Ask the Coach
What should I focus on to survive the winter while keeping my endurance?
As an endurance coach, this is the biggest question I get this time of the year. Athletes are mostly finished with their competitive seasons and for the most part are already looking ahead to their spring races. The only thing separating you from those spring races is a long, cold, and potentially snowy winter. Luckily for you, I’ve got some basic ideas for you to think about over these next few months which will help you hit the spring thaw feeling better than ever.
Outside Training Gear Tips
One of the most important aspects of training outside during the winter is wearing the appropriate clothing. Here are a few reminders heading into the colder months
- Dress in layers
- Wearing a warming base layer, a middle warmth layer, and a wind/waterproof top layer ensures that no matter the elements, you’ll ready. Layering allows you to take on or off items as you go. And as a popular saying in the endurance world will remind you, “There is no bad weather, just poor clothing choices.”
- Wear appropriate footwear
- When tackling snow and ice, it’s crucial that you are prepared for slick and sloppy conditions. I often recommend wearing a decent pair of trail shoes during the winter, just to help with extra traction on the ice and snow.
- Invest in traction. Brands like Kahtoola and Yaktrax make traction devices that simply slip over your shoes, providing excellent grip in the slickest conditions. Putting screws in your shoes is a cheap option that some athletes prefer.
- Invest in Merino Wool
- Merino Wool is one of the best ways to keep warmth when you get went and sweaty. There is no better material for running or cycling outdoors in the winter to stay warm while wet.
- Get the right accessories
- Warm socks, windproof gloves, a good beanie, and sunglasses are extremely important for outside exercise. While the socks/gloves/beanie will keep you appropriately warm, the sunglasses will keep the cold air from drying out your eyes while keeping the sun or snow reflection from hurting them.
Winter Training Habits to Stay Healthy
Alright, so you’ve got the right gear, your body is well hydrated and you’re feeling great. How can I train outside in cold weather and stay healthy?
- Dress Appropriately
- Make sure you are prepared for the conditions. Just because it’s sunny doesn’t mean it’s warm. Taking a few extra minutes to check the weather and getting the appropriate gear will ensure a great exercise experience.
- Be smart about your workouts
- Taking hard workouts indoors is generally best this time of year, but if you must push yourself hard outdoors, warming up slowly and effectively is the best way to ensure you won’t injure yourself in the cold.
- Be mindful of the conditions
- My rule is always to assume there will be ice on my route if it’s below freezing. If there is any chance of ice, slow down and be cautious of your terrain. Wear a winter traction device if you need to.
- Try a winter sport
- Winter is a great time to cross train and find a new activity to keep you moving forward. Things like downhill skiing, snowshoeing, or nordic skiing are a great way to keep fit during the winter.
- Go Slow and Strengthen
- During the winter I have my athletes focus on getting stronger for the upcoming season. By mixing easier runs with body weight and plyometric workouts, you will get your body strong and stable. Bodyweight drills and core exercises should become your best friends this winter.
- Try Yoga
- Yoga is another great activity to add into your off-season. By adding yoga into your weekly routine, you focus on getting your body more symmetrical and performing at its best.
Winter Diet Habits
If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to sneak in some extra sugar and naughty calories into your diet while training hard during the summer. But during the winter, those bad habits can catch up to you quickly and set you back before the snow has even melted. Here are a few ideas to keep your diet clean during the winter months.
- Cut the sugar
- Any athlete training hard most likely has created a pretty strong desire to consume sugars. However, when out of season, eating the same way as you do during the summer can wreak havoc on your goals. Keep your eyes on the sugar content of your dietary choices and make sure you’re not adding copious amounts of pointless sugars.
- Focus on small areas of improvement, not drastic dietary changes
- The winter is a great time to pinpoint the areas of your diet that could be improved. A lot of people fail on dietary improvements because they try to fix everything at once and get overwhelmed. Focusing on one or two areas at a time will prove more successful over the long run.
- Cook More!
- Most athletes have a smaller training load during the winter, which means you’ll have a little bit more time to cook your own food. Cooking your own food is a great way to control what is going into your body, while often times consuming better tasting foods. Bonus: cooking for yourself will likely save money over those restaurant meals.
- Drink more water
- With winter generally comes cold, dry air. Drinking more water during the winter keeps your skin smooth and your body healthy. Just because you’re not sweating as much during a workout outside doesn’t mean you can skip the water bottle. Keep yourself hydrated and keep your body happy!
- Add Vitamin D
- If you live somewhere which happens to get gray and cloudy for the next 5 months, you might need to consider adding a vitamin D supplement to your daily regimen. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a laundry list of larger issues, so if your diet is low on Vitamin D and you won’t see the sun for a few months, grab a supplement and keep yourself healthy.
What do you think? Do you have any other winter tips that you feel should be shared with the world? Do you have a question that you’d like to be answered in an upcoming blog? Shoot us a message on social media or firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!
Don Reichelt is an elite ultramarathon runner, endurance coach, and a proud member of the PR Bar athlete family.
He can be found on Instagram at @RunWithDon