For many runners the winter months are figuratively and literally dark months. We often struggle to accept this reality of voluntary or involuntary rest during this time. If you, like me, struggle with this interruption in your regular running routine, we must find ways to adapt to these colder months, the shorter hours of daylight and the mental and physical exhaustion so easily accompanying Winter. It is also when we are beginning to really plan for the running season, as a result of lotteries, travel plans and budgeting. Ultra runners are perhaps one of the most susceptible groups of athletes to over-training and fatigue, which is also a large contributor to the extra need for time off.
Here are of some of my thoughts on how to make the winter months purposeful, consistent and complimentary to your summer season running.
Take a break
For me, I have really enjoyed taking a break, skiing with friends and even putting on a few pounds just to motivate me for the next season. Taking a break is extremely valuable and should be integrated into your training plan. Even the greats, like Karl Meltzer, take a hiatus to have some unrelated fun. Go here to see his luge.
Build a network of support. Family matters. It would be sad to see research data collected regarding the number of ultra-runners whose relationships ended in divorce or whose children grew to dislike running and the parents who do it because of the time spent away from the home. It is wonderful to have my family appreciate and be enthusiastic about my running, but not at the cost of impacting my family relationships due to the lack of focus given in the my home. The same goes for our relationships at work.
Diversify your training
Try something different. Cross-training in the form of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ski mountaineering, yoga, weights, spinning, or curling; many alternative sports and exercises are mentally healthy and compliment the muscular requirements of runners. Personally, when I have spent time in the gym or doing something like yoga I have seen the best results in my running. In fact, many of the best elites in our sport do this also with great results. Another thing to consider is core exercises or lest I even suggest Crossfit……
Recently, a barrage of faster road runners have begun to influence the sport of trail running. Staying neutral on the discussion, we all can attest to the dramatic decrease in race times as a result of the growing competition and level of running. One thing many of these runners do have in common is the integration of speed work and quality of training over quantity of miles. Winter is an excellent time to focus on this. Whether it be strength, turnover, or heart rate, many of us in the ultra community wouldn’t be hurt with a few extra workouts focused on these aspects of our running regime. Shorten your runs and focus on quality (speed work, turnover drills, tempo runs, fartleks). One trick a good friend taught me was to avoid runs in the winter months that require hydration. Good advice my friend.
What is your winter /off season routine? Share in the comments!