laterally to navigate around the bend. Studies have shown that athletes lean into a curve to offset the torque created by centripetal force acting on their base of support. As the curve is more pronounced on an indoor track, the torque created is greater as the rotation increases. This leads to more pressure being put on the subtalar joint, which is located just below the ankle.

There’s a risk of injury

Some athletes’ muscle imbalances are a result of the biomechanical challenges outlined above and cause of inversions (turning the sole of the foot inwards) and eversions (turning the sole of the foot outwards). To a certain extent, these risks can be offset by strengthening work utilising a mini-trampoline, wobbleboard or by picking up grounded marbles with the toes on one’s feet.

“I find the tight bends and banks can cause more muscle problems and soreness as you are weight-bearing on one side to a greater extent than on the track outdoors,” says Treacy. “Another thing to be aware of is, often you haven’t done much track work, especially in spikes when you step on the indoor track, so calves can get quite tight. If possible I like to get physiotherapy and massage to make sure I don’t develop anything which will stop me training further down the line.”

You’ll need to change tactics

In terms of preparing yourself for the tactical demands of indoor racing, fartlek running may help. It helps to simulate the relatively erratic variations in pacing and, when performed off-road on trails or grass, the irregularity of the terrain helps with the kind of ankle strengthening that is needed for indoor running.

“Indoors you need to get in a good position from the start or if not, stay out of trouble and move up in time not to miss the breaks,” says Treacy. “It can be hard to get past people with the frequent, tight bends but that can be used to your advantage too. There is a lot more more pushing and shoving; most people experience a clip or a shove at some point. You often have to accelerate more quickly to get through a gap or make that pass before the bend. But that makes it exciting.”

» Matt Long is editor of BMC News and a UKA coach education tutor