Running through winter? It may not be a good thing

Try strength work or cross-training now, and start the new year with a fresher body

We need time to recover, refresh and get inspired again for the future

We need time to recover, refresh and get inspired again for the future

 

With most of the big running events of the year complete, our drive to train can dwindle in these early winter days. Dark evenings and cold air certainly don’t help our motivation. Without the structure of races and training, plans to keep us on track it’s easy to drift into running hibernation.

But maybe a break from running could be a good thing?

Mary Jennings and others cheering on runners at the Malahide Park Run
Mary Jennings and others cheering on runners at the Malahide Park Run

Should I take a break?

If your year has been centred around a big event like a marathon, it can be draining both mentally and physically. A change of focus can help heal the body and freshen the mind. Your family might thank you for it too. Many runners fear that they will lose their fitness and clear head-space by not running. Remember that even elite athletes in all sports recognise that a period of rest after a big event is essential. We need time to recover, refresh and get inspired again for the future. If there is no break in a year of training, we never truly get a chance to let our body reset.

Unfinished business

If your season didn’t quite go to plan, there can be an urgency to regain fitness and set sights on the next challenge. Launching straight into a new training regime may not be the best approach. Rather than dwell on the setbacks of the season, make a decision to finish the year on a positive by focusing your attention on preparing for a healthy and strong comeback in the new year.

Consider if strength work, cross-training or mobility work might be a better focus for the winter to allow you to start the new year with a fresher body. Running miles is not always the best form of training.

Filling the void

Many dedicated runners struggle to take time out as running is so much a part of their identity and social life. Taking a break doesn’t have to mean weekends on the couch. If you still want to keep moving, try reducing mileage and pace, leave your watch at home and truly run for fun. Instead of focusing on miles, you now have time to address other areas of your fitness you may have chosen to ignore, such as improving strength, mobility or technique. Consider these weeks pre-season training if you must.

Time to give back

You can still be a part of the running community without running. Volunteer at your local park-run or charity race. Encourage other runners to achieve their goals. Lift the focus from your own running goals and appreciate everyone around you that has helped you work towards your goal – from family to race organisers, volunteers to clubmates. You might even help someone else start running by lending supporting words or pacing them on an easy training run.

Focus your attention on preparing for a strong comeback in the new year. Photograph: Sebastian Kaczorowski
Focus your attention on preparing for a strong comeback in the new year.

Make a comeback?

If, on the other hand, taking a break from running is the last thing you need, and a kick-start is what is required, it’s not too late to finish the year on a running high. Don’t wait until January 1st like everyone else to get back moving. This is the perfect time of year to get outside as most of our day is indoors. Whether its walking or running, the fresh air will be as valuable to your head as the fitness will be to your body.

You decide the challenge

We can let the next six weeks disappear in a haze of cosy evenings by the fire, Christmas parties and last-minute shopping or decide to add a little balance to the madness by setting a mini running goal.  Remember that your running goal doesn’t always need to be miles-focused. Without running at all you can still focus on becoming a better runner. You can strengthen your body, give back by volunteering, write running journals, read books and get inspired, research races for next year, work on technique or help other runners if running miles is not the right thing for you now.

My November challenge

Like many runners, there is room for improvement in how my body moves when I run. Although I aim to practice good running technique, a combination of years on laptops, driving and general wear and tear means that some parts of my body are lazier than they should be when it comes to running. Although I am not injured, I want to prevent any issues going forward so I am dedicating these next six weeks to improving my mobility. I’m excited about the prospect of learning more about my body and what it can achieve by training it in different ways and future proofing my running.

Find your focus

Each of us know deep down what part of our training could do with a little more attention. By committing a little time now you can get a head-start on your new year resolutions. Aim to start the new year fresh and excited about what lies ahead. The strength you develop this winter will stand to you right through next year. The next six weeks will fly by. It’s up to you to decide where your running focus should be and how you will finish 2017 with a running high.  

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary is also the creator of all our Irish Times Get Running programmes – Beginners Get Running, Get Running 10k and Get Running Stay Running.

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