Running during the winter months can be quite challenging, both mentally and physically, especially for those of us living in New England and other cold climates. If you have chosen an "A race" that falls during the spring, then your build weeks are going to fall in the dead of winter. That means a lot running in the cold, and quite possibly the dark. You must be prepared to brave the elements of ice, snow, and below freezing temps as you head out the door. Let's not think of this as a hindrance in our training, but rather an adventure. Who doesn't have a story about how they had decided to run during a blizzard, spent the entire run physically hurdling piles of snow, or ran outside in sub-zero conditions? All the while meteorologists urged everyone to stay indoors? I'm sure there are also plenty of stories about completing a 20-miler on the treadmill, which takes just as much mental energy as it does physical! These are the kinds of runs we remember, not the millions of runs we have done when it is 70 degrees and sunny.
SO, how do start down this path? Let's say you have to do a mid-week run, but don't own a treadmill and all of the gym's treadmills at the gym are filled with people trying to fulfill their New Year's Resolutions. What do you do? Head on outside! It can be a scary place with the ice and narrow roads, but there are things you can do to protect yourself. First off, make yourself as visible as possible with reflective gear. A reflective vest is a good place to start. Also, consider carrying a small, lightweight flashlight with you, in case the roads aren't well lit. Another good piece of equipment are Yak Traks. You can put these on the bottoms of your shoes and they'll give you more grip on the ice and snow.
Other options include running around elementary schools, at night, where the parking lot loops around the building. Typically they don't have as much night time traffic as a middle or high school might have, due to their lack of evening activities. Company parking lots can be another low traffic place to run, but only on the weekends, really early in the morning, or very late at night. These options may seem boring and monotonous, but could they possibly be more so than running on a treadmill?
If you are someone who doesn't like running on the roads during the winter, then you can always snow shoe run. There are snow shoes that are specifically designed for running that are thinner, shorter and lighter than your traditional snow shoe. Snow shoe running is great because you don't have to worry about cars and you can do it just about anywhere there is snow. Large fields, bike paths and golf courses work best. But your back yard may be just as good! A packed path will be easier to run on than creating your own, but either way you won't be running as fast as you do out on the road, so it's best to go by time, not distance. Snow shoeing is also a great way to strengthen up those hip-flexors. Snow shoeing will make you as strong as an ox, but it will greatly hinder leg speed. So, just be aware that once you get back onto the roads, after a period of snowshoeing, that it will take some time to regain your turnover.
Sometimes a treadmill may be your best choice for running. While it is far from exciting, it is the safest way to get in a traditional run, on a snowy day. Having music, watching TV, or running next to a friend can make it less mind-numbing, and somewhat more interesting. Also, varying the incline and speed every couple of minutes makes the time go by that much faster.
Having flexibility in your training schedule is important when running during the winter, as you might need to swap around workouts while making sure you don't do hard runs on "back to back" run training days. Ideally it's best to have your key runs on nicer weather days and your shorter runs on days when a treadmill or snow shoe running would be a better option. Unfortunately, we only get a vague idea of what the weather might be a week, or so, in advance. And even then, it changes on a daily basis. So be flexible and prepared for last minute changes. This winter, whether you do a majority of your runs indoors, or outdoors, remember to hydrate, keep it fun and stay safe!
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