Challenges of Boston: Winter Training

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In part one, we talked a little bit about timing, but more specifically how training starts at maybe the worst timing of the year- the holiday season. Today, I want to expand once into what will really affect a lot of people- the winter months!

Where I am at, in metro Detroit, winters aren’t too bad through the end of December. We might get some snow, but there’s been plenty of times when we don’t have any snow on the ground. The problem is, once January rolls around, the average high is below freezing and whatever snow we get is usually stuck until March! We might not get a ton of snow, but it’s usually very cold and the wind chill is brutal. The interesting thing is that, if you just go over to the other side of the state, in the Grand Rapids area, they get a ton of snow due to the lake effect off of Lake Michigan. The bottom line is that it is cold, dark, and windy. We tend to have poor footing and are wearing a bunch of layers. The cold affects performance in a number of ways. Training in it can seem like we are going backwards and knowing our true fitness level is often difficult. 

If you are in a warmer climate, you are probably at an advantage and you don’t necessarily need to take this post in any further. By the way, if that is you, we are so jealous! For those who deal with this kind of weather, I probably don’t really need to explain the challenges it provides us. The biggest thing I can do is offer some guidance on how to approach and navigate. 

When it comes to winter running and how to navigate, you know exactly what is going to be said and I can hear the collective “Ewww! No way!” or the macho acting tough and trying to tell me it’s not real running. Okay, sure whatever. Honestly, if a person is doing a base plan, or they are running 30-60 minutes a few times a week, then yeah I love the ability to get outside and embrace the cold. However, there’s a big difference between getting your daily exercise and training for a marathon.  I want to run outside, I am definitely in the camp of “if I can, I’ll run outside.” However, over the years, I have seen so many athletes (and myself) develop issues in their feet, achilles, hips, knees, and calves from trying to just do everything on poor footing. I am 100% convinced of that. With that…

Balance time outside with time on the treadmill. 

Invest $10/month and join Planet Fitness and commit to doing at least your easy runs on poor footing days to hitting the treadmill. While you’re at it do 20 minutes of strength training afterwards! Even if you only need it for January and February, you’ve spent $20 and kept yourself healthy. Say you use it once a week for two months, that’s $2.50 a run to just give your body a break. I feel like the ROI on that is pretty good.  

The biggest thing I want to do by encouraging you to be open minded about a treadmill is more about just giving your body a break from the constant poor footing on sidewalks and streets. Secondly, every once in a while it’s not a bad idea to use it as a checkpoint with something like a harder long run or a tempo run just so that confidence is not all lost. We can adjust based on temperatures and recognize that if I am wearing five pounds of clothes, my performance will probably be affected. But, every once in a while it’s nice to not have to worry about all of that stuff. 

The biggest complaint I get with doing runs on the treadmill is that I can’t run fast on a treadmill, I get bored, or I just get dizzy or vertigo. I want to discuss running fast in a second but quickly address the last two. Getting bored does suck. Podcasts and music will only do so much. I see it as an opportunity to get attentive to yourself- focused on what you are doing. I actually do my best thinking on the treadmill, I just never bring anything to write down and forget by the time I have something! Being bored is a great opportunity to develop focus and mental toughness. It’s a great opportunity to learn how to zone out, get in the rhythm, and save mental energy for when you’ll really need it. As for getting dizzy or anything like that. I get it. I know some people just really struggle with it and I am not one to say, just suck it up and figure it out. I’ve seen a few people lose it on a treadmill and crash. It’s not pretty. 

Alright, as for running fast on a treadmill. Yes, I understand the issues. I think anything in the speed category or faster, I would personally require a tether from the ceiling because I fear I would fly off the back end. So, the best workouts for the treadmill are- dedicated hill workouts and just the breaking up of the grade is a big benefit, mentally. A tie for first would be the long run. Yes, it’s boring and no I don’t expect every long run to be on the treadmill. However, the long run on the treadmill provides the perfect opportunity to “set and forget” your pace, practice with fluids and fueling, and control the terrain (hills). Lastly, I’d say tempo runs and maybe strength runs. We’ll talk about it in a second, but you can use our treadmill calculator to easily manipulate speed/grade to match the desired outdoor intensity. If you aren’t familiar with our treadmill calculator, check it out HERE. 

Be flexible on your workouts

Being flexible in your workouts is crucial for winter training. Being flexible can mean a number of things. It can just switch your days around to accommodate a better time to run or better weather improving chances of better footing. Let’s say you have a week where you have a big marathon pace workout, but not a significant long run. If you drove out to the Metropark, you know the footing would be pretty solid, but it’s Thursday and you ain’t got time for that! But you do have time to go put 90 minutes easy around the neighborhood or on your basement treadmill. So, you do that, and then move the workout to Saturday, when you have time to get out there and do the workout. 

It can also mean, that instead of going and doing an 8 mile tempo, maybe you do 4×15 minutes at marathon effort. It’s bad footing out, and you could do something on the treadmill, but an 8 mile tempo scares you. Okay, do the 4×15 minutes instead and put in the appropriate intensity using the already mentioned calculator. You could also move outside and adjust to effort-based. 

Other points of interest

Scope out workout spots. I’ll use myself as an example. I live off one of the busiest roads in Oakland County, Michigan. It’s Woodward Avenue and runs all the way from Pontiac to Campus Martius at the center of Downtown Detroit. That is the first road to get plowed in the winter. My street is a few blocks off of that and it might be days before it gets plowed. Sidewalks are a crapshoot. However, there is a small subdivision by one of the parks close by that uses their HOA money to get their street plowed privately and it’s usually done really quickly. So, guess where I do a lot of runs on the days following a snowstorm? Correct! Also, the Metroparks by us are very good at plowing the bike paths very quickly. They usually will do those at the same time, or even before, they do the roads in the parks. On the other hand, any rails to trails by us are pretty much useless from the first major snowfall until late March at the earliest. The cross-country skiers and snowshoers take them over and it’s their turf until spring! 

Understand how much extra “weight” affects performance. Weight is always a touchy subject, but it’s pretty well understood that carrying an of, let’s just say, non-muscle mass, slows you down. With that being said, wearing a ton of extra clothes can hold you back. Now, I am not saying strip down to your half tights and let it rip polar bear style, but wearing tights, a couple of layers of tops, hats, gloves, and wool socks- it adds up and adding 5-7 seconds per mile to your pace isn’t a stretch. 

Cold and windchill can have an effect, just like heat. To see the 8 ways the cold can affect performance, read a blog from yesteryear: 

If you are ready to make Boston your best race yet, take a look at our Boston Training Group! Spots will be limited, so check it out here for all the details: 

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