Conquer Winter Running

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Running Expert: James Storm

As anyone who has read any of my posts knows, I have a few consistent themes. I have been challenged by weight and weight loss, I love to run and I believe that running is the ultimate tool to better health. Over the last decade, my weight has been a pendulum of predictability that I am sure mirrors many; down in summer, up in winter. We all have reasons why this is, mine are always the same; holidays and my wife’s amazing skills in the kitchen.

I am not going to lie, it can be very hard to find the will to log a 2 hour run in weather better suited for the manufacturing of ice. But honestly, these are excuses. I used that reasoning as justification for my seasonal weight fluctuation and that is the truth. Bottom line, what was the point of winter running? How do we maintain ourselves and what do we do when the season turns and we are faced with all excuses for justifying a slip backwards? We take the lemons and make lemonade of course!

When it is freezing outside or you have to start running at 4 a.m. (which probably won’t happen), where do we go? The treadmill is one of the greatest inventions for the person that doesn’t want to be bogged down in layers, yet still needs to run. I have gotten to the point that I can log my miles while reading an ebook or watch my favorite series on the TV. A treadmill is arguably the best way to do speed work all year long as well, not to mention tempo, strength and hill work too! Before you start, I understand that loads of people hate a treadmill for running, but I will challenge you to find a way to be more consistent with running than running on a treadmill. Learning to run on a treadmill will create splits that are nearly identical with every run and if you absolutely can’t stand a treadmill, you should never underestimate the cardio benefits of a one hour walk at 4 mph on a treadmill, set at a 15% incline! Do this a few times a week and there is your workout.

Speaking of the treadmill, let’s use winter to take a look at some running form improvement and/or maintenance benefits it can provide. Many believe injuries can be prevented by proper form and stronger feet and the best way to improve foot strength is to be barefoot. Get on the treadmill, walk one hour barefoot, mix it up a bit with a few short sprints as fast as you can manage. Doing this will improve your running form, build foot strength and vastly improve the running economy of nearly every runner from beginner to seasoned veteran.

It never hurts to take the time during winter to grab a trusted book about running form and work on some basics you might have forgotten, or worse yet, never learned. Remember, if you chose to make some big changes to your form, like finally correcting that heel strike to the ball of your foot, then winter is the perfect time to build the foot muscles. Start with a slant board, a wobble board or a fitness ball for working on the core strength without building muscle mass and then slowly build your miles back up to avoid stress fractures and other minor injuries associated with changing form and not reducing your weekly mileage.

While on the topic of fixing form issues and becoming a better runner through the winter season, this is also the perfect time to plan out your race calendar for the upcoming year and find that perfect race weekend! Look back and take note of any issues you had with hotel rooms or logistics so you don’t repeat any mistakes that make race weekend harder than it needs to be. Keep in mind many marathon and half marathon training programs are 3 to 5 months long but require a weekly base of miles before starting their programs. Use this time to plan appropriately and build up your base miles so you can start your plan in great shape and not be behind in your training.

Winter running will be easier when you find someone to run with, which begs the question, how do you find them? Is there someone you always see at your local races or someone at work that runs? Strike up a conversation with them and see if they would be willing to log a few miles with you. Church is also a fantastic place to find someone to run with. You might even find a whole group of people willing to work on health and general fitness all year long. This is a great way to hold yourself accountable for eating healthier food, which is ultimately the best way to lose weight.

Lastly, just go run. Simply bundle up and go do it. There is no better feeling than when you get to work on Monday knowing you have a 20 mile run through 3-4 inches of snow under your belt. People might think you’re crazy (and you very well might be), but only you will know the feeling and significance of your accomplishment.

What is the point of winter running? It is probably going to be different for each of us. For some, it will be maintaining balance in life and in running. For others, it may be to work on form and build a solid base for the next year.

I know this winter I am going to be working on my form and base miles, while leaving my past excuses of weight swings in the trash pile where they belong.


Happy running and I’ll see you on the trails!