Ultra Training Through Winter
And suddenly it’s cold outside. It appears to me that the months of October-December is that happy time of year when all the racing has finally died down, and ultra-runners all over North America are taking a little breather. We’ve slumped into our recliners, popped the top off a soda and are munching on a bag of chips. Putting our feet up, licking our wounds, watching reruns of Breaking Bad or other favorite TV show as we await the holiday season to breeze on by. When the holiday’s have finally come and gone; we wake up one morning and look in the mirror. Suddenly we’re 5-10 pounds heavier. We feel terrible and look it. We’ve lost all motivation and to top it all off… it’s 3 degrees and snowing outside. So, what do we do? We head outside and try to get it back.. whatever “it” is.
In this article, the next in the Journey To 100 Miles series, we’re going to talk about training through the winter. Topics will include: What kind of new/extra gear we might consider, How I personally motivate through these chilly months (Fat Asses & Streaking), Tips for motivation, Alternative Activities, and a brief discussion on how our choice to train or not train in the winter can negatively affect our long distance summer dreams. Let’s get started…
What Kind of New/Extra Gear Should I Use?
I’ll list the obvious first. Depending on where you live, you might need some warmer clothing. Hats, gloves, balaclavas, buffs, wool socks.. the essentials of course. Some folks require a change in footwear as well, leaving the world of mesh shoes behind for shoes with Gore-Tex, which helps insulate your foot while it tramples through the snow and slush and can keep those bitter winds at bay. But let’s take a look at what I consider to be the two biggest purchases for winter runners.
1.) Fleece Lined Running Tights: Various running companies sell pretty quality running tights to keep those leggies warm while on the winter run. And.. I’ll add that some added protection n the crotch of most of these companies tights, offer some shrinkage prevention for the boys. Check out the offerings from Pearl Izumi. It is my opinion (no financial interest) that they make the best tights in the industry. Other companies I’d check out are Brooks and CW-X. If you’re living in the south where the climate is a bit warmer, I’d look into a pair of capri-tights (Capri’s to the ladies / Man-pri’s to the boys).
2.) Kahtoola Micro-spikes: If you plan on running icy or snowy trails through the winter season, Kahtoola Microspikes are a must by. I’ve been traveling on snowy icy trails for much longer than I’ve ever been a runner. I’ve worn Yak-Trax (make me want to yak), which are incredibly flimsy and rarely last an entire winter season. I’ve worn crampons (overkill for runners). The Kahtoola’s are my go to spikes. Even when Crampons might be warranted, I’ll wear kahtoola’s. They’re simply unbeatable.
2A.) Screw-shoes: For some, Kahtoolas are a bit overkill. Screw shoes are for you then. What is a screw shoe? Well, you go to home depot and buy tiny little screws and then zip those puppies into the rubber sole of your running shoe. BAM! Instant running grippers. This works just as well, if not better, then yak-on myself-trax.
How Do I Stay Motivated Part 1:?
I have two methods of winter motivation that have served me well over the years.
1.) Fat Asses: I have organized a series of winter Fat Asses every winter since 2007-2008. It helps to have mini-goals throughout the winter season. You tend to pick up a few stragglers along the way and before you know it, you’re not enduring those frigid long runs alone. Fat Asses are a huge part of the history of our sport. If you don’t have what it takes to host your own, find some. There are quite a collection of Fat Asses all winter long. You can locate some of these events from Fat Ass UltraS or Club Fat Ass on the web respectively. Either way, Fat Asses provide something to look forward to as the winter wears on. You’re more likely to make some new training buddies and who knows, you’re probably training for the same races.
2.) Streak!: I don’t know how many January’s I’ve been hosting one now, but I’ve created a month long running streak competition for anyone and everyone who wants to join. You have to run at least 2 miles a day, every day, throughout January with an optional naked run on the 31st. Most of the runners last the entire month, and of those, about half continue their streak for as long as they can.. reaching into the summer in some cases! Anything to get you out there, running.
How Do You Stay Motivated Part 2:?
This is ultimately a question that you need to answer yourself, and the winter is a great time for this personal discover. What does motivate you? Why do you want to run ultras? Try not to make it for a cause or another person. Really try and find it within yourself, why you, want to do this and what motivates you to do it. As an aside to this, I really do suggest watching YouTube videos of ultra runners, make a few videos of your own, watch some ultra running movies that are out there. Join your local ultra-running club or trail/road running club. Try to immerse yourself in the culture and the mindset. But ultimately, discover what motivates you. Ask the tough questions and find those answers. Don’t make it because of something or someone else.. this is about you. It needs to be. Define it
What types of other activities can I do for training?
There are a variety of things folks do to train during the winter. It’s great to switch it up from running so you don’t burn yourself out before your training for next season truly begins. So here are some suggestions designed to provide both an incredibly work-out but to keep you on track and motivated:
Nordic/X-Country Skiing: Nikki Kimbal, ultrarunner extraordinare has been a nordic skier her whole life. This is a sport that can truly increase the power in your legs!
Mountain/Road Biking: Get on the bike! Pedaling faster and hard helps increase your turnover ratio when you’re out there running. Lance wasn’t just successful because of the juice, it was because he could turn his legs over faster then anyone else.
Cross-Fit: Hey.. it’s more a community than it is kicking your own ass. I would shy away from trying to increase your upper body mass, but working out in one of these gyms has huge benefits and is incredibly rewarding.
Skiing and Snowboarding: If you’ve never done either, you wouldn’t understand. An incredible workout and truly focuses on your balance.
Sledding: I wish I was kidding, but I’ll let Karl Meltzer explain..
How will my winter choices affect my summer racing?
When living back in New England, I admit that it was an incredibly difficult place to train for trail ultras through the winter. In New England, the trails are basically nonexistent through the winter months. I was forced out on to the roads. Burn-out happened quicker and it hurt.. a lot. But ultimately, I had to make a choice. Ignore what was unfortunate about where I lived and continued to train hard; and reap the rewards of summer success. -OR- I could not train as hard through the winter, and start preparing my excuses for a lack-luster summer of DNF’s and poor performance. It’s up to you!
Coming Up on Journey To 100 Miles:
Next Post: Ultra Clubs in America
And Later: An Interview with VT100 Record Holder Leigh Schmitt
This post is part of a series known as Journey To 100 Miles.
We welcome your comments to add to the discussion.
1. Journey To 100 Mile Intro
2. Choosing Your First 100 Miler
3. Ultra Commitment
4. Researching An Ultra
5. 100 Miler Base Building
6. A 100 Mile Training Plan
7. Ultra Gear For Success