Training in the Winter
It’s 15° and snowing outside.
Your training program calls
for a tempo run. What should you do? It may be time to change your
workout. No single
workout is going to make or break your season. That’s not really true.
can break your season, or seriously set you back.
It’s hard to sprint when it’s cold.
Even if the roads are
dry, your muscles don’t work as well when they’re cold. It’s harder to
muscles loose and pliable enough to efficiently handle the explosive
contractions and extensions required for higher speeds.
Instead of doing an interval or tempo workout when it's cold, run easy,
or skip working out that day, and more your speed workout to a warmer
Unless you are training for an early
spring race, you don’t
absolutely need to speed work all the time now. Even if you do have a
soon, it’s smart to put it off for a couple of days until the weather
improves, or even skip a week, rather than risk injury. If you insist
running hard, warm up extremely well, work your way gradually up to
(no sudden accelerations), and stay warm between hard sets.
Sure there are winter sports that do
have sprinting - like
cross-country skiing and speed skating – but those sports have to be
the cold. They would be able to sprint better in warm weather (except
& ice conditions). In relays, they continue to skate or ski, or
stationary bikes, between hand-offs.
While it’s easier to go long, at
least run easy, when it’s
cold, than it is to go hard, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s
easy, or that you should. As long as you can keep yourself warm (and
footing isn’t too bad), you can stay out there a long time. I’ve been
single digits for 10 hours at a winter adventure race. If your legs get
and start to tighten up, if your hands and feet get cold, and certainly
become numb, certainly if you start shivering, then consider cutting
If you can anticipate the weather, work around the weather. For
example, if you have a
long run scheduled for Sunday but a big storm or severe cold is
move in on Saturday night, then consider doing your long run on
instead, ahead of the storm.
Against the Elements
Beyond the standard cold weather
clothing advice (e.g.,
wicking layers to keep moisture away from your skin), I wear mittens
gloves (I tend to get cold hands even in the 40s & 50s). I like
shirts and jackets to regulate temperature, and to help keep from
sweaty (leading to chills).
When it’s really cold, I’ll wear
neoprene socks, over a thin
sock or sock liner, to keep my feet warm (there are a number of
brands that you can find at most outdoor retailers and some running
cover the area around my mouth with Vaseline; it’s hard to breathe when
gets numb. Sometimes I’ll wear a bandana over my mouth. This warms the
before it hits my throat and lungs.
Don’t forget to drink. We often
think of hydration as just a
hot weather issue. However, when you’re bundled up against the cold,
is still warm and generating a lot of heat, and you’re losing sweat.
air outside is much drier when it’s cold, and it sucks moisture from
steam you see when you exhale, that’s moisture from inside your lungs
condensing when it hits the cold.
Take it Inside
I know. You hate the gym. I do too.
working out inside is the smart thing. There are ways to keep it
and a variety of different equipment, not just treadmills, can be good
running. See this companion article for more on training inside.
Training plans aren't written in stone. No single workout is going to make
your season, but it could
Be smart. Train smart.