It’s wintertime, the temperature is dropping to single-digits, and there’s snow everywhere. The thought of lacing up your shoes for a run can sound worse than a jog in 95-degree heat with 100% humidity.
There’s nothing less motivating than the threat of frostbite and black ice. But the easiest way to stay moving through the freezing months is by giving yourself some hard motivation—and the best way to do that is to sign up for a spring race, says fitness trainer Jim Lubinski, a professional triathlete and USA Triathlon-certified coach. With a set date to train for, it’ll be harder to let yourself get fat on the couch in mid-January.
After you’ve sent in that registration form, follow Lubinski’s five simple winter training tips to keep yourself in top shape—so you don’t hit the starting line already wheezing.
1. Go easy
If you lost sight of why you love to run in the midst of a ass-kicking summer training program, use the winter to get your passion back. “For someone who is running all year long, the winter is a good time to build up the necessary base you need for the rest of the season,” Lubinski says. So don’t have a set workout routine that focuses on pace or intensity—instead, focus on easy-to-follow, general goals that keep you accountable. One month, aim to run four times per week for 30 minutes each. The next month, run four times a week for an hour each. Listen to your body. It can’t go fast 12 months a year, so simply focus on building a strong foundation for spring.
2. Dress warm, but not too warm
“As you go out the door, you are initially going to be cold,” Lubinski says. But don’t overdress, he warns, because that is when you overheat and could get dizzy or dehydrated quickly. Instead, dress for ten to 15 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. You should feel a brisk chill when you head outside, but shouldn’t be overly hot during your warm-up. Dress in layers and definitely wear a hat, as well as a thin pair of running gloves — leave the thick wool ones at home for a snow day. Your feet should produce enough heat to stay warm in a regular pair of running socks.
3. Ditch your regular running shoes
Your regular running shoes won’t provide you with the traction you need when slush and black ice cover the ground. “No matter how cautious you are, sometimes you don’t see that ice,” Lubinski says. “You don’t want to be out for the next season because of a broken wrist or elbow.” Instead of chancing it, preempt the dangers of slipping and sliding by grabbing a pair of running shoes with thick traction or tread that will hold up in the winter months. The shoe may be heavier, but as the winter isn’t a time to train hardcore, the weight won’t be an issue.
4. Be hyper-aware of your surroundings
“When you are running in winter, you always have to be thinking: be totally aware,” Lubinski says. Don’t get too lost in your iPod or your thoughts that you disregard your surroundings. If it's a really icy or slushy day, run without music, or shorten your stride to have more control over your step. Run through some snow to build strength, and add variety to your runs to keep your mind fresh and always aware of the environment. As the days get shorter, make sure your gear is laced with reflective tape and consider buying a headlamp to not only let others know where you are, but also to help you see the road or trail as the sun sets.
5. Extend your warm-up
In the winter months, make sure to take a longer warm-up than you normally do during the warmer months. This will help your muscles ease into your run, and prevent tears or pulls. If your usual warm-up takes about ten minutes before leading you into your full stride, try hitting it easy for 15 or even 20 minutes. “Your body is cold and stiff,” Lubinski says, “and you need to take that extra time, even it if means walking for five minutes, to go from an easy jog to an easy run and then into a medium-paced run."