It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for Running (Not Really)
Last week marked the beginning of winter, but many in the U.S. have already been subjected to winter weather throughout the latter part of “autumn.” Frigid temperatures, cold rain, and accumulating ice and snow have made the going rough.
Posted Thursday, 27 December, 2007
The road I can see from where I am writing this has turned into a Swiss cheese-like block of ice, peppered with deep holes, ready to claim a wheel axle at any moment, or send a runner sprawling. In Boston we have already passed last year’s snow total for the entire winter, and are closing in on the all-time mark for any December in history. That is not the kind of record most runners like to see set. For those of us softened up by the mild winters of the past few years, which were chalked up to global warning (hey, what happened to that, anyway, Al Gore?), it has been a rude awakening.
Needless to say, this kind of weather is less than ideal for running. Roadways narrowed on both sides by snow banks and ice—combined with irritable drivers—result in difficult and often dangerous conditions for running. That is, of course, if you have even mustered up the motivation to venture outside. Isn’t it easier to give in and stay inside, doing something more reasonable and comfortable?
Of course, this being the 21st century, there are alternatives for the discouraged runner. One is running on a treadmill. After all, it is real running—isn’t it? Some runners think so, others don’t. This much is indisputable: the belt moves backward, so if you don’t move forward, well, you will no longer be on the treadmill. Is it equivalent to running outside? Not exactly, since there are no cars, wind, hills (unless you create them by adding an incline), or potholes (hopefully!) to contend with. On the other hand, a treadmill can be a good tool for learning to sustain a steady pace. Outside, you can always slow down when you get tired. On a treadmill…we covered that one already.
The boredom factor keeps many runners off the treadmill, but music, television, and videos can help ameliorate the tedium to a certain degree. If none of those diversions work, try to have the machine set up so you can look outside, smug in your knowledge that you are running in shorts and a T-shirt, instead of the many layers needed to run outside. Laugh at the cold! (As long as you are not out in it.)
An indoor track can also be a boon to winter running, if you can find one that is accessible. Indoor tracks are conducive to running fast, as most feature short ovals with bouncy surfaces. Training with a running club once a week indoors can make speedwork fun, or at least doable. Then, when you think you are fast, go to a college or professional indoor track meet. Those silky smooth greyhounds cruising comfortably around the track? They are probably running twice as fast as you do in your gut-busting workouts. So what! It’s still fun to run faster than your normal pace.
Cross training is another strategy to combat winter weather. Swimming (indoors of course!), stationary cycling or spinning, the elliptical, and weight training are all alternatives to running outside. Of course, none of these types of training is running-specific, but will help develop cardio and strength during the off-season. By incorporating any of all of these activities into your schedule, you could do something different every day. And that does not even include yoga and Pilates, so popular among baby boomers nowadays.
If all of this may still leave you jonesing for the fresh air of outdoors, some types of cross training can actually be done outside. Cross-country or downhill skiing and snowshoeing are all popular and will take you away from the traffic. All three require snow (obviously), and there is a learning curve with these sports (although much easier for cross country and snowshoeing than downhill). Of course, dealing with the elements is part of the game, so if winter weather just leaves you cold, these sports are not ideal choices.
For those who truly detest winter, there is always the option of escape. Face it: the thought of boarding a plane and touching down in 80-degree temperatures is alluring to just about everyone. Not all of us can budget the time and money to avail ourselves of this opportunity, however. We must make do with dreaming of how nice it must be and gloating when friends who have gone south return and suffer in the cold, while we brag about how acclimated we are to the harsh winter.
As you can see, there are many ways to stay fit during the dark and cold winter months. The truly hardy, however, will simply slough off the cold, ice, and snow, carrying on with their normal running routines. Sure, you’ll run a little slower and it will be occasionally frustrating, but dealing with winter through steely stoicism is admirable and will add a layer of toughness, which always comes in handy. In the end, no matter how you get through the challenging conditions of the season, take comfort in the fact that spring is just three (long) months away.