The Benefits of Training for a Marathon in the Winter Months

wintermarathonWhen I learned I would be running in the Walt Disney World Marathon this past January, I was excited because it meant I wouldn’t be stuck training for a marathon during the heat of the summer. The meat of my training was going to have to take place during the cold months of winter.

It’s easy to throw on some shorts, an exercise shirt, and a pair of shoes and head outside for a run of any distance, but what I learned over the past year is that those expectations aren’t really realistic thanks to the weather.

All the races I had been involved in prior to the Walt Disney World Marathon were held in the spring or the fall. Spring training brought temperatures that varied from 45 degrees up to 60 degrees. My preferred temperature is about 55 degrees. That temperature is warm enough that I can wear a tank-top, but cold enough where I don’t have to carry my own sweat towel. It also don’t have to worry about filling my water containers every 2 miles. I can stretch two containers of water to about 10 miles without a problem.

The Indianapolis Marathon, which was held this last October, moved my training into the summer months, and I quickly learned to hate the hot summer days. Running in the heat sucks. There isn’t a better way to phrase it. The humidity and the sun sucked the energy out of me every time I hit the jogging trail. An easy 5 mile run turned into a miserable drawn out trek with several walking breaks thrown in that allowed me to curse the temperature.

Training during the summer months brought other obstacles as well. It was so hot my clothes would get soaked through with sweat rather quickly and carrying a sweat towel proved meaningless unless I was willing to throw it away at mile 3. Carrying enough water or finding a trail that had enough drinking fountains to refill was nearly impossible, and sun burns were practically guaranteed. No matter how much sun screen I slathered on my skin, my sweat just washed it right off. I also had to learn to accept that my runs were going to be about 2 minutes slower per mile than they were in the spring.

I was excited to train for the Walt Disney World Marathon, because it meant I could run in colder weather. HOWEVER. Winter brings its own set of obstacles.

Getting pricey running clothes is not practical for a cheap guy like me. Dropping close to $300 to get dressed up in fancy warm attire just wasn’t worth it. Instead, I went and bought a $5 pair of sweat pants and sweat jacket. Their disadvantage? They made me look like a mugger — just ask all the people who quickly exited the jogging trail as I ran towards them.

I also had to learn to make my training schedule flexible so I could adjust the runs based on snow storms. Running in a fresh 6 inches of snow wasn’t something I was willing to do, so runs had to be moved to days where the path or sidewalk had been plowed. Drinking fountains were also turned off for the winter, meaning I had to find public establishments to refill my water bottles. Finally, the days are shorter in the winter so most of my longer runs were done after the sun had set, which really worried my wife.

But by the time my winter training was done, I decided I  still preferred it to summer training and here’s why. I haven’t had many runs as enjoyable as one I did at 6 PM at night on a jogging trail that was covered in a thin layer of snow. The jogging path meandered through heavily wooded areas. That run was fantastic. The thin layer of snow softened the beating my legs were taking from the long run, and it also quieted the noises around me. The layer of snow also reflected the moonlight and kept the air at a soft glow. There weren’t many other runners out in the cold and dark, and it allowed me several hours to myself with no distractions from anything or anyone. It was the most peaceful run I’ve ever had, and I found myself looking forward to my next run.

No time of year is going to provide perfect weather from the beginning of marathon training to the end, but if I had my choice, I would choose to train for a marathon that is held in the winter.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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