Whether you're prepping for a spring 5k race or dreaming of next year's Philadelphia Marathon (or day-dreaming of the Half-Marathon), cold weather training requires dedication and planning.
On Sunday, November 20th, 25,000 eager runners of various shapes, sizes and fitness levels will suit up for the Philadelphia Marathon and Half-Marathon. Racing past historical landmarks like Betsy Ross’s house and the Liberty Bell, then paralleling the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, through crowds of enthusiastic spectators in University City and Manayunk, the leaders will finish more than two hours later, with the last runners trailing hours after that. It’s 26.2 miles of putting one foot in front of the other.
Afterward, some will climb the Art Museum steps and prance triumphantly in homage to Rocky. Others will collapse, exhausted, at the finish line. All will remember the journey that began with a detailed training plan that progressed through autumn training months. Some will even start planning their training for next year.
From casual exercisers to former college athletes, completing a distance run can be a satisfying goal to motivate you to train through all seasons.
Dr. Michael Glassner of Gladwyne agrees. “I started training as a stress-release from work, then I became addicted and wanted to conquer the challenge of a half-marathon. A year later, and I’m training for the full marathon this November.”
As a former collegiate runner, I often get asked to share some hard-earned training lessons with new runners. Here are the best — plus tips gathered from other successful distance runners on keeping motivated through winter workouts.
A first consideration is that training for distance races is a part-time job, so schedule accordingly. The time needed for proper training is related to the length of the race and your overall fitness. At the extreme end, for a marathon, the training period for beginners to experienced runners ranges from 8 months to 18 weeks out from the race date — so novices start training April 1st for the Philadelphia Marathon.
Given the time commitment, you’ll want to design the most efficient and effective program with consistent training, the right equipment, a healthy diet, and realistic expectations. Each is more difficult during cold weather running.
While dedicating yourself to tiring exercise in harsh weather for half a year may sound like a drag, there’s good news. By beginning now, you’ll get in great shape for shorter, spring runs, like the Chester County area 5Ks (see sidebar).
If your goal is to complete a spring 5K comfortably and in a time you’re happy with, you’ll need to progressively build up your weekly mileage and train consistently. For reliable advice on training tailored to your level, check out RunnersWorld.com, which recommends for 5K beginners (with a few months’ experience of regular running): a Week 1 run of 5-6 miles, building up to 15 miles a week two weeks before your race, and tapering off to 10 miles for race week. For an 8-month marathon training program, the first week long run is 3 miles, in a week totaling 6-7 miles.
Staying healthy is as important as running 5 to 6 days a week because missing training days sets you back. Although it’s hard to stay healthy with winter colds and flus around, your physical fitness has to be a priority.
Varying your training courses is also important. To ease the toll running takes on your muscles and bones, train on a variety of surfaces, such as running tracks, hiking trails and grassy parks. Jean Boller of West Chester University recommends the 5-mile trail at WCU’s South Campus as well as loops at both West and East Goshen Parks.
Running different routes can be a great way to explore your neighborhood. Says Austin, TX ’09 Marathon finisher, Nicholas Neely, “Coming down the home stretch of my first marathon felt like the beginning of a new chapter in my life. But the real joy of my training was discovering the area I lived in on foot, as my runs grew in length.”
The right shoes are a key component of your training. After all, they’re just about all you need, except for cold-weather gear. Shoes are designed to fit feet with different arches, pronation (amount your foot rolls after striking the ground) and widths. If a shoe doesn’t fit well, parts of the foot can be exposed to overuse, which leads to stress fractures. Local running stores can help you find the best shoes for your body and running style. Ask their advice.
Monitor the use of your shoes, too. Scott Purcell, co-owner of Chester County Running Store, says, “We highly recommend you change your shoes every 6 to 8 months or 300 to 500 miles, whichever comes first. And listen to your body. A new knee pain may mean your shoes are dead.” Best to rotate your shoes, too.
Cold weather running is more comfortable with the right gear. On winter runs, you’ll want to protect yourself from the cold and wind. Long miles are tough enough on your immune system. As Ed Camelli of Trail Creek Outfitters in Glen Mills says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather … just bad clothing.”
