By – Kelly Bastone
Winter can be tough for runners. The glut of holiday celebrations and getting-ever-scarcer daylight can derail your training routine. But sticking to a consistent program keeps you fit and energized–and makes injury less likely come spring.
Beth Baker, a coach at Running Evolution in Seattle, says habits are even tougher to regain than fitness. That’s why she suggests doing at least three runs per week, supplemented with two to three cross-training or strength workouts. And shifting your focus away from intense running for a short time can pay off long-term. “Running easy allows you to start [your next training cycle] with fresh legs and a better outlook,” says Chicago-based coach Brendan Cournane.
So go ahead and downshift your running, as long as you stay faithful to a scaled-back routine. Here’s how to make that goal a reality.
Renew Your Motivation
Group runs and workout partners can inspire you to lace up your shoes instead of burrowing under the covers. “You’ll show up if you know another person is counting on you,” says Team Oregon coach Patti Finke. Or join a group challenge, says Baker, who organizes a Seasonal Smackdown every Thanksgiving that challenges participants to rack up more workouts than competing teams. “People love getting credit and prizes for each run they do, and they feel accountable for their group’s success,” she says.
If it takes an upcoming race to get you out the door, sign up for something short, easy, and sensational, like the Santa Hustle (a series of winter 5Ks and half marathons held in eight cities, from Maine to California). Runners with disposable income might splurge on a winter destination race, such as the Bermuda Triangle Challenge, which offers races of various distances over three days. “It’s a nice incentive,” says Cournane, who leads a group of runners to this sun-drenched extravaganza every January. “Even my marathoners run just the Bermuda half, because the primary goal is to maintain a base.”
Find Your Magic Time
Just because a 5:30 a.m. run worked in July doesn’t mean it’ll still suit you come winter’s dark mornings. Seasonal and schedule changes dictate a fresh strategy-brainstorming session: Take 15 minutes at the start of each week to plan the best days and times for your runs, then identify what you need to make them happen. Do you require support from your spouse or kids? A new headlamp? A route that’s more wind-sheltered or better lit than your go-to summer circuit?
“Try to find things in your schedule that are cemented in, and build your runs around them,” says Baker. Morning workouts suit many runners because waking up is one of life’s few constants. If you balk at the idea of first-thing running, look for other anchors: Run right after you take the kids to school, or while your partner cooks dinner. Just be sure to assign your runs specific time slots–otherwise, they’re easily bumped by family shopping trips or spontaneous happy-hour invitations.
Rekindle the Romance
If you’ve fallen out of love with running, “make a change somewhere,” says Baker. Mix up your playlist, download a new podcast, or map out a new route. “It’s important to keep your running feeling shiny and new,” she says, because although your body might prefer a familiar routine, your mind loses interest unless you give it something fresh to look forward to.
Motivation can also come from a sense of purpose. “Identify something you want to run for,” says running coach Krista Austin, who has served as an advisor to Meb Keflezighi, among others. Building speed and endurance may not be enough to make your daily runs feel meaningful (especially for mere mortals who may never qualify for Boston, let alone the Olympics). “But running is about character, not always about setting a new PR,” says Austin. You might dedicate your week’s workouts to an injured friend who can’t run, to your own heart health, or to setting a positive example for your kids.
Runners can even revive their love of the sport by running outdoors in the winter, counterintuitive as that may seem. “You can admire the change of the seasons and the beauty of nature, which is harder to appreciate when you’re absorbed in serious training,” says Cournane. Many winter days actually offer ideal running conditions. And, if you live somewhere that gets very cold or snowy, running in those conditions earns you bragging rights. Says Baker, “Even if you can’t be fast, you can at least be hard-core.”