When temperatures dip and the excitement of the fall racing season has died down, many runners struggle to maintain a regular running routine. Add the busyness of the holiday season, and it’s easy to see why many runners end up taking the winter off altogether.
However, maintaining your running routine during winter months offers many benefits. For starters, you can ensure all your training to date won’t go to waste. After all, do you really want to start all over again in the spring?
But one of the most important reasons to keep moving during the winter may be to keep the blues away, says Nicole Gainacopulos, running coach and owner of Momentum of Milwaukee. “That’s one of the biggest reasons why I run,” she adds. In fact, a recent study in Acta Psychologica suggests running for only 15 minutes may improve mood better than meditation.
To help you stay on track this winter, we asked two experts to share their top tips:
SET A GOAL
You may be tempted to give goal-setting a few months off and simply “run for fun,” but “fun” often isn’t enough to get you outside when the weather is crummy.
“A goal gives runners a reason to train,” says Jason Fitzgerald, USATF certified coach and owner of Strength Running.
Registering for a winter race is one great way to ensure you stick with your training — in spite of the weather. It offers a clear, objective goal with a firm date, unlike abstract goals like “get in shape,” or “lose weight,” Fitzgerald says.
You could also try setting weekly goals that challenge you and help you continue making progress. You could, for example, aim to get outside to run two days per week. Or, hone your speedwork training on the treadmill, Gainacopulos says.
INVEST IN COLD-WEATHER RUNNING GEAR
Running outdoors seems much more inviting if you have the right clothes to keep you warm. “There is no bad weather, just poor clothing choices,” Fitzgerald says.
So if you seriously want to make your winter running routine stick, invest in some quality winter running gear.
Gainacopulos recommends starting with a few essentials: great socks (stay away from cotton and opt for synthetic materials like polyester and acrylic instead), a base layer top, jacket, pants, ear coverage and gloves. If getting all these items at once isn’t doable, start with a quality base layer and jacket, Gainacopulos says. Also, figure out what qualities you’re looking for in your winter running gear. Do you need your clothes to be wind-resistant? Water-resistant? Do you need reflective materials?
“Good-quality winter running gear will last several seasons and is well-worth the investment,” Gainacopulos says.
FIND AN INDOOR TRAINING VENUE
Sometimes, running outside isn’t just unpleasant, it’s outright dangerous. Identify a backup venue for days when roads are especially icy and temps drop too far. An indoor track or a treadmill are both great options, but in a pinch, you could always hop on an elliptical or stair climber.
Just keep in mind running on a treadmill may feel slightly easier than running outside because there’s no air resistance and the terrain is pretty smooth. To make your run on the treadmill similar in effort to an outdoor run, set the treadmill at a 1–2 percent incline, Fitzgerald says.
RUN WITH FRIENDS
A cold winter run is usually made better when there are people to help you through it: “There are a lot of other people who are out there struggling to get their run in too, so let’s all struggle together,” Gainacopulos says.
Plus, it’s a lot harder to back out of your run if people are waiting on you to show up. If you don’t usually run with a friend or running group, use winter as the opportunity to give group running a try. Having other people around not only makes the run more enjoyable, but it can help you stay accountable to your winter running routine.
If a running buddy or group has always been part of your routine, check in with people and pledge to hold each other accountable to your goals.
REGISTER FOR A RUNNING CLINIC
Many specialty running stores and local running coaches host a running class or clinic during the winter. Classes and clinics exist for all experience levels, and topics may include learning proper running form, running injury prevention and pacing. Check around to find something that works for your interests, experience level and schedule and sign up. “Don’t be afraid to utilize resources that are going to help keep you moving in the winter,” Gainacopulos says.