Winter Training Tips
Manitou Springs resident and 4:36 Pikes Peak Marathoner
Manitou Springs, Colorado just celebrated its first appreciable snow of the season. The later than usual arrival has meant unseasonably warm weather and dry trails to this point. But the next months will hopefully bring more of Mother Nature’s winter confetti.
I’ve found that this time of year can present a motivational dichotomy when it comes to training. On one hand, the turning of the year brings along the excitement of planning and signing up for new races or athletic feats to accomplish. The allure of an idea or potential adventure for the year ahead is excitingly overwhelming. At the same time, as you wake from your day dreaming and glance out the window, the shorter days and single digit temperatures are objectively and concretely confronting you, calling you back down from that idealist realm. Sure those big “A” races are undoubtedly going to be one of the highlights of the year, but they’re months away and the temptation to skip a workout and to fall out of routine can be enticing. A missed run here or there this far out surely can’t jeopardize any race fitness, we reason. And while it is true that taking a few extra rest days isn’t a bad thing, especially if you’re experiencing additional stress and your body needs to allocate more resources to recovery, I’ve found that maintaining some level of consistency to be a worthwhile practice in mitigating injury and optimizing my sense of wellbeing.
Fortunately, there are some simple solutions that I’ve found help me counteract the urge of dormancy. One of which is to identify smaller objectives. If that big race you have in mind for the year is so far out, you can’t even see it on the horizon, consider bringing the horizon closer. This could be in the form of smaller local races to keep you engaged in your training and to help prepare you for a later main-focus event. Alternatively, establishing a monthly challenge can serve in place of a smaller race and still keep you honest with staying active. In 2012, I committed to once a month trips up and down Pikes Peak which gave me at least one long day effort a month to look forward to. This motivated me to not get too removed from the hard earned fitness that I’d acquired over the previous fall. Additionally, while carrying extra layers and gear made the miles pass by slower, working harder with each step meant that I was slowly building strength for the leaner racing months ahead.
Another advantage that comes with winter training for summer races so far into the future is the greater degree of flexibility. There should be less emphasis specificity and more opportunity for freedom with what one considers training. From my perspective, the “WHAT” I’m doing in winter training isn’t as important as simply that I’m “DOING.” I say this not to advocate for copious amounts of ill planned running volume but more as an argument for being active while doing the things that fill your motivational bucket. Winter can be a great time to explore other supplemental pursuits like hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing while still challenging your muscular endurance and aerobic fitness. Even sledding can be a sneaky way to incorporate some uphill interval work as you lug your toboggan up a snowy slope, scream down the hill, and repeat.
Finally, the longer shadows and muffled sounds of winter can offer a unique perspective on the trails you may know by their summer personalities. It’s an ideal opportunity to either slow down or to take moments to pause mid-run and observe things as they are, not necessarily as you remember them. For this reason, a camera is often one of my favorite pieces of running gear because it encourages me to be more aware of my surroundings. Concern with mileage or pace can yield, or at the very least share its importance with witnessing the beauty around you. Maybe you still chase CR’s, but instead of “Course Records,” it’s “Creative Ruminations" that you’re pursuing when you’re out on the trails. If not a camera, perhaps you choose to journal or write a poem about the run after returning home. Whatever your chosen modality, I find winter to be an ideal time to embrace introspection and see what role gratitude and creativity can have in your training.
Seasonal changes are a predictable part of the natural world and should be reflected in our training. While high intensity efforts year round can lead to stagnation, burnout, or injury, too far of a departure from an athlete’s routine can have similarly negative effects in the form of deconditioning and lethargy. I encourage you to take winter as an opportunity to shift rather than stop. To do what you need to make the winter training entertaining.
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