For many runners, the approach of winter means new challenges—harsher conditions, less daylight, and all too often, less motivation. This doesn’t mean you have to pack up your shoes and shut down for the season, though; you just have to adjust.
Nearly every runner, from beginner to pro, grapples with flagging motivation at some point or another. Let’s face it—when the wind, rain, and snow whip up, a case of the blahs can take over pretty quickly.
Some runners, especially professional ones, stay motivated thanks to their desire to improve—and to win. “Many coaches will tell their athletes that no one else is doing the training during bad weather,” says John Schrup, Southwest territory manager for Skechers Performance and a coach in Austin, TX. That approach may not spur less competitive runners to action, however, especially when faced with a dark, rainy day.
One thing that can help get you out the door is to strike a bargain with yourself. Instead of dreading—and skipping—your regular five-mile run, just tell yourself to do, say, a 20-minute out-and-back. Chances are, by the time you hit five minutes, you’ll end up going back to your original goal.
Taking the Long View
Another way to sustain your commitment is to keep your long-term goals in mind. Hitting the streets in dark, windy conditions may not sound like fun—but emerging in the spring with new endurance and a lean, strong body does. But these gains don’t come for free. In areas “where the weather is a real issue, training and racing require an increase in preparation time,” Schrup says. “Warm-ups and cooldowns require a greater focus to reduce the chance of injury. The mental preparation is mostly an intent to focus for a greater amount of time; it’s a patience issue, really.”
Still having trouble staying motivated? Try joining a winter running group—a little bonding can go a long way toward getting you on your feet. “Enduring miserable conditions in a group is great fun, and perhaps the only time a little whining is allowed,” Schrup notes.
Of course, the weather can pose some literal stumbling blocks as well. “Other challenges in the winter months are decreased daylight hours in which to run and increased surface hazards due to snow and freezing rain,” says Schrup. “The cold weather is rarely troublesome in and of itself, unless general discomfort is a thing to consider.” It is troublesome, however, if it affects your stride or even your safety. Fortunately, both can be addressed with footwear and gear.
Gear Up for the Cold
When you’re shopping for winter running shoes, ask your local running store for help finding “a model with some form of wind- and waterproofing, and increased traction components on the outsole,” Schrup says. Schrup also notes that “many runners in areas with extended periods of snow and ice will use screws in the bottom of their shoes for increased traction.” Make sure to consult with an expert if you decide to go this route.
For outerwear and clothing, “layering with technical apparel is the way to go,” Schrup says. “The rule of thumb is to dress for it being 20 degrees warmer than the air temperature, since the body will heat up over time.” However, he notes that you also need to take into consideration wind and/or precipitation.
Since base layers are meant to trap heat and to wick moisture, you should “expect to be chilly for the first mile or two,” he says. “And warm hats and gloves are key, and are available in materials for nearly all weather.”
Despite the challenges, running in winter presents some advantages. “Extreme climates have a callusing effect, in a sense,” Schrup says. “If you can endure outdoor exercise in a Chicago winter, you’re a baller!”
Training through winter provides another benefit that can be even more motivational: knowing that you’re one of a strong, committed minority that can hit the streets or trails all winter long will propel you out the door in even the worst weather and may help you endure stress in other areas of your life as well.
Jonanna Widner lives in Portland, OR, where she writes about sports, music, travel, and fitness.