Snow, slush, ice, cold, wind, dark days, frozen ruts, wet feet, cold fingers, layers of clothing, navigating ill-placed piles of plowed snow, late sunrises and early sunsets. Imagery like this is enough to keep even the toughest runners on the couch! Are there a few rare and hardy souls who seem to get out there in all sorts of ridiculous conditions on a daily basis? Yes (and we hate them). So what can mere mortals like us do to stay consistent and keep the mileage coming? Here are a few tips that help me when old man winter does his worst.
- Set Goals – Registering for a spring/summer race or marathon is sometimes enough to get you moving out the door when the going gets tough! Want to really turn up the heat on your winter training? Register for an event in another state! The extra cost and planning involved will provide even MORE accountability and motivation to put in the miles no matter what the conditions. Not your cup of tea? How about a weight loss goal? You can’t lose that spare tire unless you burn calories and the average person will burn around 500 calories in 30 minutes of running or biking!
- Join a Running Club – You know why they tie mountain climbers together, right? To keep the sane ones from going home! Earlier this winter my friend Al and I became members of the Ann Arbor Track Club. Every Tuesday we head out to the University of Michigan Indoor track to subject ourselves to a simultaneously grueling, satisfying and beneficial workout. Knowing this workout is on the calendar every week is great motivation to get off the couch, kick off those house slippers and get in a workout the other six days of the week. Plus, we started a tradition of heading out to a local restaurant afterward to eat our weight in pasta and talk about life. Bonus!
- Hit the Gym – Purists may scoff at this one, but yesterday I got in a great Tempo workout on a treadmill at my local gym while road crews and my neighbors were plowing and shoveling my favorite running routes. Bring your mp3 player or plug your ear buds into the treadmill mounted TV and away you go! You might want to bring a towel or two to mop up the sweat you generate in the warm conditions. By the way, if all you need is a 24 hour break from the roads, most gyms will let you take a “test drive” for free or simply have a friend take you to their gym as a guest!
- Cross Train – Instead of chancing a fall or muscle/joint abuse in less than tolerable conditions, throw your bike on a trainer and put in some pedal time! Let’s say you’ve got an easy five-mile run scheduled, but mother nature has turned your town into a North Pole snow globe. Spend the same amount of time you would’ve been running and put that into a good spin. There are countless DVD’s (Spinervals, Epicplanet.tv) that can help get you through an hour or more. You’ll get a great cardio workout and save some stress on your legs and feet.
- New Shoes! – “Hey, I put some new shoes on and suddenly everything’s right”. Scottish songwriter Paolo Nutini was on to something with his hit song New Shoes. Sometimes just the act of lacing up a new pair is all it takes to inspire you to greater feats. Conditions particularly slushy in your area? Try a pair of trail shoes. Even if you don’t lay out the dough for shoes at least get a pair of wool socks, a reflective vest or a sweet new hat. Now you’re motivated AND you’ve helped support local business. Hey, just the act of heading up to your local running shop can be worth it. Rub elbows with fellow runners, browse spring race apps, flip through a few magazines or drool over the latest gear. Won’t cost you a dime!
- Screw Shoes (not to be confused with “New Shoes”) – Looking for a cheap way to improve your footing on slick roads? Do you have a decent pair of used running shoes lying around? Excellent. Check out this article on Screw Shoes.
- Take the Day Off – Yeah, I said it. When I was younger, sometimes my dad would tell me “Son, sometimes you have to live to fight another day”. Face it, if we all got five miles of credit for every off day we took we’d probably all PR this summer. I know, putting up a zero isn’t cool in running circles, but the following principle is still true: “When we exercise we destroy. When we rest, we rebuild.” If all else fails, just kick back and enjoy the day. Then go get ’em tomorrow!
- Hit the Trails – Think about it. During the winter months, the best roads, sidewalks and paths are reduced to nothing but icy, rutted trails of death. Why not embrace it and seek out some new territory? There are miles of trails near where I live with varying degrees of winter upkeep and difficulty. This is probably not a tip you’d want to choose if you’re relatively new to running, but if you do it comes with perks. Trail runners are some of the strongest around, not to mention the scenery is usually awesome. If there’s enough snow you can even get yourself a dandy pair of snow shoes (see #5).
- Join Dailymile.com – No, they aren’t paying me to say this. Dailymile.com is a social training log for runners, triathletes and cyclists. It’s a great way to share your runs, rides, swimming workouts and more. Sometimes all you need is to wake up in the morning and read that your “friend” in Alaska did a ten miler in sub-zero temps (who DOES that, really?) and, suddenly, a four miler in your local weather doesn’t sound so bad! Looking for even more motivation? Great! Join one of the many challenges created by Dailymile members. Try this one, for instance: No More Winter Slacking 2011.
- Get (just a little) Crazy – It was Waylon Jennings who once said “I may be crazy, but it keeps me from going insane.” I’ve been called “crazy”, “bonkers”, “round the bend”, “nutty as a fruitcake” and “mad as a hatter” over the years upon recounting a recent winter workout to my more sedentary friends. Well, as they say, if it was easy everyone would be doing it. Plus, it keeps me from going insane.
None of these tips, by themselves, will turn you into a winter running machine. They are all part of a strategy that becomes as natural as breathing when you make a lifestyle change. A lifestyle that asserts “I am a runner” and “this is what I do”. Remember all that nasty imagery at the beginning of this article? What I didn’t mention is that winter running, while not always easy, can provide some of the most beautiful, peaceful, renewing, inspiring, beneficial and memorable miles you’ll ever run.
April is coming, my friends. Time to get a little crazy.
January 13, 2011