Summer's Coming, So Make the Most of Winter Training

12/28/2017 - 14:38

By Richard Ferguson
No, I’m not out of mind, even though it is winter and summer is almost unimaginable. Barren trees, cold rain, snow, early darkness and a biting wind blowing from the west may mean less than ideal running conditions. Early winter can also mean few races, a loss of motivation to train, and as such, a decline in overall general fitness. Spring and summer seem far away and it’s easy to convince yourself that spring and summer racing season is way, way out in the future. For many, late December, January and early February could possibly be the low point of the running calendar.

January may actually be the most important month for runners, and no, once again, I have not lost my mind. How could cold, dark January be such an important running month? All training programs need a strong foundation to build upon, and the month of January can provide that aerobic foundation for a successful spring and summer racing season. A solid January of training often means a good April, May and June of racing.

Runners often have difficulty training in winter, not because of physical or environmental reasons per say, but because of numerous psychological blocks. Yes, the weather can be bad and there is a lot of darkness in January, but in reality these are often times just excuses. Sometimes it’s not just the 20-degree mornings and 25-mile per hour westerly winds coming right off the polar ice cap that lower motivation. Lack of specific goals and a lot of negative self-talk can lower motivation just as much, leading to poor training in winter.

Challenge yourself to try and think about what you want to accomplish this spring. Is it a marathon? Run the local spring 5K? Maybe go for a new 10K PR? Whatever your goal is in the spring, get moving toward that goal right now in the dead of winter. To get moving toward your ultimate spring goal, set some short-term goals for the winter months. That spring and summer racing really starts right now! The running future is right now!

Formulate what you want to accomplish in the next week that will help you reach your long-term spring and summer running goal. Maybe in the next week it’s a certain number of miles to establish a base. Maybe it’s getting in an over due long run. It may even be calling a training partner to get them going as well. Now look beyond next week. What do you want to accomplish in your running by the end of January? By the end of February? Be specific with this goal! Don’t make your goal, “to run more.” Specific goals will help to really direct your effort and they give you a way to accurately assess your progress toward reaching your goals.

Once you decide upon your winter goals, write them down. Writing your goals down will serve as a type of “contract” for yourself. After you have written down your goals, put up a copy somewhere that you will see them each day. Some good locations may be the bathroom mirror, refrigerator door, computer or television. By seeing your goals in written form each day you will be reminded to stay the course toward reaching the goals.

Be sure to write down your goal progress each day. Keep a running log, record those miles etc. and then compare your actual running behavior with your goals. Your goals for winter should help you to maintain your training program until the days get longer and warmer. Those short-term winter goals will serve as a type of road map to help you reach your long-term goals in the spring and summer. But remember, summer is not as far away as you think. In terms of running, spring and summer success begins right now.

A caveat is in order here. Be very aware of negative self-talk on these winter days. You know what I’m talking about. “It’s cold and rainy outside, so I think I’ll just curl up here on the sofa, maybe watch a little basketball and have another piece of pecan pie.” How often do you use self-talk to either convince yourself to do something, or talk yourself out of doing something? No matter what time of year, you can always come up with reasons not to run, but you can also come up with reasons to get your shoes on and get out the door.

Be careful of rationalizing that you can “put off” your training until the weather gets better, until you have more time or until it gets dark latter. When such thoughts do enter into consciousness, really become aware of them and remind yourself what your goals in the future are. Take a second to consider that what you do right now in winter will have a major impact on what you do in April, May and June.

Use positive and encouraging self-talk which serves to increase your motivation to train. Things like, “yea it’s cold and dark, but I can get in a good workout by running around the neighborhood with the good street lights” or “ it’s 36 degrees out, but that’s why I bought this rain gear,” will help you to get out the door. Usually once a runner can just get started they will actually enjoy winter training! Sometimes the hardest step to take in winter is the first step out the door. Use your self-talk to rationalize that you SHOULD go out and train.

Winter can be a really enjoyable time for running. Take a few moments to just enjoy yourself when you go out to train. Winter presents a break from searing heat and humidity and provides a landscape that is often unappreciated. Wildlife is often easier to see on a run in winter and seldom in summer will you see a sky as blue as can be seen on a winter morning or a sunset as vivid in color on a partly cloudy winter evening. Even a little snow can mean quiet solitude as you make the first tracks on the trail or street.

Now go out and have a great winter of running. Think of this cold weather running as an investment. The dividends will be paid at those important races in the spring and summer.

Richard Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness, and Sport Science Department of Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant. He may be reached via email at

This article appeared in the January issue of Running Journal

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