Monday, December 19, 2011

Running through those winter blues

I ran for the first time last week in a long-sleeved top, and it symbolized for me what I most despise: the stinging cold of winter! I've since been able to revert back to tshirts, but I know I have to face the inevitable and accept that it's only a matter of days now before I am going to have to break out my cold-weather running gear.

Not only do I hate cold weather (if there were such a thing as a "cold weather allergy" I'm sure I'd be diagnosed with it), but I also don't care too much for the negative pyschological effect that sometimes accompanies it. In other words, I don't like that I lose my motivation to get up and run when it's wet, cold and dark outside!

Winter, for me, brings with it a "slow" switch that seems to turn on inside of me and bring everything to a grinding halt, my enthusiasm and metabolism, included! I not only gain a few extra pounds, which makes me feel slow and heavy, but I also find that my slow and heavy self no longer finds it easy to get out of bed in the mornings.

I remember training for both a marathon and an ultramarathon during the winter months last year, and feeling depressed at times because I had committed to the training but had no desire to run on those wet and windy days. Winter hasn't even really begun here in Okinawa and yet I have already started experiencing those winter-time blues. I know however, that despite the physical and mental discomfort that will continue to plague me during the cold months ahead, I will somehow manage to  get up most mornings and run.

For those of you who also have trouble staying motivated during the winter, here's a few things that I do to help me get moving each day:

  • Buddy-Up: planning your weekly runs with a friend (singular) makes you accountable to someone and forces you to keep your running date. Notice how I said "friend (singular)," that was intentional. If you make plans to meet with just one friend, chances are you won't want to leave her hanging in the dark if you've agreed to meet early in the morning. If you plan to run with a group of friends however, it's much easier to skip out on the run because you can easily justify your absence by telling yourself that you won't really be missed.
Be careful who you buddy up with though - she might drag you up and over LOTS of hills!

  • Hit the treadmill: It's a last resort I know, but when there's a heavy downpour with no sign of it letting up, the next best thing is the treadmill. I find running on a treadmill terribly boring, but if I absolutely have to run on a treadmill I will almost always opt to do some type of speedwork. Doing an interval workout on the treadmill can actually be both fun and challenging. You can do a tempo run for example: do a slow couple of warm-up miles, then increase the speed and run at race pace for three miles, then cool down with a slow mile; or try doing 4 x 1 mile repeats with 4 minutes recovery between each mile, and a warm-up and a cool-down mile at the beginning and end. You'll be surprised at how quickly the time passes.

  • Be Flexible: If it's at all possible, try to be flexible and have an "open window" of time in which you are able to fit in your runs. There are mornings I wake up and I simply feel too cold to get out of bed, or it's raining hard and the thought of getting all my miles in under a steady shower of rain drops just doesn't appeal. On those days, I allow myself to go back to sleep for a while and I settle for a later-morning run, either outside if the rain has stopped, or on the treadmill at Risner. And if I have other obligations during the day, then I might shut down that window of time and reopen it later in the afternoon, for example while my youngest is in karate class and I have a free hour while I'm waiting for her. Granted, I'd much rather run in the morning but sometimes an afternoon or evening run might be my only option.

  • Cross-Train: If you're not training for a race but merely running through the winter to maintain your weight and fitness, cross-training is a great way to break the monotony and kick-start your will to exercise. Now is the time to start mixing up your running routine by cutting back your run days and doing other forms of exercise that you find enjoyable - spin classes, for example, or yoga, or how about some zumba to spice things up a little! Or how about starting a boot camp that focuses on resistance training; runners tend to neglect doing any form of strength work and yet for females, resistance training is paramount to maintaining good bone density and preventing osteoporosis as we get older.

  • Reverse the Situation: I often resort to a bit of reverse psychology whenever I'm tempted to pass on my run and take a day off; I do this by reminding myself what I will feel like later on in the day if I don't run. I know this sounds like a cliche, but I often feel like I really was "born to run." From as far back as I can remember, I loved more than anything the invigorating feeling I experienced whenever I ran, and which I still experience today. So even though there are days when I don't feel like getting out of bed and running, I know that the feeling I'll experience later in the day from having not run, will be far worse than the discomfort and lack of motivation that temporarily hits me first thing in the morning. And I also know that my family appreciates (and likes) me much more when I get out and run - that helps to motivate me too!
Marivel posted about these tshirts a few days ago - so true what it says! I think my husband would order one of these for me if he knew about them. Heck, I may as well order one myself! They're available, by the way, at

One more thing I want to say - when a new training cycle begins and I start ramping up the mileage, there are days when I feel as if I literally can't get up and run. If you find that your training starts to get a little intense and your body starts to pull back the reins and slow you down, it could be that your body is trying to tell you that you actually do need a day off. This is a classic sign of overtraining and you'd be wise to try and discern if the sluggishness you're feeling is more than just general fatigue. I'll talk more about overtraining in a future post, but for now, the best advice I can offer is to use common sense and be kind to your body (now if I could just learn to take my own advice......). 

FYI: It's already gotten much colder since I wrote this last week!!!

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