Run Outdoors This Winter!

>> Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I know plenty of runners who skip running outdoors in the cold weather months. There's no shame in it. I definitely enjoyed several years training in the gym as well, favoring a monotonous slog on the treadmill to a frosty jaunt atop ice-covered sidewalks. In my own experience, when I kept up my outdoor routine, I maintained better running fitness and was much better prepared for spring races. I also felt much happier and mentally sane.

Still, running outside can be gross, absolutely frigid, and -- at times -- dangerous.

I'm planning to write a post about the benefits of retreating to the gym -- because there are many. But today, I want to offer up some tips for those of you who want to venture out this winter season. I'm dealing with my own troubled return to running and cold temperatures, too.

Follow a Plan. (And -- no. After having a baby, this isn't my current training plan.) This is almost always my first tip with anything related to running. Obviously, there aren't tons of races in winter if you live where it's chilly. But that doesn't mean you can't follow some sort of training plan or make some sort of goal for yourself. Think short-range. Month to month. That way, when you hear the ice hitting your windowpanes, you'll still feel motivated to cross that workout off your to-do list.

For me, this year's goal is to get back into running after my pregnancy. I've signed up for a half marathon in May -- but my immediate winter goal is to get comfortable running for an hour to hour and fifteen minutes. After that, I plan to incorporate some not-so demanding speed sessions to get back closer to my pre-pregnancy running times.

Run with the Sun. It's not always possible -- especially if you work a 9 to 5 -- but if you can head out for your runs in daylight, it helps tremendously with the transition from fall to winter. It'll actually BE warmer, too. If you just can't swing it during the week, attempt to get in two good weekend workouts in the sun. Or if you live somewhere as cloudy as we do, when it's still at least semi light outside.

This year, I've got it relatively easy. I can run basically whenever Ada's feeding schedule allows (and I have someone to watch her). I've noticed a huge difference in how I feel if I'm able to run before the sun sets. The added bonus of seeing other runners out and about is fantastic as well.

Make it Social. When all else fails, grab a friend or your significant other, bundle up, and log your miles. Gossip has a great way of helping to melt off the frost that accumulates on your eyebrows. And misery loves company. Use your chat time to complain about the weather. Chances are you'll get in your miles without even realizing it.

In our area, our runners club stays active when it's below zero. From the annual Christmas Lights Run to the crazy Freeze 10K series, there's always something going on to help coax us outdoors. Check for similar events in your own area.

Plan Sweet Rewards. (Image Credit) Sometimes you might need some extra incentive to get your butt out the door. As Tom Haverford would say: "TREAT YO-SELF!" Plan to take a long bath when you return from the cold. Sip a gigantic mug of hot chocolate. Slip on your Forever Lazy or Snuggie early that night. Anything that warms you up and makes you feel good.

I'm a shower gal. I love taking super luxurious showers, though I know it's not exactly the most sustainable thing to do. Still, when it's particularly frigid, I hop up to our bathroom, strip off my ice-clad clothes, and steam up the bathroom for a good 20 minutes. Then I take my time blow-drying my hair. Sounds silly, but it works for me.

Compromise. There are some of us (and it can change year to year) who just can't jump on the winter running wagon. To keep up the training benefits, aim to get outdoors for at least two quality workouts. That way, you won't lose all touch with outdoor reality. You also will benefit from breathing in open air.

In the years I would rather be in the gym, I'd try to get in my long run and a speed workout outdoors each week. The junk miles, those run when I could completely zone out, were delegated to the treadmill. After a while, I usually find myself logging more and more miles outdoors as the season rolls on.

For more winter running tips, check out these posts:

How to Train in the Cold Months
How to Suit Up to Set Out
Seasonal De-Motivation

And if you'd like to see what Ada is up to in her third week of life, check out (never home)maker, baby!

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