2015 was off to a great start; my mileage was steadily increasing, workouts improving, and I was stronger than ever in the weight room. I was also in Arizona and in AZ even during their “worst week of winter” it was still very conducive for outdoor training.
By the end of my stay I was training in shorts and a t-shirt outdoors and hiking later in the day in a tank top. The morning of my departure back to NY it was only 5 am and already 65 deg. I was greeted with the harsh reality of NY winter when I returned to 17˚F and that was midday! It got even better the next morning. I decided to sleep in until 8am and by the time I got out training at 8:30 there was already about 1.5 inches of snow on the ground.
And so my yearly struggle with Mother Nature to safely and effectively train had begun.
The challenges I was about to face that day and will continue to face for the next few months are not unique to me. Most of the Northeast and Midwest battle everyday with the elements to fit in adequate training. Here’s what I’ve been up to the past month and the way’s I’ve been able to overcome this seasonal annoyance!
Be flexible with your training schedule
Normally I have two hard workouts a week that are typically on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This winter I have done hard workouts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The number one reason for these changes has been snow.
While weather forecasts are often wrong, when a blizzard is predicted to be headed your way and is calling for 2 feet of snow, chances are your training routine is going to be disrupted for at least one day maybe even several. My coach and I are constantly monitoring the weather predictions and making changes in advance to fit in a key hard workout or long walks prior to a storm. That way the quality stuff has already been logged when the storm hits and an extra day of cross training is a welcomed day of recovery.
Cross training, Cross training, Cross training!
This is an absolutely crucial component to surviving winter training. I have seen time and time again just how beneficial cross training is when rehabbing/recovering from prior injuries. If it’s worked before it’ll work again. Cross training has numerous benefits, it allows one to get in a great cardio burn while resting and testing different muscle groups. As a race walker I cross train running 2-3x a week as an easy second workout. These runs allow me to pick up some extra mileage, flush out lactic acid, and get my muscle groups firing in a different pattern. I am a huge fan of the elliptical and often substitute my runs for time on the elliptical. One of the great benefits of the elliptical is the reduction in pounding and the stresses this puts on the body, especially the joints.
Inline with reducing impact, swimming is an amazing total body workout that has no weight bearing stress for the body. I have really come to enjoy a nice long swim after a hard workout earlier in the day.
Change it up
I can admitted it, living in NYC I was spoiled. I had a long bike loop in Central Park, which was almost always conducive for training 24 hrs post snowfall, and on the off chance that it wasn’t I had a gym in the bottom of my apartment with my favorite elliptical. Back home on Long Island the local streets post storm leave much to be desired and are far from a safe surface to train on, often several days post storm. This has forced me to look elsewhere.
I have found certain parking lots are plowed better and sooner than the local roads. I am willing (and have the time luxury at this stage in my life) to drive 30 min plus to go to other parks that have paths that are better plowed than the roadways to reach them.
Sometimes going around and around in circles is the answer
We have several indoor tracks within 30 miles of my home. However, access becomes the issue. I have found ways to navigate this. Look for local indoor races at an indoor facility that are open to the community. Long Island track and field (my local USATF association) holds 3-4 indoor meets a winter. These are a great chance to have to fun and get in a quality speed session. There’s nothing that says you can’t enter the 1000, 1500, and 3000. Be sure to show up early, often the meet begins setting up at least 30-60 min before the first race goes off. This is the perfect opportunity to bust out a workout. Just be mindful of other athletes warming up!
When the roads are too dangerous to drive
Safety should always be one’s number one priority. No amount of mileage, or “golden” workout is worth the risk of injury that will keep you out of training longer than any storm. And trust me in the moment it can be hard to resist…you know when you’ve had a great training week thus far and are on track for your highest mileage week of the month, or you missed your hard workout last week and feel you can’t afford to forgo it yet again. You are stir crazy and getting out there and training no matter how terrible the conditions can be beyond tempting (for all us nuts out there, we know this feeling all to well). But please trust me you can and need to wait!
So what do you do when you are truly trapped inside? If you are lucky to have your own cardio equipment then get at it and log that cross training time. If not do you own any light weights? There are great ways to feel the burn using minimal pieces of equipment. Don’t have any weights, you can bust out a quality calisthenics workout. All you need is your body for push-ups, planks, air squats, jumping jacks, burpees etc.
When all else fails be a kid again
The very stuff that is keeping you locked up indoors can be used to your advantage for training. Yes I am talking about the mounds of all that white stuff…snow. Obviously there is the time old task of shoveling which is definitely a great upper body workout (and remember to use correct lifting form so as not to wreck your back). However, if you are a little creative you can also work the lower half. Yes your neighbors may think you are crazy (and most likely rightfully so) but when you lift a shovel full of snow on one side of the driveway walk all the way to the other side to dump it. Trust me walking back and forth with shovels full of snow is exhausting for the whole body.
Remember what it was like to be a kid when it snowed? All you wanted to do on a snow day was go out and play in it, snowball fights, snowmen, and of course sledding. Get out there and be active, have fun and unlock your inner child. What goes down must come up, and running up a sledding hill will make your hardest hill repeat day seem like child’s play. No good hills to sled on, don’t worry. Have fun and be creative. Have you ever tried running high knees in a foot of snow? Go ahead and try; it’s exhausting.
Staying mentally sane!
Perhaps the hardest part of winter training loss is the mental toll that it takes. If you are a competitor like me you have to battle the fear that you are falling behind your competitors who live in more ideal climates for year round training. I am not going to lie this is probably the hardest part of winter training. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do or had to miss, focus on what you are doing and have accomplished. Cross training prevents you from falling behind and believe it or not is also capable of making you improve. Yes I have PR’d 4 weeks after coming back from and injury that forced me to cross train for 6-8 weeks. I’ve watched my sister PR off of cross training, and cross training only. It’s amazing how the body is strengthened and how so many different types of training translate over to success in other events.
Lastly at the end of the day mental training is just as important as physical training and can even be more important. Keep your thoughts positive, keep your belief strong and your goals will be attained. Because when race day comes, and that gun goes off you’ve got to believe that you have given it your all to get on the line, and you are ready to fight to cross that line. As local high school Coach Schaub likes to say, “find a reason; not an excuse.”
Winter training reinforces what those reasons are, what is it that makes us get up and battle the frigid cold and bitter winds. What reason is driving you closer to your dreams? What reason is allowing you to fuel the fighter? What do you want, because it’s yours for the taking. And after surviving a season full of winter’s blows we inevitably come out stronger and tougher. That day-to-day perseverance and determination makes us who we are, defining us. In the end I am thankful for the winter training season and the competitive fighter that emerges out of the storm!