How much to do in the off-season is a hard number to nail down. Plus there are a lot of conflicting thoughts bouncing in your head when you sit down to figure it out. There are so many factors to consider, so many factors! Plus it’s really, really individual so how are you going to figure it out in one blog post, believe it or not you can. I’ll also take you through how I’ll be making my decisions for this winter. It’s important to be realistic in both directions here. You need to run enough to meet your spring goals and keep your fitness up but if your goal is 25 km a week no matter what you better have a damn good back up plan for February. So here’s a list if factors that can play into your decisions. So on fall time change day let’s try to figure that out!
- Old injuries
- Spring race distances
- Spring race dates
- Maintaining fitness
- Weather and temperatures
- Daylight hours
- The holidays
- How much you hate the treadmill
- Giving your body a proper break
- Kid’s school schedules
- Planned winter vacations
What an ideal winter plan looks like for a lot of people goes something like this. Take advantage of great fall days and and fall like early winter days and your post-season fitness levels and keep logging serious km into November. Then stay dedicated and get out there early in the morning after the time change as a way to get through the holiday season but let your milage dwindle down. When the weather is truly terrible in January and February do what you need to including the treadmill to get three or four workouts a week in. Look ahead to spring race dates and pick a plan to meet your goals now. Count back from that race day and get your milage back up to the plan’s suggested base a few weeks before it starts. Sounds easy enough right?
The thing is while that plan is technically perfect life and a winter running plan needs some wiggle room. Otherwise you’ll end up sitting on the couch for 5 weeks, get up and run 12 km on a nice shorts day in December and aggravate an old injury that it will take the best part of a year for you to come back from entirely. But that’s so me of two years ago. Didn’t make that mistake last winter and I won’t be making it again this winter.
It’s totally fine to make a plan life the first one above but you need to give it some space for weather what its and the winter blues. So with that in mind I suggest making a perfect plan for yourself and a no matter what happens I’m going to make this happen realistic plan.
Old Injuries: Maybe you’ve never had one, lucky you. For me it’s runner’s knee connected to an old hip injury when I was 15. If I don’t get out there regularly it flares up in a really, really big way. However your injury might be the exact opposite. You might find that without a period of time off maybe even completely off each year your’s gets bad again. For me that means no matter what I need to get one run in a week to stay pain free. In the winter, yes even January and February I still study the forecast and on the best day I make sure to get a run in. Even if that means taking time during the workday to get it done.
Spring race dates and distances: I have a lot to say about this one. First of all if you know you’ll be running a particular race next year now is the right time to shop for and pick out a plan. That plan will have a suggested starting base at least it should, you want to be running that distance for at least 2 weeks, ideally a month, before you start the plan. So this can really be what defines the ramping back up portion of your winter running plan. If its a long race early that might mean you have to buy a gym membership to make it happen. Also remember that you don’t want to break the 10% rule ramping your milage back up to the base distance. This past summer I wanted to run a half around the middle of May. That meant my training started on the first of March and I had to get my milage back to 20 km per week in February, yuck!
Maintaining fitness: Before you assume I’m going to say you have to run this much this many times a week to maintain your fitness I’m not. Quite the opposite really. It is true the more you keep it up now the less the spring will hurt but most of us freak out about this more than we think. It’s not until after three weeks after stopping exercise that your fitness drops of in any measurable way. Plus even if you do have a months long break from the sport conditioning does remain and it’s not the same thing as starting from scratch. Getting a half an hour in three times a week has been shown to approach maximum benefit health wise. So yes air for the moon but if you fall short be kind to yourself too.
Weather, temperatures and daylight hours: Personally I live in an extremely variable climate both day to day and year to year. In 2015 we had record breaking snowfalls and a record breaking number of them. To the point we had to resort to a backhoe to clear the driveway. Other winters a piece if wood in the back yard is rarely covered. We usually can bank of 2 – 4 bitter cold weeks in January or February in the range of -16 Celsius or about 0 f as daytime highs and that kind of cold literally takes your breath away. Those weeks I try to seize the day where it’s only going to be -8! I have a super supportive partner and boss who gets that running come spring is going to be really important to me again so I sometimes take an hour from work in the middle of the day to take advantage of relativity decent weather. He’ll also tease me about being soft to get me out the door, which is weirdly helpful actually! Finally depending on the year sometimes that means dropping into a local community centre to use the treadmill. In some ways you really need to run into a winter in any place to get a really good idea of what is reasonable and and a good back up plan.
