Staying Motivated to Run in Winter

It’s winter. And for those of us in the midwest or colder climates, it’s dark, snowy, icy, cold, windy, cloudy, sometimes all at once! Sometimes the thought of heading out into the cold or howling wind can make staying inside your warm cozy bed seem like the much better option than getting out for a run. Is Mother Nature is conspiring against your fitness goals? We know intellectually that staying active through the winter is good for our physical and mental well-being, but knowing and doing are different things, right? So, how do you stay motivated?

One of the first things that occurred to me when I qualified for Boston was that I was going to have to train through the winter. And I mean through the ENTIRE winter. A Chicago winter. I hadn’t really done that before, instead training for fall races and running more sporadically through the winter when the sun was out and the conditions were good. I don’t have a treadmill and loathe running on one in the gym so for me running would be outdoors unless it was unsafe from slippery ice. But it was Boston and I had the ultimate goal to be motivated for, so I had to figure it out.

At that time I was working full time commuting from my home in the suburbs to downtown Chicago. So I was up early and out the door, sometimes by 5:00 am, running in the dark, then rushing to get ready for the workday often before anyone else was awake. As hard as that was, day after day, week after week, I never regretted a single run. The challenge was just getting out the door. Once I got going, I learned to really enjoy running in the cold and even running in the dark. I was able to start those days with energy, a positive mindset and a huge sense of accomplishment, ready to tackle the day. Often I’d get into the office and we’d talk about how awful the weather was and I’d say – yeah I was out for a run in that! That winter I learned a lot about how to set myself up for success. Who knew I’d encounter possibly the worst conditions ever for running Boston, running through high winds, cold temps and pouring driving rain for the entire race. In many ways, running through the winter prepared me for it. It was nuts!

Boston 2018 – It rained like this for my entire race, gusting headwinds, temps in the 30’s

We’ve got a couple months to go until spring is really upon us, so here I’ll share some tips on how to stay motivated for running (or any outdoor fitness!) through the winter.

  1. Remind yourself why you run. While I’m a big advocate of having goals to drive motivation, as long as you’re connected to your purpose, your motivation will stay in tact. Do you run to remain healthy? Do you like how running makes you feel? Remember the saying: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. Find your will.
  2. Invest in some good gear. Getting the right clothing for the conditions is key to making that run enjoyable. Know that you’re going to be cold for that first 10 minutes or so but with the right gear for the conditions, after that you’re good. This means going head to toe: hat/headband, neck warmer/gator, base layer, a wind-breaking or water-resistant jacket, gloves, warm leggings, warm but not thick socks, good running shoes. Don’t forget a headlamp and safety vest if you’re running in the dark. Of all of these, for me gloves are probably the most important, as my hands get really cold (I also use hand warmers). I’ll link all of my favorites in another post!
  3. Have a plan. When you have a plan, it’s much easier to stay on track and it’s less likely that thoughts will enter your mind about skipping your workout. A plan can mean you’ve got a planned run or workout that’s laid out in advance for the day, the week, month, etc. Once you’ve committed yourself to the plan, on a day to basis all you have to think about is getting up and executing. Plan your route, your clothes, your food, your gear, all of it.
  4. Lay everything out the night before. Lay out your clothes, headphones, watch, safety vest, headlamp. Prepare your morning pre-run breakfast and fill your water bottles. Pre-set the coffee maker to have it ready when you wake up or for post-run. I try to do as much as possible the night before so that I save time in the morning. Some people even sleep in their running clothes. I never went this far, but do what works for you! The less time you have to think about it in the morning, the better. And when all of your gear is laid out, it’s pretty hard to walk by that pile of clothes and decide to not put them on.
  5. Buy a new outfit. when you do this, it makes #4 even more fun, and you’ll look forward to getting up and putting those clothes on in the morning. Once the clothes are on…. less likely you’re bailing on that run.
  6. Have an accountability partner. Nothing will probably get you going more than knowing you have someone who’s showing up out there to meet you for your run. You don’t want to let them down by backing out. This can be a huge motivator and an awesome experience to share some miles with a running friend. Having an accountability partner is a gift you can give each other, spurring each other on and keeping you committed to your goal. With my schedule, my coach has typically been my accountability partner. Knowing my coach is looking at my runs keeps me motivated to stay on track.
  7. Mix it up. Try a new route for a change of scenery. Sometimes my husband will drop me off somewhere so that I can have a long point to point run back home. If you’re typically a morning runner, try heading out mid-day for a change. Listen to a new playlist, podcast, or audio book. Switching it up gives your you something new to look forward to. A few of my favorite go-to podcasts for some running inspiration are: @aliontherun, @rambling_runner and @richroll.
  8. Remember how great it feels to get out and run. For me, I’m motivated to run through the winter because I know it sets the right tone for me, for the day. Equally, I don’t want to experience the disappointment of bailing out. If I go, I’m proud of myself, I have energy, and I’m more motivated throughout the day. If I don’t, I’ll feel regretful and disappointed that I skipped out. And, continuing to run through the winter brings you into those glorious spring days with a solid fitness base, ready to hit those spring races!
Lay out your clothes the night before, just like you would for a race

The disclaimer: As in everything, there are exceptions and one of the most important things in being a runner is to listen to your body. Deciding that some days your body just needs to rest is a wise decision. Some weeks you need to dial it back to give your body the recovery it needs. These are decisions that are all part of training and in making them, you’re setting yourself up for long term healthy running.

What keeps YOU motivated in winter? Drop me a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

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