Posted by: Ingrid | January 11, 2010

The mental game of winter running: Five tips for getting out the door

I’m fairly certain that if you are a runner you have those days when your mind does just about anything it can to keep you from making it out the door to run.  I’m finding this to be particularly true now that it’s winter.  Not fun winter-before-Christmas winter but the grey skies and snowfall that settle in sometime after January first and make you wonder if your fingers will ever defrost again.  This is all new to me.  There were always a few running days in Southern California that I didn’t make it out due to “weather” (and now that I’ve seen real weather I use that term very loosely) but they were few and far between.  Maybe it rained a few mornings a year and I wasn’t willing to go out.  But winter in Michigan?  That’s a whole new experience!

With the new reality of our surroundings I’m having to wrestle with the question, How do I get my body out the door when my mind doesn’t want to go there? It’s not just a winter thing – running is very much a mental activity.  As I look ahead to the next few months I’m trying to think through and strategize as to how I plan on beating the Winter blahs.

It is very common when I wake up these dark cold mornings to immediately think the following.

It’s too cold.  Getting ready takes too long.  Snow running slows me down so what’s the point?  It’s too slippery.  I thought the roads would be clear and now it’s snowing.  I thought there would be snow but now it’s icy.  I left my running tights in the other room and don’t want to wake Isaac up. These thoughts are immediately followed by, Hey, what if the snow plough piled the mountain of snow in front of our door and I just can’t get out?  Maybe I should just go back to bed. Because, you know, that could really happen in some possible world.

I’ve been pondering my reaction to winter and here are some suggestions that I’ve come up with to cope with the mental aspect of running in the land of ice and snow.

1. Have things in place so that getting ready is as automatic as possible.  I can’t say, as a nursing mom, that whipping out the Medela pump before a run will be an automatic response, but I find that if I have my stack of running clothes out, my external wrappings by the door, my Yaktraks on my shoes, and my various electronics charged and ready to go I’m more likely to get out the door.  The faster you get out the less of a chance you have to talk yourself out of it.

2. Embrace flexibility and spontaneity.  I think that a lot of runners like their habits and rituals and it’s easy to get into a rut.  I have my training program, my workouts, the number of miles slated for each day.  But sometimes that just doesn’t cut it in the winter, when your three-miler falls on a gloriously sunny day and the snow and wind don’t let up when you’ve slated a twelve-miler.  You can either give up or map out the mileage you’re hoping for and then change things up as the weather changes.  If the weather is nice and you’ve got the energy, run your ten miles today rather than waiting for a specific day that might not be so good.

3. If you need to, go for the lowest common denominator.  Sometimes when I start getting ready for my run I feel like there’s no way I can make it out to do X number of miles (insert all the above excuses here).  I mentally shift around the miles until the run sounds doable and usually I can get in my original workout once I get outside and start running.  On Friday I puttered around because I’d hoped for a clear day and clear roads but instead we got a thick blanket of snow during the night, enough to give kids a snow day.  Eleven miles sounded impossible, but after several variations I told myself I’d do six miles.  That got me out of the house and it turned out to be so beautiful that I ended up doing nine.  Sometimes you just have to get yourself out there and get moving!

4. It’s helpful to remember that winter is not going to last forever.  It may seem like it some days, but it won’t.  We’re a third through January, February has only twenty-eight days, then there’s March, and I hear that you can sometimes wear shorts here in April.  There is something very good about looking forward to Spring and Summer and the knowledge that there will be clear roads and sunshine and shorts and t-shirts again.  You can either let the cold and snow and the subsequent slowing down of life that it brings get the better of you or you can take the season to slow down on running a bit.  Keep a good mileage base but don’t get too concerned with your pace.  You need to rest with running, just like everything else, and what better way to do it than with a season that naturally causes that shift.  I’m trying to take the opportunity to rest while running so that I’ll be fresh to start training for some events when the weather is nicer and I can shed my five layers of running clothes.

5. Think of the benefits and how good you’ll feel afterward.  I know that everyone will tell you that, but most of the time (we’ll say 96.5% of the time), if I make it out the door I’m going to enjoy it.  The world is fresh and white.  Snow is falling.  Icy white blankets the rooftops and trees.  Snow crunches underfoot.  The winter world is beautiful.  Don’t miss out!  It also seems like there would be strength benefits from outdoor running as well.  You have on extra clothing that slows you down.  You have to change your stride based on the traction you get on the ice and snow.  If you can run in the not-so-idea winter weather, just wait ‘til you lose the layers and don’t have to worry about slipping.  Freedom!

There are some days I run around the neighborhood with my scarf pulled over my nose, two hats on, and lots of layers and know that I just look silly.  I don’t care if sweat wicking fabric is skin-tight – you wear enough layers and you look bulky and odd.  Throw a pair of old track pants over your tights and you look like a novice runner who decided to venture out to jog a mile.  Until you look around your winter wonderland and see that no one else is outside running.  That’s when you need to remember that you are not a novice, you’re a hardcore winter runner who made it out the door because you love running (and you’re just a little bit crazy).

And that is a marvelous feeling.



  1. Well said! Thanks for the motivation!

  2. Thanks for the tips and the pep talk! I can handle the snow, but it’s the thought of all the icy pathways here that keeps me in some days when it should not. Keep up your hardcore Michigan winter running!

  3. Ingrid, thanks for writing posts like this! I am a beginning runner (I did a 5k a couple of years ago, and am now trying to build back up to that distance, at least!) and your running posts are so helpful to me! I’ve been following your blog since the beginning of your pregnancy, and posts like this are so motivating. I live in Texas, so my weather situation is sort of opposite of yours – our mild winters are the best time to run, as during the summers, 100+ degree days are just too hot for me to get out in the heat. So…I just wanted to say thanks for the motivation, and the tips. I really enjoy your writing and the little peek into the life of a runner. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: