Thursday, February 5, 2015

Winter of Discontent

Winter running sucks!

There, I said it. And I’m glad I did. Someone had to, really. It’s been far too long in coming.

See, there’s this false sense of bravado that tends to manifest itself around these parts (especially amongst people like myself who don’t run on treadmills) which maintains that running through harsh New England winters makes you stronger, tougher, and better prepared for the racing season to come. And, I’m here today to tell you that line of thinking is total B.S.

I’m not sure why this is something I’m only coming to realize now. I’ve lived, and run in New England my whole life. I’ve logged over 40,000 miles in the 17 years I’ve run and more than a quarter of that was during the winter. Perhaps the reason that this has become an issue for me recently is because last year was the first time ever that the majority of my miles were done on the trails, instead of the roads. So now that the trails are snowed in and I’m forced out of the woods, I’ve really noticed just how truly awful the roads are around here in the wintertime.

You can’t tell me that slipping around on the slush and ice, while avoiding closer cars and pushy snowplows, makes you stronger. If anything it increases your chance for injury, leading to running downtime, and lessened fitness as a result. And you can’t tell me that running through below zero temps with blowing wind and snow makes you tougher. I mean, any toughness that might be gained is marginal at best because, let’s face it, you’ve gotta’ be pretty tough already to even go out there in the first place.

And, what about the fallacy that tough winter training prepares you for the racing season to come? To that I say, “Sure, if your goal race is a marathon on the Planet Hoth!” Otherwise, forget it. I’ve trained through far too many New England style winters only to toe the line at Boston (on an “unusually warm” spring day) and become completely undone by the “heat”. Acclimatizing to cold running conditions does nothing for you, if that’s not the weather you’re going to actually be racing in.

Maybe you think I’m just being wimpy. And perhaps that’s true. But, I think I should know a thing or two about toughness. I’ve run half marathons in below zero temps. I’ve run marathons in both brutal heat AND in snow storms. I’ve run 50k trail races on ice. And I’ve run 50 milers when the weathermen are telling people to stay indoors because of “unsafe air quality”. Maybe all these things make me tough, and maybe they just make me stupid. I don’t know.

Anyway, by now you must be asking yourself, “Well, what’s your point?” And, to answer that question, I reach back for a famous verse from the Good Book which says: “Now you know the truth, and that truth will set you free!” You see, only by admitting what we all know to be true (that winter running sucks) can we find a way to make it better. So, without further ado, here are 5 winter training tips to help you make the most of the suckyiness:

1.       Run with friends. It makes the crappy winter miles go by faster and if it gets really windy you can always hide behind them.

2.       Run at lunchtime. It’s the warmest, brightest part of the day. Unlike early morning runs, you’ll have less chance of getting frostbite and commuters will actually be able to see you.

3.       Run in the woods. Sure the snow is annoying, but if you wear Snowshoes it’ll probably be the best strength training you’ve ever done. Also, there’s much less chance of you getting crushed by a plow out there. And you might even see a deer.

4.       Run indoors. There are plenty of places to run inside without being stuck on a treadmill. The Hampshire Dome, in Milford and the Merrimack YMCA both have great indoor tracks and you can even jump in the hot-tub when you’re done.

5.       Run away. Either up to the mountains for a Winter Wild race, or to a cross country skiing session, or to a hike on one of NH’s great peaks. Or, if you’re really desperate, to a warm weather destination race. But, if you do that last one, be prepared to hate winter all the more upon your return.

So, these are just a few of the things I do while running in the winter and dreaming of simpler days. Summer days. You know, when all you need to head out the door for an enjoyable run is a pair of sneakers, a t-shirt and some shorts.

What do you do to make your winter running better?

I’m so desperate at this point that I might even (gulp) try the treadmill.

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