Investing in the right equipment will keep you healthier and less apt to hurt a muscle. Invest in tight-fitting, cold-gear — tights, gloves and just about anything that’s quick drying and wicking. Even those crazy looking balaklavas have a purpose — and I don’t mean robbing Wawas.
Your body needs proper fuel during winter training, such as a high-carbohydrate diet. This doesn’t mean a massive pasta dinner every night, but rather a good portion of wheat bread, whole-grain starch, bananas, potatoes, apples and the like. A rule of thumb: You are what you eat, and you run like it, too.
Eat a few hours before a run and an hour after. RunnersWorld.com suggests almonds, high protein cereal, mixed berries and low-fat yogurt as post-run snacks. Top American female runner Suzy Favor Hamilton’s book Fast Track, suggests you eat low-glycemic foods; more protein; frequent, small meals throughout the day; and balanced meals.
And because 75% of your muscle is made of water, hydration is also key, even in winter. Cold weather running may not make you thirsty, but drinking is still essential.
To maximize your training, performance and recovery time, establish a daily exercise routine. Stretching in the morning, before and after a run, as well as before bed will help ensure your muscles remain healthy and minimize injury and damage.
An overlooked part of long-distance training is core exercise. Duriel Hardy, a West Chester East High School alum and 2010 5K Ivy League Champion, preaches these exercises. “Stretching, core and strength training are great for injury prevention so that you can train harder and longer, making your training more efficient and helping you do your best.” Those daily situps, pushups, planks and “supermans” will help you go a long way — even farther than 5K.
As for treadmills, they do offer fitness and calorie burning benefits. But because treadmills lack air resistance and changing terrain, and they may change your running form, outdoor training is far superior. You really do have to run in the cold most days.
Completing a long-distance race, from 5K to marathon, is an accomplishment. The health benefits of long-distance races are well-known: superior calorie burn, lower blood pressure, bolstered lung and heart strength, slower heart rate. But the physical improvements are just part of it. As important is the psychic value.
Tony DeSabato, runner for 30 years and veteran of the Boston, New York and Philadelphia Marathons, plus Brian’s Run, sums it up well:
The miles trekked in preparing to complete a full marathon are worth the investment. Whether the goal is to cover the distance, run a personal best time, or qualify for the Boston Marathon, when you finish, the feelings of elation overwhelms the fatigue and soreness that inevitably come with the effort. Long after the tiredness and stiffness wane, the knowledge that you’ve accomplished something so mentally and physically difficult endures and often inspires you to keep lacing them up and getting out there day after day. -CL-
Zack Malet has run competitively (from 400M to 10K) for 11 years, including 4 years of varsity track at Brown University.
Area Races to Motivate You for Winter Training
National Brain Tumor Society’s Race for Hope: Nov. 6. Phila. Web site
Alex’s Lemonade Stand 3rd Annual Lemon Run 5K: Nov 13. Philadelphia. Web site
Philadelphia Marathon/Half-Marathon: Nov. 20. Philadelphia. Web site
Chester County Turkey Trot 5K Run/Walk: Nov 24. Downingtown. Web site
Jingle Elf Run 2 Mile Run/Walk: Dec 2. Downtown West Chester. Web site
34th Annual Brian’s Run 5 Miles: Dec 4. West Chester. Web site
Funky Santa 5K and 3-Person Relay: Dec 4. Pottstown. Web site
Jingle Bell Run and Walk for Arthritis: Dec 11. Malvern. Web site
Holiday Triple Threat 3-Person Relay/5 Miles. Dec 17. West Chester. Web site
2012 Runs. Check for dates
Tyler Arboretum Trail Run 10K: Apr. Media. Web site
West Chester Downtown Grand Prix 12 5K races: Through Dec. Web site
Parkway Dash for Diabetes 5K Run/Walk: April. West Chester. Web site
David’s Run 5K: April. Wayne. Web site
7th Valley Forge Revolutionary 5 Mile: Apr. Valley Forge Pk. Web site
33rd Broad Street Run 10 Mile: May. Philadelphia. Web site
23rd Kennett Run 10K: May. Kennett Square. Web site
11th Berwyn Victory Run 5K: May. Web site