Let’s get this out of the way right now, winter just stinks.
The days are short, the nights are long, and we almost never see the sun. Add the cold, wind, snow and ice, and winter is all about a 12-week death march to drudgery. The actor Steve McQueen had a passion for auto racing and he once said that racing was life, anything before and after is just waiting.
Because the passions in my life, most notably running, auto racing and the Cubs, are best enjoyed during the summer months, that’s what winter is to me … waiting. But what’s weird is this: despite my utter contempt of the season, I really enjoy running outside during the winter.
I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment, because I see a lot of people still out running, and my social media feeds are full up with people who still take it to the streets – or paths – during the winter months.
Here are my top 5 reasons for staying outside as much as possible, what are yours?
- It beats the alternative
When I go to the gym and see a treadmill, I get anxious and break out into hives, and the indoor track there doesn’t make me feel much better. I’ll do either one if it gets too nasty outside or want to do intervals or tempo-type stuff, but to me, the joy of running comes from actually feeling like I went somewhere and got a little sensory stimulation. About the only feeling I get from 30 minutes on a treadmill is a numb brain.
- Race day won’t always be perfect
When I would run during my lunch break at work back in the day, I’d be heading back into the building and someone would usually say, “isn’t it too cold (or hot, or rainy, or windy…you get the idea) to run?” Which I really found to be a strange question, because even when it was 20 below it still wasn’t too cold for most of those same people to stand outside the building and smoke three or four times a day.
Anyway, I’ve always been a believer in running in just about anything because my competitive sports background taught me that you practice the same way you want to play. I think that’s always been a benefit, because the weather conditions have never been something that’s been in my head when I got to the starting line of a race.
- Winter just doesn’t seem as cold when I run outside
Does that make sense? There is probably a scientific study somewhere that backs that up, but overall the more I run outside the more comfortable I feel outside even when I’m not running. One winter I spent training for the Los Angeles Marathon (which was being held in early March that year), and despite the fact we went almost a month with the temperature never making it above freezing, it just never felt that bad to me.
Weird, isn’t it?
- I’m winning the mental game
Yogi Berra once said that 90 percent of baseball is mental, the other half is physical. Running is the same way, and I feel like running in extreme conditions – whether hot or cold – helps me mentally. There is such a sense of accomplishment to getting out from underneath a warm blanket and going out and putting some miles in, and I take that feeling with me even months later.
Years ago I was training for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and working with a running coach, Lisa Menninger. During that summer, I went out on a really hot day and had an awful run. I kind of whined about it in an email to her and she came back and told me not to worry. The fact that I got out there and got it done was all that mattered, and that it would come back to me tenfold on race day when the temperatures were cooler. She was right.
- Keeping a base is important
Finally, some real, actual running advice!
As we all know, running is one of those sports where building over time is important, and fitness is lost faster than it is gained. Building a base over the winter is one of the most critical components to having a successful racing season in the summer. Training over the winter makes it so much easier to hit the ground running in the spring and to be more than ready when goal races roll around.
I think that running outside is also a big part of base training. While workouts can be done on treadmills or indoor tracks, getting outside and working through things like the weather conditions and elevation changes. Winter is also a good time to experiment with different hydration strategies, or to try some different refueling products.
Winter is going to be tough, there’s no doubt about it, but at the same time, making it a point to stay outside makes it a perfect opportunity to get a lot done and get off to a strong start for the 2017 season.