How to Train in the Cold Months

>> Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sue writes:

I started running in August and finish my first 5K on October. It was so much fun and I plan on entering more races in the future, but since it is getting colder, it is going to be harder for me to run during the week. I also don't belong to a gym, and don't have a treadmill.

During the winter I just want to run, not really train for any particular race. Do you have suggestions as to how much to run in the winter months. Also: Should I try to increase mileage or wait until I am ready for another race?

Sooner than we think, the geese will fly south. The ground will freeze. So will our toes. Indeed, Sue asks a great, timely question, which is why we thought it'd be perfect to post for everyone. Now that fall racing madness is slowing down . . . the temperatures are cooling . . . the light hours in the day, dwindling . . . running/keeping fit gets somewhat a lot more difficult. I'm also not a member of a gym right now. And with no access to a treadmill, longer workouts mid-week are getting tough. (I say this mostly from Stephen's perspective, since my knee has kept me from running longer than 6 miles this past week.)

As far as mileage during the winter, it's difficult for me to prescribe a plan because we're all so different. I always say that one of the best things you can do -- no matter what time of year -- is create a goal in your mind. For some, that's a winter or spring race. (There's this awesome January 10K series where we live, so we both try to keep our pace up!) For others, it's getting faster. For others, it's going longer. Etc.

Coming up with a goal to work toward will not only help you decide what and how much training to do. It will also help keep you motivated when the ice and snow make you think twice before heading out the door.
  • For speed, you may want to start doing more intervals (bursts of faster running). Fartlek workouts. (more info)
  • For endurance, you may want to add a longer, slow run to each week (but no more than 10% more per week). Hills, even. (more info)
  • For a race, you may want to evaluate how your last training plan went and try a new one.
  • For maintenance of current fitness, you may want to simply continue your current intensity and mileage.
No matter what you decide your goal will be, simply stick within your current fitness level (no big changes) and slowly incorporate workouts in that help you reach it. And winter nights mean more time indoors. Instead of plopping yourself in front of the TV for yet another 16-and-Pregnant marathon (guilty), use your time wisely. Read up on running. That's what we, the English teacher and library worker, do!

Books we've read/plan to read:
See! There's tons of advice and inspiration that you can soak in on those cold, dark days.


Winter is also a great time to tune up on other areas of fitness you may neglect when you're in the habit of only running. Many gyms offer a short-term membership plan and some offer a "membership freeze" if you want to quit for a while once the weather gets nicer.

I'm seriously considering joining a gym right now for several reasons.
  1. I'm injured and -- whether or not I'm able to complete the marathon next month -- I'd like to add swimming to my regimen. And some more strength training.
  2. I get cabin fever in the winter. I like to have a place to go on blustery days. Someplace that isn't my couch. I've been known to spend hours at the gym, sometimes only sitting in the sauna or walking some slow laps around the indoor track.
  3. I like to meet new people. So, the opportunity to join some group fitness classes, like yoga, spinning, etc., is exciting. And it beats watching TV.
  4. I get sick. Often in the winter. And even if I'm still OK to work out (because in many cases, you can still maintain fitness while you're sick), I may not feel like running in the dark. On ice. While snow accumulates on my shoulders.

If you haven't tried cross-training before, you'll be amazed. I promise! I was the most skeptical and always, always wanted to just keep running. No matter what.

BUT. When I get going on the bike, I tend to tone muscles I didn't know existed. I grow a new appreciation for my body. I get motivated to try new things that continually challenge my body and my mind. And I know for certain I've become a better runner from yoga and cycling. My very best 5K race time was completed during an intense spinning class-obsessed (in a good way) period of my life.

This year? I want to make a splash and learn better swimming technique. I'm not a natural in the pool, but there's always something about skipping around in my bathing suit while it's snowing outside that gets me giggly and exited!

And if you don't have the cash, you can work out at home, too! Though we don't have dedicated space, we have created a way to workout at home. We've written about our in-house "gym" here and here. One of our readers also wrote a passionate post about the topic a few months back. And we even have tips on how to squeeze in some zero-dollar strength training.


I always find myself at the beginning of a new season desiring change. If you're new to fitness or running, now may be a good time to start. We've got a ton of running-related posts to get you laced up and ready for your first run. Most basic of which is titled simply: How To Run.

It's not too early to start training for your first 5K. Stop making excuses. Waiting until "next month." Now's the time! You can do it!

Other related information to get you moving . . .
How do you keep up your running/workout schedule during the colder months? Any tips to share with Sue and other readers? We'd love your input! Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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