Marathon training in the winter is tough—but with running tips from pro athletes, you'll ace every run
Ah, spring. Tulips blooming, birds chirping…even the inevitable rainshowers seem idyllic when there are piles of snow on the ground. Just thinking about April and May can make signing up for a half or full marathon sound like a great idea. Until you realize that training for a race then means running in cold weather now.
But don't change your mind yet. “Having something on the calendar helps to just get you out the door in the winter when you're not as motivated,” says Sara Hall, an Asics marathoner, who is running her first LA Marathon this March. What’s more: “I find that it prepares me well for the race itself, since most marathons start in the early morning, when it’s chillier." Training through the winter isn't ideal—but don’t opt out of registering just yet! We talked to Hall and other running pros for their top tips for training in the cold. (Here's some motivation: The 10 Best Marathons to Travel the World.)
You’ve heard it before: Layering is key. But for a tough, long marathon training run, you don’t want bulky layers, says Hall. “The biggest thing I’ll make sure I have is something over my head and ears, like the Asics Felicity Fleece Headwarmer ($18; asicsamerica.com)," she says. Since marathon training runs can be grueling, Hall sometimes prefers short sleeves, even when it's pretty cold. On those days (and on race day), she’ll wear Asics Arm Warmers ($10; asicsamerica.com). “It’s a great removable layer,” she says.
“In the winter, I feel ravenous and I’ve found that I need to eat a bit more breakfast to stick with me through the end of my workout,” says Shalane Flanagan, an elite marathoner who's running the Boston Marathon in April. Her go-to: Muscle Milk pancakes and butter coffee. And don’t forget to hydrate and recover post-run. “Most people don’t realize that they are still losing quite a bit of sweat even when it’s colder out," she says. "I try to drink plenty of fluids before and after, and stick with my routine—a piece of fruit and a KIND bar."
“I don’t really like the treadmill, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, especially if the conditions are dangerously icy,” says Hall. But rather than feel annoyed, Hall embraces her treadmill slogs: “It’s a good way to get out of my normal rut of a pace,” she explains. “I up my pace by a few more notches than I’m comfortable with. Being forced out of my go-to pace with the belt pulling me along is a great way to bust those plateaus,” she says. (Try this Exclusive Treadmill Workout From Mile High Run Club.)
It takes longer for muscles to warm up in winter, so take some time to stretch dynamically pre-run and ease into your pace. Another tip: Give yourself a little self massage pre-run. Hall uses a softball or foam roller before runs to loosen up fasica and muscle tissue. “I run it lightly over my muscles, spending a little extra time on areas that are tighter,” she says. (Check out The Best Warm Up for Any Type of Workout.)
“I like to shake out my hands while running,” says Nike Master Trainer Marie Purvis. “This helps you to not shrug your shoulders (which we do when we are cold), plus helps you to maintain proper posture while running.”
“When I run in the snow, not only do I dress warmer, but I run in my trail shoes (I wear the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 2) because there’s more grip support,” says Purvis. You should also tweak your stride. “When I run in the snow, I try to keep my stride a little smaller and take quicker steps so that I don’t slip,” says Flanagan.
“When I really don't want to get out there, I think about how much my body I will hurt on race day if I don’t get a run in," says Purvis. “Training is not a quick fix, I’m not going to get better without putting in the work," she tells herself.
Flanagan uses mental tricks to get herself out the door on particularly chilly days. “I will plan to reward myself with a nice treat when I get home (hot shower, cozy fire, hot cocoa) and I think about how fit I’m going to be for my upcoming race. But, in general, I pat myself on the back for being tough and tell myself that true champs ‘work hard when no one is looking!’” (Check out more mental strategies in 9 Smart Running Tips from Shalane Flanagan.)
“I use Strava, a running GPS tracker, for motivation to get out the door. Knowing that I’m going to post my run results afterwards helps me get going,” says Kara Goucher, Oiselle-sponsored pro-marathoner. “After my run, I connect my Soleus watch to Strava and then I get lots of kudos and comments from people telling me how brave I was to get out the door.”
“I like to make sure that my lower legs (calves and ankles) are extra warm,” says Goucher. “My Zensah compression socks keep the blood circulating throughout my legs, plus help me recover faster which is critical for cold weather running."