Winter running is challenging.
From cold temps to slick roads--not to mention less daylight hours--it can be hard to get in your daily runs. When the weather turns bad, don't assume your spring race goals are over. Instead, work with what you've got! You may not be able to do your speed session on the outdoor track, but there are alternatives.
There are plenty of options to get in a quality workout that will still build your aerobic endurance and strength--the two key elements of running. If you aren't afraid of the cold and snow, but the thought of facing crazy winter drivers on the roads gives you pause, let's talk other outdoor cross training options.
Cross Country or Skate Skiing
Of course, you need snow to cross country ski. If you do have access to the white stuff, this activity is one of the closest forms of exercise that mimics the motions and muscles used for running. But what makes it even better is there's very little impact on the joints and tendons. Find a local Nordic ski area with groomed trails to build your aerobic endurance and build strength in the legs, core and upper body. Sub out your mileage or time running with cross country skiing and you may find yourself with a runner's high without even taking one step.
You've probably heard of snowshoeing. But you may not realize you can run and even race with snowshoes. Snowshoes used for running are smaller and lighter weight than regular snowshoes. It's easy to walk in snowshoes. However, snowshoe running is slow and humbling. Your heart rate spikes, and your lungs will burn as if you are running a 5K race. It's a lot different than road running. Don't expect it to feel the same way. Even though you may feel like you are barely running, you are still building mega aerobic and strength endurance. Running on groomed Nordic trails will be easier than breaking trail in fresh snow.
If you don't want anything to do with the outdoor elements during the winter, there's still some indoor options.
The treadmill can be a runner's best friend in the winter. With limited daylight hours or treacherous road conditions, the treadmill is the next best option to running outside with no worries. Bathrooms are near, you can practice your fueling strategy without having to worry about liquids freezing and you can nail your tempo or speed session without fear of hitting black ice. If boredom is a concern, save your favorite Netflix shows for your treadmill session to pass the time. Your long run will be done before you know it.
Running is running, right? While the scenery may not change, and you won't get the sweat session like from running outside, you'll still reap all the benefits but without the impact on your joints. You can do all of your usual running workouts in the pool but with the added bonus of gaining strength in your upper body thanks to the water resistance.
Indoor cycling is a great option for runners to work on building leg strength and turnover all while building aerobic endurance. The key is that you are in control of how hard you are working. Don't just "spin your wheels." If you want guidance, check out a local spin class for a super sweaty session.
If your only indoor option for cross training is the elliptical, don't worry. It's not entirely the same as running, but it's a good, non-impact option to build aerobic endurance. Just make sure you are maintaining a leg turnover of 180 strides per minute to closely resemble running. Some models even have "running" programs. If yours doesn't, you can opt to do Fartlek intervals to mix it up.
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