The winter solstice is fast approaching. It's the darkest time of year, the time when gardens lie dormant, the animals hibernate and all of nature rests and recovers from the summer growth cycle. The time of fall and harvest is over and the predominant theme of this season is introspection - turning inward and assessing one's present state. New Year's is about taking stock and making resolutions for the coming year. It is a time to plan for the year ahead to seed new projects. It's a time to follow the natural cycle of Nature and begin your emergence from the darkness.
Here is a writing about the solstice from the "I Ching," written by ancient Chinese masters and describing how man can best learn to live a good life by following the lead of Nature.
It is also a time of maintenance, giving rise to a renewal and blossoming in the spring. In terms of running, the "I Ching" is talking about keeping your running program in place, but not doing anything that smacks of hard training. Just keep yourself in decent shape so that when spring comes and the rain stops and the snow is melted away, you can easily jump right into upgrading your program for the new running season.
The biggest mistake that I see many people make is to drop their running program during the winter months. For this reason, I highly recommend you consider keeping a program going, even if it's only half an hour, three times a week. It is so easy to get distracted and forget about taking care of ourselves, especially around the busy holiday season. This is the time we need to take care of ourselves the most, and there is nothing better for you than a run. It is the quickest, best way to get great exercise, breathe some fresh air, take a break from the phone and computer, and maybe even spend time with a good friend.
Running in the cold and wet may not feel great for the first few minutes, but as we all know, you get pretty warm running and with good gear you can stay reasonably dry. Even in winter weather you can enjoy being outdoors and feel quite alive outside in the elements. It can be very invigorating to run in the rain, stomping through puddles like a kid, or floating through a snowdrift. Dark mornings and evenings got you down? Running in the dark can be an adventure (If you have the right gear, including plenty of light reflectors, so you'll be visible). If you run at night you can do a tour of neighborhood house decorations. I even met a guy once who consistently shoveled the snow off the inside lane of the local high school track, so that he could keep doing his track workouts. I've also resorted to indoor parking garages for a great hill workout in mid-winter just be sure to dress brightly and keep an eye out for the shoppers.
If you run on a treadmill, here are a few reminders:
- Keep the speed slower than you normally run, to avoid impact injuries.
- Don't do treadmill running exclusively. Your body and mind will thank you.
- If you want a harder workout without the speed you can always tilt the ramp slightly and shorten your stride and get your arm swing going. This will help you to develop a quicker cadence (more efficient) and give you a good upper body workout at the same time.
- Always try to run as quietly as possible while on a treadmill. This will reduce the pounding most commonly associated with treadmill running. Focus on picking up your feet and let the surface of the treadmill pass by underneath you. This will teach you how to have a soft foot strike when you get outdoors again.
Running on a treadmill is a good alternative to sloshing through rain and snow, but don't be fooled it's nowhere near the same workout as getting outdoors and breathing fresh air.
What I'm really addressing here is maintaining good level of consistency with your running program. When you are consistent and make it a part of your life, like eating or sleeping, you are giving yourself the greatest gift you can receive ... a healthy attitude and a healthy body.
There are lots of great ways to stay consistent with your running program:
- Schedule your running into your life as you would an important business meeting ñ write it down on your calendar and honor that time as you would a meeting with your boss.
- Create a running program that is reasonable. By reasonable, I mean what is actually doable. Don't try to run 50 miles a week when you only have time and training for 20 miles. Don't try to do a long run when there's tons of snow on the ground. Just do what you can do, and make the best of it.
- Keep your runs fun. Mix your runs up by working on different focuses or going on a new route.
- Make an agreement with yourself to run on New Year's and on the days (or day after) that you are attending holiday feasts. Even a light run helps to keep your digestive system in good shape and counter-act some of those over-indulgences. Besides, Christmas and New Year's are two of my favorite days to run because the streets are virtually empty.
- Definitely try to run with a partner as often as possible. Make a regular scheduled running date with a friend. Having company on a run always makes the time fly by.
The best thought I can leave you with is to keep a flexible attitude with your running program, plan for contingencies, and be as consistent as you possibly can. And as the Taoists would say, use every adverse situation as an opportunity to sharpen your skills and bring out your creativity.
Best wishes for a great winter season of running.