Avoiding the Winter Doldrums

By Ryan Warrenburg, ZAP Fitness

It’s time to get off on the right foot with your New Year’s resolution, to get out there and have the best winter of training ever. However, if you’re like many of us and have a hard time following through on that resolution this time of year, then I’ve got some ideas to spice things up for you and eliminate the excuses. Being in the south, most of us don’t deal with the severe weather problems of the Midwest or Northeast, but it doesn’t take much freezing rain to keep me inside. For many, this is also the time of year that is the least glamorous, but perhaps most important part of training – the winter base phase. It’s not the excitement of running intervals on the track or doing marathon specific long runs, but putting in the base phase is the foundation for all the “fun” workouts you do as you get closer to your race. For those looking towards spring and summer races it can be easy to lose motivation this far out from your goal races, but there is no replacing the aerobic strength that needs to be put in during the winter.

Treadmill RunningTreadmill Running

I’m going to get this out of the way first since, for most, this is the least palatable solution to your winter doldrums. I know its blasphemy to many, but here it goes… the treadmill can be your friend. Unfortunately, the snow and ice are not, and I’d rather have any runner I coach go for a run on the treadmill than slip and slide through injury inducing precipitation. Grab a friend, go to gym, and get side by side treadmills because after all, misery loves company. It’s not all bad though; you can get some great work in on a treadmill and have precise control of your effort while you’re doing it. Use the treadmill as an opportunity to do an uphill progression run, one of my favorite workouts we use up here in the mountains, and nearly impossible to replicate outside.

Start the workout with a flat, easy warm-up then start the progression. The progression is broken into 3 minute segments. Within each 3 minute segment increase the incline every minute, but keep the pace constant. Do each 3 minute segment twice, and start the first one 10-15 seconds per mile slower than marathon pace. Begin the first minute of each 3 minute segment at 1% incline, move to 2% at 1 minute, and 3% for the final minute. After doing the 3 minute segment twice increase the pace slightly and stick with the same incline progression as before. This is a great strength workout that also incorporates the benefits of hill running I introduced back in October. It keeps you busy too; pushing a button every minute helps the run go by much faster. Even if you are stuck doing an easy run on the treadmill make sure to vary up the pace and the incline a little bit throughout the run to keep it interesting.

Cross Training

I also want to talk about some non-running options that can help improve aerobic fitness and keep things fresh by mixing up your workout regimen. I want to preface this with something my college coach always said, “nothing replaces running like running”. This is true, but there are some things you can do to improve aerobic fitness (and keep off some of those holiday pounds). While running is the best option for improving running performance, your heart doesn’t know the difference between running and anything else that keeps the heart rate elevated. My favorite non-running exercise for runners is deep water running and riding the ElliptiGo. And who knows, maybe getting in the pool during the winter will help you feel like you’re at the beach.

Deep Water Pool Running

Deep water running translates well to running because you’re mimicking the running motion while you’re in the water, with one slight variation. You should keep your shoulders in line with your hips, focus on 

driving your arms forward and back, and drive your knees as if you were doing a high knee drill (the slight variation). The most effective way to work out in the water is to do short, high intensity intervals with short recovery. I like to do break downs of things such as 10 sets of 50 seconds sprint with 10 seconds recovery, 10 sets of 40 seconds sprint with 20 seconds recovery, and 30 seconds sprint with 30 seconds recovery. These will keep your heart rate elevated and keep the effort short enough to where you can really work hard without losing focus during the interval. You will want to wear a foam flotation belt to ensure proper form; otherwise you’ll end up doing an awkward doggy paddle and lose the running specific benefits.

ElliptiGoElliptiGo or Stationary Trainer

Jumping on an exercise bike or ElliptiGo (my preference, and you can even put it on a trainer!)are great cross training tools as well, and your focus should be on keeping your RPM’s high. Once you get warmed up you want to keep the RPM’s up over 90 to get the best translation to running economy. This means staying away from those high gears that bring you out of the saddle and focusing on rotating quickly. Cross training is a good tool to use for running supplementation as well as if you get injured, but it can also be used to develop aerobic strength and mix up the scenery a little bit during times when you need a jump start. Happy New Year, and let’s start this year off running!

*This Article Originally Appeared in the January 2014 Issue of Running Journal