Winter Running- Stefan Timms

Winter Running

By: Stefan Timms

Running is an activity that comes naturally to us.  As children we run around barefoot and free.  Smiles as big as the sky splashed across our face, we chase butterflies and balls around the park, not thinking about anything except catching that which we seek.  We are too young to know that we are tired, and if we do run too hard for too long, we just sit down and rest.  But as we gain age and supposed wisdom, running falls by the wayside.  So when we begin running again it is not with a smile as big as the sky, but usually with a pained expression of anguish as we pull our body up a hill. No longer are we chasing the items of our desire, but rather we are seeking a better body image or a faster time. This is the time to return to the sheer joy of running.  No longer do we want to think about the burn and the discomfort, but rather feeling of flight as we glide along the running trails.
At this point you might be wondering how to focus on running light and fast while you are feeling like an overstuffed turkey from all the holiday gatherings.  Well, not to worry, it is the objective of this article to give you some new ideas on how to maximize your winter run training.  Although you might be dealing with a few extra pounds, cold and snowy conditions, and short daylight hours there are ways to regain that child like running form.
Technique and Strength Drills
Improving or changing your running technique can be an extremely difficult task since its repetitive nature ingrains in our neuropathways.  However, there are some ways of improving technique, efficiency and strength.  As I have discussed ways to improve technique in other articles, I am not going to focus on that here.  Instead I am just going to give you some other ideas on developing efficiency.  Efficiency for our purposes will be defined as the ability to go further, faster, with less energy.  This is accomplished through the elimination of extraneous body movements during the full running gait.  It is also done through by the fine tuning of the aerobic system, which through a series of specific workouts will enhance its ability to carry oxygen to muscles throughout your body.  Over the winter I often ask my athletes to do one run session every other week that gets them to do a light warm up followed by a workout that consists of running A’s, B’s, C’s, lunges, leap frog, karaoke (grapevine), running backwards and sidesteps.  I will assume that you know what the first four drills are since they are very common and I’ve written about them before.  However, the rest of these drills need to be explained.  Leap frog is a game commonly played by children.  For this drill you will need a partner.  Have your partner crouch down into a ball on the ground.  Now, you are to run toward them, put your hands on their back, and jump over them by lifting both legs out to the side and propelling yourself over with your jump and by pushing off their back with your hands.  Once you have cleared your partner, it is your turn to duck down in front of them.  The idea is to keep going for several jumps.  Karaoke is also known as grapevine.  This drill requires you to move sideways by crossing right over left foot then right behind left foot and then back to right in front.  After fifty meters or so it is a good idea to go the other way…left in front of right.  This drill can be challenging so it is a good idea to put your arms out for balance.  When you run backwards it is a good idea to take survey the area first so that there are no unexpected holes, rocks, or any other obstruction.  I also advise taking small steps and looking over your shoulder frequently.  The final drill, sidestep is kind of like doing jumping jacks while moving either left or right.  You swing your arms out and up and back down as you take big jumps to the side.  Make sure you switch and go in the other direction. The idea here is to keep the heart rate in an aerobic zone for the 20-30 minutes of the workout.  Each drill should be around 50-100m in length.  You can do sets of one drill before moving on to the next, or just do one of each drill continuously, and then repeat the whole thing.  The drills will help to stimulate the muscles as well as build strength.  The added benefit is that it feels like you are just playing!
Treadmill/Water Run/Elliptical Trainer
There are lots of great reasons to stay inside for your training over the winter.  As I alluded to earlier, dealing with harsh weather as well as short days can make running outside difficult.  Why not hit the gym?  Aside from being in a controlled environment and being a great place to meet people, the gym can provide some great training benefits.  The treadmill is a great tool to help to get you running faster.  Even if you live in a perfect climate I still recommend that athletes do some running on a treadmill.  First of all, running on a treadmill will help to increase your turnover or cadence.  This will in turn carry over on the road and help you to go faster.  Additionally, a treadmill can be set to specific speeds that you want to do intervals or pace workouts at.  Finally, continuing on the earlier theme of technique, if you find one that has a mirror in front or beside it you can really get a good look at your form and watch to make sure that you are doing everything right.  Water running is another great climate controlled activity.  It can be used to supplement your outdoor training for easy recovery runs, or it can be done when coming back from injury, or simply as a preventative measure.  The beauty of water running is that you maintain the same stride and muscular benefit as well as some of the aerobic benefit of running without the impact.  I also encourage some of my athletes who are especially injury-prone to use the elliptical trainer for some of their run sessions.  Similar to what I mentioned with the water running, the elliptical machine can replicate the running motion without the impact.  This makes it great for anyone coming back from or with a history of stress fractures, joint problems, or even muscle problems such as chronically inflamed calves.  Furthermore, all of these ideas provide alternatives to the same old routine or running route.

Run Focus
While you may have read an article of mine that said the fall is the ideal for a run focus, the winter can also be a great time for one.  By doing a run focus in the winter, you can really build up the mileage to point that you would not be able to maintain during a full triathlon program or race season.  This is because a significant amount of run volume does not allow you to ride well, just as a lot of mileage on the bike does not allow you to run to your potential.  By focusing on lots of base miles and strength now, you will be able to carry that over into your triathlon season down the road and can take the benefit of all that volume into a balanced program when the time comes.  Make sure to schedule a race into your run focus as I find that many athletes need a race as a motivator.  Whether it is a 5k tune up, or a marathon, there are lots of racing opportunities at this time.  So check your local community for road races.  You might be surprised to discover that many areas have great race seasons that run from January through May.  The best way to do a run focus is to set it up as a macro cycle the way you would for your larger, yearly periodization.  This means incorporating a base or foundation phase where you add frequency, then volume, and finally intensity.  If you have not been running much I recommend increasing the number of days you run first, but keeping the runs fairly short.  Once you are running comfortably for 4-5 days a week you can start to increase the volume.  The key workouts to try to get in, after the initial adjustment to training are: a long run, a steady state or tempo run, and an interval, fartlek, or hill repeat run.  As you progress into more speed you can maintain this framework but simply adjust the intensity and volume.  If you are unsure of how to do this or what distance or time you should aim for in the various sessions try consulting a respected athlete in your area, a local triathlon club, or a triathlon coach.  A final point to consider:   a run focus is just that.  Do not try to maintain or increase your swimming or cycling at this time and instead only swim and bike 1-2 times per week.
Explore
The winter is a great time to get out and explore new routes and training venues.  If you are not using the winter as a run focus now is the time to just get out and go running somewhere that you normally don’t.  This is the best time for this since it doesn’t matter if the route is too short or long…you will not be sacrificing the objective of the workout.  Trail running, beaches, or scenic drives are great places to start, but the possibilities really are endless.  In addition routes that include sections on trails, hills, and beaches can challenge your body in a different way then the routes that your body is accustomed to thereby giving you an even better workout.  This is because running on hills or sand require different muscles then running on a flat road.
So take these winter months to relearn how to run with joy and happiness and efficiency.  Learn what you look like while you are running – see the beauty in motion.  While treadmills and running drills will help improve your form, be sure to maintain your fitness with a structured running schedule throughout the winter.  You don’t need structured workouts every time you go out for a run, but you should have a structured schedule of running so that you stay true to yourself.  And commit to change; your competitors won’t recognize your as effortlessly glide by them next summer!


Leave a Comment


Will not be published