Today's #TheWerk post is brought to you by Mwangi Gitahi (@CoachMwangi). Mwangi, originally from the Kenyan Highlands, is a long-time runner and USATF coach who resides in New Bedford, MA.
Now that the new year is well under way, and we’re all turning our focus toward our race goals for 2024, I thought it would be a good time to share a few of my tried and true tips for winter-time training. No matter how this season has landed for you in your location, winter is most certainly here, and I try to remind myself that, with the right perspective, I can use this time to my advantage! As a runner, winter training isn’t only about preparing myself for a spring race, it’s also an ideal time to hit the reset button and also revisit some basics. These five simple tips have always worked well for me, and you can apply them to any training that you’re doing right now.
Don’t take winter running too seriously!
Winter time is a time to focus on gradually building your mileage base and re-discovering your love for running. It’s perfectly okay if most of your runs right now are easy runs, as in conversational pace. The key is to take it one day at a time and have fun with your training! The time will come to dial into your target race pace and start hammering your workouts. When it does, you may be wishing you had some time off. This can also be a time to work on your ability to be flexible with your running. There’s always a good chance that Mother Nature will throw you for a loop and mess with your running plans. If this happens, laugh it off, remain flexible and be open to alternatives, like running indoors or adjusting your schedule to better suit the conditions. Winter time requires some levity, some flexibility and some patience.
Make sure every run has a purpose.
If you’re a more seasoned runner and have already started to incorporate some speed & strength work to your running, stay disciplined. Every run and every strength session should have a purpose. My mantra is “easy days easy, hard days hard”. which is another way to remind myself what I’m trying to achieve with each run. Try not to give into the temptation to push the pace on an easy run just because you feel good and think you’ll have plenty of time to recover. Running is a sport that builds on itself, and the discipline you have now will matter down the road, especially when it comes to injury prevention, so make each run purposeful.
Practice good training habits.
I’ve been told that it takes about three weeks to develop a habit. What also holds true is that you must remain consistent throughout the three weeks in order for the habit to stick. Winter time is a great time to develop new habits that will positively impact your training and carry you through the rest of the year. One of mine is making sure that I do my dynamic warm-up routine before every run, no matter how far or fast I’m going, followed by some warm-down static stretches. Another one is foam-rolling, which I do every couple of days to provide my muscles with the myofascial release they need to perform at their best. I also focus on dialing in my nutrition, and getting the right amount of sleep each night. These are all training habits that the pros have and they do them for a reason, because they work! Let’s take a page out of this book and apply it to our own training. Boston Marathon winner Desiree Linden once said: “…I’ve become far more relaxed about the things that go in the training log. And at the same time, I have become more meticulous about the details outside of the miles: I’m better about eating right, getting rest, stretching, and so on.”
Wait until you’re closer to your target race before you set a time goal.
For the marathon, this would be about 7-8 weeks out. For shorter races it can even be a few weeks later. There are many variables during the winter that can influence your time goals - the weather, how your body responds to training in winter conditions, life events at the start of the year that alter or interfere with your training - and waiting until you have a good sense of how these variables have played a role in your build-up ensures that you’re setting realistic race goals and putting yourself in the best possible position to succeed. Most of the runners I know who miss their target times do so simply because those times were not realistic. Evaluate your training, be realistic, and then determine what you can run.
Get a coach!
If you’ve never had a coach before (and even if you have), winter time may be a great time to think about finding the right coach. As a competitive runner, this is the time of year when I always looked for a running coach. A good coach can bring a unique perspective to your running, provide timely expertise as you prepare for a new year, and help keep you on track especially during these colder months. Coaches also play the all-important role of guiding you through the rough patches of your training. They not only provide coaching, they can also be mentors, counselors and good friends. If you’re currently being coached, that’s great! As long as you are meeting or exceeding your running goals then you are on the right path.
I hope these five simple tips turn your winter into a great season of running. Get out there and keep doing #thewerk!
Coach Mwangi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Run better. Run smarter. Run for life.