Run strong this winter

When a marathoner is training for a spring marathon like Tokyo, Boston, or London, one of the biggest challenges they may face is training in winter weather.

Whether your training plan is 12, 16, or 20 weeks long, it can be tough to stay focused and motivated while you're trying to conquer the elements as you are putting in those long, hard training miles.

I live and train in Reno, Nevada, USA, in the high desert, at 4800ft (1463m) and morning runs are often 15ºF (-9ºC). In a 12-week training cycle for a spring race, I often run through snow, hail, ice, slush, freezing rain, and wind. I've learned to tell myself that all this makes me tougher and both physically and mentally more prepared on race day.

One thing I've learned through experience is not to overdress. Don't make the mistake of dressing for how cold you feel when you walk out the door. Be willing to be cold for the first couple of miles and know that as you run, you will start to generate heat. If you start your run with a hill, that will get you warmer even quicker!

Remind yourself that the sun will be higher in the sky later in your run than it was when you started (especially if you start really early), and that will warm you up, too. I always dress in layers for a long winter run.

I have a great vest with big pockets, so I can always start with a hat and gloves, and then stuff them in the pockets if I get warm. I always have a long-sleeved layer that I can take off and tie around my waist if I need to later in the run. I like to keep my feet warm (and as dry as possible!) I always wear compression socks when I run, and in the winter I layer a second, slightly thicker sock over them.

If you live where it snows, and you've got a 20-miler scheduled, you'd better learn to run in the snow! Here are some things I've learned over the years...

  1. When there's a light snow (one to three inches), I run in the fresh snow, without any tire tracks or footprints, because the traction is better.
  2. The most important thing about running in snow is to run with confidence. Striking the ground with confidence and having strong, stable foot placement will keep your stride as normal as possible and prevent you from slipping.
  3. Avoid ice at all costs. I will jump into snow halfway up my calves to avoid ice. I will cross to the other side of the street to avoid ice. If it's a runner vs ice, the ice will always win. Avoid ice.
  4. Have a backup plan. If you were planning three to eight miles, transitioning to the treadmill for the day is not too much of a hardship for most runners.. If you can make yourself run your originally scheduled distance on the treadmill, I guarantee that you will feel invincible when you are done, and you can look around the start line on race day and tell yourself that no one else did what you did.
  5. If you can, flip your long run to another day in the week. If you can't, I would suggest breaking your planned distance into two runs. Put in eight to 10 miles on the treadmill, take a break, eat, stretch, and then go back and finish it. Your total mileage for the day and week will still be on track.

It's also easy to move speed sessions indoors, allowing yourself the same amount of planned rest between speed intervals that you would have outside, whether on the track or the roads. Before you get on the treadmill, do the math.

Figure out at what pace you would have run at the track, and set the treadmill to run at that pace for the planned length of your interval (400m = .25 mile, etc.)

Running a marathon is an exciting challenge, and the training leading up to race day is the foundation for your success. Don't let winter weather sidetrack your training. Instead, try to embrace the challenges winter training presents and know that conquering them will make you stronger, tougher and more prepared on race day.Like everything in life, it all comes down to attitude. If you're running safe and smart, winter marathon training probably won't kill you, but it will definitively make you stronger.

Follow Fred Zalokar on Twitter @zalokar_runs, and check out for more running, climbing and travel posts.