“How do you train throughout the winter?” Clare Gallagher talks cold weather motivation and training...
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First, let’s be clear on my relationship with winter; I’m no snow queen nor balaclava connoisseur, I get cold easily and my muscles are quick to tense up. On any given day, I’d take 90 degrees over 15 degrees.
Fortunately, I live in Boulder and the winters here, along with the rest of Colorado’s Front Range, are comically mild compared to the Midwest, the Northeast, and most all mountain towns. On top of that, we have generous sunshine, ample trails, and an overwhelmingly motivated running community.
Still, I have trouble with winter’s volatility. This is funny, considering I’m mildly manic at my most relaxed, but I suppose my mania just can’t handle the ups and downs inherent in winter running. I think it’s the teasing that gets me. For example, January in Boulder is littered with days boasting temperatures in the upper 50’s. But, those days are often followed by snow and 10-degree days. Then, it will be sunny again. The snow will melt and turn to slush. Within days, that slush turns to ice. Then, you slip on the ice. You scream. You hate winter running. Winter running is the stupidest thing ever. But then, the mercury creeps back into the 50’s, the sun makes an appearance, and you’re running in a sports bra again. What gives?
Since my love for all running overwhelms my disdain for winter running, I’ve developed a winter warrior mentality. I treat the entirety of cold weather and icky conditions like they’re all part of a long, slow-burning ultramarthon. And the ultimate success? Summer. I won’t let spring fool me. In Colorado, spring is often just the halfway mark.
Alright, so how do I deal with winter?
Treat each day like it’s just one baby step in a long race.
Think small. Think only of the next run. If I thought about the slew of upcoming, freezing-cold days, I’d give myself a hernia. But if I think about tackling just one itty bitty hour-long run, albeit in freezing conditions, I can handle it. Everyone can handle just one run, right?
Only the present run matters, but you better be prepared.
Before heading out, I’ll check the outside temperature. That allows me to plan my outfit. One, two, or three top layers? Fleece tights, lightweight tights, or shorts? Gloves or ski mittens? It also gives me wiggle room to switch my run plans. If it’s snowing and there’s sure to be black ice on the bike paths, I’ll run on the trails with traction (usually stowing a pair of microspikes in my belt pouch to use on any seriously icy sections that stay shaded). If my motivation is lagging, or I’m feeling anxious about the cold, I’ll overdress. Sweating out two layers is surprisingly cathartic, as long as you don’t run long enough for your sweat to freeze.
Embrace the (ample) Type II fun.
Let’s be honest: some days will not be fun. There will be a frustrating amount of ice everywhere. On these days, my ultra-race mentality (aka winter warrior) mindset will emerge. I’ll over-prepare. I’ll purposely schedule a run with a friend so I don’t chicken out. Or I’ll look forward to listening to a podcast about the world’s state of affairs. That way when I start to complain about how awful my run is, I’ll remember that I’m one of the most fortunate people alive because I get to run. Period. And a week later, I’ll only remember how fun it was to run through 12 inches of brand new snow.
Winter Training Week
Here’s a typical week’s training snippet from my past two months. It’s been a classic Colorado winter with the whole sun, snow and ice charade. I’ve been training for an end-of-March 50km race in the Cinque Terre, Italy. Like many ultras, this winter hasn’t been pretty. But every moment of sun has made the tougher moments so worth it.
•Monday: Off—no running. I like to start my week off with my clearest intentions: prevent injury, don’t overtrain, embrace rest. My coach, David Roche, champions this habit. This usually means I’m skiing uphill laps at a resort before the lifts open, or I’m honing in my V1 climbing skills at the gym. Or, if I’m being really good and honest, I’m not exercising at all.
•Tuesday: Easy hour to 90-minute run. I often plan my Tuesday run on Monday night by scheduling to run with a friend because I anticipate snow or cold, or just plain lethargy after taking a day off.
•Wednesday: Workout. Coming off a two-month off-season with no hard efforts, my workouts started slowly this winter, with short speed sessions gradually moving to tempos and hill workouts. Each workout starts with a 20-30 minute warm-up and 10-20 minute cool-down of easy running. In winter, warming up properly is essential; the cold makes injuries like a strained hamstring—or strained anything—from being too tight before working your muscles hard more likely. A cool down is also important (especially in the cold season because you will likely be immobile afterwards, so you want to let your muscles literally relax and cool down before stopping movement).
A classic speed session is 10 x 1 minute of hard effort with 1 minute of rest between reps. I’ll do these with a buddy or alone, usually on a bike path.
As my next race has gotten closer, I’ve done more hill workouts, like 5 x 3 minutes hard uphill, with equal rest between reps. I did this workout on a packed-down snowy trail in Boulder, but there were a few sections of slippery slush and ice. I didn’t fret about my pace during the repeats because calmly trudging forward in adverse conditions was perfect mental practice, in addition to the physiological benefit of running hills.
I wore the Lycans for this workout (and pretty much every trail run since they came out. They are without question the best trail shoe I’ve worn because they’re grippy, stable, but still light enough to run fast on buffed out trails.)
•Thursday: Same as Tuesday. Sometimes I’ll ‘adventure double,’ which means I’m crushing the winter warrior mentality and find the stoke to run again at night. If I do a second run, it’s never more than six miles.
•Friday: Another workout like Wednesday, or the same easy mode as Tuesday and Thursday. Since I’ve been dealing with tight hamstrings all winter, I usually skip a second workout in lieu of having a better weekend.
•Saturday: Long backcountry ski or long run. If I’m up high where there’s big girl snow for the weekend, I’ll skip a run and just ski. If I’m down in Boulder, I’ll run anywhere from 10 to 25 miles on trails. A few weeks ago, I got the best treat ever on one such long run: shorts and a t-shirt!
•Sunday: Ski or easy hour to 90-minute run. All depends on my location and stoke level.
My final winter warrior secret: join a running club. I’m extra fortunate to run with the most maniacal of people: fellow La Sportiva runners Ryan Smith and Silke Koester’s Rocky Mountain Runners. Don’t have a local running group? START ONE!
Preview Photo: © Mike Thurk
Other Photos Provided by Clare Gallagher
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clare Gallagher is a member of the La Sportiva Mountain Running® Team.
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