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How to Train for a Half Marathon in the Middle of a Horrible Winter

Marnie Soman Schwartz

When I tell non-runners that I’m training for a half marathon, most say something along the lines of, “You must be training on the treadmill now, right?” When I respond that I’ve been doing as many runs as possible outdoors (yes, even in this frigid, snowy weather!), they mostly just stare and say, “You’re crazy.”

Maybe I am. Or maybe it’s actually the sanest response to the ridiculous weather we’ve been having. Running outside—even in New York City—makes me feel connected to nature, free and happy. Running on a treadmill generally makes me question why I ever thought I liked running, while counting down every single minute. (That happy boost is just one of 5 Reasons Running in the Cold is Good for You.)

I didn’t always feel this way. When I first started running, I liked the predictability and control of the treadmill. It helped me build my endurance; since it was so easy to track speed and distance, I could say to myself, “I did this many minutes today, tomorrow I have to do one minute more.”

But once I took it outdoors, there was no going back. I love running through the city streets early in the morning, or heading out on the river paths, bridges looming overhead, and seeing fellow New Yorkers out fishing, bird watching, or walking their dogs. I love running through the suburban neighborhood I grew up in when I visit my parents, or around parks when I visit a new city.

This is the first winter where I’m really committed to outdoor workouts. In the past, I switched my exercise focus away from running come winter, but that’s not an option this year since I'm training for a half—and I’m glad for it. It’s refreshing to get some natural sunlight and breathe fresh (cold) air while I work up a sweat, especially after being cooped up in overheated buildings all day and night. I still do some of my runs indoors, like on weekday mornings when the temps are in single digits (check out How I Turned Myself Into a Morning Exerciser), or when it’s dangerously icy out. But I’m trying really hard to get at least one good, long run outside on the weekend, and as many weekday ones as I can. And I'm learning a few things as I go.

Go Slow
I try not to beat myself up when my pace is a little slower on cold-weather runs. You have to be careful with the ice, and sometimes that means walking over a particularly slick stretch. I remind myself that it’s an accomplishment in itself to get out there in the freezing cold and log miles.

Look at the Hour-by-Hour
This is a little “duh,” perhaps, but if I have a run scheduled for a Saturday, I check the detailed forecast for the time of day that will be warmest and plan my run around then.

Wear the Right Gear
A friend told me to dress for a run as if its 20 degrees warmer than it actually is, and that’s been really helpful advice. My go-tos: a sweat-wicking short or long-sleeved tee under my H&M running jacket, a SmartWool headband, fleece gloves, and fleece-lined running tights. When it’s slushy out, I wear an old pair of running shoes to keep my newer ones in good shape. (Check out more Cute Winter Running Gear to Bust Your “It’s Too Cold to Run” Excuse.)

Bring Tissues
So this is kinda gross (sorry!), but my nose starts to run halfway through an outdoor workout…and doesn’t stop. When I forget tissues, my gloves end up covered in snot (ick!).

Know When to Take it Inside
Sometimes it’s just too cold, or icy, or both. Running outside isn’t worth it if you’re going to slip and fall and get hurt, or get frostbite, or even just be miserable the whole time. This is supposed to be fun—even when it's freezing out!

Marnie Soman Schwartz is the nutrition editor at Shape. She lives and runs in New York City. Follow her training here, and on Instagram and Twitter @marnwrites.


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