10 ways to work the winter stress out of your training

10 ways to work the winter stress out of your training

I’m looking out the window this morning at more snow.  This is the third day this week we’ve gotten a storm.  I realize that the un-planned, un-controlled and sometimes un-welcome arrival of a new batch of snow contributes to the existing closed in feeling of this season of deep winter.

The days are already short and dark and cold.  Now you need to wrap yourself in layers of warm clothes to go out and shovel.  That’s another hour or two out of your already shortened day.  That’s more enforced wet and cold.

The snow plows took out my mailbox this week.  Now it sits comically broken and stuck into a 4-foot snow bank at the end of the drive.  Something else I’ll have to fix.  Dig out my tools and fiddle with that for an hour.

Yes, these unplanned tasks float like large wet snow flakes into the schedule of your life adding a bit more thick, mental slush for you to wade through.  And it’s not a terrible crisis.  It’s not even hard.  It just feels this time of year in the cold and the dark like your trapped in a box and mother nature keeps making the box smaller.

It’s not the snow and its related tasks.  It’s the season.  A season of fewer resources and compounding needs.  It is the straw on this winter camel’s back that can drive you into the blue side of a winter funk

And you are probably well into a training cycle for your spring races at this point, as am I.

This means 2-3 hour runs and hard workouts that must be squeezed into the short dark days.  My beloved trails are piled full of deep, sucking snow and icy footprints.  You could theoretically slog out a run on them but it would not be the specific training run that your schedule called for.  There is no pace or heart rate correlation to slip sliding around the forest.

The roads aren’t much better.  The snow crowds in from the sides and deep puddles of slush extend lagoon-like into the running lanes.  Your shoes are wet.  The footing is poor. The margin of life and death between you and the oncoming traffic is slim.

Forget riding your bicycle.  If you were to somehow manage to not die in the sand and ice or lose important extremities to frostbite, your bike would be ruined by road salt.

Just when you need to step up your focus, intensity and volume for your spring race the conditions are at their worse.

How do you break that oppressive environment and thrive and train?

That’s a bit of a grim picture, eh?  It’s not that bad.  Winter can have its challenges but it’s as much a season to celebrate as to bitch about.  And it certainly shouldn’t impact your training.  This is another one of those things that you can talk yourself into if you try hard enough, but it’s certainly not required.

Here are N things you can try to yank the steering wheel and pull yourself out of the winter blues.

  1. Get outside.

Part of the problem with these winter months is that we are forced inside.  We sprint from a warm house to a warm car.  We wake up in the dark and go to sleep in the dark.  This causes our minds to drop into bunker mode and our bodies to drop into hibernation mode.

When you look at it most of the environmental challenges that drive us inside are not that daunting.  Most of it is in our heads.  Hiking in the snow or running in the cold is neither good nor bad, it’s just different.

Flip that switch in your head.  Embrace the short days and find a way to get outside everyday to feel the low winter sun on your face and breath the dry, clean winter air.  Snow is fun.  Get some sun.  Get some fresh air.  Walk the dog. Get outside.

  1. When you’re in an energy funk use the timer to force flow

A simple trick I use in my office.  Especially in the morning when I’m struggling to get my engine going is to use the 30-minute timer.  This is classically called the ‘pomodoro’ technique by the self help gang.  You simply commit to work on something for 30 minutes without interruption.  I just type “30 minute timer” into Google if I’m at my desk and it will automatically launch a countdown timer.

This can be applied to your workouts as well.  You don’t have to commit to the monster workout you have on the calendar for today.  Just commit to getting dressed, getting out and starting it.  98% of the time all you need to do is get started and you can do anything.  Once you force yourself into the flow things will start to click.  I’ve never regretted, (well, almost never), forcing myself to do a workout.

  1. Sleep more.

In these deep, dark, cold winter months I find that I need more sleep.  I don’t know if it’s the lack of sun or some deep mammalian hibernation response but I need to sleep.  It’s ok to sleep more.  Sleep is a personal and seasonal thing.  You need to get as much as you need to ‘feel like you’ during your operating hours.

In reality most of us have 3 – 5 really good hours of creativity and effectiveness in us every day anyhow.  The rest of the day is mediocre execution at best.  I find my best time is in the mornings for creative work and in the afternoons and evenings for working out.  That’s just me.  You will need to find what works for you.

My point is that when you sleep less, you don’t get more productive time.  You get less productive time and more mediocre time.  If your goal is to get quality work done, then skipping sleep is not a great solution.  In these darker months, you might want to restructure your life to get to bed an hour earlier or sleep in an hour later so you can be refreshed at work and get full benefit from your training and recovery.

