Most runners view the winter as a hindrance to their training. With the season’s short days, freezing temperatures and slippery conditions, it can be tough to motivate yourself to get out there and put in the miles, but with the right mindset, winter running can actually be an effective training tool.
Winter running makes you stronger
When you’re running through deep snow and across slick pathways, you’re forced to recruit smaller muscles and tendons that you rarely need in the warmer months. Out of necessity, you end up moving your body in different ways, doing things like high-knees, bounding, skipping, single-leg balancing and even the occasional side lunge… all movements you would do in the gym to build strength.
Running in conditions like this day after day builds a tonne of aerobic and muscle strength, which will translate to faster times in the spring and summer.
It forces you to work on your stride
Remember all that bounding and skipping we mentioned earlier? Not only do these movements make you stronger, they also help you to improve your stride. In a similar way to trail running, winter conditions force you to run on a variety of surfaces that challenge your stride so you develop efficiency through different running patterns.
Slippery conditions also force you to increase your turnover rate and think more carefully about how your feet are hitting the ground, which improves the overall efficiency of your stride while encouraging lower-impact stride mechanics to decrease injury risk. Practicing these all winter will help you apply the same techniques in the summer to make you a stronger, faster and more injury-resistant runner.
It makes you mentally tougher
Mental toughness is crucial if you want to be a good runner, and what better way to challenge your mental fortitude than by pushing yourself out the door on a cold, dark winter run? After battling cold, wind, snow and ice all winter, a hilly spring half-marathon will seem like child’s play (OK maybe not, but you’ll be able to tackle it mentally better than you would otherwise).
It makes great aerobic base training
It’s true that winter is not a great time to do speedwork, especially if you don’t have access to an indoor facility or treadmill. This, however, doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful. Provided you don’t have a goal race planned for the spring, winter is the perfect time to build up your aerobic base to prepare your body for speedwork when the weather warms up.
If you are preparing for a spring goal race (Around the Bay and Boston runners, we’re looking at you), consider signing up for a gym membership or access to an indoor track (if there’s one nearby), so you can do some of your speed sessions in more forgiving conditions.