Beating the Winter Blues

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Beating the Winter Blues

Written by Richard Ferguson, Ph.D. on 27 January 2014.

Fall is a great time to run and this past fall your running went really well. You trained well, had some good races and you really enjoyed the cool weather, beautiful colors of the trees and even the first frosty morning. But now its winter, and for many runners winter can mean one of the most challenging times of the year, both physically and mentally. You indeed worked really hard in the fall and got really fit, but now the fall seems so far removed and your running motivation some mornings is as low as the mercury in the thermometer.

Remember how hard you have worked over the past year. But no matter how high your fitness level was, detraining will occur with inactivity. Just because you were once fit, it doesn’t mean it will be any easier to get yourself back to that previous level of fitness if you allow your training to go by the wayside for weeks on end. Training wise, it really is true that, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” Sure, winter does bring about unique training challenges that you normally don’t face in the other seasons. It’s cold, especially if you train in the early morning like me. Add in wind chill and things get even chillier. Darkness becomes a problem. You may have total darkness if you run in the morning or evening. Negotiating uneven surfaces and motorists becomes a major safety concern. And of course, unless you live in the Deep South or on the coast, frozen precipitation comes into play. Running in fresh snow can be a truly magical experience, but long periods of thaw by day, re-freeze by night can mean dangerous black ice, not to mention one of the south’s biggest winter weather hazards, freezing rain.

Sometimes it’s just hard to get out the door in winter. That warm sofa and hot chocolate make for a cozy day. But spring racing season is going to be here before you know it, so why not make a real commitment to not just maintain some level of fitness in the winter months, but actually improve your fitness. The winter months can be an invaluable time to lay an aerobic fitness base for the year to come. With few races being run in the winter you can focus on just training and not have to be concerned about adjusting your training around races. It’s difficult to actually train hard and race in the same time period, due to the fact that you don’t want to be overly fatigued for your races. So a solid winter of training will allow you to be at a much higher level of fitness early in the spring, which can actually be a big, big plus because it affords you the opportunity to decrease the volume of your training and focus more on quality race specific workouts earlier in your race season. In other words, with a solid winter base you don’t need to play catch-up with your training once the weather improves.

Can you make a commitment to your training this winter? You can and the commitment can start right now! Sure, there will be some cold, dreary, rainy days in the next few months, but with good preparation you will be more than ready for the elements. Invest in some good outer wear, head gear, and gloves and you won’t miss a beat. Strive to love the beauty of winter and all it has to offer. The feeding wild birds, bright blue skies, winter landscapes, a bright moon at night and fabulous sun rises and sunsets are just a few examples of the beauty to behold in winter training. Learn to love your winter running! There will be days with snow and ice that may make running nearly impossible, but even on those days do something to make yourself a better runner. Of course running on a treadmill is great, but also stationary bike work, extra stretching or core training can be very useful when you can’t get outside. Of course, a day of rest on a really foul day is useful too, as long as it doesn’t turn into weeks of rest.

The key is to be truly committed in the winter. When you look at the entire course of winter there are only a very few days that are really horrible as far as the weather goes. The south is not exactly Siberia, even in the harshest winters. The commitment you make to winter training can do more than just improve your physical fitness; it can improve your mental toughness as well. If you really don’t want to run there are a million excuses, even on summer days, so don’t use “it's winter” as a rationalization tool for not training. Just like you do with other aspects of your running, embrace the challenge of winter training and use it to your advantage.

There are a number of ways you can reinforce your winter training commitment. First, set some specific goals for your training. It may be miles per week, total days run, or even a cross training program that can be done partially inside. Set your goals so they will challenge you, but set them so they are realistically attainable. Write your goals down and display them somewhere you can see them each day. Discuss your winter training goals with your running partners and friends. Their social support can be invaluable in helping you stay on track through the winter. Also, be sure to keep a running log if you don’t already do so. Each day write a note on how you have done something to help you reach your winter training goal.

Many people do indeed get depressed and feel low in winter, and certainly this can lower motivation. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real and it is theorized that lack of exposure to sunlight during the winter may be a major contributing factor. In the Scandinavian countries many buildings are equipped with broad spectrum lighting in order to combat the disorder due to the extreme darkness of the Artic winter. Running in winter can help ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder because you can spend more time out in the sun. Even if it’s a couple miles during daylight, the exposure to the sunlight can brighten your mood. Just another reason to run in the winter!

So this winter turn a negative into a positive! Take the challenge to improve your running on these cold, dark days. Plant some seeds with your running this winter and you will reap the rewards in the spring and summer. Spring will be here before you know it, so train well.

Richard Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness, and Sport Science Department of Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant. He may be reached via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Read more of Dr. Ferguson articles:

Go For It -


Beating Burnout -


A New Outlook -


Expect the Unexpected -


Pain or Discomfort? -


Keep Your Eye on the Prize -


Running Free -


Running and Role Models -

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