What No One Tells You About Training In The Winter

By Ritanne Duszak

It’s cold, it’s dark, your bed is warm and cozy, and your alarm is blaring. You could just hit snooze and get an hour more of sleep. But don’t do it! Winter training is definitely worth the sacrifice.

Instead of starting your April training from scratch, you can maintain an important fitness base over the winter and set up your best year possible.  Let’s be honest, we don’t mind other people admiring our grit and determination regardless of the weather.  But winter workouts are mostly about what they do for you, leveraging off-season consistency to push your performance to the next level.

Here are a few tips to help you make it through the special challenges of winter:

1. Don’t do it alone.

Sign up for a group run or exercise class: It’s easier for most of us to work out when we know that other folks will be suffering with us. I always convince myself that if someone else is tough enough to get out there, I am too. Commit to group runs or find a yoga or cycling class that you like. It’s always easier to get out the door when you know you won’t be alone.

Recruit a buddy: If organized classes aren’t your thing, find a friend who will meet you at o’dark o'clock. Even if the friend isn’t exactly your pace, running a little bit slower or faster is much better than not running at all. Sometimes, just the idea of a buddy is enough to get you going, even if the buddy can’t always do the workout. For example, I have a deal with my swimming buddy that we never bail on each other until the actual time we are supposed to meet, so that whichever one of us shows up poolside can’t talk herself out of the workout.

2. Dress for success.

Use the right kind of gear: Winter gear doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it is really important. Get a pair of tights, a warm jacket, a hat and some gloves. Technical fabrics work great, and zippered jackets allow air flow as you heat up. Beyond that, you can usually just layer your warm-weather clothes. Which leads to the next point…

Use the right amount of gear: Don’t overdress. You want to be a little chilly at the start because you will warm up fast. Dress for 15 degrees warmer than it is, and you should be set. It won’t take many experiments to figure out what works for you, but here are a few rules of thumb to get started.  I tend to wear gloves for anything under 45, especially if windy, and a hat under 40, so you’d want to wear them with any of the following clothing combinations.

  • 30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. I tend to wear a short-sleeved top, a jacket, and tights. This is also when I start to run in socks. (Don’t judge!! I’m a triathlete without a washer and dryer, who’s trying to save laundry and toughen up my feet. Most people should always run in socks.)
  • 20 degrees: 2 long-sleeved tops, 1 bottom. Preferably at least one top that is wind resistant, and tights. And socks of course!
  • 10 degrees: at least 2 long-sleeved tops, and 2 bottoms. One top must be wind resistant, one short-sleeved top is okay if you wear three, and two pairs of warm tights.
  • Below 10 degrees: my running buddy insists that under 10 degrees we have to run indoors, so you are on your own for this one! 

Runner’s World also has a handy tool which can help you figure out what to wear: http://www.runnersworld.com/what-to-wear

3. Outrace the winter blues. 

Think local: Racing in cold weather is not as fun for most of us, me included, but it can help keep you motivated. I tend to prefer events that have a warm place to huddle up before the race, like Ambler’s Frostbite 5 Miler, which lets runners wait in the local high school. One mile into the suffering of that race, and you’ll quickly forget how cold it is!

Destination races are nice: If traveling is an option, it can give you something to look forward to, and also a nice excuse to get away. I have traveled to Florida, California, and Phoenix for races in January, and I have never regretted it. It’s like a preview of the summer months that sometimes feel so far away.

Spring Forward!: It’s never too early to start penciling in races for March or April, whether local or otherwise. On really tough mornings, that can be a good time to visualize the long-term success that your off-season work will make possible.  Sometimes when the “pain” of training seems hardest, it’s important to remember the “gain” that you’ll feel at when you toe the line at that first springtime race.

4. Hydration is still important.

As the sweat pours off your brow and soaks your shoes in the dog days of summer, it’s clear that you need to hit a water fountain on your run down Kelly Drive. Dehydration still can happen in the cold and the water fountains along Kelly Drive are wrapped up tight for the winter, so consider carrying fluids or making a plan to stop.

No one can tell you that training through the winter is easy, but it can be fun. And it will certainly make you appreciate the nicer weather when it returns in the spring. Do keep in mind that your safety is paramount, so staying indoors in extreme cold or icy weather may be advised. But, on other winter days, get yourself out the door by whatever means necessary. You won’t regret it, and you’ll be fitter and faster next year because of it.

Ritanne Duszak is a USATF and USAT certified running and triathlon coach who loves working with beginner and advanced runners. When she isn't running herself or coaching, she is working on her M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Drexel University. You can follow her on Twitter @ritanneo or reach out to her via email at ritanne@breakawaybikes.com.

Do you have winter training tips? Share them in the comments below.