Tips for Training in Winter
A friend recently asked me ‘what’s the point in having a blog if you never post on it?’ A fair point indeed. So, though I don’t really believe in New Year's resolutions, I am resolved - in a way totally unrelated to the start of a new calendar year - to start posting on here more regularly. I’m always surprised how many people actually read these, but moreover, I really enjoy writing them.
I hope that at some point this year I’ll be able to write about races I’ve done and adventures I’ve been on; I love reflecting on what has gone well in a race or, more often, why the wheels came off. I may even do a ‘This was 2020’ post - but, like I said, I don’t care about arbitrarily determined time periods.. 2020 was frustrating, but certainly not all bad.
For the time being though, I thought it might be useful to put together some technique posts. On the surface running is a simple sport. It’s just one foot in front of another, right? Yet if you speak to any regular runner about their training it won’t be long before they mention technique or form. Posture, downhill technique, crossing technical terrain, cadence, power walking, scrambling - turns out there’s actually quite a lot to think about. And all this is before entering the muddy waters of training, fueling, mental prep and gear. Phew.
Over my years of training and racing I’ve picked up lots of tips from coaches and competitors, but my gut instinct is always to keep it simple. I try to use accepted ideas to guide what I do, whilst keeping things as natural and instinctive as possible. I believe the sweet spot in performance lies somewhere between bumbling along and overanalysis.
So, if you're after molecular level nutrition, comparison of different lacing systems, or a biomechanical breakdown I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place. Instead, I’ll be covering the topics I talk about with my friends, in between moaning about the weather and blaming each other for getting lost. And hopefully I’ll be able to provide useful and simple advice for runners of all levels in the process.
So, where to start? What we’re all struggling with at the moment seems best. No, please don’t mention the news. I’m talking about staying motivated and training through winter.
Tips for Training through Winter:
The days are short and dark. You still feel a bit ill from overdoing the brie and mince pies. The weather is, frankly, crap. At least three ‘I’ll start fresh on X’ deadlines have already whooshed by. How on earth are you going to get back on track? (or trail, or pavement, or wet and muddy hellhole?)
Ultimately it comes down to two things: motivation and preparation.
Your ‘why’ - It sounds cliche but if you’re going to do something unpleasant you need to know why you’re doing it, and training in Winter is going to be unpleasant at times. It might be that you want to be fit for future adventures, for health benefits, for the social aspect, for your mental health or to raise money for charity. Maybe you’re preparing for a specific challenge, want to be fit for when Summer comes round, or just really like the feeling of being in shape. Maybe you just do this for fun! Whatever your ‘why’ is doesn’t really matter, and doesn’t have to be limited to any one reason. As long as you know what it is, and can call on it to get you out the door when necessary.
Honestly, my ‘why’ varies day to day. Sometimes it is just for the love of it, sometimes it is to prepare for a specific aim, and sometimes it is just so that I can feel strong and good about myself.
Plans - Everyone knows that it helps to have plans on the horizon, but at the moment it can be difficult to commit to training for a race that you’re uncertain will happen. Why should you spend months training for an event that might get cancelled at the last minute?
Now, more than ever, we need to have a plan A, B, C, D… I’ve chosen races abroad that I’d love to compete in this year. I’ve planned a holiday with a friend. I’ve clocked some routes I’d like to run closer to home. I’ve thought about hot, sunny days where I want to be fit enough to go out from dawn to dusk. Some of these plans won’t happen, but some of them will! That’s enough to keep me going.
Have fun! - We’re never going to want to work hard at something if it isn’t enjoyable. Sometimes that is going to mean adapting your plans to keep things fun. Don’t let a rigid training schedule take the joy out of it. I’m a big believer in achieving more when you’re enjoying things. I could diligently do all the physio, strength and stretching that would make me a ‘better’ runner, but at what price? I want to remain in love with this sport for the rest of my life. Swap that rainy road tempo for a muddy and fun splash through the forest. Say ‘yes’ to running with friends instead of going to the gym. Forget your trainers and chase the powder days. Whatever keeps you smiling and coming back tomorrow.
Winter kit - Winter is tough. It is cold, it is wet, it is icy, windy, dark. If you don’t have the right tools to combat these obstacles you’re going to dread it. Numb toes, hot aches, hail blasted eyes - they’re all preventable. I’m as guilty as the next person for not always having the right kit (currently desperately need to buy warmer gloves and waterproof socks), but honestly, having the right gear makes all the difference.
Some winter essentials: headtorch, spikes / trainers with dobs, merino layers, waterproofs that are actually waterproof, a bag big enough to carry lots of layers, dry bags to keep your dry layers dry.
Winter adaptations: plastic bags over your feet, ski goggles for snowstorm runs, peaked caps for keeping heavy rain out your eyes.
Cross training - Similar to my ‘keep it fun’ tip; it is important to be open to alternative forms of exercise. Sometimes the weather will defeat you, sometimes you’ll just want to do something different. I use winter to cut back on my mileage and indulge in the activities I have to sideline at other times of the year. I’m out on my mountain and gravel bike a lot more, and when the snow permits the skis come out! It is useful to have an arsenal of alternative activities at your disposal to keep you moving in all weathers. Other alternatives include: hiking, snow shoeing, xc skiing, skating, swimming, or even getting on the dreaded turbo.
Go to routes - It is important to have routes that are local and that you know well. Routes where you don’t need to navigate and can estimate how long you’ll be out for. It is going to be dark and wet so the familiarity of a well trodden route might provide that extra motivation to get out. When you’re running through those conditions in the beam of your head torch you could be running pretty much anywhere, so this isn’t the time to venture somewhere new. A run where you know exactly what you’re getting yourself in for is often the best bet. Winter training isn’t glamorous or exciting; better the devil you know.