As the days grow shorter and the temperatures plummet, it’s often hard to find the motivation to keep up with a running program. With fewer races on the calendar over the winter months, runners often find themselves without the structure or drive provided by the training programs that led up to fall target races. However, with the right planning, schedule and mindset, winter can actually be the a great opportunity to reinforce progress made over previous months of diligent training, or even to start a running program with the goal of building up to a spring race.
The first and most obvious challenge presented by winter months are colder, inclement weather (hence less desire to get out of a warm and cozy bed in the dark early hours of the morning!) and shorter days (hence less hours of daylight for early morning or late evening runs). Running in the cold weather can be a welcome change from the hot, muggy days of summer, though. Remember complaining about the oppressive humidity at 6:00 in the morning? Not a problem during the winter months! The key to successful- and enjoyable- winter running is being prepared with the proper gear. Special attention should be paid to safety. Reflective gear is a must- options range from lightweight vests to armbands with flashing LED lights. It is also advisable to run with a head lamp when the roads are dimly lit and it is difficult to see obstacles underfoot. And it should go without saying, but when running in the dark of the early morning or evening, be aware of your surroundings and avoid using headphones or, if you must run with music, try keeping one earphone in and the other out so you can still hear. Better yet, there’s safety in numbers so find a friend or more to run with you- they’ll double as excellent motivation to get out the door even in the cold and dark.
Warm clothing can also make all of the difference between an enjoyable winter running experience and a miserable one. Layering is ideal, incorporating a base layer with wicking material and an outer shell that can break the wind, along with running tights or pants. Keep extremities warm with a good running hat or ear wrap and thermal running gloves. For an added level of warmth, put a pair of air-activated coal hand warmers into your gloves that can be removed once you get warmed up.
A second challenge following the conclusion of the fall racing season is a lack of specific goal. There are far fewer races on the local running calendar which for many means lack of focus and motivation to stick to running a certain number of miles or days of running per week. There are winter races, though, many of which are a fun change from the larger, longer distance, more competitive races during warmer months. Check the calendar at Washington Running Report for local races over the winter months. Consider signing up for a Jingle Bell jog (complete with bells on shoes for all runners!) or a New Year Resolution run to keep an edge and maintain some of the motivation of the prime racing season. These races tend to start later in the morning due to the colder temperatures- a welcome change from the early morning race preparation of summer and fall. Another fun and different option is an indoor triathlon- many gyms offer these “super-sprint” distance competitions over the winter months, which typically involve a short swim in a heated pool, ride on a stationary bike and run on the treadmill in the protected comfort of the indoors. These indoor triathlons provide a nice change of scenery to traditional road races.
Speaking of a change of scenery, many runners find themselves just plain bored or burned out after a long season of running and racing. Add this feeling of burnout to cold, dark days and few races on the calendar and you could have a recipe for undoing all of the hard work put into building endurance earlier in the season. Treat these factors not as obstacles but as opportunities to enhance hard-earned fitness with cross-training. Try out a new class at the gym, swim at an indoor (heated!) pool, hit the weights, or find another way to surprise your body and round out your fitness routine. Cross-training has numerous documented benefits, including reduced risk of injury and balanced muscle strength. Plus, cross-training is an excellent way to maintain and build your cardiovascular fitness. Some of our favorites include swimming, Spinning, Pilates, Crossfit and group strength training classes like Body Pump. Remember, though, to take on new classes at your own comfort level and ease into them to avoid injury.
In most places, winter brings colder weather, wind, snow and ice and shorter days. Instead of using these changes as excuses to let fitness hibernate, take the opportunity to enjoy different experiences- a run in the brisk pre-dawn hours under a clear, starry sky; a local Jingle Bell jog to the sound of hundreds of bells on running shoes or a new fitness class. Come springtime you’ll be refreshed and ready to begin training again…which brings us to our upcoming spring programs: sign up now to join us for our 10K training program through the JCC of Greater Washington or our Run Farther Faster beginner program through the City of Rockville. Getting or staying in shape for one of these programs can give some additional motivation to stay fit over the winter!