2011-11-23

Running in the Snow, Training in the Winter

Stationary Waves officially "welcomes" the first major snowfall of the year in Ottawa.

Courtesy http://www.parliamenthill.gc.ca/text/camera-eng.html

So it begins. This is the time of year that officially separates the men from the boys, or the little sparkly pink princesses from the real women!

That Ottawa Race Weekend occurs so early in the year is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because it provides a good motivational force to drive us through midwinter training; a curse, for more or less the same reason.

Frankly, it's going to be a cold one this year. The wind will hurt. The icy conditions will make running virtually unbearable. Every moment you spend outside in that weather is a moment you can't be sitting on your living room couch with a good book and a hot cup o' joe. At times, it will feel like there is no good reason to keep going.

Well, it's never been easy, and it never will be. If you've been waiting for that magic day on which you become impervious to inclement weather and have an endless font of physical motivation, you have a long wait ahead of you; it will never come.

Lucky for you, I can offer a few suggestions - collected over years of experience - to help you make the most of the slippery training that lies ahead.

Suggestion 1: Make the Morning Workout a Habit
For the better part of a year, I have been extolling the virtues of working out twice-a-day. I know many of you have been resisting this suggestion because you think it is way too hardcore. Really, though, it's not so bad! 

Here's how it works:

First, give yourself between 30 and 45 minutes to wake up, pull on some workout clothes, and find some free floor space somewhere in your house. That's right - it's completely unnecessary to brave the harsh weather over a trip to the gym. Make this easy on yourself. You don't have to climb Kilimanjaro every morning at 5am. Just pull up a piece of floor and get started.

Second, focus on the most effective strength training exercises:
  • Push-ups
  • Crunches
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Pull-ups
These exercises impact almost every major muscle group in your body. If you're looking for a no-brainer, quick-and-easy way to train through the winter, do three sets of each and go eat breakfast. Done and done.

Even if you don't do these five exercises every day, structuring your morning workout around these movements requires no special equipment, no gym  membership, no nothing!

Like I said, make it easy on yourself.

Finally, to really stay committed to your morning workout, pull out the laptop or the newspaper and browse the headlines for 30 seconds between each set. The point is, you don't have to dread your morning workout, you can multi-task and enjoy making it a regular part of your day.

Suggestion 2: Run Anyway
I know, I know - in the winter it gets cold outside, you slip around on the sidewalk, the roads are never adequately ploughed, your nose runs, cars honk at you, you're never quite warm enough, the wind blows, it takes a lot of time to put on all that winter running equipment, and so forth.

It's hard to run in the winter, I get it.

Here's the thing, though: If you somehow manage to pull on all your gear and get outside for just five or ten minutes, you'll find you're over the hump. The rest of the workout is no big deal.

What I'm suggesting is that while your arguments against running outside in the winter are all perfectly valid, their severity disappears if you just go ahead and run anyway.

Human beings are remarkably resilient creatures who have managed to adapt to the conditions of both the Sahara Desert and the Arctic Circle. We're like rats and cockroaches, we are literally everywhere. There probably isn't a rain forest or tundra anywhere on the globe that isn't inhabited by human beings. Granted, given the choice, we would all prefer to live on a pineapple farm near the Equator. Despite that fact, when we find ourselves in Canada during the winter (or whatever), we manage to adapt.

And if you just get out the front door and down the road a little, you'll find that you yourself adapt pretty well, too. 

Suggestion 3: Leave the Record-Setting for Summer
So it's winter and you have a lower-than-normal sense of personal motivation. The shorter days are giving you a mild case of Seasonal Affectedness Disorder and you really just want to stay in bed with an active coffee machine nearby.

Now is not the time to take on every aspect of the universe.

The point is, choose your battles. You have enough to deal with during the winter that you shouldn't feel like you have to keep up your fastest, most ambitious pace. You don't have to get out there and start doing hardcore speed training or hefty fartlek training. Ottawa Race Weekend is still several months away. All you really need to do is keep your endurance base up high enough that you can capitalize on the good weather once it finally returns.

That's it! I mean, if you want to get extra ambitious, feel free. It certainly won't hurt. But the key to winter training is not getting in your best workouts of the year, but simply ensuring that you don't give up entirely and start packing on the seasonal pounds.

Suggestion 4: Be Proud of Yourself
One of the most important (and often-forgotten) aspects of rising to challenges is taking the time to congratulate yourself once you get there. 

Today is November 23rd. That means there are five weeks until all the other folks sign up for a new 2012 gym membership and come out in droves under the auspices of a New Year's resolution. When they show up, you will have been there the whole time, driving yourself forward, keeping fit, and overcoming challenges that, frankly, those other guys couldn't hack.

That's not a slight against them, it's reality. If you manage to keep yourself going this winter, allow yourself to be proud for doing what other people couldn't do. It's okay to feel happy and satisfied with yourself for having accomplished more than what the average person could do.

Rewarding yourself with some positive feedback helps reinforce your motivation and gives yourself a reason to be happy about some of the tougher moments you put yourself through. So don't skimp on the personal accolades. ;)