With the cold temperatures and slippery sidewalks heading out the door, we're excited to see the sun and warmth again. If you've been sitting on the couch for a few months, here are a few tips on how to ease back into training successfully.
If you’ve been putting a lot of zeroes on the calendar this winter, the first thing you need to do is re-establish your aerobic base by getting out the door and running. It’s as simple as that to start. Pace isn’t important for these workouts, so err on the side of starting out slowly. Begin with 3 to 4-mile runs. Gradually increase these base-building efforts by a few miles each week until you can comfortably run 10 miles at an easy pace. Winter running slackers may feel the need to take “shortcuts” with base-building efforts by trying to increase the intensity of these sessions and throwing in some high-intensity speedwork prematurely. Resist these temptations. Think of your body as a house that needs a new foundation. Invest the time to slowly build that foundation by strengthening the legs and lungs with at least three weeks of easy base-building runs.
Once you’ve got your running legs back underneath you, it’s time to put them to work. Consider running twice a day, aka doubling. A good way to fit a second run in is to do it on the same days as your speed workouts. Make the first run of the day a higher-intensity workout. Use your second run as an easy shakeout to get those stiff legs moving again. Or, you can reverse the order. Do a short shakeout run (2-4 miles) earlier in the day and a speed workout in the afternoon or evening.
Those long winter months of reduced activity (or inactivity) can take a toll on your running form and economy. Doing drills a few times a week can help get things back on track. Spend at least 15-20 minutes every other day on drills. Simple but effective drills include butt kicks, high knees and various types of skips. You can find examples of these drills on Competitor.com. Once you’re able to get back outside, you can do “diagonals.” This workout entails running from one corner of a soccer field diagonally across the center to the other side as fast as possible. Your recovery is the short jog along the goal line until the other corner is reached. Then sprint diagonally across the center again to the opposite corner. Do this for 15 minutes. If the surface is right, try them barefoot. Diagonals will help improve your basic speed and also strengthen your feet and lower legs.
“Long” is a relative term for distance runners, but generally speaking, a long run is any run that lasts longer than 90 minutes. Long runs strengthen your muscles and tendons. Doing them once every 7 to 10 days will also build more capillaries, which facilitate the movement of blood and assist in the removal of waste products such as lactate. Increase your long run every week by approximately 10 to 15% until you reach a level that satisfies your training needs.
As you plan your training, find a race early in the season and treat it as a workout. Races are excellent places to conduct pace-specific efforts. They are also great opportunities to push yourself since you’ll be competing against others and not just slogging through another solo speed session. But have realistic goals for these races used as workouts. For example, if you’re aiming for a 5K PR later in the season, try to progress your pace in the tuneup race so that you run a slower first mile. Then pick it up to your goal pace in the last mile, passing as many people as you can along the way. Also consider running a course in training that you will be racing on later in the year when you are in peak shape. It will be a huge benefit to learn as much as possible about its twists, turns and hills and how you should pace yourself from start to finish.
As you look to jump-start your spring training after an easy winter, it’s important to remember that slow and steady wins the race. Listen to your body. Avoid overexerting yourself early into your training to build your stamina and endurance for an injury-free, successful spring race season.