Disney Marathon in wind chills equivalent to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, I thought it would be appropriate to put together a post with some advice on how to keep running through the winter. For me, this is the first winter when I have really attempted to keep my mileage above 30 per week (training for a January marathon helps!), and I've now run in just about every type of condition that a Northern New England winter can throw at me, from snowstorms to frigidly cold days. Below are some tips on how to stay motivated in winter, and I'll follow up with a second post on how to stay warm out there on those cold, dark runs.
1. Set Goals
Back in early November I posted a set of fitness goals for the winter on this blog. My thinking was that if I post my goals publicly, I would be more likely to follow through and complete them. So far, I'm happy to report that things have been going very well. My weight has stayed pretty steady despite the holiday splurging, I've easily eclipsed my >20 mile per/week running target, I'm now entering week 5 of the 100 Pushups Challenge, and I came within 1 second of my 5K PR in a race in early December. I'm determined to continue this pattern on through January and February, and then hit the Spring racing season with a great fitness base under my belt. Starting a blog is one way to keep motivated, and this has certainly been my experience writing this one. Joining an on-line support group is another (see below), or you could keep things as simple as writing your goals down on a piece of paper and having a friend or family member help you stick to them.
2. Run a Winter Race
There's no better motivation for me to keep running than a race date looming off in the future. This year I will be running the Disney Marathon in early January, and that has been a boon to my motivation, and my running mileage of late has been as high as it's been this entire year. If you're not a marathoner, there are plenty of shorter races associated with the holidays - pick one and use it as motivation. You can find plenty of races on the CoolRunning website.
3. Find a Support Group
Having others to run with, or simply those who you can talk to about your runs, will go a long way toward helping to keep you honest about getting your runs in during the winter. I tend to run alone (if you don't count my dog Jack), and most of my support comes from on-line running friends I have made on two sites: Twitter and Dailymile. I highly recommend both of these, as both are excellent sources of support for your running/fitness activities.
I was initially a Twitter skeptic, thinking that it was filled with people reporting what they were eating for lunch. Instead, what I have found is one of the most enjoyable and supportive groups of people anywhere. I pretty much follow only other runners, and the advice, information, and support I have gotten has been invaluable. I liken Twitter to a neighborhood bar - you can stop in anytime and join the conversation, and step out whenever you like - there will always be an interesting group of people there, and that group varies throughout the day. I've made some good friends around the world on Twitter, several of whom I've met in person now at races that I've run. Don't hesitate to follow people - it's common practice to follow those you don't know, and if you indicate that you run in your bio, most running Twitterers will immediately follow you back. I really recommend that you take the plunge and try it out - for a place to start finding people to follow, check out my "Runners" list.
Dailymile is a social training site where you can post workouts and get feedback from friends. There are also challenges, forums, groups, and other nice features. The heart of Dailymile is really the social interaction between you and other runners - it's a lot like Facebook, but geared exclusively toward active people. I use Dailymile as a running diary - it's a place where I can jot down some notes, or in some cases a more detailed story, about what I experienced on each run. The feedback and encouragement provided by other people on Dailymile is nothing short of incredible. Garmin support is not available yet, so I still use Sportracks as my main data-logging program, but the social aspect makes entering data manually into Dailymile well worth it. If you want to give it a try, don't hesitate to visit my profile and send along a friend request.
4. Don't Fear the Weather
A lot of people see their fitness drop dramatically in the winter, as the cold temperatures, early darkness, snow, and holiday splurging scheme to turn them from a well-oiled running machine into a sedentary couch-potato. I was definitely guilty of this last year, as my mileage dropped precipitously in the winter of 2008/2009, and I gained somewhere around 10 pounds in 3-4 months. My experience this year has been totally different, and it mainly stems from a change in attitude. With a bit of preparation, there's no reason why you can't run in all but the worst possible winter conditions. For example, I just set a weekly mileage PR (52 miles) this week, which just so happens to have been the coldest week yet of this winter. This single-week total almost equaled my entire running mileage for the month of December last year!
I committed myself early on this year to run in whatever conditions were present, and doing this from the get-go has made the transition to winter running relatively smooth for me. I'm at the point now where anything above 25 degrees F feels downright balmy, and 40 degrees might as well be shorts and singlet weather! I've even been running in my Vibram Fivefingers in temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. So the next time you feel like skipping a run due to the weather, turn that thought around and take it as a challenge - don't let the winter get the better of you!
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