Nothing can take the wind out of your sails quite like a few long months of short days and lousy weather. If you feel like you’re getting into a training rut, signing up for a winter race can be a great way to snap yourself out of it.
Winter races (especially if they’re held someplace unforgiving) always seem to include an extra dose of camaraderie; there’s something about the whole experience of running in tough conditions that brings out the best in people. The result is an event that is (A) fun and (B) great to tell your friends about after you’re done. You’ll have a great experience to add to your running resume and something to work towards while you wait for Spring to arrive.
So that’s our pitch for heading to a race this off-season. Here are some tips on making it happen.
Sign up. Selecting a race and getting yourself signed up is a simple thing, but it’s also a critical first step. Getting registered makes it official: suddenly you have another race day to prepare for and another finish line to visualize. If there isn’t a run in your area, consider working it into a larger trip. If it’s a bit of a journey to get there, it just makes the event seem that much more significant. (Check out our post Looking for a Race? for tips on finding a good one.)
Find a buddy. This goes back to the camaraderie thing. A winter race is tons more fun if you have someone to share it with. Even if you don’t usually train with a partner, winter races are often less about turning in a fast time and more about showing you’ve got the determination to be out there running. There may be a little more wiggle room than usual when matching speed and ability with a running partner.
Dress for it. This applies not just to your time on the race course, but before and after. Make sure you’re planning ahead and bringing plenty of gear so you can stay warm and dry prior to the start and have something fresh to change into when you’re done. Think layers all the way.
Prepare. Remember, this isn’t going to be a springtime walk in the park. You need to prepare to run in the environment you’re going to face on race day. Especially if you’ve been pounding away on the treadmill for a while, you’ll want to be sure to get at least one workout a week happening outdoors. You need to get your body ready to perform at lower temperatures, including your breathing, your footing, and your overall posture. (For more detailed tips, check out Tips for Cold Weather Running.)
Hydrate. This is a big one. If you’re going to be running in the cold, getting plenty of water into your system is critical. If it’s ninety degrees outside, you can pretty much count on your body to crave water. When it’s cold and dry you don’t think about it as much, but you’re still losing water none-the-less. (We’ve got a post for that, too.)