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Training: Keep Firing in the Freeze

There are two ways to approach winter from a training perspective: To stay tucked under warm blankets and sleep the winter away, or to toughen up, get out of bed and set your body up for a few early spring PBs. – BY RAY ORCHISON

The human body is an incredible machine. It only maintains the structures it believes are needed for survival. In other words, use it or lose it! There’s nothing quite like hitting the snooze button and rolling over under a warm duvet on a cold or wet winter morning. And given that we’re out of the official running season, you can be forgiven for hitting the snooze button every now and then. The problem is when the snooze button becomes the norm…

Within seven to ten days you lose your sharpness or racing edge when you stop training. It’s not a problem following a hard season or key event. In fact, it’s normal, as we allow our body to recover and repair itself before we begin to build up again. When you stop training for two to three weeks and longer, however, you begin to lose base fitness. This means that your endurance systems, which have been built over months of hard work, together with your muscles, begin to atrophy or waste away. So if you go into full hibernation during winter, you come back into spring requiring lots of hard work to get your systems back to where they were before.

Keep Ticking Over
The better approach to winter is to allow yourself a few easy weeks with one or two extra lie-ins, but keep the body ticking over at a maintenance level. Yes, you won’t be firing on all cylinders, but you should maintain a level where, given a few weeks of focused training, you’ll be race-ready or pretty close to it.

The type of sessions will depend on what you’ve built over the months, and the areas you want to work on. If you’ve improved your speed, strength and endurance, then at this point you’ll possibly reduce your speed and endurance and work a little more at maintaining or even building your strength. If you’ve greatly enhanced your endurance, then this is a great opportunity to maintain a certain level of endurance while working on building your speed. Basically, winter is a great opportunity to work on your weaknesses while maintaining your strengths.

Motivate Yourself
This all sounds great… until that alarm goes off in the cold dark hours and suddenly all motivation goes out the window. It is extremely difficult to get out of bed on a cold or wet morning when you have no purpose for doing so. So, one of the best ways to get motivated is to have a goal in place. For a beginner this might be to run your first 5km race. For a novice, it might be to move up to the half or full marathon distance. For an advanced athlete, it could be looking to PB at 10km or a half marathon. Winter also gives us a great opportunity to spend a little more time at the gym and to eliminate any muscle weaknesses or imbalances.

The worst possible thing you can do when the alarm goes off is to start thinking about it. The more you think about it, the more excuses you will come up with. When that alarm goes off, don’t think about it. Just turn it off and get up! The other alternative is to put the alarm far away from the bed, so you have no option but to get up to turn it off. Once you’re up and out the door, it’s usually not as cold or as bad as you thought it would be, and before you know it, you’re back from your session, standing under a warm shower, feeling good about yourself and glad that you got out there and did it.

Winter Warming Tips
Try these winter-warming tips for surviving the cold months while still getting in your running fix.

  1. Dress Right
    You want to be warm without sweating so much you get a chill later from damp clothing, so you should be slightly cool when you start your run. Wear layers of technical fabrics that wick sweat away from the skin, with zippers at the neck and underarm area to vent air as you heat up. Also, wear gloves and a hat to prevent heat escaping from exposed extremities. After your run, get changed out of cold, damp clothing as soon as you can, because your core body temperature drops as soon as you stop running.
  2. Warm up
    Move around indoors enough to get the blood flowing but without breaking a sweat. Run up and down your stairs, or use a skipping rope, and a speedy house-cleaning session works, too.
  3. Deal with Wind
    Start your run into the wind and finish with it at your back, so you won’t be blasted by cold air after breaking a sweat, but to avoid a long, cold first half, you can break this into segments, such as running into the wind for 10 minutes, then turning to run with the wind at your back for five to seven minutes, and repeating.
  4. Get Motivated
    Make a date to meet someone for a run, because there’s no backing out when someone is waiting. If running solo, tell yourself that you can turn back after five minutes if it’s really bad – chances are good you’ll stay out there once you get going.

Ray Orchison is a Johannesburg-based USATF and NAASFP certified coach. Find him at www.runetics.com or ray@runetics.com.

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