Winter is an important time for most runners—it's when fitness is built for the spring racing season. Months of long runs, workouts, and consistent mileage pay off when you line up for your goal race in April or May.
But training through the winter months has its drawbacks: sub-freezing temperatures, frigid wind and the onslaught of frozen rain, sleet, snow and ice. How are you able to train enough through these conditions to have a good spring season?
Thankfully, there are several strategies you can use to make sure your winter base training has you prepared, ready for your goal race, and injury-free.
There Is No Such Thing as Bad Weather
The great explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes once said, "There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing." This simple quote has profound wisdom for runners who need to train through the worst winter months: dress appropriately.
Invest in clothing that will keep you warm, block the wind, and protect you from getting wet. There's no excuse for not having a high quality pair of tights or running pants, windproof jacket (and briefs if you're a guy), a pair of gloves and a hat made specifically for runners.
If the first person to visit the North and South Poles and to cross Antarctica on foot says there's no such thing as bad weather, you have to take his advice seriously.
Effort and Time Counts
When you go outside and there's snow or gusting wind, you may find you simply can't run as fast as you normally do. And there's nothing wrong with that. You can always adjust how far you run because of the conditions.
More: How Far Should You Run?
In poor conditions, instead of focusing on pace and miles, it's helpful to change your focus to effort and time. If you normally run 5 miles at 9:00 per mile but there's a blizzard outside, run 45 minutes at the same effort. Your body won't know the difference and you'll still gain the same amount of fitness.
This strategy will help adjust your expectations for what's possible during the winter. Plus, it will help you prevent injuries by not running too fast on slippery surfaces like snow or ice.
Boring Is Good
Winter training requires a different mindset than that of the summer months. You can't run as many trails, the options for where you can run are limited, and the conditions aren't nearly as fun.
But it's still possible to get in great training during winter. Find any section of road or sidewalk that's clear of snow and stick to that route. It might be boring, but it's worth running several laps of a clear road than risking a fall on a slippery surface.
Many high schools and universities have large campuses and a network of parking lots that are often clear before neighborhood roads. After a snowstorm, use these places to run or complete a workout when it would be impossible to do so anywhere else. It's boring, but it works.
When I ran a heavy training cycle through a tough Boston winter, there was a loop of clear roads near my house that was only about 2 miles around. But I was able to complete long runs, tempo workouts and even fartlek runs without compromising my training schedule.
Winter training can be difficult, but staying mentally tough through the cold, wet, dark months is worth it. Make sure you get the right clothing, focus on effort rather than specific splits, and stick to well-plowed roads and sidewalks to avoid ice and snow.
After months of smart training decisions, you'll reap the rewards when spring arrives and you run a new personal best.race.