How to Stay Motivated During the Winter Months
It is that time of year again. You arrive home from work and it’s dark. You leave for work the next morning and it is still dark. Winter is the time most runners struggle to maintain motivation, and it is easy to see why.The following tips should make staying on track a little easier, by helping you to be prepared, and see the silver lining of running in the winter.
First, let’s address the biggest downsides of running in the winter, and how we can overcome them:
One of the worst parts of cold weather running is the deep chill we feel in our bones. There is almost nothing worse than fingers and toes losing all sensation, followed by the painful return of your circulation. Questioning your sanity, and fighting the urge to turn around and go back into your warm house almost always accompany those first few minutes, but if you stick with it, you will be glad you did.
When it comes to dressing for winter running, layers are king. You want to try to dress for temperatures 10-15 degrees (F) colder than you are going to be running in. Once you get through those initial few minutes, your body will warm up and you should be comfortable. That being said, when it is cold outside, your body will divert the blood away from your extremities, meaning that they are more susceptible to feeling the cold. It is better to wear thicker gloves and socks and risk them being too warm, than to try to run with numb fingers and toes.
Most of your body heat is lost through your head, so wearing a headband or a hat is going to make your run much more enjoyable (especially for your ears!). Neck warmers and bulas are also great for keeping the heat in.
If it is an option for you, removing layers is a great idea once you warm up; that way you will prevent overheating. If wind-chill is an issue for you, a good running jacket will make a world of difference, and you can layer underneath as you need. Once you find the right winter running gear, you’ll be a lot more comfortable in the cold temperatures.
Now what about the other downside of winter running that brings out even colder temperatures than during the day?
Running in a wooded trail in the middle of the day, with a beautiful blue sky backdrop requires a lot less motivation than a cold, dark night, especially when running options are limited by the availability of the streetlights. For most runners, running in the dark during the winter months is unavoidable.
Wearing clothes with reflectors…
…will give you some peace of mind that cars will be able to see you. Many running stores also offer high visibility belts and straps that will make you easier to spot in the dark.
If you are feeling adventurous, and looking for ways to run in new areas that are not well lit, look into a runner’s headlamps, which can be found at most major running stores (or online). This will allow you to run outside of your neighborhood, giving you more freedom to enjoy your run.
Runners who get up early to complete their run for the day are getting plenty of practice for race day. Your body will get used to waking up early and being ready to go when the sun comes up. This means on race day it knows what is going on, you’ve established a routine, and you can go into race day feeling relaxed knowing you are prepared.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you are running at night, you are running when you are already emotionally (and physically) fatigued from your day. We recently found that the ego depletion that occurs from mental tasks affects your ability to perform. If your body gets used to running when you are tired from the day, when race day rolls around and you are rested, you will feel strong and energized, believing you can do this after suffering through your nighttime training.
Another benefit of running in the dark that you may not have learned to appreciate (yet!) is that your fight or flight response is triggered by the lack of daylight, giving you a free adrenaline rush that you can use to run faster without expending any extra energy.
Winter runs also bring about more of a runner’s high, as you have that satisfaction of knowing you got out there while most people are curled up by the fire.
Not only will it give you an added confidence boost, later on you will remember all those days you got out there and did it when you really did not want to, and it will give you an extra level of determination to use during your race.
For those of you racing a spring marathon, if you follow your marathon training schedule during the winter, and get your training in, you are going to feel so strong when the ground thaws and you can look back knowing that you were committed, and you can appreciate those milder temperatures even more.
Running with a phone is personal preference, and there are pros and cons for using it; it will increase your safety in case you need to contact someone, but if you use it to listen to music, it can be dangerous because you don’t hear cars and other hazards.
If you do use headphones, have the volume on low enough for you to hear cars, or consider purchasing single ear buds. Regardless of whether you take your phone or not, make sure you always let a loved one know where you are planning on running and how far for safety reasons.
Alternatively, if you like the time spent running to be just you and your thoughts, you could use the voice memo function on your phone to record any reminders or ideas you may have. You could even just stuff a small notebook into your running jacket to write down notes.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you spent a run thinking about a great idea, only to forget it by the time you get home? Using the time for running to process your thoughts, almost as a form of stress relief, this can be enough of a motivator to get you out the door after a hard day.
Finally, remember that no matter how many loopholes and excuses you come up with to get out of going for a run, you are never going to regret a run. It takes about seven minutes to start enjoying a run, but you can spend a whole evening (or day at work) reaping the rewards, and showing that smug smile off knowing that you took one step closer to your ultimate health or running goal.