  1. Meditation, meditation music and setting the tone for your work

These cold, dark winter days can lead to you feeling blue, unsettled and unmotivated.  (I’m not going to use the ‘D’ word…)  A great way to counter that is to add some meditation into your day to proactively reset your brain.

I’m not saying you should spend your lunch break on a grass mat in your office in the lotus position burning incense and ringing brass bowls – that’s probably against the fire ordinances.  Just take a few minutes at those times when your energy or mental tonality dips to reset.

Some people find prayer works for them, some like guided meditation routines and some just sit with sounds or music in a contemplative state.  Again, due to the wonders of the internet all you need to do is type into YouTube or Google search “Meditation for XYZ” and you’ll get hundreds of mediation practices of all different lengths that will guide you.

Likewise, you can type in “meditation music or sounds” and you’ll get hours of recording to play in the background that promote flow in your work.  I particularly like the water sounds or rain storm sounds when I’m writing.

  1. Morning routine, lunch routine and night routine

When you look at the opportunities and energy cycles in your day you can strategically see where you can add routines to get better outcomes.  This is true year round, but particularly true for the dark winter days.  By ‘routine’ I mean habits or activities that positively impact your life, your career and your health.

By adding a little structure to these and timing them for impact you may find that you can counter the deleterious seasonal effects.  You schedule in your diary time for it.  Could be 5 minutes or an hour, whatever works for you.  These routines could include exercise, meditation, eating, napping, reading, writing, list building, visualization, affirmation, gratitude or listening to something.

You’ll find the most high-impact times to structure these routines are the morning, at night and maybe even some other point during the day.  In the morning it is when you first get up and before you do anything else.  In the evening it is typically the routines and habits before you got to sleep.  During the day you might find there is a point where a ‘refresher’ routine can reset you head and your energy.

Experiment with it.  See what works for you.

  1. Pay attention to your body – watch out for injuries.

One of the insidious things about this time of year is that the combination of seasonal stress, outside conditions and ramping up for a spring race are the perfect storm for getting injured.  You really have to listen to your body to make sure you catch early any tweaks.

Slamming hard workouts in on cold, hard roads with ice patches might cause a sore knee or foot.  It’s better to prevent injuries before they happen.  If you do feel something starting, don’t be stupid.  Take the time to heal.  Don’t make a small injury large by pushing through the pain.

  1. Do less. Forgive yourself

At the end of the day, in the winter, you may be sleeping more and spending more time maintaining your energy.  All that is an investment in your long-term health, but may leave you with fewer net hours in your day.  It’s ok to do less.  It’s more important to be healthy than to get stuff done.  Prioritize your health.  Prioritize what really matters and use those quality hours you do have effectively.

It’s ok.  If there’s a blizzard going on outside you probably don’t want  to attempt that tempo run on the roads.  Cut yourself some slack.

  1. Move some workouts in doors.

This time of year it becomes necessary to move some of your workouts indoors. Maybe it’s the treadmill.  Maybe the exercise bike or the bike trainer.  You can set these up in such a way as to make them interesting.  Find a series, something fun and compelling, on your TV or laptop and binge watch while you’re working out.  Invite your friends over for a group ride.

Think out of the box.  Have fun with it.

  1. Do some fun workouts outside instead.

Don’t just hide inside.  The winter months are cold and dark but they are also a great time to be creative in your outside workouts. Try show shoeing, or cross country skiing or just hiking – it’s a great workout.  If you’ve got kids, you can pull them in a sled.  You can run in snow.  It’s just harder.  Dress for it and you’ll be fine.  It will make you stronger.

My hardcore mountain biker friends ride all winter long.  They have a blast in the snow.  Those fat tire bikes are designed for just these kind of conditions as well.

One of my favorite times to run in the winter is at night.  On a clear night, with the dry air the stars pop out and light up the snow and it’s magical.

  1. Learn something new, look for the nuances.

For those of us who have been training for years, another cold run, another hard work out, and another dark day can seem a bit repetitive and non-compelling.  The science shows that for people who are truly passionate about something they look for the nuances.  They look for new things to learn within the old.

How you deal with your training and living in the winter months is at the end of the day a question of mindset.  It is what you make it to be.  There are physical, mental and environmental constraints but part of the way you live your passion is discovering how to live with those constraints.

Think out of the box.  Find ways to live well and get things done that fit with you, your life and your priorities.

Don’t let the winter of your discontent drag you down.  Shake it’s hand and work out a deal where everyone wins.

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