Getting Out the Door

05/14/2008 - 10:33

By Richard Ferguson PhD/Running Journal/January 2008

The last leaves of fall have been raked off the yard and the snow shovel sits beside the back door. Winter has arrived and you now have time to sit back and savor a successful fall racing season. You worked really hard during the hot, dry summer and you reaped the benefits of your hard work with new personal bests, new distances run, and a high overall level of fitness that you had never experienced before. However, as the old saying goes, "that is history."

For many runners winter is the most difficult and challenging time of year. Cold temperatures, late sunrise and early sunset, snow, ice, and seemingly endless hours spent cooped up inside often means poorer quality training and in some cases, days without any training at all. As a result, winter is often a time when fitness greatly declines. All too often, runners get in really good physical condition throughout the summer and fall, only to see their fitness levels drastically decline throughout the winter months.

No matter how high your level of fitness, detraining will rapidly occur with inactivity, and just because you were fit at one point in time, it doesn't mean it will be one bit easier to reach that same level of fitness if you allow yourself to totally detrain. Like the old saying goes, "use it or lose it!"

Why not make a real commitment this winter to not only maintaining a basal level of fitness, but to actually make improvements in different aspects of your training? The winter months are the time when you need to lay your training foundation for the year to come. With few important races in the winter, there are no distractions from preparing for competition, which can allow you to concentrate fully on your training. In reality it is very difficult to train hard and race well during the same time period, so a winter of solid training can allow you to be at a higher level of fitness early in the spring. This can afford you more of an opportunity for decreased training volume and more quality race specific workouts during your racing season. The better your aerobic base in the winter, the better prepared you will be for more intense training latter in the year.

The key is to be truly committed to winter training. There will be days when it's cold and rainy, but don't they make outerwear, hats, and gloves for these very conditions? Yes, it's probably dark when you get off work in the winter, but isn't there a block or stretch of street somewhere near your house with some streetlights? How about running in a parking garage for a few miles? Of course treadmills can be invaluable during harsh winter weather. In the winter you need to make the most of any suitable training locales. As far as weather, how many days during the winter is the ice and snow really too bad to prevent you from running? The South is not exactly Montana when it comes to winter weather.

Not only will training in winter weather make you more physically fit, it can also enhance your mental fitness. If you really don't want to run, there are a million other excuses, but winter shouldn't be a viable excuse! Winter training can make you mentally "callused" to tough conditions and can serve as a valuable means to challenge yourself motivationally on those nasty winter days.

The key is to make a genuine commitment to be diligent during the winter months. There are a number of ways you can reinforce this commitment and not miss a beat with your training during the next few weeks. You are responsible for how you think and that means you are responsible for making those first steps out the door during the winter. First, set some very specific goals. The goals may be in the form of miles per week, number of days run, getting on a new flexibility program, or even a cross-training program that can be done partially inside. Your goals should always be challenging, yet realistically attainable. Be sure to put your goals down in writing and display them somewhere you can see them each day. You may also want to talk openly about your goals with your training partners and friends. You may even go as far as to write up a training contract with your training mates. That way the members of the group hold you accountable for reaching your goals. If you don't have a winter training partner, getting one may also serve to increase your training adherence.

Most of you already keep a running log, but if you don't, then start one. Recording any behavior can help you reach a goal by allowing you to see progress toward the goal and give you a tangible reminder of your goal. Each day ask yourself what you have done to reach your goal and how can you be sure to continue to progress toward your goal tomorrow.

There may be days when black ice, illness, etc. keep you from getting out, but use these rare days to better your running in some fashion. Do extra stretching, do mental training, do strength training, just do something you truly believe will make you a better runner come spring. If you are genuinely fatigued from some hard training, then a bad weather day is a good time to simply take a rest day and allow your body to recover. But not too many rest days!

Even though winter may make you feel like going into running hibernation, don't forget your running goals for the spring and summer racing seasons. Instead of viewing winter as a running negative, turn winter into a running positive. Take the challenge to improve your running on those cold, dark, wet, dreary days. When it's cold outside, there's no need to give up and hit the sofa. With some solid winter training, you will reap the rewards of the seeds of training you sow on those dreary days.

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