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Training tips and considerations for the worst days of winter

A male runner with a backpack runs down a city street while wearing shorts in the winter.

The freezing cold temperatures, howling winds and non-stop accumulation of snow and ice… Winter can definitely throw a wrench in our training plans. But what, if any, special considerations should we make to our training. We spoke to John Lofranco, a runner and coach living in Montreal for his insight on this topical issue.

RELATED: Why winter running is actually the best!

CR: What kind of adaptations (such as to distance and pace) should a runner make when winter conditions are unfavourable?

JL: You are going to run slower and that’s okay. Trying to keep a certain pace on an easy run is a fool’s errand anyway. It doesn’t matter. Going faster on your easy days doesn’t help your fitness; it only serves to tire you out for the next day, without any added benefit. So embrace winter and just run slow. It’s good for you.

CR: When should a runner consider running indoors (i.e. is it ever unsafe to do a run/workout outdoors)?

JL: For me, the two limiting factors are ice and severe cold. If it is too icy to run safely, it’s better to go inside or just take a day off. I would not want to put a number on it, but at a certain point, it also becomes too cold to run. The good thing about winter in Canada is that there’s a lot of variation. So if it’s too cold or icy on a day you are supposed to do a workout, just skip it and do the workout in a day or two when the weather turns.

CR: Are some types of training/workouts preferred during the winter months?

JL: Easy runs. Tempo runs, done by effort not by pace. Hill repeats. Usually you can find a hill that’s clear and plowed (try the fancy neighbourhoods of your city). These three kinds of runs are a staple of base-phase work anyway, so it’s perfect timing. I am of the belief that there’s no reason to run on an indoor track unless you are part of the university racing circuit. Take the winter to strengthen your base and when springtime comes, you’ll be itching to hammer some intervals.

CR: Are there any special considerations a runner should make to ensure they stay safe and avoid getting injured during the winter?

JL: To avoid injury in the winter, the best thing a runner can do is slow down and embrace the winter weather. If you are straining to hit a pace and slipping in the slush, you’re more likely to get hurt than if you go with the flow and run for time on your feet, rather than pace or distance. If you don’t like being outside, take the opportunity to begin a consistent habit of strength training, which can help you avoid injury, not only in the winter, but year-round.

CR: What advice or suggestions would you give to a runner wanting to maximize their training during the tough winter months?

JL: Do your homework. Run lots of easy miles, do some tempos, run some hills. Ditch the watch and just spend time on your feet. In high school we had a concept we brought out on really bad days: the “double training day.” It was a day you were out training and your competitors were not. So you gained a day on them. If it’s icy and dangerous, then go inside, but don’t let the snow discourage you from putting in good work over the winter. You’ll be grateful for it when the spring flowers start to bloom.