Hate for the treadmill: Girl this one is strong for me! I’ll occasionally hear about someone who did all their marathon training on a treadmill and I automatically think I guess they killed puppies in a past life because that is a special kind of torture. The lady above me in my condo even offered me her treadmill anytime I wanted since I got to put up with the noise but I used it exactly zero times. It’s not that I hate machines I used to watch movies on Friday nights on my elliptical. If you’re cool with the treadmill then winter is no problem for you. I however hate it so its a last resort for me. By the way if you want a treadmill and have the space chances are you can find one for free if you search online classifieds long enough. But even if you hate is as much as me have a set of conditions outlined where you will resort to the treadmill.
Kids, holidays and vacations
AKA real life right? Thankfully for most of us the off season is the busy family season. It’s important to be realistic when you factor in all the other life stuff you have to do. You might really want to get three or four runs in a week but you might only have time for two. It’s important to not set yourself up for failure from the outset your just going to have a miserable guilt ridden winter.
Taking a proper break
This is going to tie into the next one but they are in fact separate things. So if this one hits home read the next one carefully too. Especially after a year of heavy training, but also after a busy race season it is very, very important to not be in training all year. Sometimes we think we have to stay in the same shape we got to at the end of race season but depending on where you got to that can be unsustainable. Half marathon training is 70 km a week pre race and I don’t even think you can do that year round but that’s not the case. Make sure you take an off season and know that all that work you did last year will still be there next race season.
Training hard and accomplishing big goals can be a big part of your identity over time, I know it is for me. My facebook feed and instagram feed is filtered with athletes and my own content tends to be race focused to say the least for a huge portion of the year. It kind of rewarding or cool or something to say, “yeah I ran 24 km yesterday.” When asked about your weekend. I’m not sure exactly what it is bragging or being proud of your accomplishments and to a certain extent it doesn’t really matter but taking a break can make you feel like less of yourself or maybe even less altogether. So then we push to stay where we were and we might even start to loose the passion for what we’re doing. Know that that’s normal and try to take pleasure in the freedom of not being on plan.
Conclusions and my winter plan
With all that in mind think about tapering down to a minimum over the holidays or the terrible weather months and then building back up in time to start your spring training plans in time for races. Think about what next race season will look like, think about bad weather back up plans and think about what you still want for yourself and self-care time over the winter. Remember that past 20 km a week it’s not for your health and that three 45 minute workouts a week is enough to meet those healthy living guidelines. Take it easy, take a break and remember why you love your sport in the first place.
With all that in mind I’ll be implementing the same winter maitenece plan I had last year because it was easy on my head, my life and lead me to accomplishing the biggest goals I ever set this summer. First of all non-negotiable one 5k run a week no matter what. Even if I have to get up in the dark and use the treadmill at the gym, run in the dark with a headlamp or take time away from work when I’m needed. That’s because I’ve learned if I don’t my knee will flare up and it could cost me next year’s season again. Consistency is key in keeping that knee happy. Most weeks I’d like to run three times but I’ll settle for two. I’ll really, really aim for three until January since even though it’s winter December isn’t that bad here. The last 4 years we’ve been pouring concrete until Christmas so there really are warm spells even if we tend to block them out. January and February really are terrible and bitter cold so I’ll be easy on myself those months and if it is just once a week that’s fine too. When I can’t get outside to run an biking is out once there’s snow on the trail yoga is always an option. I love lighting a candle cranking the heat in the master bedroom and getting my downward dog on on a stormy night looking out the window at the waves crashing (sometimes up onto the road). It is a special kind of wonderful to do something so calming when all hell is breaking loose out the window. When I’m clearing the driveway after a heavy snow I’ll remember to start my app and that shoveling snow, lugging brush and splitting wood is probably better exercise than a run anyway. When even my mountain bike with studded tiers is no match for the skidoo ice on the trail I’ll remember that it’ll be all the more sweet when I get on it in the spring and then maybe pet it now that it hangs in the porch. Once March comes I might be training again as a hill running volunteer or maybe even a guide runner at Bluenose, how cool would that be?
I’ll trick myself into starting by getting fully dressed with no real motivation to leave the house. Some runs and some weather will be really and truly terrible but this winter too will pass if the one in 2015 did. Even if I don’t really I’ll try to appreciate the empty beach at the end of our driveway and only my footprints is the snow on the sand. Some of those runs will make me feel like a superhero again and that’ll be cool. There’s nothing like a windchill in the -20 range to make you feel alive! Sure March and even early April still suck a lot but then, then my friend it’s almost over. We have weird weather as I’ve noted and one day in February I might even get to bust out a running skirt again.
What’s your winter running plan and do you even have seasons? What’s you favorite part of winter running and your least favorite. Personally I love that my water gets so freakin’ cold! For more tips, tricks and the best winter running gear check out this popular post!