It’s that time of year again—when cold temperatures, icy trails and blowing snow make it a heck of lot more difficult to get out in the wild the way you normally do most of the year.
It’s important to get out the door, and the best way to do this is to make sure you’re going to be comfortable and efficient when the mercury starts to drop. But what you do when you get out? This is often left up in the air.
What training you do is going to depend on your individual race schedule, location, and goals for the new year, but in much of the U.S. snow, ice and cold weather can relegate you to the treadmill. In general, a lot of us are going to use a spring race to knock off the rust and kick ourselves back into serious training, have a summer race schedule that will take everything we have to make it through healthy and uninjured, and finish off with either another big fall race or a fun local fall race series before packing it in for the winter season.
And that’s exactly what you should do. But here are a few things to change this winter to optimize your winter activities so that you can have fun and be better prepared when you realize there are only two weeks until your first race of the year. Winter training should be a break from your typical regimen of tempo runs, intervals and long runs that rejuvenates your spirit and motivation when spring rolls around. Just don’t sit on the couch all winter.
The stronger you are going into spring, the longer you’ll be able to reap the injury-reducing benefits of the strength training as the summer progresses.
Reducing your intensity during running workouts will allow you to focus more on functional strength, reactivating long lost stabilizing muscles and redistributing strength to muscles that generally don’t get a lot of attention while running. You don’t have to go to a gym—there are plenty of exercises and body-weight workouts you can do at home—but good trainer can help you with lifting form and to dial in a workout that will be helpful to a runner in the offseason. And if you go to a gym, you can focus on heavy squats, deadlifts, one-legged stability exercises and mobility exercises.
We’ve all been told to cross-train during the winter, but be smarter with your cross-training by focusing on activities that will strengthen peripheral running muscles and have similar movement patterns. Along with lifting specifically for running, finding an aerobic activity that takes stress off your joints but has similar movement patterns will help you get back into running faster when the time comes. Find an Eliptigo to ride, go for a mountainous hike or snowshoe, burn some calories cross-country skiing, or get into the hot new sport of Skimo. All of these mimic running but with significantly reduced stress on joints. That’s key to winter cross-training—getting fit without getting hurt or wearing down.
If you are going to be running, look forward to what your goals are for the rest of the year and focus on running activities that will help you reach those. It may be adding in some hills by cranking up the treadmill or long slow runs in the hills that you might not normally feel like doing when in full on training mode later in the year. Focus on aerobic workouts (long slow runs to threshold effort progression runs) to develop a strong aerobic system that will carry you through a race season where many of your workouts are focused on anaerobic capacity.
Winter downtime is a great time to work on correcting that running form that keeps throwing you out of whack by the end of the summer. Find a good physical therapist, practice corrective exercises, or teach yourself about your body and become a student of running lifestyle. Take some time out of your daily running to focus on restoring balance to your body. Find a few drills that work on correcting running mechanics that you can do every day before and after your runs. After a month or so they should become habit.
The holiday season can be busy and overwhelming but it can also be a time that you can use to build a healthier running body for the months of training ahead. Use this time to take a mental break and do something different that will also benefit your running later in the year. Take your mind off running for a while and move your body in different ways. Find your weaknesses but work on your strengths, and always keep an eye toward your future goals. In August, your body will thank you—trust me!