5 Ways to Improve Your Winter Marathon Training
Training for a marathon any time of year can be daunting, but the limited daylight and cold weather of winter can be enough to make the most seasoned runners want to hang up their shoes and race to the couch.
But winter training doesn’t have to be insurmountable. Robert Raines MD, a foot and ankle surgeon with the TriHealth Orthopedic and Sports Institute, has some tips for training in the colder months and beyond that will have you ready to break PRs come race day.
1.) Dress for the occasion
If you’re serious about running a marathon in the early part of race season, you’ll likely face freezing temperatures and the nastiness that comes with them. Rather than wearing one or two thick articles of clothing, Dr. Raines recommends donning several thinner layers that can be easily removed – and won’t be too missed if they’re lost.
“It’s quite common that you’ll see runners with four or five layers on, and then start to drop them in a bush as they go,” he says. “Experienced runners pretty much expect to do this.” Just as important, he says, is to keep your head and neck covered, as body heat is most quickly lost from those areas.
2.) Stretch it out
Stretching is a great practice for any athlete, regardless of weather. But as temperatures drop, muscles and tendons tighten, making it crucial for runners to devote extra time to pre- and post-run stretching. The Achilles tendon and ankle should be given particular attention, says Dr. Raines.
“Problems of the Achilles tendon are common anyway, but in the winter, the importance of stretching the Achilles tendon cannot be overstated,” he says, noting that tendinitis and tendinosis can end a marathon before it even begins. Older runners should be extra diligent about stretching, as muscles stiffen with age.
3.) "Pace" yourself
Experienced runners are quick to point out the value of pacing on long distance runs, but if you’re new to marathons, you’ll also need to pace your overall training regimen to avoid causing injury from overexertion.
“It’s a long process and you can’t rush it,” Dr. Raines says. “It’s important to be training for six months or so.” Anything less than that can result in overexertion and injury.
4.) Be more than a runner
“It’s become pretty clear over the last decade or so that to be a healthy runner, you can’t be a one-trick pony,” Dr. Raines says. “You can’t be someone that gets up and runs every day and doesn’t do anything else.”
Running repetitively stresses a specific set of muscles, tendons and bones, Dr. Raines explained. To avoid injury, runners should punctuate their training schedule with more holistic exercise routines, such as yoga or Pilates. Core strength is especially beneficial, as it stabilizes your body and helps you maintain form as fatigue sets in.
5.) Be proud of yourself for finishing
The marathon is one of the most challenging race formats the average athlete can participate in, and, as is the nature of racing, many runners aim to place as well as possible. But according to Dr. Raines, first time runners should focus on finishing the race – full stop.
“There are so many things we do that we get judged on for how well we do,” Dr. Raines says. “The marathon is something we can be proud of for just having completed it.”
“It’s just important to do it safely and healthily,” he adds.